When the British Army faced off against the Germans in the Western Desert, they found a desperate need for mobile artillery support in the form of self-propelled guns to keep up with armoured advances in a way that towed guns could not. With the best of early-war tank designing tradition, they mounted the excellent 25-pounder gun on the obsolete chassis of the Valentine infantry tank and surrounded it with a large ungainly box to create a vehicle that was too slow, too tall, and oddly restricted the elevation (and thus range) of the gun. Even better, in action there wasn’t enough room in the box for the whole gun crew, so the rear doors had to be opened to shelter the poor chaps left huddling on the engine deck. It was so successful that the British rapidly acquired the M7 Priest and the 25-pdr equipped Sexton to replace it, and the unfortunate Canadians got a detachment of them to use in Sicily, crewed by the Royal Devon Yeomanry.
Poor though it may have been to use, its very ugliness makes it a wonderful subject to model! MiniArt has released a series of Valentine kits in recent years, and Bronco
has used the basics to make the 17-pdr armed Valentine Archer as well as this new Bishop. Combined with the guts of Bronco’s new 25-pdr towed gun and some new sprues for the superstructure, we have a very fine model.
Note that I have yet to start assembling this kit, so cannot vouch for the fit. However, there are several build-logs on the web at time of writing, and they don’t mention any real difficulties. (I’ll probably build mine for the upcoming arty campaign, so watch for a build log…)
Inside an enormous “lid & tray” style box are 12 busy sprues individually bagged, a lower hull tub, and a bag of 18 track-link 'sprue-lets' moulded in light grey plastic. There is also a clear sprue, a fret of photo-etched brass, three decal sheets, and an A4-sized book of instructions. Many of the sprues have been seen and reviewed elsewhere, but it is worth pointing out the moulding is pin-sharp, with no flash. Slide-moulding is used quite a bit. My usual quibble involves the photo-etch, since Bronco does not include plastic alternatives for most parts. This effectively limits the kit to experienced modellers, although the plastic parts would challenge a newcomer anyway.
Starting with the suspension, this is straight from MiniArt’s Valentine Mks II & IV kits. There has been some internet chatter about wheel sizes that Alan McNeilly identified in his review of the MiniArt Mk IV kit, also reviewed here on Armorama (see link below). It seems the “big” wheels on the Valentine should be 24” diameter and the smaller ones 19.5”, but that the kit ones were a tad small. Well, a quick measure with my trusty scale rule shows that this Bronco kit’s “small” wheels are pretty much spot on while the “big” ones are about a scale inch too small – a discrepancy I can live with. The wheels are of the “riveted, with kidney depressions” variety, and match some of the real Bishop photos I’ve seen. The tracks come from Bronco’s earlier “workable” indy-link set AB3536, and are beautifully cast – the guide teeth are hollow and there are microscopic casting numbers on each link.
The hull is amazingly crisp and a real rivet-counter’s dream – everything I’d heard about the MiniArt kit was true! The only fly in the ointment is the way the undersides of the fenders have so many ejector-scars to clean up. Inside, there is a very full driver’s compartment at the front as well as the complex innards of the transmission/final drive at the rear. However, the actual engine is missing, and the hatches over the engine compartment are moulded shut.
At the heart of the Bishop is the 25-pdr gun. Bronco teased us with the recent 17/25pdr “Pheasant” kit (review link below) that used the carriage from the towed 25-pdr gun, and of course hot on the heels of this Bishop they have also released a full kit of the towed 25-pdr gun. This kit uses two sprues from the towed kit (for the gun and cradle parts), so there are options and extras. The gun cradle and saddle could be either riveted or welded, and there is photographic evidence of both types in Bishops. However, all four vehicles represented by decal options appear to have the welded type. The kit also offers three gun barrels (two with muzzle brakes that were added after the introduction of more powerful AP ammo), but the one without a muzzle brake is correct. And if there is no muzzle brake there should be no counter-weight (parts Cb4 & Cb5) in front of the breach assembly despite what the instructions say. The other barrels and left-overs, like the gun shield and carriage wheels, could be used to improve the old Tamiya 25-pdr, but note that the carriage wheels are missing their outer tread…
Surrounding the gun is a very fine rendition of the armoured “box” superstructure. There is a full load of two-piece ammo for the racks around the walls (both AP and High Explosive), a nice no.19 radio set, and other gear. This is useful when leaving those big doors open, but will make it a complex job to build and paint. There are two roof options – one with a sliding hatch and one with no cover for the large opening. Decal options 1&2 look to have the sliding hatch, but it is difficult to be certain from the ground-level photos. (Being rather tall tanks in the desert, good shots looking down on them seem scarce.)
The cans strapped to the rear door are held in by PE straps, so with a little creative bending the straps can be made to hang loose if cans are missing, as seen in action photos. I’m not sure if these very exposed flimsies leaking above the hot engine deck held water or some more flammable liquid (gulp!), but no markings are given for them.
There are four marking options offered (two in the booklet, and two on a loose page). Bronco describes them as:
Option 1: 121st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, Libya 1942
Option 2: 121st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, Libya 1942
Option 3: Royal Artillery Regiment, 6th Armoured Division, Sicily 1943
Option 4: Royal Artillery Regiment, 6th Armoured Division, Sicily 1943
Options 1 & 2 are well-known vehicles from photos available on the web and in books. Options 3 & 4 are harder to find on the web, and are actually guns of the 142nd Field Regiment RA, the Royal Devon Yeomanry, who were attached to the Canadians and thus wore the red-white-red flag. I am worried that both RDY vehicles seem to be named “Edna II” in the instructions – I believe that honour should go to Option 4 only. As mentioned above, all four look to have the welded gun cradle (no rivets) and roof with sliding hatch, as well as the gun without muzzle brake.
The main decal sheet has these markings laid out in vehicle-groupings as A-B-C-D, with Option 1 being C, Option 2 being A, Options 3 & 4 both coming from C, and an extra set of un-recorded markings as D that come from a gun I’ve seen in a photo only from the rear. (I wonder if it is the subject of the “special edition” version of the kit with the ammo limber?)
Note that the Sicily vehicles are to be painted “Olive Drab”, but in reality should probably be SCC2, a brownish olive colour often likened to dog excrement!
These deserve special mention, because the booklet is a whopping 28 pages long! And if that wasn’t enough, there are two loose sheets as well, adding the Canadian paint schemes and a reference to a book. The drawing-style instructions are decent, but they don’t explain the options.
This is a highly detailed kit that will build up into an excellent rendition of the Bishop. It isn’t for the faint-hearted though, due to the full exposed interior and use of photo-etch, so be prepared for a complex build! Highly recommended for fans of artillery and British armour alike.
MiniArt Mk IV review
Bronco Pheasant review