Dragon has recently released five new kits, none of which have been available in plastic before, at least not in the released versions. Instead, modelers would have had to scratch build them or buy expensive resin conversion sets.
This review covers one of the kits; the Volllkettenaufklarer (reconnaissance) 38 w7.5cm Kanona 51 L24 Hetzer. This Czechoslovakian 38(t)-based vehicle looks unusual, sporting the short-barreled, 75mm infantry support gun used on a variety of other (mostly larger) German AFV’s. Just imagine the recoil from that gun when fired from the diminutive Hetzer!
Intended as a fully tracked reconnaissance vehicle based on the Bergepanzer 38, several prototypes were tested, including a single vehicle mounting a 7.5 cm K51 L/24 gun. Needless to say, operational history is non-existent. This is an unusual armored vehicle, and promises to build into an unusual subject for German WWII armor fans.
Combining the 7.5cm short barreled gun, the PzKpfw 38(t) chassis and the Hetzer superstructure was a no-brainer for Dragon – the company has produced excellent kits of all three. This release simply uses sprues already in inventory, with a few new bits added in. As a consequence, the diminutive vehicle still comes in a box stuffed with sprues, and a lot of what you get is not used. Fortunately, there are plenty of quality parts headed for your spares box; gun barrels, machine guns, radio sets, ammunition rounds, etc., etc.
Even though only a single vehicle was produced, the kit comes with three finishing schemes represented using blue-and-white ink three-view drawings, and a small (but perfectly registered) sheet of three Balkenkreuz decals from Cartograph of Italy. These schemes include:
This is a ‘fortified re-box’, containing sprues from several different Dragon kits, which sometimes leads to inaccuracies in the instructions. Thankfully, Dragon uses a color coded system (blue and black) on the parts map and instructions to distinguish between sprues that have the same letters. The issues encountered have been noted below.
This is an open-topped vehicle, meaning that the ‘build it all and then paint it’ approach isn’t the best course to take. The interior, which includes a rudimentary engine, is clearly visible and unfortunately, quite sparse, so you might consider adding some detail from your spare parts bin as I did.
If you choose to use the schürtzen (side skirts) and you want the camouflage to match the rest of the vehicle, the track needs to be attached prior to painting.
The main gun and its substructure can be dropped on at the very end, after painting and weathering.
In typical Dragon style, there are a number of build options available to the modeler, so some up-front decision making is in order.
Due to a low parts count, the lower chassis of the 38(t) is a breeze compared to some of the other German AFV’s. That said, Dragon chose a slightly fiddley approach to the assembly of each of four bogeys. Each bogey can articulate into a different position before gluing, presumably to allow for staging the model on an uneven surface. For those of us who simply place our models on a flat surface, this approach doesn’t guarantee that all wheels will touch the ground evenly when set. Consequently, I suggest that you prepare all the parts for Steps 1-3 beforehand, so you will be able to quickly move through these steps and set the completed chassis on a smooth surface to let the everything dry true.
The jack assembly will interfere with the fitting of the schürtzen if not placed perfectly. I suggest that you wait until the end of the build to place the jack on the right rear fender once you know where everything else will end up. Similarly, place the tool box at the very outer edge of the fender (or leave it off until the end of the build) lest it interfere with the upper hull when you drop it into place.
In Step 5, there are two parts (A32/A33 - shown in place at the rear of the hull) that don’t actually get attached until Step 18 – so don’t fret, even though they look like they will interfere with the rear hull in the image.
Dragon provides a pretty nice representation of an engine and transmission for the model and it actually can be seen from a certain angle when looking into the top of the open cabin. To insure a tight fit, I suggest that you leave off Parts D37/D55/D56 and K10 until everything else is dry and you are ready to place the assembly into the lower hull. That way the horizontal bars (Parts D46) will remain sturdy while you push everything into place.
The exact placement of the nicely detailed 4-part chair is shown in a separate illustration in Step 9 of the instructions, and a nice ammunition rack with individual 75mm rounds is also provided.
Steps 10-16 address the main weapon and everything went together surprisingly well, in fact I have the words ‘great fit!’ written as notes in the instructions in six places within these steps. Dragon did an outstanding job here.
Link and Length track is probably my least favorite type of track, far behind my favorite (DS) and individual link Magic Track. The biggest reason for this is that you are allowed very little leeway between the parts that have multiple links, and if you add a little too much sag here or too little there, you don’t have enough individual links to make it smoothly to the next big part – if that makes any sense. Regardless, I muddled through and the track came together reasonably well - the upper portions are hidden by the schürtzen remember!
The new parts for this kit include two nicely molded sides to the upper hull (Parts G1 and G2) that protect the interior cabin. The fit is perfect – just make sure you are done with the interior before putting them on since access will be limited from there on out. Fortunately, the main gun assembly can still be dropped into place.
If you plan to attach the coiled tow chain at the rear of the chassis, I suggest you do so after the upper and lower hulls are attached and the engine muffler is in place. I had to remove mine (and re-attach it later) because the upper portion of the coil prevented the muffler from seating correctly.
The schürtzen itself is sturdy and fits perfectly. Dragon molded the attachment hardware to the flat panels which makes everything much easier to work with. Even then, I snapped several of panels off handling the model during painting and weathering. You just have to be careful.
