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Dragon M1 Panther II Mine Detection and Clearing Vehicle (3534)

by Cookie Sewell

527 parts (299 in grey styrene, 165 "Magic Track" links, 45 etched brass, 12 clear styrene, 2 large steel chain sections, 1 medium copper chain, 2 sections of white styrene sheet, 1 steel twisted cable); price estimated at US $34

Advantages: gorgeous new moldings provide most accurate M1 hull anywhere; very well done mine roller attachment; nice selection of options permit greater detailing
Disadvantages: somewhat obscure vehicle may not be popular
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all US and modern armor fans

The Soviets were probably the first ones to figure out that the natural enemy of the tank is the mine, as it comes at it from beneath and is virtually impossible to armor a tank effectively to stop it. Thus, even in the 1930s they were experimenting with mine clearing devices to deal with this threat. They tried rollers, rakes, plows and solid steel wheel "trawls" but in the end the latter proved most useful as it was the hardest to destroy, easiest to repair, and able to clear the most mines for the amount of effort used. It also permitted the tanks to clear the mines at speeds of up to 15-20 kph, and thus escort convoys or lead attacking formations.

The US futzed around with them but did not really come up with a good answer, the closest being the unwieldy "Aunt Jemimah" roller assembly for the M4 Sherman or M31 recovery vehicle. Even after the war, the US concentrated on plows and rakes.

The M1 Abrams tank changed the dynamics of the battlefield, as it was a fast tank with great capabilities. Needless to say, fitting M1s with mine plows and rakes as was done in the Gulf War took away much of that speed, as they could now only clear mines at the slow speeds of years past. The solution, drawn from other countries (such as the Israeli Defense Force and the Soviets) was to go back to heavy cast wheels on rollers.

While many of the proposed family of M1 based combat vehicles – such as the tank recovery version, heavy assault bridge launcher, and the Grizzly engineer obstacle clearing vehicle – were either not accepted or went into obeyance due to the drawdown in heavy forces in favor of lighter armored "units of action" one of the few that did is the Panther II mine clearer. Not truly a "mine detection vehicle" (it finds mines by striking them with the rollers or "tilt fuse" mines with the heavy "dogbone" on a chain between the roller units) it is a good high speed route clearing vehicle. Only a relative handful have been built; from what I understand most are from M1 chassis upgraded to M1A1 or M1A2 standards and fitted with the roller assembly.

Operation is simple. The rollers float free in their operating position, and are very heavy cast structures fitted to a heavy floating cradle firmly attached to the front of the tank chassis. When the rollers go over a magnetic or pressure detonated mine , it detonates, tossing the roller assembly up in the air. Unless the blast is more than the vehicle can stand (e.g a 500 kilogram bomb rigged as a mine) the rollers fly up, stop, and come back down onto the road with minimal damage. Soviet experiences were that each set of rollers is good for anywhere from 5 to 15 mine detonations of antitank mines (antipersonnel don't count) before the assemblies need replacing. For high speed movement, the rollers can be lifted up and locked in "travel" position, held there with either chains or cables.

DML has done a beautiful job on this vehicle as they are using it to introduce a totally retooled M1 hull. This hull is by far the best one going as it is accurate, now includes the non-skid finish on the upper hull, and now has the most accurate hull rear of any kit. Each of the exhaust grilles are now see-through styrene moldings (as they are flat bar grilles, an etched part cannot capture the details of these grilles correctly) and the rear doors are also able to be displayed opened or closed. The same goes for the engine deck.

Details include add-on brass strips and the first correct tail light guards in any M1 kit that I know of. The fuel filler covers can be displayed open or closed, as can the side armor. DML also includes two sections of styrene sheet to form sponson box floors on the underside of the fenders for those who do choose that option, a first on any M1 kit.

Most of the brass parts are designed to go on top of the side shield sections, as that is apparently still not economically feasible for molding, but as it is relatively painless (e.g. no bending required) most modelers will probably not complain.

The kit comes with DML's "Magic Track" replicating the "Big Foot" style pads, but this will be popular as it comes nearly ready to use and simply snaps together. (One section of sprue must be clipped off and the zit remaining filed flush.) There are two ejection pin marks on the inside face, but many modelers will simply ignore that. If you don't, they are at least of the "proud" type and not sunken, so will clean up pretty easily.

Finishing options and details are provided for four different vehicles serving in various places: 54th Engineer Battalion (130th Engineer Brigade), Bamberg, Germany; 54th in Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedon, 2003; 9th Engineer Battalion (1st Infantry Division), Operation Iraqi Freedom II, 2004; and one from KFOR in Kosovo.

Overall this is a very well done kit and one that is not as difficult to put together as others. The main problem for DML now is, will the new hulls be used in their other M1 kits (even as good as those kits are, they just embarrassed them with this one) and will they come up with a new turret to match?

Thanks to Freddie Leung of DML for the review sample.