It’s been some years since Dragon revolutionized the subject of Panthers with its models of the D (#6164), A (#6168), and G (#6268) variants. Since then they have revamped the A variant as a Premium Edition kit (#6358) that Vinnie Branigan reviewed here on Armorama
. This new release under Dragon’s specialist CyberHobby
brand is essentially that same Premium kit with a few minor changes.
This release is inspired by a successful comic-book series by Motofumi Kobayashi, revolving around the exploits of a fictional Panzer unit (the Black Knights) on the Eastern Front. It is part of a series of re-releases of existing Dragon kits that include a Stug III. Each one comes with a different bonus figure set, adding up to five full crew figures in total. I believe they all also include a half-figure of the iconic panzer officer with eye patch seen on the box art. Ironically he is holding a pair of binoculars…
Opening the rather large box was a return to the best traditions of Dragon – it is crammed full of plastic! (For goodness sake don’t open it in your local shop just to browse – you’ll never get all the sprues back in…) There are 18 sprues holding 551 grey parts and 16 clear ones, 160 parts on a sheet of photo-etched brass, 12 pre-cut metal skirt plates, two “DS” tracks, and a turned metal gun barrel. However, nearly a quarter of the plastic parts are marked as not needed, while almost all of the PE parts are optional replacements for plastic items.
Vinnie did a good job of describing the heritage of the various sprues that have been thrown together from the whole of Dragon’s Panther line. Seeking to improve on the various kits, we are given newer better replacements for parts that were already very good, so there are two cupolas, two sets of suspension arms, and no less than three main guns! Many other duplicates stem from the differences between the D, A, and G variants, so we get a choice of mantlets with binocular or monocular gun sights, and a choice of turret rear plates with and without pistol port. You could even back-date the kit to an early A model using the front hull plate with the “letterbox” machinegun opening from the D kit. This flexibility makes this kit a real stunner capable of building a vehicle from pretty much the whole A variant production run.
The parts are all crisply moulded with copious use of slide-moulding. Ejector-pin scars are kept away from the details through the use of little tabs around the edges of parts. This means more cutting and clean-up, but is much better than filling and sanding! Dragon really pushed the boundaries with the level of detail, even in areas that cannot be seen once the model is built.
Some of Dragon’s choices are a bit odd. They developed a “working” torsion-bar suspension in the G kit, but despite including all the necessary parts they stayed with a lower hull that cannot use them! Also, from what I’ve seen, the typical Panther A did not have the pistol port in the rear turret wall (sources often quote them as deleted along with ports in the turret sides at the change-over from the D to A models), but the instructions specifically call for these parts instead of the port-less rear wall that is also included. The other odd choice is the lack of spare-track hooks for the turret sides, since again these seem common in photos. Italeri’s A has them and even Tamiya managed to provide them in its prehistoric motorized kit, so why not Dragon?
We get two cupolas because the first one dates back to the original A kit and its periscope visor openings aren’t quite to scale. However, it will certainly go into the spares box for possible future use. And those three guns? The first is a traditional two-piece affair from the D kit that goes with the early binocular mantlet. It is pretty good, but needs careful gluing and seam-sanding. The second is a one-piece plastic barrel from the A kit that has a multi-part muzzle brake assembly and fits into the breach/recoil parts that go with the monocular mantlet, but there are mould parting-lines to sand off. The third is a metal replacement for the second one, using the same muzzle brake and fitting into the same breach assembly. Most folk will go with the metal one, but all three are still very good choices.
There are also three renditions of the jack, all of which are better than anything Italeri ever produced. Naturally the spares will upgrade other kits in the stash. And of course we get two sets of tools – one with moulded-on basic clamps and one without clamps for use with the PE parts. Unfortunately this kit lacks the third set of tools found in #6358 that had clamps complete with the square-ish loop (found on one of the three “K” sprues in that kit – only two of them are included here). Oddly there is no tow cable included. The other missing element lies under the engine deck – the detailed radiators from the G kit would have been very useful to fill the gaping holes below the grilles.
My favourite part of this kit is the hull MG – it’s a multi-part kit in its own right. The inner parts include the unpopular “skull-cap” gun sight and ammo bag. The pity is none of this can be seen once the hull is assembled.
The biggest change from the earlier Premium kit is the lack of “magic” tracks. Instead we get two nicely detailed “DS” gluable styrene tracks complete with open guide horns. These are very soft and almost “sticky” to the touch – don’t even think about painting them with solvent-based paints! While Panther track links were the same on both tracks, the direction of the track pins makes model tracks effectively “handed”. The pin head on the inboard side is domed, while the outboard side has a narrower flat end projecting from a flat securing clip. The kit tracks are both identical, and represent the right-hand side track, but it takes a very sharp eye to see the difference! (I don’t know what is scarier – that Dragon can mould this detail so sharply, or that I got out a magnifier to check it…)
I assembled a sprocket to test the fit of the tracks, and while they were reasonable enough there seems to be just enough discrepancy in the pitch to cause the track to pucker between the sprocket teeth. For some strange reason Dragon insists on moulding its DS tracks in a very inappropriate light tan colour. Tasca by comparison mould their gluable tracks in a more acceptable dark rusty colour, so why can’t Dragon? I just hope they hold colour well. The other issue is that Panthers had very pronounced “sag” on the upper track run that is easy to model with individual-link tracks but will be a challenge with these DS ones. On a well-adjusted tank they hang free from the sprocket back to the fourth road-wheel where they finally “touch down” to lie across the tops of the remaining wheels. My worry is that the suspended section may hang a little too straight, but since the tracks are very soft they may well droop of their own accord.
The biggest problem with this kit is that there is no Zimmerit coating. Virtually all Panther As in service left the factory with this anti-magnetic mine coating in either the “tile” or “vertical groove” patterns, so modellers wanting to make an accurate model will need to add it. There are AM sets, or you can do it with paste and patience. Those who don’t want to add Zimmerit could always model one of the surviving museum exhibits (Aberdeen Proving Ground, Panzer Museum Munster, or the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa prior to its 2008 restoration) that no longer have any traces of the coating. Of course, if you model the fictional “Black Knights” you could simply decide they somehow found un-Zimmed tanks…
The bonus sprue holds parts for one full crewman saluting at attention and an officer half-figure. The standing crewman is made up of seven very nicely modelled parts, and no doubt will adorn any number of dioramas on this year’s contest tables. The officer is staring intently into the distance from his perch in a hatch, but his eye patch limits his usefulness because he is a bit clichéd. If he is positioned holding the binoculars to his eye then at least the patch isn’t very noticeable. The sprue is marked “M35 Black Knight - A”.
The only decals offered are the fictional “Black Knights” unit from Mr Kobayashi’s comic book. To model anything else would require either aftermarket decals or a well-stocked spares box. Dragon should have offered the sheet from the other A variant kits to widen the options.
These deserve special mention because they are terrible. Dragon has recycled its photo-essay style that brought so much criticism in the past. Some assemblies are not clear, and it pays to really study the pictures before diving in with the PE. Also, there are some errors, like showing the D-model drive sprocket caps in Step 4 instead of the correct ones as seen in Step 1. The more I look at them, the more I think they are best viewed as only a very loose guide – Dragon’s instructions really don’t favour the inexperienced!
This is a fine kit for experienced Panther fans wanting to build a detailed Panther A. There are lots of alternatives, and detail is very crisp. The only real drawbacks are the lack of Zimmerit and the fictional decals. These will not be an issue for die-hard modellers, but will limit the options for more casual builders.