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The inspiration for this model came by sheer accident. Whilst rummaging through some US Army records at the National Archives a year ago, I stumbled on a report about British Sherman Crocodile flame-thrower tanks being developed for the US Army. Although I copied the attached photos, I didn't give the report much thought until a few months later, when I stumbled onto a photo of a pair of these in US service. Although a fairly obscure subject, it struck me as an obvious model conversion since the main elements of the vehicle are available in plastic.

Historical Background

During June 1943, US, British and Canadian officers held a flame-thrower conference in Maryland to evaluate requirements for future mechanized operations in Europe. The conference concluded that that Britain led the US in mechanized flame-thrower development, so the US Army began a two-pronged effort to examine British projects and to accelerate domestic programs.

Us officers were shown the Churchill Crocodile in March 1943 and told of the possibility of creating a similar vehicle using the M4 Sherman tank. On 11th August 1943, the US Army informed the British War Office they would have an estimated requirement for 100 Sherman Crocodiles. The British Petroleum Warfare Department proceeded with the construction of a wooden mock-up of such a configuration and it was inspected by US officers on 1st October 1943, who approved the construction of a prototype.

The first prototype was competed in January 1944 and began trials at the end of the month. A demonstration was held for senior US officers on 3rd February 1944. First US Army established a firm requirement for 65 vehicles in February 1944, and a formal requisition for 115 was placed with British officials on the presumption that Patton's Third Army would require flame-throwers as well. The first production vehicle was completed in March 1944. The plane was for British firms to provide common items such as the armoured trailer, while US firms would provide any other elements peculiar to the Sherman configuration.

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In parallel, the US Army was developing its own tank-mounted flame-thrower and an order for 100 E4-5 flame-throwers was placed in the US on 21st April 1944. The following July, trials were held of the E4-5 flame-thrower mounted in an M4 tank in Normandy, and its performance was described as 'pathetic' compared to the Churchill Crocodile. As a result, on 15th July 1944, senior US army officers asked that the Sherman Crocodile order be expedited. By August, US Army officers had soured on the use of mechanized flame-throwers, citing the poor performance of Churchill Crocodiles in the preceding month's fighting in Normandy. While they had not lived up to expectations, their performance was undermined by poor tactics, not by technical faults. It is not clear why there was such a sudden reversal of opinion among senior US officers. It is possible that this was due to the influence of Armoured Force Officers, who had been opposed to any flame-thrower tanks that required a towed trailer.

In the event, four M4 Crocodile flame-throwers had been completed by this time, and they were handed over to the 9th Army in late November 1944. It was felt that the 9th Army was the best located to operate these, since they were the northern-most US formation, and deployed adjacent to the British 12th Army Group which was operating the Churchill Crocodile. Early training on the M4 Crocodile proved the value of the design compared to the E4-5, since it had much better flame range, and a much larger fuel reserve. The commander of the 9th Army, General Simpson, pressed for more to be provided so that an entire battalion could be equipped. Bradley's 12th Army Group turned down the request, arguing that they could not be made ready in time. As a result, these four M4 Crocodiles were formed as a platoon in the HQ company of the 739th Tank Battalion (Special-Mine Exploder) and were the only US Crocodiles ever in service. In February, the platoon was transferred from Holland to Aldenhoven, Germany to train with the 29th Division which had been supported by British Churchill Crocodiles during the fighting around the seaport of Brest in August 1944. They were scheduled to be deployed in Operation Grenade, the final US Army push over the Roer river in late February 1845.

The 29th Division's 175th Infantry was assigned to attack the town of Julich on 24thFebruary. The town had been reduced to rubble by air attacks and artillery strikes, and the assault companies secured the town by late afternoon except for the Old Citadel. The fortress was surrounded by a moat 85 feet wide and 20 feet deep, and the division did not want to waste troops attacking it, so the M4 Crocodiles were called forward to deal with the fortifications. Two of the tanks broke down before reaching the Citadel. The remaining two reached the edge of the moat, and began pumping flame into the Citadel which forced the defenders to retreat underground. The M4 tanks then fired about 20 rounds of 75mm high explosive ammunition at the main gate, and once this was blown open, began flaming the inner courtyard. The last four German survivors fled the burning fort through tunnels and could be seen running away on the nearby hill. Troops from the 175th Infantry crossed the moat, securing it by 1500 hours on the 24th February 1945. The Old Citadel continued to burn for two days. The four M4 Crocodiles supported the 2nd Armoured Division after the Rhine crossing in March 1945, but there were few other opportunities for the use of mechanized flame-throwers once the Siegfried line had been breached.

