Tamiya M551 Sheridan, US Airborne Tank, Vietnam War
Tamiya has made Vietnam War modelers quite happy with this long awaited, long overdue addition to their line up. This model is an all new-tool kit, effectively replacing the ancient 1970’s vintage offering. The review kit that AMPS has been provided is a pre-production example, and some aspects of the production kit such as parts sprue color and box design will be likely be different.
Looking at Tamiya’s website, it seems that they will be marketing a couple of upgrade / add-on sets for this kit; one a set of card stock or paper C ration boxes to use as stowage on the Sheridan, Photoetch engine deck and anti-RPG screens and a metal main gun tube will also be available.
A Brief History of the M551 Sheridan
Designed as an air mobile, amphibious capable light tank, the M551 Sheridan entered production at Cleveland’s GMC / Cadillac Gage manufacturing plant in 1966. These tanks had aluminum hulls topped by a steel turret, and were armed with a 152mm rifled gun capable of firing caseless HEAT ammunition, or a Shillelagh missile. The M551 entered U.S. Army service in 1967. In 1969, the Sheridan was introduced to the Vietnam conflict, where it’s aluminum hull proved to be vulnerable to both mines and rocket fire. Field modifications such as the anti-RPG screens, and the mine protection kit, aka “belly armor ( both seen in this kit ) were employed to reduce the effectiveness of RPGs, and mines. Various other modifications were made as well, for crew protection. There were also early issues with the caseless ammunition “cooking off”, resulting in deadly explosions. Difficulties with the fire control electronics were encountered, due to the recoil of the big gun on this light tank.
A total of slightly more than 1,600 M551 Sheridans were built, serving extensively in Vietnam, in Panama’s Operation Just Cause, where 10 M551s were air dropped ( resulting in the destruction of two of them ), and in Operation Desert Storm, where the only Shillalaghs fired in anger ( just a handful apparently ) were launched. The M551 Sheridan was retired in 1996, with some used for several years beyond this as OPFOR ( simulated enemy armor ) for training purposes.
What’s in the Box?
Initial observations on this kit - this is another kit that has a manageable parts count and shouldn’t take an extreme amount of time to build. The parts quality looks up to the usual high Tamiya standard, with all parts crisply and cleanly molded. Detail on the parts looks very fine, with very good definition. There are no photoetch or metal parts ( other than a bit of wire ) in this kit. Mold seams and ejector pin marks do not look to be an issue, and sprue attachment points are small and reasonably placed. The instructions and painting guides are also up to the usual Tamiya standards, being very clearly drawn and uncrowded.
Sprue “A” ( x2 ) - road wheels, link and length tracks
Above - wheel detail
Above - track detail, note light ejector pin marks on every fourth track link
Above - other ( road ) side of a track length
Sprue “B” - figure parts, main gun, .50 cal MG
Above - figure parts detail is really well done
Above - you have to love the shades on this figure
Above - the main gun tube is slide molded, one piece with rifling!
Above - the Browning .50 cal is nice, but will need the muzzle drilled out
Above - Sprue “C”
Above - Sprue “D”, contains hull parts, turret halves.
Above - upper turret half detail
Above - top of the hull, quite a bit of molded on detail
Clear parts sprue
Above - nicely printed decals for two different Sheridans
Above - vinyl mesh for screens, poly caps, wire, etc.
Above - the usual Tamiya instructions, info sheet, painting guide
Above - the painting guide, two 1969 Vietnam examples are given
I’m impressed by what I’ve seen in taking the above photographs, this kit seems well up to the typical lofty Tamiya standards for engineering and for parts quality. I am really looking forward to assembling this kit!
In a departure from the earlier old school Tamiya kits, the hull floor and sides are separate parts, rather than a tub. All parts fit perfectly, with very positive mating points, and guide tabs. You’d need to try really hard to mess this up.
Above - the first two construction steps completed, all parts fit was simple and very positive. molded on detail of the lower hull parts is very fine. There are two small holes needing to be drilled out on the hull bottom, these are mounting points for the belly armor.
Above - the mine protection kit on the left side of the lower hull. This consisted of an aluminum spacer plate topped by a steel plate, bolted to the hull bottom. This modification rendered the hull bottom driver’s escape hatch unusable, but I suspect that the crews were quite happy to have the additional mine protection at the expense of the hatch.
