Back in the ancient days when I began armour modelling, it seemed that scratch building was a much more common activity amongst tank modellers than today. One of my early inspirations was a series of articles appearing in the old Airfix magazine by a certain Ken Jones! Since then, my eyesight has wandered a bit downstream, obliging me to switch from 1:76 scale to 1:35 scale.
The decline in interest in scratch building is also evident at hobby competitions, at least over here in the United States. I suspect that the main reason is the proliferation of both plastic and resin kits. Often I have heard the lament of scratch-builders “Now that I have just finished putting in 2,000 hours on my ‘Pz.Kpfw VII Ausf. Z’, scratch-build, of course, out comes the Tamiya kit!” The secret, I suppose, is to scratch-build something that no one in their right mind would release as a resin kit.
On a couple of recent modelling projects, I kept cursing that so much work was involved in cleaning up problems that it would be easier to scratch-build the model! So, after a hiatus of several years, I decided to have a go at a scratch-build for a change of pace. My choice was somewhat obscure, the Marmon Herrington T-16 light tank. I suspect that many readers will not recognise his tank, as it seldom figures in most histories of US Army tanks of WWII. Its obscurity is well deserved, as it was probably the worst tank to serve with the US Army during the war. A detailed history of the T-16 will be appearing shortly in the Journal of Military Ordnance. I chose it as I have a long-standing interest in US Army light tank design, it is a fairly small and simple design, and it seems unlikely anyone will ever do a resin kit of it.
A quick historical sketch
The T-16 started out in 1941 as an export tank intended to arm the Netherlands KNIL forces in the Dutch East Indies. It was an odd design, with two types being produced, the CTLS-4TAC with its turret on the right side, and the CTLS-4TAY with its turret on the left. About two dozen arrived in February 1942, and some took part in ill-fated fighting against the Japanese on Java before being overwhelmed. In the desperate days of 1942, the remainder of the Dutch order, numbering over 400 tanks was turned over to Dutch forces in the West Indies, to Australia, and to the US army. The US army was not very happy with these tanks, but issued 240 of them to separate tank companies in Alaska, along the Californian coast, and at remote bases in Newfoundland and elsewhere.
The closest they came to combat was in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, where the US army was attempting to dislodge the Japanese from Kiska and Attu islands. This might have resulted in the only tank battle fought on North American soil, as Japanese troops had landed several type 95 Ha-Go light tanks. In the end, the Marmon Herrington light tanks were not deployed during the recapture of Kiska and Attu due to the poor beach conditions. Most were retired by 1943 due to their poor automotive record and the advent of much better equipment. Strangely enough, a few of the original Dutch tanks on Java were used by the Japanese for occupation duty, and in 1945 some were turned over to Indonesian nationalists who used them to fight British forces landing there to establish Allied control.
Planning the Model
When scratch building a tank, some advance planning is helpful. \one of the early issues is whether or not to resin cast some of the components. At first, I had planned to build each suspension bogie out of sheet plastic, but on closer inspection of photos, I realised that the suspension was much more complicated than I had anticipated. So, instead, I made a master out of sheet plastic.
As long as I was going to be doing RTV moulds of the suspension bogies, I decided to do the idler wheel and drive sprocket as well. Finally, I decided also to do the many vision blocks, as they followed a common pattern. The bogie assembly consisted of two pieces, plus a pair or wheels.
The wheel master began as a 1:72 scale Esci Merkava wheel, suitably modified. The main problem with adapting this wheel was its rather conical shape, a problem with many of the Esci wheels. I usually prepare any moulds and resin parts before tackling the model, as it takes some time to cast enough parts.
These days, there is a growing rage of casting resins on the market and there are several important features to look for. The resin must be liquid enough to flow easily into the mould. It should have a slow drying time, at least 3 or 4 minutes, to allow trapped air bubbles to be removed. It should be clear before setting to permit air bubbles to be seen and poked out. Finally, I prefer types that consist of resin and hardener that are mixed in a 1:1 ratio, as this makes it much easier than an 8:1 ratio or other odd amounts. With my casting underway, I tackled the hull.
