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In-Box Review
176
WWI Female Tank
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by: Matthew Lenton [ FIRSTCIRCLE ]


Originally published on:
Armorama

Introduction

Airfix trailed this Female companion to their ancient WWI Mark I Male Tank for some considerable time, and it has now rumbled into view. This kit has been the subject of much speculation in certain circles, with debate over whether it would be “all new” or if it would simply be the Male kit with the addition of an extra sprue for the Female sponson. Originally scheduled to appear towards the end of 2009, Airfix delayed its release by several months, which of course only added to the sense of anticipation, and a certain amount of excitement (for some!)

Before all is revealed below, a brief history for those who don’t know the ins and outs of the Males and Females of this most significant of all tanks. While unarmoured tracked vehicles had already been used as artillery tractors, the rapid descent of the Western Front into virtually static warfare in a landscape of trenches, craters, and barbed wire, provided the spur to develop machines that could offer an advantage in this most hostile environment.

Fosters of Lincoln built their first effort based on a US tractor in late 1915, followed immediately by an armoured box on custom built tracks. To improve trench crossing, the third model had greatly enlarged tracks, and this is what became the Mark I, destined within a year to be the first ever tank used in combat. Originally conceived as having a roof-mounted turret, this larger machine would obviously have been top heavy had it been thus equipped, so battleship style sponsons were designed to mount 6pdr naval guns, backed up by several machine guns fired through loopholes. On realizing that the loop mounted machine guns could not provide an all-round arc of fire, and as the 6pdr’s could not fire accurately while on the move, it was decided to arm some machines with two machine guns permanently mounted in each sponson. To differentiate them, the 6pdr version was dubbed Male, the machine gun version, Female. An impression of the fearsome amount of fire that the Female could give out is given by the fact that they carried 24,320 rounds of .303 ammunition.

Contents

Airfix’s kits are packed these days in nice top opening boxes with double sided printing, the plastic parts being in a heat sealed bag. As can be seen in one of the photos, one steering wheel had come off the sprue, and straight away this revealed that I was looking at an old, 1960’s moulding, where it was common for parts to be attached to the sprue at one point only.

It quickly became apparent that two of the three sprues are from the Male kit; in fact, they are the entire Male kit . . . with nothing omitted. The Female parts are on the third sprue, and as you would expect from a newly tooled model, the sprue protects all the parts on all sides with two attachment points on each, so nothing loose there.

The tracks are again identical to the Male kit, but can be regarded as new in the sense that they are now a soft and very flexible rubber instead of the tracks supplied with the original 1960’s release Male kit, which had a reputation for chemical degradation.

The small decal sheet, which unfortunately I couldn’t get a good photograph of, as the markings are tiny and white on a pale blue backing, provides one set of markings, to represent A11 “We’re All In It” which operated on the Somme in November 1916.

The instructions are, as usual for recent Airfix releases, a big fold-out black and white sheet with very clear diagrams, a great improvement over Airfix instructions of decades past. The colour scheme for example is an entire A4 sheet giving a full five angle view. The suggested camouflage scheme is quite colourful, the likely source for which is a painting in Osprey’s New Vanguard “British Mark I Tank 1916”, using Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill, 66 Olive Drab, 83 Ochre. The usual potted history and helpful modeling tips are in twelve languages.

Oddly, the box says this kit is 1/76, the instructions say 1/72. I suspect it is actually 1/76.

Review

Well, I cannot deny that I was disappointed at the approach taken to this kit, as of course I was hoping for all-new tooling. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with the way the old Male kit builds, and as has been noted over the years, this was a remarkably good kit for its time, and is still admirably flash free, crisply detailed, and fits together with few real problems. There is an unfortunate sink hole at the rear of each hull side, where the plastic is thick underneath due to a locating pin, and it is quite hard to fill as it sits close behind the bolt for the drive sprocket.

The big problem with the kit is its well-known inaccuracies. Due to what was in effect the poor source material available to Airfix in the 1960’s, building the model straight from the box produces a strange hybrid of the original prototype “Mother” (ironically a Male of course) with its too-many too-closely spaced boiler makers’ rivets, with a Mark I steering trailer, a Mark II cab, narrower than that of the Mark I, and Mark II wedge shape roof hatch. As for the exhaust silencer, I’ve slightly lost where that came from, possible a later modification to some existing Mark II’s and III’s.

