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Dragon’s new Tarawa M4A2 is departure from their previous Shermans, which tended to be reworks of older kits with new bits thrown in. The entire hull, turret, and tracks are brand new while the suspension is an improved version of an already substantially upgraded set. This kit is certainly Dragon’s best Sherman to date. The first release comes in the markings of the US Marine I Corps Tank Battalion on Tarawa, but a British Sherman Mark III has been announced as well and will be available by the time you’re reading this.

Pic 1: The finished model photographed against a scenic background Pic 2: Three of the Company ‘C’ M4A2 tanks led by COLORADO photographed on Tarawa a few weeks after the fighting. (NARA) Pic 3: CONDOR was knocked out during the fighting on Tarawa, but the cause remains a mystery. The official accounts suggest it was accidentally knocked out by a US Navy dive-bomber, but battalion veterans doubt that account. (NARA) Pic 4: The small rivets along the rim of the stamped road wheels were applied using ‘dimensional’ acrylic paint available from craft stores for painting T-shirts.

Some Historical Notes

The US Marine Corps’s initial tank battalions were equipped with M3 light tanks, but in 1942 plans were laid to add two medium tank battalions at corps level while the light tank battalions served for divisional support. The Marines were far down on the priority list for new equipment, after the US Army and Lend-Lease for Britain and the Soviet Union. They finally received the diesel-powered M4A2 in part because it was the only type available to them in the foreseeable future and in part due to the desire to adopt diesel tanks for commonality of fuel with Navy landing craft.

When forces were selected for the assault on the Tarawa atoll in November 1943, Company C of the I Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC) Medium Tank Battalion was assigned to provide tank support for the initial landing. The tanks were not provided with any form of deep-wading trunks, which had not yet been developed in the Pacific theatre. This would later prove to be the Achilles heel of the tank landing and far more tanks drowned in shell craters and deep water than were knocked out in combat. They were delivered to Tarawa aboard the LSD-1 USS Ashland, and landed using LCM-3.

The 1st Platoon plus two headquarters tanks landed at Beach Red 1 in the 5th assault wave, losing one tank on the approach in when it ‘drowned’ in a shell hole. The five remaining tanks reached the beach, but could not proceed due to the large number of dead and wounded Marines so they attempted to skirt around the congested landing site. In the process, three more tanks drowned out, and only two tanks finally reached dry land between beaches Red 1 and Green around 11:30 hours; CECELIA, the command tank of Lieutenant Ed Bale, and CHINA GAL. Almost immediately, they were confronted by a Type 95 Ha-go light tank of the 7th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force (the Japanese marines). CECELIA fired first and missed, and the Type 95 got a lucky hit with its 37mm gun, which actually struck inside the Cecilia’s 75mm gun tube, making it unusable. CHINA GAL destroyed the Type 95, ending one of the few tank duels in the battle. For modellers interested in more details of the Marine tanks on Tarawa, I would strongly recommend Ed Gilbert’s book Marine Tank Battles in the Pacific (Combined Publishing 2001) which offers a very detailed account of the Tarawa fighting.

Dragon’s Model

The suspension of the Dragon M4A2 kit will come as no surprise to anyone who has built any of the recent Dragon Sherman kits. I was pleasantly surprised to notice two significant changes on the bogie sprues. The track skid has been considerably thinned compared to earlier releases and Dragon finally provides a rear insert for the stamped idler wheel, long-standing complaints against the earlier kits. Overall, this suspension is my favourite for Sherman modelling - even over the more elaborate Tasca Set A, as it is very well detailed and much easier to assemble. Dragon has put the wheel mould part line at the edge of the road wheel instead of in the usual centre location, which largely eliminates the tedious work of cleaning up the dozen road-wheels.

‘Dimensional’ Paint

A few modest improvements can be made, however. The Sherman stamped wheels as depicted in the kit had a small series of pop rivets along the rim of the wheels, two between each spoke. While they are not particularly noticeable, diehard Sherman fans may want to add them. I tried a new technique on this model using ‘dimensional’ paint. Art and craft stores in the US sell acrylic paint intended for painting shirts, and in the ‘Tulip’ brand is a ‘dimensional’ paint call ‘Tulip Slick’. This is basically paint mixed in a thick acrylic gel, which gives it the consistency of toothpaste. It does not dry flat like usual paint, but retains its shape.

I applied the rivets using a fine point in a pin vice. This takes a bit of practice to get a consistent size, but since the paint is acrylic, any mistakes can be easily washed off and re-done. It is less time-consuming than other methods of rivet making and I think it works reasonably well for applications such as this, but I am not sure it is the ideal solution for other applications such as a row of rivets on a flat plate where the slight inconsistencies between each rivet would be more evident. The other improvement I made to the suspension bogies was to drill four holes in the rectangular front face of the bogie, which is basically the alternate attachment for the rear trailing return roller bracket.

