Kit #

Construction Review by Rob Haelterman - heman_148(at)hotmail(dot)com

Phase I: gazing at the contents

Until recently, I had never heard of this brand. Upon looking at this kit, I immediately realized that this is a shame.
I don't know if this sample kit is representative of the kits that are on sale, but it comes without a box, manual or decals. This, however, is about as far as one can push the negative comments, as the kit is a real gem. First of all, it took me a while to convince myself I was looking at a resin kit. The parts come on sprues, the material is more supple than other resin kits and crispness of the detail is better than on almost all kits I have laid hands on, styrene kits included. Flash is almost non-existent, and the connection of the sprues to the parts is minimalistic, which reduces clean-up to an absolute minimum. I have been told that these are actually injection kits, injection resin kits, that is, using metal moulds. If so, then First Air must have access to some sophisticated technology. The tracks are vinyl, finely detailed and very flexible, but vinyl nevertheless.


The hull is a two part affair, with two locating pegs, and (just as the turret) completely hollow with thin walls. Almost all hatches can be opened. An engine block is provided, but no interior for the turret or hull is included. A dry fit quickly showed that the parts literally fall together, with no sanding, putty or other extra work required. Indeed, fit is so good, that almost no glue is required. The engine hatches for instance can be positioned and re-positioned as the modeler likes, just by friction.


Phase II: construction

As there is no manual, I had to use my references quite a bit, but I think that in the end, everything is where it should be.

Construction starts with placement of the engine, at least if one goes for open engine hatches. Then the lower and upper hull can be joined using the locating pins. Only a very little amount of glue is needed, to make sure the joints don't show any gaps. If done sparingly, no sanding is needed. The same goes for the rear hull plate which can just be attached with a little drop of cyano-acrylate. The turret is even simpler. Just place the gun mount into the recess in the turret, without glue, and glue the mantlet in place. This will ensure the gun can move in elevation after assembly. The gun barrel needed very little sanding at the seams. The turret, by the way, can also be made to rotate, just by putting it atop the hull. If you wonder why there is a gap in the turret splash guard, well, this was done to allow the driver's periscope (installed in the roof) to be raised or lowered.

The running gear demands most work, as there are eight wheels on each side, composed of two halves, which makes for eight times two times .... erm, a lot of wheel halves. (I never really mastered non-linear partial differential equations.) The gun bogies each are composed of two parts and all bits and pieces that make up the running gear have locating pegs and/or recesses that are fool-proof. The only annoying bit, which I noticed too late, is that the holes in the wheel halves (where the axles will go) are not 100% centered. If you line up the holes of each wheel halve with each other, this will be very difficult to spot, if you don't (like me), than the wheels will sit at an angle with respect to the axles. Luckily the wheels are very small, and mostly hidden by the bogie trucks. These bogie trucks can be glued to the hull with a slight tilt, by the way, to represent the articulation of the suspension. It is not 100% how the real thing worked, but it does the job.

I fitted the fenders last, to allow me to check how the tracks would go around the sprocket, idler and return rollers. After checking, I believe I will be able to install them after fitting the fenders. Had I known earlier I would have installed the fenders just after mating the hull halves. It would have bee so much easier. It seems the locating pegs for the fenders don't line up completely with the recesses on the underside of the upper hull, but by shaving off the rear peg this can be solved. Note that there is still a slight gap inside the hull where the fenders go, so you can see through the hull. I think I will add a slice of plasticard, painted black to make sure.

At this point, the only things that needs to be added are the tracks and hatches (which are now held in place with some white glue for painting purposes). Very unusually, to me at least, the construction took only two days of modeling.



Phase III: first paint

At this point some Polly S "Mud" (acrylic paint) was sprayed on to see where I am going. I decided to paint the model in Australian markings as the Kangaroo markings look cool in my eyes. It seems quite a number of Italian tanks ended their careers with these marsupials painted on their armor, the first probably around February 1941.
As the kit comes without decals, and as I didn't fancy doing them freehand, I bought the Italeri M13/40 which comes with these (and three other) marking options. As I had to wait for the Italeri kit to arrive, I had to set the First Air kit aside for a while, which has the added bonus that you can look at it with a fresh eye afterwards.
Painting continued with some oil washes and some slight drybrushing after which a coat of Future prepped the model for decals. They were sealed afterwards with Future awaiting some further pin washes. Unfortunately, I broke one of the front tow hooks when handling the model, and before I could act, the carpet monster had swallowed it.