There is nothing particularly special about the basic structure of this model. The T-16 is a relatively simple shape, since it consists mainly of flat plates. I decide to use .20 thou plastic sheet, as this is rigid enough for so small a model. For larger 1:35 scale tanks, .30 thou plastic is desirable. I started with the lower hull, and worked my way up to the superstructure and then the turret. I use liquid cement where the seams will not show.
For areas where the seams will be evident, I use a cyanoacrylate glue (Zap-a-gap) with a chemical accelerator. While I don’t like working with such glues, they have two principal advantages. They set very quickly, allowing work to proceed much more quickly than liquid cement. Also, on drying, they are excellent gap fillers and so seams can be more easily sanded away.
I decided to place crew figures in my model, so I designed the turret and hull section to permit open hatches.
With the basic hull and turret complete, and all the seams closed and filled, I began the major components. The mudguards had an anti-skid surface. To model this, I laminated a thin sheet of ‘On-The-Mark’ photo-etched small grid pattern material on to a sheet of .20 thou plastic using Zap-a-Gap. I then attached the fenders, and added the inner faces and trim from thin plastic strip. Bu this stage, I had prepared a small inventory of cast resin parts for the suspension.
If it does nothing else, casting your own parts makes you far more appreciative of the skill of resin kit manufacturers. It is not easy to cast perfect parts every time. Air bubbles always seem to manage to work their way into every nook and cranny, ruining many parts. In addition, the repeated use of the RTV mould leads to its continual deterioration as small detail is gradually ripped off. I cast plenty of extra parts to make up for the many imperfect attempts.
I debated for some time whether to scratch build a set of tracks for this model, as the track pattern of the T-16 is rather odd. In the end, I decided to use some Accurate Armour Pz.Kpfw.1 track, which I had left over from a recent project where I replaced the resin track with Fruilmodel metal track. The Pz.Kpfw 1 track is roughly the right pitch and width, and the guide horns are the proper type. I was reluctant to cast my own track until I build up enough experience in casting complex moulds, and scratch building the tracks would have transformed a simple, fun project, into a real chore.
Assembling the suspension was fairly simple and took about two evening’s work. This was one of the most satisfying parts of the project, as the tank really began to take shape with the addition of the suspension. The next task was one I did not look forward to doing – rivets! Rivets are the bane of armour modellers, much as rigging is for WWI biplane modellers. The Marmon Herrington actually used sheet metal screws for much of its assembly rather than true rivets, but reproducing them in scale is much the same.
As I have mentioned before, the most satisfactory way to reproduce hundreds of identical rivets is to use a punch and die set. I use the Waldron Model Products Sub-Miniature Punch and Die set. I punched the rivets out using .10 thou sheet plastic, and I used the smallest size punch, 0.18 inch. A few suggestions are in order if following this technique. First of all, it’s a good idea to elevate the die off the work surface. If the die is directly on the work surface, there is the tendency to punch the rivet into the table top or work board, crushing it and damaging the table top. I put the die on a slightly raised surface. I had been using an old wooden mitre box, but lately I found a small wooden letter ‘O’ intended for house numbering that works well since I takes a few hours to punch out the hundreds of rivets needed even for a small tank such as this one.
Having built up an inventory of rivets, I proceeded to attach them to the model. The one technique to avoid is applying liquid cement directly to the model’s surface. Even if you cut down the brush so that it has a finer tip, it is impossible to control the amount of liquid cement that flows on to the model. The result is a blob of liquid glue surrounding the rivet. The preferred approach is to put a drop of liquid glue on to a non-porous surface. I use a worn-out, single-sided razor blade. Then, using a sharp No.11 blade in my hobby knife, I pick up a rivet on the sharp tip of the balde, dip it in the drop of cement, and then transfer the rivet on to the model. This takes some practice, but I fond it is the best way. Incidentally, this technique is a very good way to attach other very small parts to tank models to control the amount of glue that reaches the surface. It took me an entire evening to put rivets on the tank.
With the tank ‘riveted’ together, I began to add other details. The rear engine deck has three prominent grilled vents. To make uniform grills, I use a laminate method. I make the slats themselves from pre-cut strips of .10 thou plastic sheet, in this case Evergreen .10 thou x .60 thou strip. I cut a bunch of these to roughly the proper length. I then determine the gap between the slats. In the case of this model, I used .20 thou x .20 thou Evergreen strip to create these spacers. These spacers keep the distance between the slats even. I then laminate a slat with a spacer, another slat, another spacer, etc., until the proper length is reached. It is a good idea to glue these down on a piece of backing sheet to keep them even. Once dry, I trim the edges of the grills to make them even, and then add the combing around them.
