Title: Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn 3 in 1 Smart Kit
This is an in-box review, so I can’t comment on the fit of parts or instruction errors. From my experience of previous Dragon kits, I would advise that the instructions are treated with extreme caution and all parts, subassemblies be dry fitted before reaching for the glue.
Dragon has released models of the Nashorn/ Hornisse before, I was surprised to find that Hobby Link Japan lists four previous kits 6001 6165 6166 6314 making this their fifth model of this vehicle!
Although I have bought a couple of the previous releases, I gave them away or sold them over the years without building one, so I do not have a previous release to compare it to.
The Nashorn (Rhinoceros), later known as the Hornisse (Hornet) was designed in 1942, to provide an adequate self propelled mount for the 8.8cm PaK43 in time for the Summer offensive. The 8.8cm PaK43 was an outstanding weapon which was the result of a contract to develop a new 8.8cm anti-aircraft gun, awarded to Rheinmetall –Borsig and Krupp, to replace the Flak 37. One of the terms of the contract was that the weapon should be capable of firing in the ground role. The Rheinmetall –Borsig was successful in winning this
contract. The Krupp design lost out due increasing performance demands from the Luftwaffe, however it entered service as an anti-tank gun designated the Pak43 in 1943 and it is now regarded as the finest anti-tank gun of WW2. The Pak 43 was modified by fitting a horizontal sliding breech block, similar to the Pak 40 and the semi-automatic loading system of the Pak 43 was simplified. This simplified gun was designated the 8,8cm Pak43/41.
The chassis chosen for this project was the hybrid Panzer III/IV chassis which had been developed for the Hummel mounting the 15cm sFH18 Howitzer. This was a hull which was the same width as a Panzer III, but lengthened with the engine located in a central position, it utilised Panzer III and Panzer IV components in the drive train and running gear. For example the sprocket was of the type designed for the Panzer III because the transmission was also from the same vehicle, whereas the engine was from the Panzer IV.
They were produced from February 1943 to March 1945; the initial order was for a series of 500, of which 494 were completed before the end of the war.
The first thing to strike me was the size of the box. The box top which features beautiful art work by Ron Volstad, is the usual size for a larger Dragon kit, but is deeper than usual which gives a clue to the amount of parts in this kit. When I opened the box I found it absolutely filled to the brim and I found it hard to believe that all this would fit in and around the slide moulded one-piece hull.
A word of warning here for anyone looking at this kit in a shop or at a show, if you take sprues out of the box make sure that you put them back in, not only in the same order but also in the same orientation otherwise the contents will not fit back inside the box!
There are no less than 20 sprues, which includes 2 of transparent parts, a surprisingly small sheet of photo-etch, 2 bags of individual tracks, 2 types of pairs of coil springs, an aluminium barrel and a length of wire. Relatively few parts are marked not for use but include some useful spares such as tools and tow rope ends which the spares box will be glad to receive.
Dragon are keen to emphasise that this is not a rehash of their previous releases and details of all the improvements can be found on the Dragon website under ‘inside story’. The main improvements to this kit, for me, are the use of Dragon’s Razor Edge technique for replicating scale thickness metal plate and sheet, (which works very well) and an improved method of assembling the gun cradle which, is claimed eliminate that irritating join seam which is evident in other kits.
These are Dragon’s usual line drawing type. Dragon’s instructions have been notorious for being a bit muddled; I’ve highlighted any discrepancies, which I’ve noticed in this review. Although all the discrepancies will not be evident until I’ve built the kit.
Dragon have divided the production of the Nashorn into three types: Initial, Initial Modified and Early. According to Panzer Tracts 7-3 production began in February of 1943, changes were introduced that same month and continued to be introduced in March, April, May and August. These modifications were retrofitted to “earlier” vehicles. Which may explain Dragon’s use of Initial, Initial Modified and Early. However, one of the defining features of a February to April 1943 vehicle is the slot in the gun shield for the earlier gun sight. The instructions only specify the later shield without the slot. Fortunately this early style of shield is among the parts marked “Parts not for use”. Incidentally there was a stock of shield with the slot which were utilised later with a metal plate welded over the slot.
The options for each are, for the first time that I’ve seen on a Dragon kit, noted in the instructions. This is much better than the previous Dragon practice of showing optional parts without any explanation. I would strongly advise the modeller checks references such as those I have listed at the end of this review if accuracy is a concern.