Phase IV: accuracy and version

My library is rather limited when it comes to Italian vehicles, so I cannot tell much. (This has the added advantage that I can only build the model OOB, which helps to bring my stress-levels down.)
What I can tell is that the M13/40 in this kit has the long fenders of a first series model. This series was first produced in June 1940, with 150 built according to [2]. [4] claims the second series with short fenders was only introduced with the 752nd vehicle, which would be surprising as most sources claim that there were less than 750 M13/40s built, unless the count in [4] actually starts with the M11. What my sources agree upon, however, is that the short fenders were introduced in 1941.
Modifying it to the later fenders will simply involve cutting away the central part and some sanding. The second series wasn't fitted with a driver's periscope, which would probably mean that the gap in the turret ring shouldn't be there in that version either. The early tanks also had two spare roadwheels at the back and the jack on the front fender, the later tanks had one roadwheel and a jack at the back. This kit has neither and also lacks the shovel, pick and crowbar that was typically carried centrally on the engine deck.
The kit has the late type radiator cap and cover however, which seems to be introduced in the third series (also with the shortened fenders).
The turret roof of the third version was also altered [4]. I don't have details on what actually changed, but it seems there was a bump on the roof to allow for easier gun depression. If I am not mistaken, this kit represents that too.
So, if I interpret my sources correctly, this kit has both features of the first and third series. The easiest way to rectify this would be to modify the fenders and go for a third series model. I persisted with my OOB objective.
Overall dimensions seem ok, when measured against the few scale drawings I have.

By the way, the kit lacks the footstep that was typically fitted underneath the hull door on the left.
On the other hand, the kit comes with an antenna mount, which is historically possible, but note that very few tanks were actually fitted with a radio, so the antenna would probably not be there either. The ount just might have been kept as an in-case.

Other bits of information that might be interesting is that the headlights were often removed in combat and that from mid 1941 a licence plate was painted on the nose of the tank, whereas earlier on only the stamped licence plate at the back was used. The crew consisted of four men.
For those, like me, who like to do the occasional Beutepanzer, note that the Germans used a score of these tanks under the name of Pz.Kpfw. M13/40 735(i).

Phase V: finishing

At this point, all that was left to be done was the installation of the tracks and touching up the paintwork.
The tracks are vinyl, but are quite nicely detailed and are very flexible. Together with the way the track teeth stick between the return rollers and roadwheels this allows the modeler to get realistically looking tracks.
The only trouble, as is so often the case, lays with gluing the ends together. I removed the small flap at the end of the track, together with one track link and sowed the ends together using thin fishing wire on the inside of the track. These were then butt-joined using superglue. It's not perfect, but it does the trick, especially once the tank will sit in its desert environment. Again it helps that the track teeth help to keep the track in place.

So there you have it. I am quite pleased with the result, and I am anxious to find out if I can get the same result from the venerable Esci/Italeri kit. I am afraid that the rigid vinyl tracks of that kit will spoil the final result, though. This means that the First Air kit is a very serious competitor, although it will have to rely on third party decals.



The tank was put in a diorama with


[1] M13/40 Armour in profile 14, Military zone
[2] Iron Coffins, Italian Medium Tanks M13 and M14, Museum Ordnance Special Number 2, A. Geibel
[3] Italian Armored Vehicles of World War Two, Squadron/Signal 6089, N. Pignato
[4] Italian Medium Tanks in Action, Squadron/Signal Armor Number 39, N. Pignato
[5] Mussolini's tanks, Tank Power Vol. XXIX (253), Wydawnictwo Militaria
[6] http://www.italie1935-45.com/RE/photoscopes/chars/m13-40.html


Thanks to Gunji Ueda of First Air for the review sample.

Back to First Air Kit List Back to Construction Reviews

Article Last Updated: 11 February 2012

Back to Home Page