The Marmon Herrington light tank is relatively simple once the grills and rivets are completed. The muffler on the left side has an unusual guard which I made up from strips of thin brass sheet and brass wire. The externally mounted machine-gun mount is plastic, while the Browning machine-gun itself is from Collectors Brass series. I also used Collectors Brass tools on the hull rear, though similar items from the spares box are a less expensive alternative. I used a few pieces of photo etched brass from my growing collection of left-overs from earlier projects.
I decided to complete my Marmon Herrington in the markings of the 602nd Independent Tank Company which was attached to the 135th Infantry Regiment of the Missouri National Guard on Umnak Island off the Alaskan coast in the summer of 1942. This used the standard markings of the period, a set of yellow stars and bars.
The Marmon Herrington light tanks do not appear to have carried formal US Army serial numbers, nor were other tactical markings evident from the extant photos. The stars and bars have to cover a large number of rivets and other detail, so I didn’t think that conventional water-slide decals would work very well.
I decided to use reverse masking. I began by spraying the areas with the markings with Tamiya yellow acrylic paint. This didn’t have to be too neat as long as it covered the necessary areas. Once it was dry, I cut some thin strip of Frisket and a pair of Frisket stars, and placed these in the appropriate position. Frisket is a type of thin, self-adhesive plastic sheet sold in art stores for illustrators to use in masking paper artwork. Other types of masking material could also be used, but Frisket paper is easier to control than normal masking tape, and its weak adhesive is less likely to peel up the paint when it’s removed after the main colour has been applied.
Painting & Weathering
With the Frisket markings in place, I painted the model in the base colour. For wartime US olive drab, I usually mix up Tamiya Olive Drab and Tamiya Panzer Yellow acrylics. The olive drab straight out of the bottle is much too dark, especially after a dark wash is applied over it. For the suspension area, a couple of earth colours were also used.
Once the base colours were dry and the Frisket masks for the markings removed, I began weathering the model. I used a basic thin wash of mineral spirits and Winsor & Newton Raw Umber oil paint, and then went back and applied a denser solution with a fine brush in specific areas such as the rivets, crevices, and other details. I used a dense wash of Winsor & Newton black and mineral spirits in the grills. The small detail items were finished out using Andrea acrylics. The wooden handles of the tools were then treated to some scoring with dark red brown oil paint wash. Once the washes were dry, I gave the model a coat of Testor’s Dullcote to get a uniform flat effect. Once this was dry, I picked out some metallic detail with powdered graphite from a drafting pencil sharpener.
I worked on the crew for this tank before finishing the painting. The crew was inspired by photos of the Umnak tanks, which showed tankers wearing Rabbit fur caps. The figure in the turret is a standard Verlinden US tanker figure, but with the head removed and replaced with one from their German Head set No.8 with fur caps. Remember to remove the German Eagle! The driver figure is from the recent Nemrod US tankers in the Ardennes set. I painted both figures with acrylics, with the final detailing in oil paints.
The base consists of a plastic sheet painted with acrylic texture gel. Rather than the usual flat base, I added some depth by constructing a small earth retaining wall in the background from some timber. The earth behind the retaining wall is made from florist’s foam, which is a type of Styrofoam sold I arts & crafts shops for floral decorations. It has a finer texture than normal Styrofoam, and is very easy to cut and shape.
I added further ground texture from some dried tree roots, model railroad ballast, and some Hudson & Allen forest litter.
A common sight around bases in Alaska was PSP (Pierced Steel Planking) which was used to cover particularly soft ground. I used four pieces of photo etched PSP from the Eduard sets to add a little interest to the base. Finally, the crushed barrel comes from the extensive range of scenic accessories produced by Armand Bayardi.
Overall, this was an entertaining project and I was very pleased with the results. While many readers may not wish to go so far as to scratch build their next armoured vehicle project, I hop that some of the techniques I described here will be useful in detailing and conversion projects.
First published in Military Modelling Vol.27 No.19 1997
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