Virtual Museum of the Vietnam War

M48A3 Patton

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My adventure with a 1:72 model of the M48 tank begun in the early 1990's. Then, as a little boy, I became a proud owner of the ESCI kit number 8336, that allowed to build a 1:72 model of the M48A2C. One afternoon and a little lacquer thinner (for glue) were enough for me to put it together. At first I had a lot of satisfaction out of it, and then for years it gave me bad conscience, because I thought I could have done a better job.

ESCI 8336 M48A2C 1:72 Patton

For a long time after ESCI disappeared from the market. the modelers didn't have the option to build a 1:72 model of the M48. During that time I built 1:35 model of that tank, and as soon as Italeri reissued the old ESCI model as the kit number 7015 I decided to build it again.

Italeri 7015 M48A2/A3 Patton 1/72

In the same time, a rebox of the same kit by Revell appeared in the shops - as kit number 03170. This set, containing also the "German" parts gives the modeler the possibility of building one of many variants of the tank, such as A2, A2C, A2GA2 and A5. Unfortunately it doesn't have proper gun shield and cupola spacer ring for a late Vietnam War M48A3, but one might go for an early M48A3 using this set:

Revell 03170 M48A2GA2, A2, A2C, A5 1:72

The undercarriage, as depicted in the kit, bothered me the most - in the ESCI/Italeri offering the road wheels are very simplified (in the real tank they consist of two major subassemblies, in the kit they are one-piece), as well as the tracks (that have absolutely no detail on the insides), constructed as "link and length". What really set this project off, was an advice, from a friendly hobby shop vendor, to replace the roadwheels with ones taken from a Revell M60 kit:

Revell 03168 M60A1 with ERA 1:72

One could as well take the following as source for parts:

Revell 03175 M60A3 & M9 Bulldozer Kit 1:72

Revell 03175 M60A3 & M9 Bulldozer Kit 1:72

In the same shop I also bought a resin set from Legend, number LF7204, allowing to update the styrene kit:

Legend LF7204 M48A3 Vietnam Sandbag Armor & Stowage set

I also had the remains of my old model to use, which I carefully kept in storage:

Revell 03140 M60A3 1:72

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

After a careful examination of the parts at hand, a time came to make some decisions. So I decided to use the old parts which were still usable (for sentimental reasons), do something about the tracks (neither the ESCI/Italeri, nor the Revell tracks were satisfactory for me) and not to use the sandbags from the resin kit. I also decided to "open" the crew's hatches and to build the crew's figures. In order to do this I bought figure sets from Preiser - number 72524 and 72530:

Preiser 72524 US Army Tank Crew 2000  Preiser 72530 US Army Tank Crew 2000

The first thing I did was to separate and clean up the old lower hull of the tank, then I started to put the Revell suspension on it. The road wheel rocker arms require modifications before mounting - this is a good opportunity to consider the tank's ride height. In most models it is too high - this comes from the historic mistake Tamiya made preparing their model of this tank (they measured a tank that didn't have the power pack installed, and was thus sitting higher than normal). Many modelers and companies then reproduced this error. I tried to lower my tank, but the longer I look at my work, the more I see I could safely go even further. In my model the lowest points of the rocker arms are about 2 mm lower than the lowest point of the lower hull. I believe that even a tank with lowest points of the rocker arms at the same level as the lowest point of the hull would look realistic, as the tanks in Vietnam were normally very heavily loaded and thus riding pretty low.

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

I let the glue on the rocker arms set really good, and then I installed the axles of the track tensioners and the drive sprockets, which I reworked by cutting mud evacuation holes in them. The sprockets were installed on a new axle made out of injection sprue, as the old sprocket axles were destroyed. At this point I also adjusted the track width, which I reduced a little, as the Tamiya related models have the tracks that are wider than the fenders, which is incorrect.

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

Then I put on the rear hull wall detailed with thin copper wire and I went on to add the wheels. The Revell M60 kits only have six track return rollers (three per side, as in the later M48s and all M60s), while I needed ten pieces (five per side, as in the early M48s, which were later converted to M48A3s). To obtain the missing wheels I wrote a letter to Revell AG with a kind request for help, and I got the parts that I needed. Using this opportunity I'd like to thank the Revell company for their assistance and great customer service. The photos below show the close-up of the drive sprockets, and also a comparison of ESCI/Italeri and Revell road wheels and return rollers, and an overall view of the installed wheel set:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

After installing all the wheels the time came to tackle the tracks. As I already mentioned, the ESCI/Italeri tracks are absolutely flat and undetailed on the inside, but their outside is correct for a "chevron" (or "V") track type. On the other hand, the Revell kit tracks show later "octagon" track type, that was not present in Vietnam, but have their inside detailed - unfortunately also partially incorrect. Their biggest problem are the guide teeth, shown in the middle of each track link, while it should be placed between the track links. I decided to use the outside of the ESCI/Italeri track, inside detail of the Revell track and correct the position of the guide teeth. To do this I sanded both track parts to half their thickness and then I glued them together. Although there was a slight dimension difference between them, but cutting the inner parts in three link segments allowed to compensate for this. After glueing the track parts together I took a sharp knife and started cutting the guide teeth off an glueing them half-link further. It was a tedious work, but by concentrating a little I managed to complete it in two afternoons - which was acceptable in my opinion.

