The German Army at the onset of WWII was still heavily reliant on horsepower to move its armies about the battlefield, and in rear areas. Having said this, they were among the forerunners in half-track technology. While America and her allies fielded only one basic family of half-track (M2-M3), the German army had numerous types, of varying sizes. From the tiny Sd.Kfz.10, 1-tonne to the huge Sd.Kfz.9, 18-tonne 'Famo', the German Army used these half-tracks for everything from personnel carriers to recovery vehicles.
The Sd.Kfz.9 'Famo' (Schwere Zugkraftwagen 18t FAMO) was developed in 1935 by the firm Fahrzeug-und-Motorenbau (FaMo) GmbH Breslau 6. The first prototype was available the following year, and was known as the FMgrl. (Fl). Along with the improved F2 version, available from 1938, they were used mostly for towing heavy artillery and towing the 22-tonne f l at bed tank recovery trailer. The final version, known as the F3, was produced from 1939 until 1944 by a number of companies. By war's end, more than 2500 Fame's of various body styles were produced. As the war progressed, and as raw materials became more scarce, the F3 became a more austere vehicle, with smaller fenders, lighter tracks, and fewer strengthening ribs stamped into the coachwork, to speed manufacture. The Famo was equipped with a 7-tonne winch mounted horizontally under the load bed, although when using a rigid towing A-frame, was capable of towing up to 18 tonnes. A Famo could tow a Tiger 1 along a f l at surface, but it could take as many as three to recover a Tiger 1 if mired. I've seen pictures of five Famo's hitched up to just one Elefant tank destroyer in an effort to recover it!
As early as 1937, only one Famo was issued per tank Maintenance Company. By 1943, however, this number was upped to 15. As the need for armoured recovery units arose, and with the introduction of Bergepanzer, this number was dropped to six per company. The Famo served on all fronts throughout the Second World War and was used extensively in the post War rebuilding of Germany.
The Sonderanhanger 116 (Tiefladeanhanger fur Pz.Kpfw.Sd.Ah.116) trailer is unlike most heavy transport trailers in that it has two sets of wheeled bogies, front and rear, both capable of steering. As the trailer alone measured over 14 metres, this dual steering capability made the whole unit relatively agile. The front bogies' steering was slaved to the towing draw bar, whereas the rear bogie was steered manually.
To load a tank, the rear bogie was detached from the trailer, and then the vehicle to be recovered was towed onto the trailer flat bed. Once secured with heavy chains, the rear bogie was winched forward and reattached to the trailer. Clearly, if under enemy fire, this wouldn't be the most efficient way to retrieve damaged vehicles, but it was found that most vehicle recoveries weren't done under heavy enemy fire. The Americans also discovered this, hence late and post war Dragon Wagons were built without all that heavy angular cab armour. The Famo and trailer were capable of speeds up to 40km/h on paved roads and the trailer's maximum load capacity was 22 tonnes.
Tamiya released their 1:35 scale standard Early F3 version Famo in 1999 in Japan. It was the year 2000 before the rest of the world saw it. Pretty much everyone who laid eyes on the cleanly moulded sand coloured sprues were blown away by the kit. There were some naysayer's who criticized the perceived high price, or criticized Tamiya releasing yet another German subject, but quite simply, this is one of the best kits ever released in plastic. Then, in 2001, Tamiya released the Famo and Sd.Ah.116 trailer, and outdid themselves. This kit comes in an enormous sturdy box, with typically beautiful Tamiya box art. This is one of those kits that after you have rummaged through the sprues; you wonder how it goes back in the box. Well, the best way to do this is to not bother trying, and build the sucker!
Tamiya provide a 36-page instruction booklet, comprising construction, a painting and 'decaling' guide, and sketches showing various German Panzers being recovered.
Construction begins with the Famo. The engine comes first, and is a mini kit in itself. I detailed the engine block with etched brass parts from the ABER set Volume 1 (35093). This set is highly recommended if you want to detail the Famo, as it's mind-bogglingly comprehensive.
On to the suspension and chassis. All the suspension arms are separate, and can be articulate to show the Famo going over rough ground. The ABER set also includes a lot of small details for this area. The suspension and wheels all build up rather quickly, so after a solid afternoon's work, I could roll the Famo chassis around on my desk. (Not that I did that, honestly, I didn't.) Care needs to be taken when building the drive sprockets, as they are handed (left and right). You will save yourself some grief, if you mark the sprockets with an L and an R. I didn't, and for a while couldn't work out why the tracks didn't sit right. While we're on the subject of tracks, the ones supplied in the kit are a work of art. Comprising two pieces per link, rubber track pad and metal link, they go together quickly and look the business. I added valve stems to all the tyred wheels in this kit using Grandt Line bolts.
