Over the years, model companies haven’t exactly been falling over each other to produce WW2 Japanese military vehicles in the smaller scales: 1/72nd or 1/76th. Hasegawa produced a couple of trucks in their 72nd scale series many years ago, while Airfix produced a Type 97 “Chi-Ha” decades ago in 76th scale. For the time the Airfix kit wasn’t a bad little model, bar the rubberized plastic tracks which nothing seemed to glue together. So it was a happy surprise to discover that Dragon Models was producing not one, but two 72nd scale IJA tanks in their “Armor Pro” series, a Type 95 “Ha-Go” light tank, and the subject of this review, a Type 97 “Chi-Ha” medium tank.
Dragon’s kit is very well detailed, consisting of two main parts, the hull top and bottom, together with a sprue of detail parts covering the running gear, turret, exhaust system and on board tools. Two track runs are provided in Dragon’s DS100 glue-able rubberized plastic, plus a small photo etched fret consisting of two mesh exhaust guards.
Assembly starts with the running gear in instruction sequence 1 and 2. Be very careful to insure that the road wheels, drive sprocket and rear idler wheel on each size of the model line up correctly. In particular there is a problem with the mounting holes on parts A10, for attachment to the mounting pins on the lower hull, part “C”. The holes are bigger than the mounting pins, so the parts lack a firm, positive fit.
In Section 2 of the instructions note that part A8, the radio antenna, is a very delicate part. I took the utmost care and achieved success in removing it from the sprue using my micro razor saw from UMM (Unique Master Models). Also in this Section, take the time to carefully remove the seam line on the main cannon barrel, part A7. The kit also gives the modeler the option of having the turret hatch in the open, or closed position. Since the kit does not provide the modeler with any sort of crew figure to place in the turret opening, I elected to button up my turret.
Section 4 covers the installation of the photo etched brass exhaust guards. I heated my fret by placing it on a medium heat stove element to anneal the metal, making it much easier to bend into shape. I formed the etched parts by carefully bending them over suitably sized drill bits, taking the process slowly, and constantly test fitting the parts until I was happy with their shape and positioning over the plastic exhaust parts. However: I got the positioning wrong on my model, as the exhaust guards are supposed to lay flush with the mudguards. Note that the exhaust guards have a “hook” at one end of them. This hook allows the guards to conform to the contour of the rear section of the mudguards. So pay close attention to this detail, and you will get everything correctly positioned.
Section 5: and here I had the second of the really major fit problems. Part A24 does not fit snuggly into hull Part “B”. So I had to do a lot of test fitting, filing, more test fitting, and more filing. But I got the part installed fairly well without having to resort to putty. Another local modeler I spoke with had the same experience so I don’t believe it wasn’t just reviewer incompetence! Section 6, the final in the assembly sequences, has the modeler once again having some difficulties: the very nicely detailed DS100 tracks are very fragile, and are too short for the model. Dragon seems to realize that they might be too short, or too long, for they advise the modeler to stretch them, or cut off any excess length. Well, due to the thin nature of these tracks, and despite my best efforts to be extremely careful with my track stretching exercise, I snapped one of the two track lengths in half. Thankfully however the track material glues together very well, and with some care, I managed to get the tracks, now in three pieces, onto the model and looking okay. So again, you are forewarned.
The kit provides one color and marking scheme for a tank listed as being from the 9th Tank Regiment on Saipan, sometime during 1944. The scheme is the four tone IJA scheme of Brown, Green and Khaki, together with yellow stripes. For the first three colors I utilized a set from the Mr. Hobby range of lacquer paints, “Mr Color for Tanks” set CS604 Imperial Japanese Army. These colors were thinned with Mr Color Self Leveling Thinner, and airbrushed onto the model freehand. Once thoroughly dry, I took a bottle of yellow paint from my stocks, in this case an acrylic, Polly Scale “Italian Camouflage Yellow 3”. With this I brush painted on the yellow stripes that adorned IJA tanks during WW2. Two applications of the yellow were required, and following this, the model was given a gloss clear cote, before the application of the decals. As mentioned, there is only one option available in the kit, and the decals, by Cartograf of Italy, went on without fuss. A further application of the clear gloss helped bury the decals so they would more easily blend into the painted finish. Then a light application of a suitably dark brown oil wash was applied to pick out the various rivets and panel lines. Once thoroughly dry, the model was airbrushed with a suitable flat matt clear, in this case from the Vallejo Model Air range. The tracks were then picked out with another Vallejo color, “Track Primer” from their Panzer Aces range.
I rate this kit very highly indeed. Detail is crisp, and there is lots of it. If you follow the kit instructions, together with my advice on the couple of trouble spots with the kit, a very sweet little model should result. Dragon Models has a Type 97 Chi Ha “early version” due out soon in their range as well. As always, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to DragonUSA for providing IPMS USA with the opportunity to review this kit for their members.