Academy #1394 M12 155mm GMC
Academy's M12 - in-box review + comments on marking options
My M12 has arrived at last and I must say I'm very impressed. The box lid shows June Gill/Avant Le Char De Mort of 987 FA Bn at St Lo on 16 July 1944, but funnily enough gives it the plain rubber block track although they aren't in the box! More on this later when I discuss the marking options.
Inside are a separate hull top and bottom, flexible tracks which are the three bar cleat type like those in the AFV Club M10, and a nice pile of sprues which fill the box completely. Two sprues A give the suspension, early VVSS with horizontal return roller brackets which is correct for all the rebuilt M12s I've seen in photos. All casting marks seem to be present and the only snag with the actual bogies is that there will be a seam to fill around them and of course no inset at the front where the roller bracket would attach and no bolt holes for it. So far, as expected - when will a mainstream manufacturer think of either giving us bogie fronts which go right to the back without a seam or the insets? Obviously to give both in polystyrene won't be possible but it would be nice to have one or the other. A nice touch is that the track return skids are separate parts and two type are given - the early semi-circular type and the later ones usually seen on Shermans. The latter have no bolt heads, though they'd be easy to add with a hex punch and die set, but the semi-circular ones do and what's more they're the most common type on M12s so full marks to Academy for including them.
The rest of those sprues contains a really good selection of wheels - separate return rollers, bogie axle units and VVSS springs as with most makers, plus the final drive units, but also two complete sets of wheels! The sprocket choices are plain late ones and early "lace" type, the idlers are spoked or pressed steel, and the road wheels also give you the choice of spoked or pressed steel.
Sprue B contains the floor plates, transmission parts and a good bit of the driver's are detail. That area is dressed up with the full transmission with its linkages, seats, control levers and pedals, and an instrument panel - nice. No radio, no transmission drive shaft from the firewall, and no detail on the firewall itself, but you can't have everything and no doubt an aftermarket set will soon appear to add more to this area. The gearbox assembly is slanted, but I rather think the slope should be greater - the driveshaft, if it was there, should meet the firewall about one third of the way up it. Also on this sprue are a full load of shells with their lifting rings moulded in place and two charge containers to stow on the rear floor, which for some reason are indicated as accessory parts with no indication of where to put them - they go athwartships at the back, where a rack for three charges is moulded on the gun compartment floor. These are the ribbed inner containers, and it will be simple to add a third one by making the outer unribbed container from plastic tube.
Sprue C holds the rear spade with its lifting winch and pulleys, gun compartment parts including the air cleaners, and some of the exterior stowage. E is for the gun barrel (tube if you prefer), recoil slide and mount and also holds the folding chocks to go under the front of the tracks in action. Again, these are shown as accessory parts without a note of their stowage position - fit them on the starboard front trackguard. The gun breech block is nicely done with its interrupted screw thread, but alas there's no corresponding insert to go in the open breech. I can't help feeling that the breech opening must be oversized to allow the screw block to fit inside it.
Sprue D (yes, I skipped over it to keep the gun parts together) gives a rather nice set of tools and both .50 and .30 machine guns with appropriate mounts and ammo cans, plus fuel filler caps, tow clevises and a couple of stowed packs. Most of this sprue is marked as not for use, so you'll end up with several tools, the MGs and the packs in your spares box. About all that seems to be missing are the bucket which should go between the two folded seats on the spade (correctly shown by a rim round each of them) and the vehicle tarpaulin which should be under the spade just above the track tension spanner (which is provided). Buckets and traps are fairly easy to find in various accessory ranges so this doesn't seem a major problem. A more important omission is the shell cradle which should be stowed on the top rear of the starboard gun compartment sponson, and here I can't suggest a source though the photos in Bellona Military Vehicle Prints No 22 will allow you to knock one up - if you can find that long-out-of-print reference!
All the mouldings look good, crisp and clean with few ejector pin marks that look as though they'll be visible on the assembled model. The only real snag is that the engine air grilles are moulded solid and really do need replacing with etched mesh. The moulded mesh is a little small though of the correct pattern and layout, so if you replace it without waiting for an etched set (Eduard is believed to be preparing one already) check the mesh size against the parts and go for something with a slightly larger mesh. What about the instructions? They're good too, clearly set out is a logical way and even including a layout diagram for rigging the spade's lifting winch. As mentioned, they don't show where to put the charge containers and folding chocks but otherwise OK. One thing that isn't mentioned is the starting handle, which Academy say is not for use - it goes on the inside of the starboard gun compartment wall and should really be the type built up from straight sections, not the "bent" one supplied.
A separate sheet shows the decal positions, with markings for four US Army M12s on the decal sheet which looks to be nice and thin and well-printed, but there are no indications which suspension options apply to which vehicle - so here goes. All the choices are shown in Squadron/Signal's US Self-Propelled Guns In Action, though June Gill/Avant Le Char De Mort is only shown as a painting which isn't 100% correct. Starting with that M12, the photograph on page 41 of Steve Zaloga's and George Balin's D-Day Tank Warfare (Concord 7002) shows the markings as correct but the Avant Le Char De Mort wrongly positioned on the instruction sheet. It's correctly shown on the box top, so use that as your guide. Your guess is as good as mine whether the name and shield appeared on both sides or only to port as shown by this photo. This vehicle had the port aft sandshield fitted, though the starboard side isn't shown by the photo. It was fitted with the spoked roadwheels and the late sprocket option. The idler isn't clearly visible but seems to be the pressed steel one given in the kit. The track return skids are the semi-circular type and track appear to be the rubber chevron type.
Corregidor, also of 987 FA at St Lo on 16 July 1944, is shown by a photo on page 37 of the S/S book. Here again the markings are correct (no serial number is visible on the photo and there's isn't one on the decal sheet) with a different shield to June Gill, but the positions are slightly adrift. The photo only shows the starboard side, and here the name should end 7mm aft of the superstructure top corner with the front edge of the shield under it. This M12 had the "lace" sprocket and pressed steel roadwheels, though one seems to have been changed for the pressed disc type, but its idler isn't visible. Tracks look like plain rubber block and the semi-circular return skid was fitted.
Adolph's Assassin belonged to 991 FA and was photographed on 4 November 1944 near Kornerlmunster - see p37 of the S/S book again. The name is shown on the decal instructions a bit far forward - move it back a couple of millimetres - and the serial number is correctly short of its bottom half. Well, I say correctly but the original was covered in mud at the bottom so it would be better to replace it with rubdown numbers and add the mud yourself. The suspension is absolutely plastered in mud but it seems to have a mixture of roadwheels and the idler looks like the pressed type in the kit. The sprocket isn't visible but other M12s had either both early or both late sprockets and idlers, and in this case the return skids look like the late type under all that mud. The tracks appear to be three-bar cleat as given in the kit.
Alberta IV belonged to 11 AD, FA Bn not identified with the photo on page 39 of the S/S book taken near Budesheim on 10 March 1945. Markings and their positions are correct. This M12 had the late sprocket and idler with a mix of spoked and pressed roadwheels like Adolph's Assassin - not surprising by this date when wheels must have needed replacement after their tyres wore down. The tracks aren't very visible but look to me like plain rubber blocks, and the return skids appear to be the semi-circular type.
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