I decided to paint the sIG Hetzer using a new line of acrylic paint called Mission Models Paint (MMP). This new paint is pretty amazing – I have yet to experience any clogging whatsoever when I use the following mixing ratio: Six parts MMP paint + four parts MMP thinner, with the thinner made up of ten parts thinner to one part retarder (given the catchy name of MMP Polyurethane Mix Additive). I spray this paint at about 12lbs for detail work and 20lbs for coverage.
These paints cost about as much as Vallejo, but they come in bigger bottles so they seem more expensive, and I wouldn’t have tried them if I didn’t receive such glowing reports from my friends about their painting experience. Now I may be hooked (!) They spray on beautifully and just don’t clog, even after an hour-long session, with several minutes-long breaks. Did I mention these were acrylics?
I still stand by my vast array of Vallejo paints, and between these two manufacturers I have access to a huge variety of odor-free colors. Plus I can swap my heavy, uncomfortable vapor mask I use with distillate-based paints for a simple painters (particulate) mask. I am sold on acrylics. Now on to the model!
I started by applying a primer consisting of Krylon Color Master with Durable ColorMax Technology rattlecan (Flat Black) lacquer paint. This is the third rattlecan primer I’ve tried, and I’m glad I kept going because this stuff is a superior product, drying super thin and very tough. Not to mention cheap and quick. Once the lacquer paint degassed overnight, I touched things up back in the paint booth using Vallejo Model Air 71.251 NATO Black, including the tire portions of the wheels, which I will use hairspray on later to assist in painting.
The primer/pre-shade coat gives the plastic and PE some grip for the following coats, and fills in the recesses, creating a shadow effect near the flat surface edges. This will add depth for the subsequent coats to come.
Once the paint had dried, I followed up with a layer of rattlecan hairspray on the interior portions of the vehicle to prepare the surfaces for chipping, later, and the rubber portions of the wheels to assist in painting. I use TRESemmé ‘Two Extra Hold’, but I don’t think it really matters.
I followed the pre-shade and hairspray coats with Vallejo’s 71.132 Aged White, a color I like to use on the interiors of German and Russian AFV’s. I want to lighten things up to highlight the detail, but I think plain white is too bright. Once that was dry, I rubbed off some of the paint to simulate chipping, and gave the entire interior several filter layers of Mig Wash Brown Oils and a pin wash of Mig Dark Wash, both thinned with Mona Lisa.
I used a variety of Vallejo paints for the interior detail including Panzer Aces (PA) 312 for the seats, and Floquil 300104 Brass for the racked ammunition rounds.
Once I was satisfied, I weathered the engine and interior using LifeColor 207 ‘Oil’, Vallejo 73.815 ‘Engine Grime’ and Vallejo 73.818 ‘Engine Soot’ acrylics.
I followed the pre-shade coat with Mission Models (MM) 011 DunkelGelb as my basecoat and MM 019 DunkelGelb Late 1944 for my post-shade coat.
After about ten minutes I went to work with Panzer Putty, a great little product that I picked up last year. The putty has some particular traits that make it perfect for a job like this, especially with so many protuberances poking out all over the place. For one thing, Panzer Putty has zero adhesion to the model, it only sticks to itself. Secondly, it settles down tight using gravity in about 15 minutes, leaving no gaps.
Once the putty was where I wanted it to be, I laid down the second camouflage coat using the MMP 009 Olivegrun RAL 6003. I then lifted the putty off in one piece and took a look – everything came out pretty well - the lines were sharp and there were no broken model pieces to be found. The last step was to line the green areas with MMP 012 Rotbraun RAL 8017.
Once satisfied, I airbrushed Vallejo Model Air 71.042 Cam Black brown along the edges of the hull to give the nice lines of the Hetzer a little more definition. I then hand-painted the jack block using Vallejo New Wood, and the toolbox using Vallejo German Grey.
With painting completed, I hand-brushed Future (acrylic) on the areas that would receive decals to give them a smooth surface to set up on. I then applied the decals using the Red and Blue Micro Sol/Set system without any problems, following that with an additional overall layer of Future to seal the decals and set the model up for washes.
I started weathering with an overall pin-wash using a 10:2 ratio of Mona Lisa thinner to Mig Dark Brown Wash out of the bottle. I focused on the wheels and panel lines, as well as the main weapon. I find this mixture perfect when applied to a glossy surface – the detail pops and the wash leaves no smudges.
I then applied a rust filter to the muffler using Mig Dark Rust oil paint, and a black filter to the jack using Mig 110 Black oil paint, both heavily thinned with Mona Lisa.
Once the oil-based products had a chance to dry, I applied a ‘road-dusting’ coat consisting of Vallejo Model Air 71.027 Light Brown, followed by a coat of Vallejo Flat Varnish to kill any shiny spots still remaining. I cut each of these 50/50 with Vallejo Airbrush Thinner and a few drops of Liquitex Flow Aid to improve flow.
The last touch was to go over some of the edges and the weld seams with a graphite pencil and Uschi Chrome Metal Polishing Powder.
Building this kit was a challenge, partly due to fit problems (some self-imposed), but mostly due to the open-top nature of the subject which naturally stretches out the project. Dragon kits are amazing however – the detail, the design and engineering, opening hatches, slide molding - Dragon produces some of the very finest models in the industry, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
I’ve developed a real fondness for 38(t)-based armor, and Dragon is my go-to company for these little gems since they produce such a large variety of the subject. This little open-topped Hetzer will be a unique addition to my model case.
I would like to thank Dragon Models for providing this kit for review, and to IPMS USA for giving me the opportunity to review it.