I was looking forward to building another Smart Kit, and I wasn’t disappointed when the RSO and PaK 38 arrived. These are wonderfully engineered kits and very realistic. Thirteen sprues and one chassis make up the 321 light grey plastic (3 are clear) parts which greet the lucky modeler upon opening the sturdy box, along with 29 photoetched parts and 144 smart tracks. 58 of those parts on one sprue will be used to build the PaK 38, 13 parts are not used, and one entire sprue is just for the optional Winterketten tracks stored on the RSO. The remaining parts are for the RSO, and you can build the wooden framed version or the metal framed one. The gun can be built in 3 ways: set up for firing, set up for towing on the RSO, or set up for hand towing and positioning using the optional 3rd wheel.
The instructions are the usual numbered and exploded diagrams, and be careful of the options as they are offered. Additionally, some part locations are vague and not particularly intuitive – the only real downside to this kit. The RSO goes together in steps 1-12, and the gun in 13-23. I went back and forth between them, but for clarity’s sake, will treat them as separate kits here.
First, the RSO – Raumschlepper Ost, or space carrier east. The drive train and engine go together in steps 1 and 2, and presented no problems. There is some surgery to be done on part A14, but if you miss the little diagram, don’t worry, when A14 doesn’t fit, you’ll see it right off. Step 3 was getting these into the chassis, and this is a tight fit. Here you are presented with the first options for wooden or metal frame, and I chose wooden.
The diagram does not make it clear in which order all the parts go into the chassis, but I found out to my cost that the order and exact placement of each part is critical. I took the kit to several local build nights, and had some more experienced modelers help with the locations, and yet, when I went to mate the bed to the chassis in step 10, the bed would not sit properly. I was able to reposition everything to get a good fit, but if I had only done the dry fitting…additionally, the drive train will not be long enough, but the transmission cover will hide this slight deficiency.
What I recommend is this: as you begin to fill the chassis and before you glue anything into it, assemble 3 parts D1 to D12, the cross members to the bed, and dry fit the bed several times to ensure that you have everything in the right place. Once you have assured that the bed will mate to the chassis, on to the suspension.
Steps 4, 5, and 6 are the suspension and the mating of it to the chassis, and while the sprocket assemblies themselves build up easily, the attachment points for both the forward and aft assemblies are vague. For the after one, match up the drive train to the differential and hope for the best. For the front, I decided to wait until the road wheels were lined up and take my cue from them. But first…
…a word about suspensions is in order here. It seems to be the trend to engineer kits these days to provide maximum articulation for the road wheels. This may give greater flexibility in posing the suspension, and it makes for a realistic build, but it also makes it very difficult to get all the wheels lined up for us average modelers. The sprockets on the RSO are sturdy and will hold up well, once the attachment points are identified. The suspension frame is sturdy as well. The road wheels, however, are another matter.
The road wheels attach 2 apiece to bars which then attach to the frame, 2 sets per side, and the term fragile does not do them justice. The wheel attachment points are very weak, requiring spacers (provided) to get the wheels at the proper distance from the chassis to line up with the sprockets in order for the tracks to fit. I tried wheels to bars to chassis on one side, and bars to chassis then wheels to bars on the other, and in neither case was I able to get all four straight and in line with the sprockets.
If you don’t get the wheels lined up right on the first try, they will break off, leaving a butt joint for subsequent tries. It was at this point that I found 5-minute epoxy to be my friend, and a change of plan in the order of assembly sort of happened.
I ended up putting the rear sprocket on first, then the front, ensuring they matched up, and then the suspension frame with bars as level as they would get. I then built the tracks up around the sprocket, and attached wheels and tracks as I went down both sides.
Magic tracks are a dream to work with, once the 3 ejector pin marks per track are dealt with. Sag is confined to just a bit coming off each sprocket, but provides enough to line up the tracks. I needed all 144 to build up the two sides, but - read on.
The rest of the build for the RSO went pretty much without a hitch. The cab builds up nicely in steps 7 and 8, and as the carpet monster at a club build night was at the top of its form, I had to build up a replacement for one of the windshield supports. See if you can pick it out in the photos. Again, choose your wooden- or metal-framed option as you go.
Step 9 is the bed, and again one has options. The sides and rear can be built either up or dropped, and I built up with one side dropped. Step 10 mates body and chassis, and steps 9 and 11 are the optional Winterketten storage, one different storage area again for wooden or metal frames. I think it is possible to build up and install these tracks, they seem to fit, but the kit gives no instructions about this and I ran out of time before I could figure it out on my own. Step 12 mates the tracks, but I had already mated them prior to step 10, and when tracks are installed and painted, I’ve found, is an intensely personal decision.
Unfortunately, the imprecise location for the forward sprocket assembly got me as well. The cab will not sit directly on the chassis as it should; I will have to reposition the sprocket as well as rework the tracks. You can bypass this simple error by making sure with a straightedge that both sprocket assemblies lay below the plane of the top of the chassis. You don’t even have to dry fit the cab. I must have had on the wrong glasses, as this error stands out a mile even before I tried to get the cab on.
On the plus side, with a lowered front sprocket, all 144 tracks will probably not be necessary.
On the RSO cab, I posed one door open and one closed; when closed, the fit leaves something to be desired as the bottom is thicker. The window panels come as clear, and mask and paint easily. I painted only one side for the demo, both should be painted of course.
And now for the PaK 38 5cm: this is a straightforward build with nothing to stump even the beginning modeler. You must choose early on whether to pose the gun in firing position or one of the two transport modes. I chose to make the gun up as it would look for towing or positioning. I built up the third wheel for the hand pushing option and this is the one shown in the pictures. It fits fine if you want to go that way, and will fit on the pintle as well. The rubber portion on each of the tires is distressed. As the gun shield looks to be of scale thickness, it would make a good contest entry as a vignette even without the RSO. The barrel is a one piece casting which cleans up well. The only disappointment is the muzzle brake, which is a fragile two-piece affair and which looks unconvincing to me. If an aftermarket alternative exists, this would be the only addition this kit needs.
One comment about the instructions for the gun concerns the location of parts 33-35. These are storage containers for the sighting optics and such to protect them during transport. The instructions seem to indicate they go on the outside of the shield, which looks mighty funny once mounted. They actually go on the inside, but how one gets that from the diagram…common sense is needed here, and it shouldn’t stump anyone.
Markings and paint schemes for 6 vehicles are provided, including one Free French vehicle. All the schemes are different paint jobs, and colors are called out for Aqueous Hobby Colour, Mr. Hobby, and Modelmaster. For this review, I picked out the engine in Testors’ silver enamel (it will not be visible in the finished model), and used for the overall body color Modelmaster Panzergelb acrylic. Tracks were done with a base coat of Tamiya Hull Red acrylic, which is a fine base for weathering and which was used on the muffler and exhaust as a base coat as well. As time was drawing near to submit the review, I did not take the time to weather or to touch up some spots where paint was rubbed off with the extra handling.
Decals were superb, in register, and the white was opaque; they went on well and responded to MicroSet/Sol. They look good.
Summing up, this is a complicated kit of a lesser-known subject which intermediate to advanced modelers will enjoy building up, if they are careful. The gun is a beauty, one of the finest anti-tank offerings I’ve ever built, and with a little more care than I exhibited, the pair would make a fine contest entry.
My thanks go to Dragon USA and IPMS/USA for the opportunity to both stretch myself and remind myself to do the simple assembly well. This was a very enjoyable build.