Moving on to the coachwork, I started by carefully grinding out all the excess plastic behind the radiator louvers on part D19. This hollows out the louvers, so I added some basic radiator detail behind them. Of course, this was one of the areas that I missed taking photos of during construction, but you can just see the mesh of the radiator in one of the finished photos. The basic coachwork also builds up really quickly, leaving more time for adding all that ABER!
As I was going to leave the engine bay side panels off, I decided to detail the whole engine bay. I used the excellent 'Nuts and Bolts' book on the Famo (Volume 12) as a reference. This volume proved indispensable throughout construction. The accompanying photos show the level of detail added to this area, it wasn't difficult, just time consuming adding all those rivets and bolts. I left this area removable, for ease of painting later.
The rear cargo area is built up next, with all the large side panels and fenders fitting almost perfectly. Tamiya even moulded the side stowage drawers with gear stored in them. There are a few knockout marks on the underside of this area, but commendably, none on the topside. This kit of the Famo I was actually going to build fitted with the recovery spade. I had fitted the mounting hardware for this spade, from the excellent Armored Brigade Models' range, only to find out that if the Famo towed the trailer, it generally didn't carry the recovery spade. Oops! Maybe the next Famo I do will have this spade fitted.
By step 27 of the instructions, the basic construction for the Famo is done, and we aren't even halfway through the booklet! I chose to leave as much of the Famo in separate subassemblies as possible, to ease painting later. The forward cab, and cargo area can all be left off the chassis, the fit of parts is that good.
Once construction on the Famo was done, I chose to make tarpaulins for the cab and cargo area. These tarps are very distinctive and it's not often that you see a picture of a Famo without at least one tarp fitted. There are a number of tarp sets available commercially, but having already spent the GDP of a 3rd World country on the kit and brass, I decided to make my own tarps. Out of what though? I was toying with tissue paper, but I thought that it wouldn't have the body I was looking for. I was mucking around with Milliput, and not having any success, when my wife, who's a chef, suggested I roll the putty out like pastry. I grabbed her rolling pin, and using talcum powder to stop the putty sticking, went to work on the Milliput. This actually turned out to be a very easy process. Once the putty was at the desired thickness, I just draped it over the plastic tilt loops, and let it harden. As the putty is wafer thin, it cured in a few hours. Once dry, I trimmed it to shape and added tie downs from the ABER set. The front folded tarp was done in a similar way.
Once I'd finished pushing the Famo around on the carpet (I didn't really, I promise), I started building the Sd.Ah116 trailer. It's enormous! Construction begins with the front bogie assembly. This is truly a multimedia kit, Tamiya provide a bag of tiny screws, nuts, bolts and stainless steel steering rods. Also a tiny Phillips head screwdriver with which to put it all together. When attaching the steering rods, care needs to be taken so as not to over-tighten the securing screws, as this will put excessive strain on the steering mechanism later when you push it around on the carpet. I mean display the vehicle on a static base!
Although a completely different structure, the rear bogie builds up as quickly as the front. This bogie has a steering compartment and the rear suspension is fully pose-able, so you can push it along the carpet. The entire trailer assembly has the most incredible wood grain detail moulded in, and the rear bogie is no exception. I left the transparencies out of the rear (and front) cab, so as not to damage them during construction and painting. Tamiya provide a sheet of 10 thou plastic card to be cut up and used for the straps that secure the compressed air cylinders on the rear bogie.
The actual load bed itself comprises two major parts, upper and lower. Trapped inside these parts during construction are two hefty stainless steel beams that provide rigidity to the whole load bed. Nine screws hold the whole show together. The load bed assembles very quickly, and by step 54, basic construction is over. The remaining pages in the instructions show construction of all the figures and all the trailer stowage (chocks, beams, etc.) Once again, I left as much of the trailer as possible separate to aid painting.
At this stage, I decided to remove the slight casting seam off all the rubber tyres - all 13 of them! I chucked a heavy grinding bit into my Dremel motor tool, and hacked away at the tyres. Half an hour, and a small pile of rubber shavings later, the tyres were done. In doing this, the tyres take on a nice distressed look, much better than looking like brand new tyres.