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

After the track segments were completed, glueing them to the wheels were like a formality. The completed chassis of the tank looked like shown on the photos below:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

Next in line was the upper hull. I opened the driver's hatch by drilling it out in one part and cutting the hatch itself from the other upper hull I had as a spare part. I also used the spare part as a donor of the fender quarters, to depict dented fenders on my models - it's virtually impossible to see a photo of an M48 in Vietnam with intact fenders. Then I closed up the hull, puttying it's front, by the way trying to show the cast-iron texture in this area by applying lacquer thinner and stippling the part with a stiff brush. On the hull rear I built the sand shields from scratch and put a telephone box on the right fender. I also made the lift rings from a thin copper wire.

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

In the moment when the hull was almost done I started working on the turret. I also wanted to show open hatches there, so I drilled out the loader's hatch and made the hatch itself out of sheet styrene. I installed the main gun with its shield and then using thin styrene sheet and putty I modeled the mantlet cover. I used the bustle rack from the Legend set. The handrails from the ESCI/Italeri set are unfortunately too thick, so I scratchbuilt new ones by soldering them from thin copper wire (taken from a scrapped telephone line). A little thicker wire was used for the turret lift rings (three pieces). Although the rings themselves don't come as kit parts, careful examination of the turret allows to find exact locations for their installation engraved on the plastic. This is also the case for the jerry can holder on the left side of the turret.

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

The tank commander's cuppola is installed on the turret - I decided to to show the cuppola open as well. It can be done quite easily if you have two cuppolas at hand. Then you can cut the door out of one and cut a fitting opening in the other. I used the part I saved from long ago, but the Italeri set also has two commander cuppolas - one of the older type (without the periscope ring) - you would cut the opening in this one - and one of the later type (to go with the periscope ring) - you would use this one for the doors. The commander's cupola also had its own little mantlet cover - I modeled it using a tiny piece of tissue - and in Vietnam there was also a machine gun stand mounted on top of that. I took the machine gun from the Legend set - I had some issues here - the barrel was bent and the rear grip got damaged in transport (a very fragile detail). I straightened the barrel using hot water, and I rebuilt the rear grip using stretched sprue and thin wire.

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

On the turret I also depicted the gun stop that was meant to prevent the tank commander from hitting his own tank with the cuppola installed machine gun (that's the metal bar loop on top of the turret) and the rack for storing the xenon searchlight when not in use (on the fan housing, on the rear left side of the turret). This rack was often misused in Vietnam for holding spare road wheels, which I also made using all ESCI road wheels. I also installed the towing rope hooks - the places to install the hooks are also marked on the turret. The towing rope itself was scratchbuilt, especially the end loops of the rope were particularly tricky to build:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

After the basic buildup I started to paint the model using an airbrush. I started by preshading with red-brown Humbrol 113, then I completed the painting with Humbrol 66 - that's my match for the US Olive Drab. At this point my model looked like this:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

My examination of the reference material has shown that the heavily worn surfaces of the suspension return to the color of the material they are made of, while others stay dust colored. To achieve this effect I took a small brush and painted the "rubber" surfaces to be shown as worn on the contact between wheels and track with Humbrol 32 (dark grey), and "metal" surfaces were dry-brushed with gun-metal Humbrol 53:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

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As can be seen, if the tank suspension is to be shown "dirty" the approach to paint after assembly is quite practical. It is even more important in this model, which requires many glued joints to assemble, that are stronger if the surfaces to be glued are unpainted.

After the paint was on I put some future on the model, as base for the few decals hat are there (future, or other acrylic clear coat helps the decals "sit" better and prevents silvering, a second coat on top of that protects the decals). Then I started weathering, for this I used the "Vietnam earth" pigment from CMK. While doing this I learned that if you put pigment on a flat paint, it's practically unremovable. I also went on to build the elements of equipment and the crew figures:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

As already mentioned the crew figures come from the Preiser sets, but those sets depict soldiers as they appeared around the year 2000, so to show soldiers fighting in Vietnam they require some modifications, mainly altering the shape of their helmets. Additionally I decided to "roll up" their sleeves, as often seen in the hot climate of Vietnam. Other differences between, say, 1968 and 2000 would be for example other type of the sidearm used by the soldiers, but in this scale it doesn't make a real difference for me. After choosing parts for four figures I started to shape their poses, so as to integrate them better with the tank model, and to conduct the mentioned modifications. After the poses were set I glued each figure on a holder, made out of stretched sprue and started painting. First, I painted the faces and hands flesh color - Humbrol 63. I let that color dry well, then I used a little brown wash and shortly after that I dry-brushed the "flesh" with light pink color. In my case it gave an effect as shown:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

Next I painted the uniforms black:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

And before the black had a chance to dry well (about an hour after applying) I dry-brushed the uniforms with Humbrol 116 (jungle green). Then I added a little yellow to this color and dry-brushed the highlights on the uniforms, so as to improve the shading. At this point the crew looked like shown below:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

Other details, like helmets, belts and other equipment were painted subsequently. In case of some figures painting the eyebrows gave a good result. To do this, a dark grey paint is preferable over black - increasing the contrast isn't desirable here.

To complement the additional equipment of the tank I decided to install the xenon searchlight from the Legend set, because it had a nicely molded glass cover, but, as well as the kit part it required a modification of the part fastening it to the gun shield. I also decided to scratchbuild the C-ration cartons - I did this using styrene sheet of appropriate thickness. In 1:72 those cartons measure about2x4,5x7,5 millimeters. Painting them accordingly did the trick in my opinion.

At this point I could go on with the final assembly and touching up. The final effect was as shown below:

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

1:72 M48A3 Patton Vietnam

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