Dragon ISU-152-2 - Full Build
During WW2, in the wake of the Kursk campaign, the Red Army developed a series of heavy self-propelled guns. These guns were intended to deal with the heavy German AFVs and dug-in defenses they expected to encounter in the future. These heavy self-propelled guns were staffed by tank crews, not artillerymen, and generally operated in an overwatch role with armor and infantry units. Their big guns provided effective direct fire in a more responsive manner than what was possible with the Red Army's indirect (artillery) fire control system. The main types fielded were the ISU-122 and ISU-152, both on the IS tank chassis. Over 4,000 of these were built in the last 18 months or so of the war.
The Red Army was always looking for a bigger bang though, so they began thinking about something even better. The ISU-152-1 and ISU-152-2 were improved ISU-152s with even greater firepower designed to deal with AFVs such as the Ferdinand and Tiger. Design work began in April 1944 under the designation Object 246. The 152 mm BL-8 gun (on the ISU-152-1) had a range of 18,500 meters firing a 43.5 kg HE shell or a 48.8 kg AP shell. Ammunition supply for this massive gun totalled 21 rounds. The slightly shorter BL-10 gun (on the ISU-152-2) had similar performance. Although the gun was undeniably powerful, the vehicle never made it into production. The gun was difficult to operate, and the (ridiculously) long gun tube made it hard to transport or drive the vehicle. I can't imagine trying to drive one on uneven terrain or in a city. Also, it's pretty hard to argue that the regular ISU-122 and ISU-152 weren't up to the job required of them. They had decent mobility, fully-enclosed armor, and fired very destructive shells.
Just a trivial aside, but, the box top calls this a "155mm" cannon; of course it is a 152mm.
What's in the Box
As you would suspect, this kit is the 1994 ISU-152 kit with some modifications. Most of the parts are the same as the old kit, (which was pretty good in its day) but there are some important improvements.
The lower hull pan on the old IS and ISU kits was an accuracy problem, being too shallow by about 2mm. In this new kit, this part has been corrected for height, just like on the 'Orange box' IS-2 kit. The side walls are a bit higher, which will hold the upper hull at the correct height, But, there is still a visible gap on the sides so it still needs a strip of plastic down each side to hide that gap. This is a visual problem, not a structural one.
Here is the new lower hull pan compared to the original IS-series hull pan.
The difference is that the side walls are higher.
The upper hull is the same as on the old kit - including the solid-plastic 'mesh' on the engine deck
The kit includes a new set of magic tracks that feature the split link often found on Soviet ISUs. They aren't workable but, they are very, very easy to assemble. The sprue in the big bag o'tracks on the left is the front hull mountings for the spare track links. I assembled each track run in something like 15 minutes; these are nice tracks. There is an ejector mark on the links that should be cleaned up.
The same sprue from the older IS / ISU kits with the wheels and fiddly bits
A new sprue with the mantlet and muzzle brake from the BR-10 gun (not used in my build, but it is one of the options)
I completely forgot to photograph the gun tube on the sprue, but, the box says it is in two pieces and "easy to assemble". A one-piece gun tube would have been nice. Although the kit is labeled a "2 in 1", only the BL-8 (ISU-152-2) cannon tube is included. To make the slightly shorter BL-10, the tube must be cut off and modified. I think Dragon should have included both tubes, which would have made that version easier to model. Just my two cents.
I ignored the instructions by starting with the gigantic gun tube. It is molded in the traditional two-piece way, which means there is a very, very long seam that needs to be filled and sanded. I wanted to find out right at the beginning of the build if that was going to be an issue. The fit is pretty good, so the seam isn't bad, but, it still requires a few iterations of filling, sanding, priming, and more sanding.
Other than the new tube, this is a 1994 model kit, so I made a number of improvements along the way, described below.
I modified the lower hull pan with some plastic strip to hide the side gaps that will be visible if this step is not carried out. Best to get this done before other work is done.
I modified the upper hull by opening up the engine deck vents and cutting off some of the fenders.
I also boxed in the open vents on the engine deck, and bent the sheet metal fenders with a pair of pliers. The nose on these vehicles was cast, so I added putty for a better cast texture.
Fitting the suspension
The suspension is pretty straightforward; like most AFV kits, the modeler fits the torsion-bar swing arms, wheels, and return rollers. I only put the inner road wheels on at this point, then fit the track, then do some weathering, before adding the outer road wheels.
Fitting the upper hull
The upper and lower hull pieces have mating surfaces only at the nose and rear plate - the entire side is just out there in the breeze, because the lower hull side walls do not extend upward to meet the upper hull. That problem can be hidden easily using the strips as I showed above.
