by: Matt Flegal [ ]
The JS-3 tank was the ChTZ plant's follow on design to the successful JS-2 wartime design. Shocking the Allies when it rolled out in the 1945 Berlin victory parade it set the design philosophy for Soviet tanks to the present day, with a low silhouette, cramped interior, powerful gun, and hemispherical turret.
Produced for a bare two years it was quickly overtaken by the T-54 design as the first true Soviet MBT it soldiered on in the Soviet army and it's client states for decades. Tamiya tackled the design with their kit and made a great kit muddled by some odd decisions.
Tamiya has a well deserved reputation for creating kits that have exceptional fit, reasonable detail, easy to follow instructions, and fine molding. After having built over 2 dozen of their tank kits I would suggest this is the best example of their reputation in plastic. With that said, there is one overall poor decision that harms the kit and some small annoyances.
The overall poor decision is the choice of variant of the tank. Shortly after the initial production tanks rolled off the lines three storage bins were mounted in the sheet metal sides which are not represented on this kit. This limits the builder to a very early version and time as it appears the bins were back-fitted to the original tanks fairly quickly. So, the kit is accurate for a small sub-set of vehicles in the spring and summer of 1945. Even then, the tanks do not appear to have had the bow mounted spare tracks, so you'll most likely need to fill in those shallow mounting holes. Modellers will probably end up either scratchbuilding the lids or buying the Eduard photo etch set to model a more representative tank. So the diorama possibilities are very limited out of the box.
Niggling issues include the tracks and a few detail parts. The tracks are twisted to heck in the box and keep trying to spring back to their pretzel shape even after hot water, heat guns, and so on. More importantly, they are very tight around the tracks. I tried putting them on after gluing the track loop closed and broke the idler mount off multiple times. I finally gave up as I am replacing them with Fruil tracks anyway. Parts A32 on the hull sides have mounting pins far smaller than the large holes and will need care an putty. The horn (C41) has no opening but rather a flat surface which really cries out for a Dremel. This kit also has those open sponson bottoms that Tamiya seems to love and are best sealed up with sheet plastic. That may be less of an issue than on many of their kits simply because with the large turret hatches an open model is going to look barren without an interior even with a figure inside, so many modellers will opt to just button the kit up.
So the kit is not flawless. It is however the most "shake and bake" kit I have ever built. Everything fits easily, the cast texture on the turret is the best representation I've seen in a kit, the detail is strong, and the part count is pretty low. Not only is it a perfect weekend kit but I would recommend it as the ideal beginner kit. Actually, I bought one for my 8 year old daughter and she has been able to follow the fine instructions with minimal help. sprue attachments are small and easy to remover, even on the drive sprockets where they often are attacked to a guide tooth. You'll need putty for some thin seams on the fuel tanks, front and rear hull plates, and turret seam (although that one is pretty cleverly minimized by working around weld lines). There's really no need for a step by step build review because if you follow the instructions the kit falls together.
Decals are small but good and in register. The tow cable is string and should be replaced. An Aber aftermarket turned metal 122mm cannon barrel would be a worthwhile purchase and just drops in the Tamiya mantlet.