by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
When Germany annexed Czechoslovakia in 1939, they inadvertently took possession of possibly the best all-round light tank then in production. ČKD developed the LT 38 as a follow-up to their successful LT 35, but had no sooner started production when they became part of the Third Reich. As a result, except for some early exports, the LT 38 saw virtually all of its useful service as the Panzer 38(T) in Wehrmacht actions from the invasion of Poland to the fall of France and the invasion of Russia. Even after the gun tank faded from front-line duty at the end of 1942 the chassis soldiered on in a number of self-propelled guns and tank hunters like the Marder III and Hetzer.
This kit can be built to represent either the E or F models, which appeared in late 1940 and early 1941 with increased armour and a few other revisions. These variants were eventually superseded by the almost identical G model, and most examples spent their working lives on the Russian front. Its importance to modellers of German armour is hard to over-stress, since early in the war it made up around a quarter of German tank strength.
Dragon has already released a G model of this tank complete with interior, so this kit is effectively a back-dating. Rival kits of 38(T) variants include recent ones from Tristar (their second B version #35039 comes with interior, which is also sold separately for use in their earlier B, E/F and G models), a series of variants from Maquette, and of course the ancient Italeri kit – if you can find one. However, only the Tristar effort is on a par with this one.
The box is a typical lid & tray affair, and for such a small tank the parts nearly fill the standard-sized box. Nineteen sprues hold 399 light grey styrene parts and ten clear ones, while there are 216 “magic track” links in a bag, two photo-etch frets, and a length of metal wire for the tow cable. The hull and turret come in a separate bag, while some of the smaller sprues are secured to a sturdy card insert. Many of these sprues seem to come from Dragon’s earlier release of the G model, so a number of the parts are destined for the spares box. Most of the sprues have tell-tale kinked edges caused by the extensive use of slide-moulding technology to get detail onto every conceivable surface of the parts – Dragon have really spoiled us with the quality of the parts in this kit.
Starting with the hull, this is a very impressive exercise in multi-part tooling. The floor and sides have lots of fine detail on both the inside and outside faces, only possible with a six-part mould tool that pushes the bounds of believability! The front and rear panels are separate parts to be added, and it is good to see that all of the hatches on the model are separate to allow the fully detailed interior to be seen – including the bolted round access plate on the rear that reveals the radiator fan. To gain accuracy in the details most of them come as separate parts, so there should be lots of “hobby value” in terms of time spent building. Options start from the very first step of the instructions, and if there is a weak point it is that these are not very well explained. Some, like the rear hull plate details identify whether it is an E or F model, but others like the different stowage arrangements on the fenders have no such identification. In fact it looks as though the only barrier to a truly accurate model is the depth of one’s reference bookshelf.
While on the subject of fenders I should mention that these are perfectly straight items that fit into a straight groove in the sides of the hull. Many of these tanks were seen with fenders that appear “kinked” in the middle so the front section angles distinctly upwards while the rear section sits almost level. The earlier 38(T) kits were criticised for this, but I have read that the “kink” may actually be a result of use and abuse rather than a design feature, so I think a little post-installation bending is in order.
A bag of “magic” tracks is included, meaning that every single link will need cement. I normally build these up into strips over the course of an hour, and then drape them over wheels & sprockets while still flexible. Do the top run of each side and let them dry thoroughly before doing the bottoms. Short of replacing them with Friulmodelissimo track these indy-links give the best looking track sag. I’m tempted to use my normal method of gluing the wheels and tracks into a solid assembly that can be removed and painted separate from the hull.