Although the instructions have improved, they are still not as clear Tamiya’s benchmark standards. I have doubts about the wisdom of the instruction sequence, with regards to fitting the gun and shield. The gun and the superstructure are shown built up, then the shield is attached before the gun and shield drop in to the superstructure. Looking at overhead plans of the Nashorn, this looks like a tricky manoeuvre with the periscopes on either side of the superstructure and the shape of the gun shield and superstructure. Both the superstructure sides and shield taper towards to the top. When I build this kit I think I will ignore the instructions. I intend to build the hull first, but leave off the superstructure, then build the gun with it’s shield. Then the gun assembly will be attached to the hull and only then will I attach the superstructure sides.
Craig Hiscock had built a Hornisse in a blog in 2008 and still had the instructions from that model which show the parts for the front superstructure walls fitted after the gun and it’s shield which seems to be a more sensible option.
The Running Gear Fenders and Hull:
The tracks are excellent, being handed for the left and right track runs. To make life easier Dragon has rather thoughtfully moulded each set in a different shade of grey plastic.
There is a choice of two types styles of Panzer III sprockets, one with 8 circular holes and the one with 6 holes which will be useful for depicting a particular vehicle. There is a third six hole sprocket marked “Parts not for use”, this is the same sprocket but with the cover removed which will be useful for maintenance scenarios. The build instructions make no mention of which sprocket matches which vehicle, probably because it is a confusing subject, however the different sprockets can be seen in the Painting and Markings section. The first Nashorns were fitted with 6 hole sprockets which was the latest design, however in March 1943 Nashorns intermittently appeared with the earlier 8 hole style sprockets. This was probably due to the FILO system operated by German factories.
If you are not familiar with this term FILO stands for First In last Out and it was the system operated in German controlled factories during World War Two. Under this system if a new part was introduced, such as the 6 hole sprocket, the new part was used first regardless of how many of the older pattern parts were still in stock. If supplies of the new part were exhausted then the older pattern part was used to prevent disruption of production.
The wheels are exquisite featuring the weld beads around the rims and something which I haven’t noticed before, a very subtle cast texture. The tyres have the tyre size and the name CONTINENTAU moulded on. The right side of the square letter U should be shaved off to make the name CONTINENTAL. Dragon claims that this is because their design team cannot spell.
The suspension units are fixed, but with a little work could be made movable. The bump stops even have separate rubber bumpers. The kit includes the tubular type of Panzer IV idler wheel.
The bow plate has a choice of two different styles of stowage for spare track. The fenders are detailed both on top and underneath too, with the external tool stowage confined to just the jack and block as seen on these vehicles. However only one bracket is shown in the instructions to secure the jack instead of two, the other bracket may somewhere in the kit but I could not locate it. Having said that, some Nashorn did not have the forward bracket but had a simple piece of metal sheet to prevent the jack from moving. This indicates to me, that Dragon’s design team have studied photographs rather than plans or preserved vehicles and should be congratulated. The aerial is supplied but no antenna, and optional lamp, (which have the wiring moulded on), depending on the vehicle to be portrayed.
The glacis plate has the driver’s hood moulded on featuring beautiful weld beads. Fittings are supplied to model each of the three of Dragon’s variants. There are towrope brackets, no rope is included in the kit and the towrope ends are marked not for use. Photos of the real vehicles show the towrope stowed on the glacis or wrapped in a figure of 8 around the rear tow hooks.
Moving around to the rear; there is a choice of rear plate and exhausts depending on the variant.
The superstructure is made up with crisply moulded parts with the details immaculately rendered. The superstructure sides are moulded Dragon’s Razor Edge technique of moulding very thin plastic and could not be done better except in photo-etched brass. I was disappointed to find that my trusty electronic micrometer had died and I was unable to measure the thickness. The intake louvres on the sides are one piece Razor Edge mouldings, which I think is preferable to previous Dragon etched photo-etched brass portrayal.
There is no interior provided for the driver or radio operator’s compartment, I was a little disappointed in this as even a minimal interior would have allowed the modeller to leave the hatches open. The interior of the hatches match preserved examples and the inside driver’s visor is fully detailed so they are crying out to be left open.
The open fighting compartment is extensively detailed and this is where Dragon has put in a lot of effort with optional photo etch or plastic parts for the more fiddly details and sub assemblies. Dragon includes two templates (parts H19 and H20) to assist in the placement of interior parts. I did not intend to list all the interior fittings, I think it suffice to say that everything appears to be present. However, there is always something in a kit hat always impresses me and in this case it is the scissors periscope which has a working , etched brass swing mount, which looks quite impressive, a plastic alternative is also provided if the modeller is not keen on brass.
