Entry No.3: Border Model T34E Review
By 1943, the venerable Soviet T34-76 was getting a bit long in the tooth. As German AFVs such as the Tiger began to appear on the field of battle, this first main variant of the T34 was losing much of it's edge from a technological standpoint. The 76mm cannon it mounted was, although still useful against most targets, simply inadequate for dealing with the most heavily-armoured targets presented by the Wehrmacht, and would eventually lead to the development of the T34-85. The other area where the T34-76 was depreciating was it's survivability, specifically with regards to the level of armour protection it had. In the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941, the T34 and it's relatively thick armour caused great concern for field commanders, who often would have to resort to using field guns to knock these tanks out. This concern led to the Wehrmacht sending more towed anti-tank guns to the Eastern Front, such as the 5cm and 7.5cm guns (both of which would also be mounted on Panzer III and IVs). Simply put, by 1943 the T34-76 was becoming obsolete, and needed some quick upgrades to remain competent on the battlefield.
To improve armour protection, Soviet designers at the Krasnoye Sormovo tank factory produced 68 modified T34-76 tanks protected by spaced armour panels around the turret, hull sides, and the upper track runs. These panels were around 16mm thick, and were supposed to reduce the effectiveness of German kinetic penetrators by reducing the kinetic energy they hit the base armour plate with. These tanks would see action in summer 1943, with many being lost to anti-tank guns.
Border Model is a fairly new player in the scale model industry, and has been releasing some very interesting kits as of late. This T34 kit was released in mid-2020 and includes parts to build either a T34-E or a standard T34-76 from Plant No. 112. This was a kit I was very interested in building from the moment it was announced, and the kit certainly promised quite a bit of interest.
Let's break it down: the Border Model T34-E kit comes with two build options, workable tracks, working suspension, a turret interior, photoetch and clear parts, stowage, metal tow cables, and a turned metal barrel with rifling detail (!). Lot's of buzzwords, and for the most part Border delivers a kit with all these features in a nicely-detailed wooden box.
I started this project in late December 2020, and finished in early January 2021. The build began with construction of the suspension, actuated by metal springs included in the kit. The first steps cover the construction of the lower hull detail, as well as the road wheels, idler wheels, and drive sprockets. Next, detail is added to the upper hull in some straightforward steps, and photoetch screens are added to the engine intakes. The kit then has you assemble the gun breech detail, which is then inserted into the turret. After joining the two halves of the turret, spaced armour is then applied. The tracks were then joined and attached to the running gear, and then covered by the side skirts.
Painting and weathering
The kit was painted in Dark Green from Mission Models after a black priming coat. Faded Russian Dark Green was then painted on exposed surfaces, and chipping applied with a graphite pencil. AK Light Rust was diluted and applied over chipped surfaces, as well as on the exhausts. Black Panel-Liner from Tamiya was reduced and used to accentuate rivets, etc. AK Stirred Earth acrylic paste was applied onto the side skirts to represent mud splashes. The tracks were painted with Black and NATO Black from Mission Models, and exposed metal surfaces were created by rubbing a graphite pencil over the assembled track lengths. Some dirt was added with AK's Track Wash. Decals from the kit were applied without any additional product. Streaking was primarily made with AMMO Accumulated Earth.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
The marketing for this kit promised a great deal of features, and for the most part, I would say that experienced modelmakers can make these features (workable suspension etc) work for them. However, this is not to say this kit is for beginners. This is partially evidenced by the fact that Border had to include a revision sheet with their instructions. There are, to be frank, serious issues with this kit. It's good because it's one of the finer T34 kits on the market, in my opinion, and because it represents an interesting variant with lots of detail. The bad, though, should not be discounted by this. This kit has some annoyances in that the workable suspension is finicky to assemble correctly and won't actuate very well without adding some metal plate to the lower hull to increase weight. Furthermore, turret detail is extremely simple, and not really worth mentioning. The ugly, however, is the reason why I would advise that this kit is not for beginners or people who just want to have an easy build. Simply put, the tracks are pure torment to assemble properly. Okay, maybe not, but you get the point. To their credit, Border did a fantastic job with the detail on the tracks (just look at those casting numbers!), and in theory they should be an easy subassembly, but they are not. The first issue is that each track link has five connection points on the sprue, so get ready for some tedious work cutting them out and sanding down burrs. The way the tracks go together is that you have to click the female and male tracks together, which secures the pivot. The female track links have two tiny holes on the connection points, while the male links have two little pins. The idea is that these pins get pressed into the holes to such an extent that the tracks will just click together. This technically works, but the connections are so weak that even airbrushing the track runs will cause them to fall apart. Border would have been better off making some nicely-detailed vinyl tracks, considering more than half the run is hidden anyways.
Overall though, the kit is still really good. I would recommend it for any fans of Russian armour with some previous experience building kits with high parts counts.
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