Above -Next is the mounting the suspension parts to the lower hull sides. This is a very straightforward process that is well illustrated in the instructions drawings, and the parts are “keyed” so that you cannot install them incorrectly. This kit is designed for the vehicle to be posed sitting level, if you wanted a more dynamic pose, you’d need to do some minor surgery to the parts, and most likely source a different set of tracks.
Above - preparing the wheels for mounting to the hull is relatively painless ( at least compared to doing Panther wheels...). I pre-painted the lower hull and did a first application of pigments ( seen below ) prior to mounting the wheels.
Above - lower hull complete, ready for tracks!
The kit’s link and length tracks are a breeze to assemble and mount. The guide horns are molded onto the links, and it’s simply a matter of following the very clear instructions to mount the tracks. The tracks are not workable, and are friction fit to each other. I pre-painted the tracks with AMMO by Mig Dark Tracks acrylic while still on the sprues, and will do touch up painting once the track runs are on the model.
Above - the tracks fit well with no issues whatsoever. The subtle track sag from the idler wheels and drive sprockets looks very convincing.
With the lower hull complete and tracks mounted, it’s time to begin work on the upper hull of the Sheridan.
The upper hull build begins with adding a few parts to it’s underside. This includes sponson bottoms, the rear plate of the upper hull, as well as a compartment that the driver figure ( if desired ) will be mounted onto. I’m unsure at this point if I’ll use the driver figure, but as he’s a very well done figure, I’m going to proceed as if I am going to use him. As it’s not clear to me how much of this compartment that the driver will sit in will be visible, I decided to at least paint the inside of this compartment flat black ( seen above ). Two of Tamiya’s commonly used poly caps are placed into recesses in the driver’s compartment for the removable cupola to mount to.
Above can be seen the driver’s compartment mounted to the underside of the upper hull, and one of the two sponson bottoms in place. These sponson bottoms fit perfectly, with great mounting points. There are also a couple of holes needing to be drilled out up front near the driver’s compartment, two of several that you’ll be opening up throughout the build.
Detailing of the topside of the upper hull begins with the driver’s cupola, which includes the rotating hatch that also mounted three periscopes for the driver’s use. As mentioned above, the stationary cupola part is removable by means of poly caps mounted inside the driver’s compartment. It isn’t real clear to me why this is needed, it seems a bit like a solution to a non-existent problem.
The rotating hatch part is supposed to be movable, and this is a bit tricky to accomplish, as there’s not much surface area to apply cement to, while not fouling the pin / stationary part interface. I finally gave up on using plastic cement, and tried a dab of gel CA, which worked better.
Above two images - the driver’s cupola installed, closed position at the top, opened position at the bottom.
The driver has a pin just below his waist with a poly cap on it, this fits into a recess at the bottom of the driver’s compartment, making him removable.
Next, the build moves to the rear of the upper hull, where the on board tools, taillights, etc. are added. In the photo above, the tools, tow cable, tail lights, towing lugs and exhaust diverter ( the wedge shaped part above the tools ) have been installed, everything else on that upper hull is molded on. The crispness of the molded on detail is outstanding.
Above - using the vinyl mesh to make the engine deck screening
The kit provided vinyl mesh is cut to size using paper templates cut from the instructions sheet. Once super glued into place, some final trimming ( do yourself a favor and use a BRAND NEW scalpel blade ) was needed. I must confess to not being too crazy about using 1970’s vintage methods of making engine deck screening in a brand new kit, but once trimmed up and pre-shaded with black paint, the screening looked acceptable to me.
With almost all detailing / work done on the upper hull ( minus the anti-RPG frame and screening, left off for now until more painting is done ) it’s time to mate the upper and lower hulls. Naturally, they fit like a glove!
Above - hull halves mated, also seen; anti-RPG screen frame parts, vinyl mesh
Time to begin turret work, which starts with the gun mount on the lower turret half.
The gun mount includes a couple of Tamiya’s ever present poly caps and a metal rod, making gun elevation and depression smooth and secure. The poly caps are held captive in the lower cylinder ( seen above ) and the metal rod slides through them to position the gun.
