Soviet SU-76i Self-Propelled Gun
Dragon Kit # 6838
Full Build Review
This is a full build review of the Dragon SU-76i. The first look review can be seen here.
The SU-76i was only used in combat for a short period of time, It was designed as a short term measure intended to fill the .gap until enough SU-76 and SU-85 vehicles were produced. The idea was to take captured Panzer III tanks, remove the turret, add a superstructure, and push them out of the factory.
The SU-76i was used at Kursk and for a short time afterwards. By the end of 1943, most had been removed from front line service and were used for training thereafter. The model I built represents a vehicle at Kursk in the summer of 1943.
As I mentioned in the first look review, the chassis and hull of the kit is based on Dragon's very nice Panzer III line. In this case, it is a Panzer III Ausf J chassis. Note that the SU-76i could be found built on the G, H, J, and L chassis.
There are a number of reviews here that detail the construction of the Panzer III chassis and hull, so I won't go into a lot of detail.
Construction starts with the idler assembly, drive sprocket and return rollers. The only departure from previous Panzer III builds is that Dragon has redesigned the circular photo-etch piece that fits on the inside of the idler. Previously, this came as a single piece circle, with attachment points on both the inside and outside of the circle. For this kit, the circle is split into 3 parts. While this makes it much easier to clean the photoetch attachment points, care must be taken when applying it to the idler, as there is no margin for error - if you don't butt one piece against the next, it will overlap at the adjacent joint. I used slow drying CA glue for this so that I had time to adjust the curves.
Steps 2 and 3 installs the torsion bars and shock absorbers. Nothing unexpected here. Step 4 installs the rear mufflers. Again, everything went on perfectly with no surprises. Step 5 has you attach the roadwheels, return rollers, idlers and drive sprockiets. I chose to leave those off until after painting. Step 6 completes the installation of the rear.
Step 7 and 8 assemble the fenders. This is the first area where the instructions vary from the standard Panzer III construction steps. There are no tools located on the fenders. Photographs of the SU-76i confirm that the tools and tool clasps were removed. I guess the Russian soliders stole the tools before the vehicles made it to the factory, so the workers decided to just cut off the clasps. Unfortunately, the fenders still have locating holes for the tools. Because the fenders have a raised pattern on them, filling these holes is not that easy.
I first considered replacing the fenders with photo-etch. Aber makse a set for the Panzer III, but I couldn't locate any at my LHS, and every online site I went to were out of them. Therefore, I decided to fill the holes and hope for the best.
Steps 9 and 10 build the engine deck. This is again all standard Panzer III construction. Dragon provides both a tow rope with molded on clasps, and the clasps separately. The instructions tell you to just use the separate clasps (I guess the tow ropes were stolen too). I used the separate clasps, but later on, I added a tow rope made from copper wire and the kit supplied ends.
Step 11 is where the real fun begins. In order to fix the gun mantlet to the Panzer III superstructure, the front part of the glacis had to be cut out, as well as part of the roof. I suspect that the whole roof was removed on the real thing, but since I was planning to close all the hatches, removing only part of it was fine. Dragon gives you measurements in the instructions to mark off the area to cut. Once I measured everything and marked it, I scored it with an xacto knife several times and it was done. This was easier than I thought. You don't have to cut out the glacis - Dragon gives you a replacement glacis part with the cutout in it.
Step 13 assembles the hull superstructure sides and front. Same as regular Panzers IIIs here. Step 14 puts all the hull superstructure parts together. Note that in step 14, you need to install the large single headlight. Dragon doesn't provide a clear lens for this. I decided to use one of my own instead. Several years ago, I picked up some clear disks in the beading section of Michaels. These come in various diameters, and work really well for headlight lenses. The only downside is they don't have any scoring, but given the alternative (painting a solid plastic piece), I'll usethese.
The front plate has holes for locating the original Panzer III headlights. From pictures of the real thing, it looks like the Russians just installed bolts into these holes or left the holes open. You can fill them if you want - I added some Grandt Line bolts.