The fit of the rear is fine. On the real vehicle, the upper rear plate was hinged, and opened up for maintenance. Here I have already added the tracks and some dirt texture gel.
The nose is a little loosey-goosey. On the real vehicle the entire nose was one big casting that joined the welded hull just in front of the number 1 roadwheel. So there are some seams to fill. I kinda went crazy with the filler here (below) but it'll all get sanded down and retextured.
And here it is cleaned up, tracks on, with some dirt texture on the lower hull and some dirt thrown up onto the upper hull
Track installation was very smooth. The magic tracks fall together and there are about a dozen spare links available if you lose any. I made the tracks quite loose with plenty of sag between return rollers. Some modelers may find this amount of track sag unrealistic. It certainly indicates lousy track tensioning on the part of the crew, Believe it or not, though, it is easy to find photos of IS/ISUs with track this loose. I personally just think it adds character to the model.
Detailing the upper hull
Most of the upper hull is fine and can be built out of the box. One essential upgrade, however, is to open up the solid plastic vents, box in the remaining hole in the upper hull, and add PE screens. There are several firms that make the correct screen, including Eduard and Airwaves. Either one can be gotten very inexpensively.
I also added a lot of very small pitting to give the rolled plates a little texture.
There are two very small position lights on the superstructure sides. The kit provides a wire conduit to run from the hull roof down to these lights. I replaced those with sprue, stretched and bent to fit the hull. This is not essential but I think it looks slightly better. It's also easier to do than trying to clean up the kit part.
A minor issue on the upper hull is the engine deck vent, which has huge knockout pin marks, plus some flash, among a line of bolt heads. The part is shown below.
There are a couple ways to fix this, but, the way I usually do it (I build IS-2s over and over....) is to snip off the bolt heads, sand off all the flash and knockout pin marks, and then add new bolt heads. Leaving a bolt hole or two open, as if the crew lost some bolts, adds interest. I wrote "usually" because I goofed on this particular model. I sanded off the part but then forgot to add new bolt heads. I didn't realize till I was nearly done that I had forgotten the new bolt heads. Oh well - this is totally my fault, not Dragon's.
Improving the mantlet
The mantlet has a heavy texture that is pebbled. We probably all have our opinions about what cast components should look like. The kit texture may be fine for some modelers. Personally, I prefer to re-texture cast parts to better reflect what (in my non-expert opinion) they really look like, with more variation in the surface and pitting rather than pebbling. A few big grinder marks also add interest. It's easy to do and it shows up well after painting. This is of course unique to Soviet-era castings and would be grossly overdone for a US casting. Below, my modified mantlet.
One small flaw in the instructions would have the modeler attach a gun travel lock to the rear plate. This is correct for most IS-2 tanks (some early ones lacked travel locks) but certainly not for any self-propelled gun. Obviously they could not traverse the guns over the engine deck! There was an internal travel lock on these vehicles.
The bottom line is simply to leave the travel lock off the rear plate as shown below. No fix could be simpler ;)
One small nitpick on this rear plate: it was actually two plates on the real vehicle, with the lower half mounted on hinges to allow for servicing the transmission and brakes. There's a seam there on the part but it is so faint it dissappears under a coat of paint. In a perfect world, these would be given as two parts in the kit. But it should be re-scribed or emphasized with paint in some way.
Here is the hull rear, showing major components in place. I added flame-cut edges and light pitting to the plates, One of my drive sprockets fell off while I was building. I leave them loose until I am fitting the tracks, and this is one of the risks of doing that. I've also added gel to simulate dirt.
Here is the hull roof showing pitted plates with the edges textured to simulate rough cuts. I added cast texture and weld beads to the ventilator. The superstructure rear corners should have the weld beads improved also.
If I were building this kit again, I think I would re-do all the superstructure weld beads, which look too neat to me. Not a big deal though.
...About that Gun tube....WHOA!
The ISU-152-2 was developed solely to get a bigger 152mm gun into combat. And what a gun it is. I showed this model to my wife and said, "Look at the freaking gun on this thing!". Her classic reply: "That's a man thing, right?" as she walked away from her crazy husband.
Here is the BR-8 tube next to a regular ML-20 152mm tube. The discoloration is from several passes of sanding and priming.
And here it is next to the vehicle. Even without its very long muzzle brake, the gun is almost as long as the entire rest of the vehicle. This is common on modern vehicles but rare for a WW2 vehicle.