This means that to produce an accurate model, you first have to choose which type of tank you want to make, then carry out various modifications in order to achieve it. Some, like modifying the hatch or exhausts, are straightforward, others, like the shape of the track adjuster or the rivets are not so easy. This Female version, then, hasn’t addressed any of that, although it has enabled the easy production of a Female version with the same set of issues, as it were.

Some observations on the part of the kit that is new: I assembled one of the sponsons with just one of the machine guns to see how it went together (see photo). You do have to be careful removing some of the parts from the sprue as they are quite delicate. The sponson body is like a sandwich with the halves joined by two narrow bars onto which the guns will locate, so care is needed so that the bars aren’t bent or broken. Detailing is quite fine, and an attempt has been made to include the lifting hooks at the top of the front and back plates of the sponson – be aware that these are very small and thin and could easily be crushed when cutting the part off the sprue. The small rear access doors are moulded separately, and the instructions suggest the option of having them open or closed. Although no detailing exists on the inner surface, I suspect that surface is more or less invisible as it is hinged on the outer side of the sponson and when open would face the hull from only be a few millimeters away.

Comparing the rivets with photos of the real thing, they look to me to be more or less correctly sized and spaced, although as with the Male kit, there is no rivet detail on the roof or floor of the sponson. The machine guns are made to swivel and the method of achieving this is an improvement over the Male; the circular armoured mounting, if constructed carefully, would provide a more or less seamless and endless shield which should fill the aperture in the sponson, no matter which way the guns are directed, hence there will be no unsightly empty gap when a gun is traversed to its limit. The only possible nitpick in this area might be the shape of the top of the aperture in this shield, through which the armoured machine gun is mounted, which is rendered square, while some photos show it as being arched.

I kind of sense some discomfort on the part of the designers of this kit, for they surely are aware of the problems I describe above, and as a result there seem to be some strange inconsistencies in the images provided. The box art shows a tank in action, with three little tufts of smoke emanating from the roof, suggesting the three vertical pipe exhaust, unlike the silencer provided in the kit. However the triangular exhaust cowls are not shown, although they might well have been visible from such an angle; this lack of any exhaust detail at all, again I think harks back to “Mother”, with just the open pipes. This lack of exhaust is repeated in the painting guide and again in the colour box-side image. One might think this is just because the painting guide is simplified, but actually there are more oddities here: the drawing includes headlamps, which the kit doesn’t have; it shows the authentic double plate towing eye, again not in the kit, and perhaps most strange of all, the drawing of the roof doesn’t show either the Mark I round hatch, nor the Mark II wedge hatch, but . . . something else, and I’m not quite sure what.

Conclusion

The new bits are good, the old bits are, well, the same old bits. It does seem odd in a way, that you can now buy the Female kit, and from it produce either the Female, or equally, the Male. They could indeed have rolled them into the same kit with optional instructions and decals, although Airfix list the Male as £1 cheaper at 4.99.

In some ways of course, Airfix heavily target a younger audience, and have a good marketing and distribution operation, at least in the UK. They have a very special place in the hearts of most UK modellers, as 9 out of 10 of us will have started off with Airfix kits, so it is to be hoped that many new modellers will be inducted into the hobby through making a kit such as this.

Airfix must also be congratulated, perhaps with some qualification, for not just rereleasing exactly the same kits as before - they have also for example enhanced the Matilda and Churchill kits with some new components - but it is also to be hoped that some all-new small scale armour kits are in the offing. It's just a shame that this wasn't quite one of them.

SUMMARY
Highs: Nice Female parts, and great to have the choice of such an affordable and available kit, and one that is easily buildable by all skill levels.
Lows: As far as serious adult modellers are concerned, it will probably be viewed as an opportunity missed to put right long standing errors. Airfix will however have made this compromised choice for their own reasons.
Verdict: Disappointing, although I will no doubt greatly enjoy building it, changing it, and painting it. Why not go for the challenge?
Percentage Rating
70%
  Scale: 1:76
  Mfg. ID: A02337
  Suggested Retail: 5.99 GBP
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Apr 01, 2010
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom
NETWORK-WIDE AVERAGE RATINGS
  THIS REVIEWER: 84.53%
  MAKER/PUBLISHER: 79.09%

About Matthew Lenton (firstcircle)
FROM: ENGLAND - SOUTH EAST, UNITED KINGDOM

Earliest model memory is a Super Sabre my grandmother bought for me in around 1972. We cut the pieces off the sprue with an ivory handled butter knife. Have always dabbled in painting and making things, and rediscovered doing that with plastic in 2008. Vowed then to complete the 30 year old stash...