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The Model - The Suspension

This is actually a fairly simple conversion using the Tamiya M4 tank kit, and the armoured trailer from the Tamiya Churchill Crocodile. In fact, I probably spent as much time cleaning up minor problems with the Tamiya M4 as I did doing the actual conversion work! The main problem with the Tamiya M4 is that it is a mish-mash of old and new Sherman features and this was the second Sherman released by Tamiya using the same basic chassis as their earlier M4A3 kit. However, the M4 version depicted in the kit was generally fitted with the earlier style of suspension bogies with the horizontal return roller bracket. There are ample options to replace the Tamiya suspension; in plastic the DML M4A1, the Academy M12 and M10, and the AFV Club M10 all have the correct type of suspension. In addition, there are several aftermarket kits of this suspension including a plastic one from AFV Club and several resin examples.

I had picked up a couple of AFV Club M4 Sherman VVSS suspension sets (Kit AF35029) before the better Academy M10/M12 became available. This is basically the suspension from their M10 kit. The AFV Club suspension is actually quite nice except for the wheels and the unfortunate use of vinyl volute springs to make the suspension 'workable'. I decided to use one of these sets on this project and to get around the wheel problem, I had picked up a set of resin M4 wheels from Fort Duquesne. These were mastered by the well-known US modeller and AMPS Master, Bob Collignon and are very good. They are mainly intended to offer an aftermarket solution to modellers who have some of the other M4 stamped wheels that lack any back detail, such as the Italeri and DML sets. Another attractive feature is that they have small sets of rivets around the inner rim that the injection moulded wheel sets lack.

I replaced the vinyl springs on the AFV Club suspension with the plastic springs from the Tamiya suspension. Photos of the M4 Crocodiles in action show them fitted with the usual combination of T48 rubber chevron tracks with extended end connectors. Having built a set of the grotesquely complicated Model Kasten T48/duckbill tracks for my M4A3E2, I decided to stick with the RHPS T48 tracks and their new set of extended end connectors. These are much easier to assemble, though some care has to be taken in removing the extended end connectors from the sprue as they are very tin and delicate.

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Building the Hull

While working on the suspension, I began work on the lower hull. The one clear photo of an operational M4 Crocodile shows it to be an intermediate production M4 with the early one-piece differential cover. This is the relatively smooth style with the single tow-hook prongs. Tamiya provides the earlier three-piece and later on-piece covers. Fortunately, the early one-piece cover is available as an option in the Academy M10 kit, and I was pleasantly surprised to fond that it mates with the Tamiya hull without any significant trimming or fit problems. Once the hull was together, I gave this a coating of Gunze Sangyo's Mr. Surfacer to build up a little texture.

The rest of the Tamiya hull goes together without problem except for the usual chore of blanking off the hollow Tamiya sponson floors with sheet plastic. The Tamiya M4 hull is not one their best offerings. For some unexplained reason, Tamiya decided to show the weld beads on the upper hull as depression rather than as raised detail. While some modellers will probably ignore this problem, I tackled it by soaking some plastic rod in liquid cement, and once soft, placing it in the depressions. I then sculpted a bit of texture into it using a pin. Another problem with the Tamiya M4 hull is the shape of the driver's covers project forward from the glacis plate. These should start as a rectangular shape and then gradually taper to a rounded shape. On the Tamiya kit, they are too square on the roof around the driver's hatches. I filed them a bit, but this would require major surgery to correct completely. In the event, most of this is hidden by the added appliqué armour plates.

The actual flame gun and armoured fuel line channel are fairly easy to build for anyone with some conversion experience. The channel is a square cross-section, and I had some Evergreen styrene channel that was very close to the actual size. The little flame turret is seated on top of the circular radio pot casting on the right side of the glacis plate. I have been unable to find any overhead shots of this detail, but I believe that there was no top to the small parapet built around the base of the turret. It might be possible to use the flam-gun provided with the Tamiya Churchill Crocodile, but I found it fairly thick and heavy, so I scratch built a new flame-gun. The turret is a very simple little box with two odd 'wings' on either side that were probably added later as an afterthought to protect the trunnions on which the turret is hinged.

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The fuel channel is slightly more complicated at the rear as it expands near the centre to accommodate the universal joint that connects the tank with the armoured fuel trailer. Fortunately, the fuel trailer is basically identical to that provided in the Tamiya kit. I had fit problems with this old kit. And finally ended up adding some triangular plastic strip around the centre ridge of the body to duplicate the lip. Greater care assembling the lower and upper half probably would have avoided this problem! I replaced the compressed air tanks on the upper hull with plastic rod, as it was easier to clean up the kit parts. I also made a slightly more delicate mounting frame for these than the style provided in the kit. Another detail I added was the pair of clamps used to hold the spare trailer hitch to the roof of the trailer.