From this point, there is no more resemblance to a Panzer III - it is all SU-76i. Steps 15 and 16 assemble the gun breech and installs it into the superstructure. I ran into a problem installing the gun, as the parts supplied to hold the gun to the superstructure did not seem to fit. I ended up gluing the whole thing in place rather than allowing the gun to pivot.
The superstructure molding was significantly inferior to the hull molding. There were depressions and raised marks on the sides, the attachment points for the hatches in particular were very large, making the parts difficult to remove, and the superstructure was slightly off square. I sanded the sides smooth, filled in the depressions, and carefully removed the hatches and small parts from the runners.
The superstructure was attached to the hull and squared as much I could using clamps. On the real thing, the superstructure was held to the hull with fillets. Dragon provides these as photoetch pieces. I tried to use these, but because the superstructure was still slightly off square, I couldn't get them to fit properly. Instead, I used the photoetch as templates and cut 0.010 plastic strip to size. I applied these and then sanded them down to about 0.005 thickness. I then applied some filler and sanded that.
The large cast mantlet is attached in step 18. This did not fit properly to the shape of the superstructure. I clamped it while the cement dried, and then filled in the gaps at the sides.
The kit comes with a two-piece barrel. I substituted an RB Models 76 mm gun barrel - its the same barrel used in the T-34, so this is readily available.
Step 19 is rather complicated. It begins with the assembly of the two spare fuel tanks mounted on the rear of the vehicle. There are no locating pins for the support brackets, so care must be taken to line these up properly. Also note that the tanks are not symetrical - one is shifted slightly to one side more than the other. I marked each tank with a sharpie pen so I would know which is which when I installed them.
Step 19 also installs the plate in front of the mantlet. There are 12 bolts that need to be shaved off a sprue and attached to the gun recuperator housing. In order to get this plate on, you need to install the 6 bolts behind the plate, slide on the plate and then install the six bolts in front of it. Not too difficult if you take your time and pre-mark the bolt locations.
Following this, step 19 has you install the spare roadwheel holders (I guess road wheels were not worth stealing). Dragon shows that you install the brackets to the fenders and then the roadwheel support piece to the brackets. Since there are no locating pins, I attached the support to the bracket, let that dry, and then attached the whole assembly to the fender.
Each storage box on the fenders are molded in one piece. Unfortunately, this means that the hinges on top are kind of flat, and there are no clasps at the bottom. I added clasps using plastic strip.
The last thing in Step 19 (which is the last assembly step, buy the way) is to intall the DS track. As with other Panzer IIIs recently released by Dragon, the track supplied is too short. I tried to put it on the vehicle and it split. I ended up using individual link track that I had hanging around from Tristar. Much better.
Here are some pictures of the assembled model:
The model was painted with various custom mixed shades of Tamiya Nato Green. I find that this gives me what I believe is the closest to 4BDO green. Of course, there is a lot of debate on just what exactly 4BDO green was, so I figure I'm just as right as anyone else.
Once I had the first coat of paint on, it was clear that my attempt to fill the tool holes was a failure. I ended up using that age old armor modeler's trick - I covered them over with stowage. I made some stowage using Apoxie Sculpt for one side, and used some pieces of root from an old rose bush that I keep around for the logs on the other side. I wraped the logs in thin thread to represent the wire holding them on.
I tried something new with the decals on this model. Instead of coating the model with future, I applied the decals and then used full strength Solvaset. This worked out much better than I expected. I also experimented with water based oils that I saw at a local art store. This didn't work out as well, because the oils dried too fast. I ended up using regular oils too.
So here it is, the Dragon SU-76i:
Overall, this was a nice model to build. The DS tracks were a problem, but I knew this going in. I was suprised at how poor the molding of the superstructure was. It was similar to what you would find in old Eastern European kits, and definately not up to Dragon's standards, Nevertheless, fixing the molding issues was not a huge amount of work, and the end result is a very nice representation of this unique hybrid vehicle.
Highly Recommended for intermediate and above modelers. Beginners may have some issues with the mantlet and DS tracks.
This sample comes courtesy of Dragon USA.
Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
AMPS 2nd V.P. - Canada
AMPS Fort York Toronto Chapter
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