Another new feature of the kit is the use of Dragon soft styrene track instead of the usual individual link tracks. I am not fond of conventional vinyl tank track, but the Dragon concoction can actually be glued using styrene cement. I would be a bit careful with this, because aggressive types of cement could damage the material. I used the Tamiya ‘orange’ bottle cement, which is a cross between the usual liquid cements and the tube gel cements. The tracks glued easily and stayed glued. The detail on these is quite good, and the end connectors are better detailed than on the Dragon hard plastic tracks. To get the tracks taut, I would recommend placing the rear idler at its aft-most position.

This kit correctly depicts the Sherman track tensioning system, but I found that the track is a bit loose if the idler wheel axle is placed in one of the inner positions. This means that the axle should be at the 9 o’clock position when looking at it (part A66) on the right side and at the 3 o’clock position when facing it on the left side.

The rest of the hull assembly is straightforward and I simply built the model straight out of the box.

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Pic 5: The fate of many of the Marine tanks on Tarawa was to become ‘drowned’ in shell holes approaching the beach after their engines or electric systems failed since they did not have deep wading trunks or sealing. (NARA) Pic 6: Some small changes were made to the rear deck, including the straps on the tools and gas-cap chains added from the Part photo-etch set. Pic 7: The fenders and brush guards come with the kit as photo-etched metal parts. The brush-guards were attached using Kneadtite for greater durability. The tow cable is from Karaya. Pic 8: Tex Rudloff, a veteran of Tarawa, stands in the driver’s hatch of COLORADO after the fighting.

New Upper Hull

The upper hull is new and very nicely detailed. About the only change I made was to add some detail inside the fire-extinguisher cover behind the left rear corner of the turret. The tools could use some attachment fittings and straps, and I used some that I had left over from the Part M4A1 photo-etch set. The pry bar had a different attachment fitting than the usual Sherman style, and I made this from some spare PE brass sheet.

The Marine M4A2 had a few features not provided in the kit. They were usually fitted with the exhaust deflector in the rear over the muffler. Some kits such as the Academy M10 come with this deflector, but it is not particularly accurate in shape so I made one from sheet plastic. I bent some .005 thou plastic sheet around an aluminium hobby-knife handle, submerged it in boiling water with some cross-action tweezers or pliers for about a minute, then quickly tempered it by moving it from the boiling water to the cold water tap in the kitchen. This requires some care to avoid scalding, and I usually use winter gloves for insulation during the process.

The Marine M4A2 also had a simple rack for jerrycans on the rear. I made this out of sheet plastic as shown here. I suspect that this was used for USMC water jerrycans, but all I had were the usual US Army gasoline jerrycans, which had a different lid and different stampings on the side. There may be some resin Marine water jerrycans, but I made do with the garden-variety plastic Tamiya army jerrycans even if not entirely accurate.

The M4A2s on Tarawa did not have the headlights fitted, so I produced the plug used to fill the attachment point using a Grandt Line railroad bolt, and fitted a chain from the plug to the tubular stowage bracket adjacent to the brush guard, made from a slice of aluminium screening. The kit moulds the tubular storage bracket directly to the hull, but I cut this off and replaced it with some very thin tubing made by heat stretching a piece of Evergreen _ inch plastic tube in the same fashion as stretching sprue.

The kit comes with photo etched metal brush-guards for the front lights, and plastic ones for the rear. Attaching PE brush-guards is a major nuisance since the manufacturers seldom provide any tabs to act as gluing surfaces. My solution is to use a small blob of Duro Kneadtite epoxy putty. Kneadtite is fundamentally different from other epoxy putties in that it is extremely tacky, like bubble gum, before drying and slightly elastic after drying. I cut a small sliver off the yellow/blue strip and then dampened my fingers in rubbing alcohol to prevent the putty from binding, and then mix it up into the final green colour. Using a round toothpick dampened in rubbing alcohol, I thin put some small bits of putty on the four points where the brush-guard will rest. After I stick the brush-guard into the putty, I then sculpt the putty to the sides of the brush-guard, mimicking the actual weld-bead.

This method is far more durable than either cyanoacrylate (CA) or epoxy glue, and I find that Kneadtite is much easier to use for these troublesome PE parts since it allows for repositioning. I also find that Kneadtite is much more durable when dry. For example, I accidentally whacked a brush guard on another Sherman. Had I used CA glue or epoxy, the PE brush-guard would have been knocked flying across the room. The PE part attached with Kneadtite remained in place, though slightly bent.

I also used a slightly different technique for attaching the PE sand-shield strips along the lower sides of the hull. Instead of trying to attach them directly to the hull using CA or epoxy glue, I attached a thin strip of .005 plastic to the back using CA glue. This is fairly easy to do, and the CA glue sticks very well to a flat surface such as this. Once dry, I then attached the strips to the hull using plastic cement. This technique makes it easier to reposition and align the strips, which is very difficult to do when using CA or epoxy. I use the same technique with small tool fittings such as the PE part for the towing cable latch on the rear upper hull.

