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Takom M3 Lee

FineScale Modeler reviews the 1/35 scale plastic model armored tank kit
As war heated up in Europe, Africa, and Asia, the U.S. military realized it needed better weapons to meet the threats. The M3 medium tank was developed from the M2 light tank design but carried a 75mm gun. Because the U.S. did not have a turret capable of holding the gun, it was mounted in a sponson on the right side of the hull. A smaller turret carried a 37mm gun, sometimes with a .30-caliber coaxial machine gun (as on this model).

Although the M3 was fast becoming obsolete, it still proved an effective weapon against the Germans in North Africa. Named Lee in U.S. service, the M3 with British modifications was dubbed Grant.

For decades, modelers have desired a better model of the M3 tank  — and now Takom has taken up the challenge and produced a decent M3 Lee.

While the lower hull is conventionally molded as a one-piece tub with front and back plates, the complex upper hull comprises several panels that take great care in assembly. There is a good representation of the cast-metal surface and casting marks where appropriate. The suspension is accurate and features link-and-length plastic tracks. A small photo-etch (PE) fret includes the engine grille and delicate guards for the headlights. Decals are for four Lees: three in U.S. markings and one Lend-Lease Soviet vehicle.

The small instruction booklet has good diagrams and a full-color guide for painting and markings. But my 65-year-old eyes wish the instruction booklet was larger.

I started with the lower hull. The suspension assemblies are tricky but with care they are operable, though not sprung like the real ones. I left off the running gear until after basic painting.

Rather than follow the instructions, I took Chris Mrosko’s advice from an FSM New Product Rundown video and built the upper hull assembly as a separate unit in one sitting, using glue that set fast but allowed time for fitting (I used Weld-On 3). I left off details until the upper hull was together. Everything fit well, with only two tiny gaps at the rear plate that were easily filled with a bit of putty.

The main gun has a linkage that I think is supposed to move the gunsight (atop the hull) as the gun is traversed; my gun and sight both move, but they do so independently. The PE fits well, and there’s even a form for bending the headlight guards.

The turret is a quick build. While all of the hatches on the vehicle may be posed open and have detail on their undersides, there is no interior.

Ever since seeing the short-lived reverse national markings in a photo from 1930s war games, I’ve wanted to do a vehicle in that scheme. The decals are a little thick; I had to use Micro Sol, Solvaset, and a hair dryer to make a decal conform to the turret top. If you look closely, you’ll notice the edges of the blue serial-number decals.

I installed the running gear, then attached the tracks. A jig is provided to produce the slight sag behind the drive sprockets. Not all of the single track links are the same: 12 of them (L3) have right-angle end connectors and are used for the sag in the upper run. The rest (L4) have connectors angled for the bends in the tracks (nice touch). The tracks fit well, but the movable suspension complicates their installation.

Aided by good fits and the one-color paint scheme, I spent only 18 hours on my M3 Lee. The finished model matched published dimensions.

While it’s not a difficult build, beginners might have problems with the upper hull. Still, thanks to Takom, modelers finally have a worthy M3 Lee. Takom has already announced several M3 variants, including a Grant, an M31 recovery vehicle, and a late Lee. I suspect I’ll add them all to my collection.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the March 2018 issue.
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