The final small details include the small positioning lights front and rear; headlight and horn; pioneer tools; fuel cells; and of course the usual plethora of grab handles. I used the kit parts for all of this. I was pleasantly surprised that the cylindrical fuel cells, which are split down the middle, cleaned up with only minimal filler. I often replace these with resin cells, but, the kit ones are pretty good. They would benefit from new PE handles on the ends but for this review I didn't do that.
One hint on the grab handles: I usually replace these with wire, which is much stronger, but this is a review model. Each grab handle has three attachment points on the sprue. Cut them off by the ends first, leaving the middle attachment for last, to avoid breakage. The kit has 20 handles on the sprue, so there are spares if you break a few. I definitely needed the spares.
I viewed many photographs of the ISU-152-2 prototype and regular ISU-152s to determine the correct number and placement of the grab handles. The six handles on the engine deck aren't an issue, but the number on the superstructure varies from a low of four to a high of eleven on various ISU-152s. The ISU-152-2 prototype has different numbers of grab handles in different photos; maybe there was more than one prototype or maybe they added handles at some point.
Most wartime ISUs seem to have had only the four on the sides, so I think the additional ones seen on some ISU walkarounds may have been postwar add-ons. But, I am not sure of that. I decided to add a fifth handle, on the roof, because I couldn't figure out if it was a wartime or postwar fitting and I liked how it looked. This whole model is a 'what if' so I felt that decision was OK.
Ready for paint
Here it is, below, assembly complete, except for outer road wheels and fuel cells. I leave those off to ensure a good paint job, and put them on after the initial base coat. This way I can get a good dirty look on the inner road wheels.
So this is ready for the paint shop. Due to the great length of the gun, this is a difficult model to photograph. Again, the gunky stuff on the tracks and wheels is a texture gel for simulated dirt.
The real vehicle as photographed on the proving grounds seems to have been in plain 4BO green with no markings. The kit accurately reflects that and thus provides no decal sheet. So, if you are confining yourself to "real-world" or historically valid options, that is theonly way to finish this kit.
Having said that, just because it was a proving-ground-only vehicle doesn't mean it would be pristine. Even a proving-ground test bed can get pretty beaten up, so, this model can be shown pristine or dirty, it's up to you. Don't let the 'prototype' facts hold you back.
But.........I decided it would be a lot more interesting to show it in a 'what if' mode, as if the vehicle had actually seen combat. So I added typical late-war Red Army markings and some dirt & dings on the model.
Here's the initial base coat; note the shading used to emphasize the two-piece rear plate and the textured dirt on the inner road wheels.
And the final model with all the paint treatments I could throw at it. There is no clear lens for the headlight, so I used a spare I had in my stash. The decals were leftovers from another Dragon kit and, while fictional, are pretty typical for a late-war ISU.
The small disk-shaped object on the left front of the hull roof is a fuel filler cap, so I added a slightly glossy stain there as if fuel had spilled, with a very slight stain running down the side of the hull. I also added dirt to the shovel.
Note that the driver sat to the left of the gun. I figured if the vehicle was damaged because of driving accidents, it would more likely be on the right side where the driver basically can't see anything. So, during construction I had removed the front right side fender, and during painting I added some dings and scratches to the gun tube and superstructure on the right side.
As I was finishing up, it occurred to me that the gun cleaning rods on the roof are the same ones in the standard ISU-152 or ISU-122 vehicles. That can't be right, because there wouldn't be enough pieces to reach all the way down the much longer tube on this vehicle. So, there must have been more rod sections on the real vehicle. I just didn't clue in to that until I was already just about done.
I felt like I had to do something special with the gun tube. Some modelers add black soot stains, while others argue that that is unrealistic. I have noticed on some real gun tubes that the paint sometimes gets burned, so, I went for that look, with additional shading on different parts of the massive muzzle brake to better define the shapes.
Pros: Interesting subject; simple kit; magic tracks are quite good. No 'gotchas' really. Makes an awfully eye-catching addition to your model collection.
Cons: Road wheels 1mm too small; no PE for screens or tools; one-off prototype limits historical display options. No clear light lens. Two-piece gun tube.
This is a simple kit of a unique subject. Out-of-the-box it can probably be built in a weekend, and even with some tweaks it is a quick build. Since only one or two existed, the modeler is limited to proving-ground display (if you require historical accuracy) or "what if" scenarios (if you like that kind of thing). Still, if you are into Soviet AFVs, you know they were always trying to put a bigger BANG on everything, so, this makes a great addition to a display case full of commie tanks. The giant gun tube may make your other models feel inadequate. I had a lot of fun with it.
Thanks goes out to Dragon Models for this review kit.
Reviewed by Dan Egan, AMPS Albany, NY
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