Holding up the tank is a very well-detailed suspension where the individual arms can move, but the solid leaf springs mean the wheels can only move downward as if in a dip. The individual-link “magic” tracks will of course require cement, so in the end the whole suspension will get locked up anyway. Detail on the wheels is very crisp, with the backs of the large road wheels just as good as the fronts. There are two types of idler, with either round or keyhole-shaped holes around the rim, but again no text to identify which to use. Drive sprockets also offer a choice – with or without holes around the rim – also without information. Finally there are two slightly different types of leaf spring offered, with of course no info. All the images I have seen show the keyhole idlers and “holed” sprockets on 38(T) gun tanks, but the other versions do appear in the builder’s photos of the later AufKlarungsPanzer version where an open-topped turret from the 222-series scout car was fitted to the 38(T) hull, and on the Flakpanzer 38(T). Dragon got slated for not including the solid sprockets in the AufKlarungsPanzer or their first Flakpanzer (kit #6469). The latter in fact had two versions of the “holed” sprockets because the wheel sprue had been “improved” for their 38(T) Ausf G kit #6290, but it seems the new additions with their extra details had holes that were a little too big. They did manage to include solid sprockets in the later release of the Flakpanzer (kit #6590), but to gain these solid sprockets Dragon once more re-worked the old tooling and eliminated one of the two sets of “holed” sprockets offered in the G kit. Unfortunately they pulled a real bone-headed move by re-working the correctly-sized small-holed sprockets, leaving us with only the incorrect large-holed sprockets to work with for this tank. (The holes should be about the same size as the holes in the idlers…) The holes aren’t too noticeable from normal viewing distances, so I’ll live with the minor discrepancy. Anyone whose AMS symptoms make them concerned about the look of these iconic drive sprockets will need to look for aftermarket parts or leftovers from the early Flakpanzer kit.
The turret is built around a large casting that incorporates the sides and roof including a load of rivets on all surfaces, so this is another multi-part tooling product. There is a well detailed gun with complete breach, ammo racks, the coaxial MG with receiver detail, seats, and a gun sight. There isn’t much room inside the turret for anything else, but I can’t help thinking there should be wiring and communications gear along the walls. Of course not much of it would be visible through the commander’s hatch!
Dragon gives us a very busy engine bay that just begs to be displayed. Fortunately the 38(T) is blessed with two very large engine hatches that Dragon provides as separate parts. However, be careful as there are actually two versions of these hatches (early & late, for the E and F models respectively) to choose from, with the early versions packed in a small bag on the card. The instructions would have the hatches and engine bay cover assembled as a closed lid several steps before it is fitted to the hull, long before it is needed, but that would hide the engine. In fact, there are quite a few steps in the instructions that aren’t very logically sequenced, and the wise builder will let common sense over-rule the Dragon. The only thing missing from the engine that I can see is wiring.
There is a complex interior for the fighting compartment that will look great through the hatches. From what I can tell the only omissions seem to be a junction box on the right-hand wall, the driver’s foot pedals and wall-mounted hand throttle, and the gear lever. There is a multi-part photo-etch assembly for the steering brake levers, but Dragon thankfully also includes a plastic part. Assembling and painting it all should be quite a tricky puzzle, so I will do my usual and ignore the printed instructions as much as possible.
Ejector pin marks are kept to a minimum by adding little “nubs” to the edges of the smaller parts, but there are still some on the underside of the engine hatches to address. There are also a few on the radiator as seen if the rear access plate is opened.
Dragon provides a medium-sized sheet of photo-etch that is sure to cause criticism from both lovers and haters of the stuff, and a smaller sheet that gives “welded seam” inserts for the fuel cans. There are some parts that must use etch, even though others have plastic alternatives, so the haters will feel hard done by. And yet the lovers will point out that it doesn’t include replacement fenders that would benefit the most from such a pliable material. Dragon could have used it to furnish the missing interior details like foot pedals too. In its favour the bulk of the necessary etched parts seem reasonable enough in design, and the excessively fiddly parts are mostly optional so they could be avoided by “etchophobes” like me.
You can build any tank as long as it served in Russia, Russia, or even Russia! Markings are provided for four different tanks on the Eastern Front in 1941/1942. Three are from Panzer Regiment 27 of 19 Panzer Division (including one in whitewash), and the fourth from Panzer Regiment 25 of 7 Panzer Division. I assume the E & F models did serve elsewhere, but that will be an opening for the AM decal guys.
This is a truly stunning little kit, providing a real show-stopper even if built strictly out of box. The range of options is staggering, especially for maintenance or battle-damage dioramas. For those who want to build a complete tank the real problem will be deciding how much of the interior to display! The blunder over drive sprockets is both unnecessary and tragic – Dragon needs to do better. But the biggest criticism of this otherwise excellent kit is the lack of clear information to guide all the choices it offers. If you like early-war tanks or German armour this kit is a great investment.