Adding Details

I spent a fair amount of time detailing the Tamiya M4 kit. It is old and a lot of the small detail is either absent or simplified. I used the kit tools, but I also added appropriate tie-downs and straps. The frame for showing the pry bar comes from the Aber Sherman PE set. The brush-guards for the front and rear lights comes from the Fine Molds set, though these are available on a number of PE sets. I replaced most of the closed periscopes on the hull and the turret with new PE combings and with opened covers. Those on the hull I did from Sheet plastic, but I got lazy by the time I reached the turret and I used the resin Custom Dioramics open periscopes. Since I left the driver's hatch open, I added a resin Custom Dioramics periscope and sleeve. The siren on the centre of the glacis plate was made from the kit part, mated with the PE front from the Aber set. I also added various small springs and latches to the front hatches, especially to the co-driver's hatch which is more visible. I did not fit the bow machine guns, as it seems likely that this was left off to allow the co-driver to concentrate on aiming the flame-gun.

The turret is pretty much out of the box except for small detail work. I added casting numbers on the left side of the gun mantlet housing and on the top of the roof from the PE small numbers. Once I had faired in the left side pistol port, I then gave the turret a rough coat of Gunze Sangyo Mr. Surfacer to enhance the texture of the turret casting. I added a lot of small detail to the commander's cupola, including a sleeve for the periscope. The .50 cal machine gun is a hodgepodge of bits from the spares box including a resin receiver from the Legend aftermarket .50 cal, the kit barrel in plastic and a Verlinden resin ammo box. I also added all the small fiddly bits on the turret rear used to stow the .50 cal machine gun during travel. The 739th Tank Battalion, like many US tank units, had a steel bar welded around the turret side to attach personal gear. I made this from a piece of brass rod. The stowage consists of a mixture of the Verlinden bedrolls and musette bags, a Tamiya musette bag for variety, some Tamiya helmets, and a couple of resin helmets from the spares box. The straps attaching the kit to the rail are from strips of thin lead sheet.

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I decided against a lot of stowage on the rear deck, mainly due to laziness. One item that attracted my attention at a recent show was the Verlinden 'US clothing WWII' (Kit 1594) which consists of several coats and other clothing as though left on a flat surface. I chose the bib coveralls, which were a common tanker's item, and added that to the rear along with a resin bed roll.

Troops & Crew

After years of neglect, we are finally beginning to get some decent US Army infantry in winter garb. I decided to try two of the latest figures for this project, one from the recent Tamiya M4A3 Sherman re-releases, and one from the new Dragon/DML 101st Airborne at Bastogne. The Tamiya figure comes with the M4A3 105mm howitzer tanks and depicts a GI in the winter wool greatcoat standing wearily with a M1 Garand rifle. I immediately discarded the head, which made the figure look like a no-neck Neanderthal. I substituted a Hornet head instead. The method I use to add Hornet heads is to drill a hole into the torso the diameter of the neck. This way, the head can be moved around a bit until the right pose is reached. After gluing the head in place, I built up a scarf around his throat using some epoxy putty.

One of the main problems with plastic figures is the difficulty in getting the hands to mate up with the weapons. In this case, I gave up as the Tamiya hands weren't very good to begin with, and I substituted hands from the new Hornet set. Another shortcoming with plastic figures is the poor depiction of shoelaces on boots. One substitute that I have found is to cut a thin strip ox 'X' shapes from a sheet of fine aluminium mesh screening. This is very soft and pliable, and can be made to conform better to the boot shape than PE screen. I added the rifle sling and the helmet chinstrap with thin strips of lead sheet. The pins on the grenade were cut from links of Aber PE chain. Overall, the new Tamiya winter GI figures are very nice, but they are not up to the Dragon/DML standards in terms of crisp detail around the webbing and other features. In addition, Tamiya chose a simpler method to depict the lower portion of the greatcoat, which is adequate but not as 'full-bodied' as its DML counterpart.