The upper turret half will require the builder to drill out quite a few holes ( 4 different diameters ) for mounting various items to the turret. Ammo cans ( both .30 and .50 caliber size cans ), a jerry can, turret basket mounts, and lifting lugs are mounted in these holes. The ammo cans are VERY well detailed moldings, made up of 4 parts each, with nice mounting straps molded onto them.
Once all of the holes have been drilled out, you proceed with upper turret work. The turret halves mate together very well, with no perceptible seams to deal with. VERY nice kit engineering by Tamiya! Above, you see the gun parts and mantlet.
The main gun tube is a one piece molding, with the muzzle end having nicely done rifling in it. The gun tube itself has only very fine mold seams to clean up, a matter of just a couple of moments work.
Above - gun assembled, note rifling at muzzle.
Above - various stowage items for turret sides. Note the straps, no magnetic stowage here!
Next up the mounting of the smoke dischargers, 4 per side of the turret. These are 3 parts each, a one piece cylinder, with two mounts that fit nicely into recesses on the turret side.
The builder has a choice of two different variants of the machine gun shields mounted above the tank commanders cupola. The tank I chose to build had the somewhat simpler version mounted on it. The cupola has a whopping ten vision blocks mounted in it, just below the MG shields. I didn’t mount the clear parts until after primary painting was completed. The entire cupola / gun shield assembly fit perfectly to the turret top.
Above - tank commander cupola / machine gun shields
Above - test fitting tank commander cupola / MG shields, and turret to hull
Above - the anti RPG screen ( chain link fencing ) glued to it’s frame. In the field, heavy gauge wire was used to secure the fencing to the frame, so the kit provides thin copper wire for this purpose. Once I’d base painted the hull of the tank, I attached the frame to hull using the two mounting struts provided. The version of the tank that I built for this review using this screen, the other one did not. I like the look of this screen on the front of the tank, it’s sort of different.
Not seen in any of the above images was the spotlight which mounts next to the main gun. The builder has an option to depict the searchlight covered or covered. I opted to cover it, for additional contrast in color
The Browning .50 cal MG provided in the kit is nice, but needs it’s muzzle end bored out. It’s assembly and mounting to the cupola is painless.
The kit provides 3 crewmen ( well, one full figure, one three quarter figure, and one half figure...making it 2.25 figures? ), the tank commander who’s shown standing in the turret manning the fifty cal., the driver figure wearing cool shades, and another crewman seated on the turret holding an M-16 at the ready. These are some pretty nice figures for styrene, with good poses, well defined uniform details, and decent facial features. A good painter could make these figures look great.
Painting and Finishing the Sheridan
Base painting of the model was done in three phases; pre-shading some areas with Vallejo Surface Primer flat black, followed by Tamiya acrylic Olive Drab, and then some light applications of Olive Drab lightened slightly with Dark Yellow to act as a post-shade. Care must be taken to not overdo this, as photographs show Vietnam Sheridans being a rather dark shade of OD.
Turpenoid / Winsor Newton oil paint washes were applied, along with some Wilder pigments. Some light metallizing of selected edges and surfaces wrapped up preliminary weathering for review purposes.
Tamiya has done a nice job in bringing Vietnam era modelers this kit, as it’s very specific to Vietnam use.
Pros - Parts quality is up to the usual lofty Tamiya standards. All parts are very cleanly and crisply molded, with great detail. Mold seams, ejector pin marks, and sprue attachment points are all non problems in this build. Parts fit throughout the build is outstanding, with good mount points. The instructions drawings are well drawn and uncrowded, another strength of Tamiya kits.
Cons - The circa-1970’s use of vinyl mesh and paper templates for the engine deck screens and the anti-RPG screening struck me as somewhat odd, this being a very nice, new tool kit. I know that Tamiya intends to market separate photoetch parts for these uses, along with a metal gun tube, but why not just include them in the kit in the first place like most of their competitors do? I also needed to bore out the muzzle ends of the .50 caliber Browning MG, and the M-16 held by a crewman.
The bottom line is that this kit builds up very nicely, and is a very fine effort in a long line of iconic Tamiya kits. I enjoyed building this kit very much, and isn’t that what this hobby is all about?
Thanks to Tamiya for the review sample
Reviewed by Chuck Aleshire, AMPS Chicagoland
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