The kit also comes with PE front fenders, which I don’t think is a particularly good idea. I suspect that many modellers will find these to be difficult to bed properly to shape. Furthermore, even when properly bent, there is apt to be a gap between the vertical portion and the curved upper portion. I solved this by soldering the gap. My preferred soldering method is to use a Wahl rechargeable soldering iron, which are available in the United States from shops like Micro-Mark. They are much smaller and handier than normal soldering irons, and since they work off a rechargeable battery with a simple button control, they are safer to use and don’t heat up as much as conventional soldering irons. I am not certain whether there is a European equivalent to this product, but it certainly makes soldering PE parts much easier.

I made a few other small changes on the hull such as adding some towing hooks to the front lift hooks as seen in photos of M4s on Tarawa. I added my own siren on the hull front, only to discover later that the kit does contain a siren on the clear plastic sprue, and therefore invisible to me on first glance!

The turret in the Dragon kit is all new and has some very good features, including the first depiction of both the early and late gun shields for the M34A1 gun mounting. Assembly of the turret was very straightforward and I used the Kneadtite to attach the PE blade sight.

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Pic 9: The only major additions to the model were a jerrycan rack typical of the IMAC Tank Battalion on Tarawa, and the often-ignored sheet metal exhaust deflector. Pics 10 to 13: The finished model before painting.

Painting and Weathering

The tanks on Tarawa were relatively clean, but were likely to have been covered with dust and sand after a little action. I began by painting the model in my usual mixture of ‘scale’ Olive Drab mixed roughly 60:40 from Tamiya Olive Drab XF62 and Dark Yellow XF60 (panzer yellow). After setting my compressor on low pressure (around 15 psi), I added some streaking effects using full strength Tamiya Olive Drab and Dark Yellow to break up the monotone finish. I applied some clear gloss on the hull side where the decals would be placed to eliminate the problem of silvering on the clear bits.

I wanted to do CHINA GAL and surprisingly, it was one of the few tanks not depicted on the decal sheet. So I did the lettering using Woodland Scenic dry transfers. The kit decal sheet shows the battalion’s elephant insignia in grey, but I have seen colour film footage of the Tarawa tanks which shows it to be yellow like the names. So I repainted the grey bits before applying the decal to the model.

I have not seen any evidence of the registration numbers of the various tanks other than CONDOR, so I used one of the kit’s Blue Drab sets at random. Once the decals were in place and dry, I over sprayed them with some clear gloss to prevent any damage from the subsequent wash. I did the detail painting of the tools and tyres before applying the wash. Instead of the usual dark wash and light dry brushing, I reversed the approach to create a dustier finish. I airbrushed the tracks in Tamiya IJN Grey XF75 along with some random over-brushing with some brown and grey for more colour depth.

For the wash, I mixed some Humbrol Light Earth 119 along with some Winsor & Newton Titanium White to result in a light sand colour. For the wash, I mixed in some mineral (white) spirits, as well as some Winsor & Newton Liquin, which is an oil paint additive intended to accelerate the drying time of oil paint. I find that it also works well as a medium to help spread out the wash a bit, compared to solvent alone. I added a blob of Liquin, about the same amount as the paint. After the wash had dried, I did some dry-brushing and accent painting using Humbrol Olive Drab 155, varying the mix with black and sepia oil paint. This helps break up the finish and pop out details. It’s also a good way to simulate the effect of crew activity wearing through the dust and grime to reveal the darker undercoat.

Once the finish was dry I airbrushed on some Testors Dullcote to flatten the finish and with that dry, I did the final ‘glossy’ finishing touches like some highlighting with powdered graphite to simulate wear. I also painted on the rear lights and added the periscope surface lenses using small rectangles cut from 35mm film leader attaching them with white glue.

The Optional Figure

The kneeling Marine figure with the flamethrower is from the excellent Dragon Gen 2 Tarawa set. The Gen 2 figures are really little kits in their own right, with about 20 parts for this figure alone. I was in a bit of a rush so I substituted a Hornet head for the kit head as the new Gen 2 heads are two-piece, requiring some delicate cleaning along the seam line. I painted the figure using Vallejo acrylics.

The base for the model comes from the excellent Monroe Perdu line of resin bases, this one being their ‘Sunken Road’ base which fits smaller 1:35 scale AFVS quite well. It comes with a nice little wall, but I filled in the depression for that using epoxy putty.

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Pic 15: The Dragon Gen 2 figures are quite complicated, but result in very nice figures. The back had to be flattened to permit the flamethrower tank to sit properly. Pic 16: A close-up of the Gen 2 flamethrower figure, painted using Vallejo acrylics. Pic 17: The finished model on the Monroe Perdu ‘Sunken Road’ diorama base. Pics 18 & 19: The finished model after painting.

Conclusions

Overall, the new Dragon M4A2 is a superb kit, and one of the few Shermans I have been able to build almost straight out-of-the-box without a lot of corrections. It has a lot of potential for depicting Marine Shermans in the later 1944-45 campaigns. At the time of writing Dragon had advertised a British Sherman III based on this kit, and this greatly expands the potential colour and markings options. Then there are Red Army Shermans, Free French M4A2, etc.