The other GI figure comes from the new DML/Dragon 101st Airborne at Bastogne set. In reality, this set can be used as any US Infantry unit as nearly all the clothing is typical 1944/45 items. I suspect that the box title has more to do with marketing and the Band of Brothers connection than the actual contents. I have been very impressed with recent Dragon figure releases, and these are no exception. Aside from the excellent research (courtesy of Ron Volstad), the poses are well suited for figures positioned near armour models. Dragon has chosen a complicated method to depict the lower portion of the greatcoat, providing it in four separate panels. I was a bit concerned about parts fit, but I was relieved to find that it went together very well considering its complexity. This approach allows Dragon to depict the figure with an approximately bulky appearance. Many figures in winter dress look too skinny since manufacturers have to avoid making them too bulky for fear of resulting sinkholes. I replaced the head on this figure with a Hornet head from the excellent new set of 'Gaunt/battle-weary' faces, with a helmet from Tamiya. I used the kit hands, as they are supposed to be gloved anyway, and the fit was reasonably good. I added the leather rifle sling from lead sheet along with the helmet straps. This figure is wearing the rubber-bottom snow-pac boots, which had metal snaps rather than laces. So I left the kit features alone in this respect.

The two tank crew figures are out-of-the-box resin figures. The driver is from the recent Verlinden US winter tank crew, while the commander is made from bits from the Nemrod winter US tank crew.

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Finishing Off

I wanted to give the finished model a feel of the fighting for the Siegfried line, so I decided to include a few items reminiscent of the border battles. I usually build my bases using inexpensive picture frames, and so the size of the frame I selected determined the size of the base. This led to a rather cramped and busy base, but as I mentioned before, I normally use the base to place the model in its historic context, not to create a full-blown diorama.

To start with, I decided to use one of the concrete obstacles contained in the Verlinden 'Siegfried line Road Block' set (kit MDA35301). This depicts one half of a standard German road obstruction used to create pathways through fields of dragon's teeth. On approach of enemy forces, a set of steel 'I' section beams or railroad rails would be set in place across the two obstacles, blocking the road from traffic. These are officially called Strassensperre durch Hockerlinic Typ 1938. The Verlinden obstacle is a bit small in my opinion, but it creates the right effect. It comes cast in plaster, and the example I bought had a fair number of air bubbles, which had to be filled.

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Another element of the base is a smashed dragon's tooth which is to hint that this field has already been breached by engineers. There are some bent steel reinforcing bars set in the tooth and behind this is an armoured machine gun cupola. This is from the Farina Enterprises diorama series (Joseph Farina, 333 Windsor Street, Cambridge, MA 02141 USA). This comes cast in resin with a small plaster base. I discarded the plaster base, and trimmed the mould plug at the base of the turret so that it would fit flush with the ground. This was a fairly common type of defensive work since it did not require the usual concrete bunker for emplacement, but consisted instead of a simple steel tube with the cupola attaché on top. These were used not only in the Sigfried line, but in Italy as well. I left it without its usual machine gun armament as though it had been abandoned. With these in place, I added the ground work which I did in my usual style with epoxy putty.

To give the tank and trailer the feel of having been moving through winter mud, I added some texture to the undersides using acrylic texture gels. The M4 Crocodile was painted in the usual scheme of Olive Drab. I started by airbrushing the vehicle overall in Tamiya Olive Drab XF-62 acrylic, and then followed it up with an irregular pattern of Olive Drab lightened with Dark Yellow XF-60. The lower sides were air brushed starting with a very dark earth colour, followed by an irregular overcoat of mid-earth colour like Tamiya Khaki XF-49 and then dusted on the prominent points with a light colour such as Deck Tan XF-55 or Buff XF-57.

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The markings are dry transfer for the unit codes and stencilling, and the stars were airbrushed on using stencils cut from Frisket sheet. I began the weathering process using a wash of mineral spirits and Raw Umber oil paint, later going back and adding more streaking and other texture for a more natural and irregular finish. Once this was all dry, I dry-brushed the model using my usual mixture of Humbrol enamels mixed with oil paint to prolong the drying and ease the blending.

The figures were painted in my usual fashion. I begin by airbrushing them in a single colour, which also serves as the primer. In the case of the tank crew, the base colour is Tamiya Dark Yellow XF-60. The two GI's in the wool greatcoats were painted in an Olive Drab shade I mixed from Tamiya acrylics. The first spray was too red, and I remixed the colour with more Dark Yellow XF-60 before I was satisfied with the appearance. After this, I did all the detail painting with Vallejo acrylics. Once this dried, I then did all the shading and highlighting with Humbrol enamels mixed with oil paint which are easier to blend than Humbrol alone. The 29th Division insignia on the GI's comes from the excellent Archer dry transfers, while the stencilling on the ammo pouches, canteens and shovel covers are from the Hudson & Allen Studio wet decal sheet.

All in all, this was a very simple conversion that results in a very distinctive model of this obscure version of the Sherman tank. This would be a good project for someone wishing to begin conversion work, as the small turret on the front of the tank and other small items are not a major challenge compared to many other conversion projects.

First published in Military Modelling, Volume 32, No.15, 2002