Painting and Weathering
Decisions, decisions. When and where to depict the Famo? I liked the idea of a dark grey early war Famo, with a newer Panzerkampfwagen III in a different camouflage pattern on the trailer. The Allied and Axis publication on recovery vehicles by Ampersand has exactly this set up covered quite extensively. The Famo shown is from the 23 Panzer Division in Russia, 1942. The Famo is clearly in faded dark grey paint, whereas the Panzer III is in a sand and brown camouflage paint job.
The first thing I did was confirm that I had enough Tamiya XF-63 German Grey. I airbrushed all the various sub-assemblies with two light coats of German Grey, heavily thinned with Tamiya acrylic thinners. At the insistence of a Canadian friend of mine, I purchased the Tamiya HG Superfine airbrush, and it was given a hard test painting the Famo and trailer, never once missing a beat or clogging. An entire jar of German Grey later, the kit was base coated.
The next step was to find some decals. I found the ones I was looking for in the Tamiya WW2 German Decal Sheet D. I didn't bother applying a gloss varnish; I just applied the decals straight onto the matt colour. The fancy red and white striped decals on the trailer went on really easily, with a light coat of Gunze Sangyo Mr Mark Softener. All the decals were slightly glossy when dry, so I over coated the entire kit with Humbrol matt varnish.
With the base coat and decals on, it was time to begin the weathering process. First, I wanted to give the whole vehicle a really weather beaten, dusty appearance as per the pictures in 'Allied Axis: I applied an over spray of Tamiya XF-52 Buff, heavily thinned, to all the lower surfaces of the kit, gradually fading it as into the upper parts of the Famo.
Then, I post-shaded the entire kit. This process was first brought to my attention by Australian modeller James Blackwell, and has been covered in this magazine in earlier articles by Andrew Dextras. Basically, it's a process whereby shadow is introduced to an otherwise relatively plain paint job. It also adds a grimy, oily appearance. A mix of Tamiya XF64 Red Brown and Tamiya XF1 Matt Black is heavily (and I mean heavily) thinned with isopropyl alcohol and sprayed into all the nooks and crannies all over the Famo and trailer. This is a hugely time-consuming process, but one I feel is worth it, as it can break up the monotony of such a large kit!
Now for the pastels. I use the cheapest pastel chalks I can find. At present I'm using a set of Chinese made chalks that come in a huge variety of colours (purple!) I toss out all the odd colours and replace them with browns, sands and ochre colours and I actually found a really light pink, which was the colour I used most here. The way I apply pastels is hardly rocket science. I just grind up some colours with some coarse sand paper, grab broad brush, dip it in the pastel chalk, and randomly apply the chalk to the kit. I have a few really crabby old paintbrushes that can't be used for painting, but are perfect for 'pastelling'. I always try to introduce some different colour to the mix I'm using, just to add a little interest, and to stop it being monotone.
On the load bed, I thought I'd try something different. I applied the chalk really heavily here and just piled it on. I then got the biggest brush I had, and brushed water over the whole lot. Once dry, the water/pastel mix looks a little like dried mud. I applied a few very selective washes with Rustall to break up the colour on the deck. All the metal paint chips were added with a 2B lead pencil, trying to keep them as random as possible. In areas that I thought may be heavily worn, I applied lead pencil with my finger, just by rubbing my finger over the area already covered with lead, so as to give it a metallic sheen.
I wanted to have something being recovered by the Famo so, based on the pictures in the 'Allied Axis' book, I added a Tamiya Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. L. This is a lovely kit, befitting being used in conjunction with the Famo. This was also painted with Tamiya acrylic colours. I applied a dark yellow and red brown camouflage scheme, just to make it look different from the Famo.
Well, what can I say? This is an incredible kit. Straight out of the box, it can be built into a beautiful model. Or you can go a little nuts and add both ABER detail sets. Truth be told, I used the basic set, and about 1/3 of the additional set. I devoted maybe 40 or 50 hours to this kit, mostly spent painting and weathering, and I think that's a credit to Tamiya - they can engineer a kit so comprehensive, yet to easy to build.
Thanks to James Blackwell, Andrew Dextras, Mic Bradshaw and Nancy Poulin for their cajoling, bullying and guidance throughout this project.
First published in Military Modelling Vol.32 No.4 2002