Copyright ©2018 text by Matthew Lenton [ FIRSTCIRCLE ]. All rights reserved.


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Comments

erm, 1:76? what am I missing here?
APR 01, 2010 - 05:35 AM
Matthew, congratulations on an excellent review. I have followed your build of the old male version and hopefully you'll grace us with a similar build article of the female. It is very nice to see Airfix not rolling over and throwing in the towel. Matan, there are other scales besides 1/35! Cheers, tread_geek
APR 01, 2010 - 07:03 PM
Thought your article about building the Mk I Male is great but now you have an obligation to do equal justice to it's mate. Fascinating read. AJ
APR 02, 2010 - 12:39 AM
Matan, there are other scales besides 1/35! Cheers, tread_geek [/quote] yeah I know that, I just thought that it was always 1:72, not 1:76.
APR 02, 2010 - 10:54 AM
Glad to see armor from other eras being released (and reviewed!). Congrats, Matthew.
APR 02, 2010 - 11:12 AM
Matan, Airfix has always built their smaller scale vehicles in 1/76 scale. The former JB models, Matchbox and Fujimi also released in 1/76. BTW, Airfix acquired the rights to JB's moulds, Revell releases the former Matchbox and as far as I know Fujimi is still in business selling their 1/76 kits. Cheers, Jan
APR 02, 2010 - 02:01 PM
There was a period, in the years shortly before their acquisition by Hornby, that Airfix reboxed their armour kits and claimed that they were 1/72. Some sort of marketing move, perhaps? Not very helpful to their customer base, certainly .... This was not improved any by the fact that a couple of their kits (particularly the ones acquired from Heller) actually were 1/72. Hornby, fortunately, are not continuing that nonsense and have accurately labelled the scale of their re-issued kits. (Sadly, that appears to be as "accurate" as they intend to get, with no efforts being made to "repair" problems with the older kits, just tossing in new sprue attachments.) Note that Revell, when re-issuing the Matchbox armour kits, accurately label them as "1/76", which sets them apart from their other 1/72 kits.
APR 13, 2010 - 01:06 AM
Can anyone point me in the right direction of some reference for the Female MK I tank? There is a reason why Airfix changed it back to 1/76. One of them that they had been sued for not being true to scale or something along those lines. Also 1/76 is 00 gauge for model railways. Now that Hornby have taken over Airfix I guess that might also have something to do with it. Jaymes.
MAY 17, 2010 - 11:04 AM
"British Mark I Tank 1916" (New Vanguard) by David Fletcher and Tony Bryan - Amazon currently have this on offer, new, for £6.99. I found this book to be pretty good, though as usual, pretty short. As they say on the BBC: other products are available. It would be a bit amazing if anyone actually managed to sue a model manufacturer over their models not being to the scale they claim, but you could be right. I guess you are obliged to label your goods accurately as far as you are able, so changing the scale would be a clear admission of inaccuracy. There are doubtless those who know far more than me on this subject, but you are right, 1/76 originates from Airfix creating kits to be compatible with HO scale railways. I seem to remember their small polythene figures being labelled "00/H0". That in turn reveals the link between 00 which is 1/76 and H0 which is 1/87, and is something to do with model trains in these scales being able to use the same gauge track. No doubt there has been some indecision by someone at Airfix over whether it would be better to stick to the same scale they've always been, or to try to fit in with the ever expanding number of small scale vehicle kits being released in 1/72. As stated above, it has been complicated by the fact that a few of their kits originate from other manufacturers and really are 1/72.
MAY 17, 2010 - 01:02 PM
We broke our quick reply box. Working on it. Until fixed go to topic to reply.
Thanks.
   

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