Dragon appears to be justifiably proud of the ammunition lockers made using their Razor’s Edge technique, which are a prominent feature of this vehicle. The lockers can be depicted open or closed, however the instructions have the open and closed options transposed. Here’s the clever part about these lockers, they can be depicted with a full or partial complement of rounds. The rounds at the back have the stowage brackets moulded on, the rounds at the front have separate brackets, in addition there are enough spare brackets to depict the lockers with only two stowed rounds. I’m really impressed with this as it will open up all sorts of possibilities for dioramas and from veteran’s accounts lack of ammunition was always a problem, this will enable modellers to realistically portray a vehicle in service. The full complement of ammunition was 40 rounds, 16 in the lockers and the remaining 24 rounds in their transport cases were placed on the floor of the fighting compartment. The ammunition transport cases will have to be sourced elsewhere.
Among the parts marked “not for use” are a pair of closed lockers presumably from an earlier kit, it is reassuring to have these on hand if anything goes wrong with the assembly of the Razor Edge lockers.
The 8.8cm PaK43 is beautifully rendered. The distinctive two part barrel of the original is reproduced as a turned aluminium piece which has the bolt holes drilled in, The muzzle-brake is made up of 3 plastic parts and the breech is made up of no less than 11 parts.
The cradle, Dragon claim that they have solved the perennial problem of the gun cradle which traditionally been made up from two ‘L’ shaped pieces of plastic, leaving a join line which is difficult to clean up. Dragon have come up with what appears to be an elegant solution which is a plastic plate which covers the join. It is such a simple solution, I wonder why no one has thought of it before!
The rest of the mounting to which the sights, gunner’s seat, elevation and traversing gear are attached appears to be complete. A really nice touch is that the highly visible springs under the gunner’s seat are supplied as either a moulded part or real metal springs.
Finally there are three styles of front travel lock to choose from, the initial style and two later types which feature metal parts to depict the small counter-balance springs which cushioned the travel lock as it fell against the hull after remote release from inside the vehicle.
Decals and colour:
There is a small but busy Cartograf decal sheet with numbers for 4 vehicles, two sizes of Balkan crosses, tactical symbols, a unit symbol of s.H.Pz.Jg.Abt655 and Braun Ark stencil. Braun Ark this was a fluid for the recoil cylinders on artillery pieces which was a mix of Braun, fluid for temperate climates and Arktisch fluid used in cold climates. It’s nice to see it included. This decal should be applied on either sides of the parts D29 and D30.
The colour options are for six vehicles from s.H.Pz. 560 and 655 in Russia and the eastern front from 1943 and a training unit with no location mentioned with a nice variety of schemes from plain dark yellow to full 3 colour schemes.
As we would expect from Dragon, an excellent kit with state of the art features, which I would describe as a Tour de force. The only thing which could let it down is the instructions which although improved could be a lot better. Doubts about the instructions will not make this a relaxing build where one can just follow the instructions, everything will have to be test fitted and every step questioned. If it was not for my misgivings about the instructions, I would have recommended it whole-heartedly as I think that Dragon have produced the definitive Nashorn kit with this one.
I was very lucky to be given this kit to review and I think the question which I must answer truthfully is: Would I have bought this kit with my own hard earned money? The answer is yes, it is my kind of model with almost everything in the box and minimal photo etch. I will add an aerial, towrope and ammunition transport cases.
I like to recommend one book for a modeller; in this case it is a very difficult choice.
Panzer Tracts 7-3 is excellent for detailed information on dates that specific features were introduced. The Nuts & Bolts volume 14, I think is more useful for the modeller as there are plenty of contemporary photos, walk-arounds of preserved Nashorns, Pak43/41, colour plates by David Parker and photos of Brian Wells’ astounding scratchbuilt, unpainted command Nashorn would be my choice.
If you can justify the expense both books will be a wise investment.
References used for this review, listed by title, publisher and authors:
Nuts & Bolts Volume 14 Nashorn, Nuts & Bolts, by T. Greenland & D. Terlisten et al.
Panzer Tracts No. 7-3 Panzerjaeger, Panzer Tracts Doyle & Jentz
Encyclopaedia of German Tanks of WWII, Arms and Armour, Chamberlain Doyle and Jentz
German Artillery of World War Two Greenhill Books, Ian V. Hogg
German Self Propelled Guns, Concord, Rottman
Allied Axis No.16, Ampersand, Various