Friday, April 19, 2013

Assembling the PSC Panther

My next major project is scratching an itch I've had for some time. I am a big fan of the Panther tank, and always lamented the fact that even in late-war, the points of a Panther platoon limited one to a very very small force at a 1500pt level. I rejoiced, as a result, when Blood Guts & Glory came out and had reluctant trained Panthers, allowing me to finally field a real company!

To this end, I purchased two boxes of Plastic Soldier Company's Panthers. These kits are fantastic. I will eventually do a "BF Versus Zvezda/PSC" post, but for now, let me say I am unlikely to ever buy another type.

To fit Panthers that would have been around during the Battle of the Bulge, my force consists of mostly Panther Gs, with the 2iC still rolling around in a Panther A (my only BF model in this force so far).

There's a great book regarding Panther tanks, called, appropriately; "Germany's Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy" by Thomas Jentz. It details - by month - when all the upgrades and modifications were made to each tank variant. I decided to split my force between later-production Panther Gs and earlier-production ones, meaning in essence "with zimmerit but without chin mantlet" and "without zimmerit but with chin mantlet". The late Panther Gs are made exactly as they would be made by the instructions provided, but for the earlier Panther Gs, some conversion is required. Here then, is my "how to" on making earlier Panther Gs!

First, I clip all the major pieces out and clean them up (removing sprue marks, primarily) then, the hull sides get glued to the main upper hull:
Next, once both sides are on and properly placed (if you don't clean the upper hull's sprue marks, they will not fit properly) I then glue the lower hull to the upper hull:
While that is drying (and believe me, you want it to dry well) I start to work on the roadwheel assembly. This is a place where one must be careful. The outer parts of the drive wheels are attached to the sprue in such a way that one of the roadwheel's teeth looks like a piece of sprue.
 (Seen here on the left wheel, left side, and the right wheel, top connector.)

These pieces have a connecting nubbin that are not perfectly circular, and so only one will fit on each side. This is helpful because it also ensures the pieces will line up properly when the tracks are connected.
Now I clip out the track sections, and here is perhaps the trickiest part of the build. There are four track sections, essentially upper and lower for each side. Before even sizing them up, be careful to remove the plastic discs from the tracks' interior, because they may affect proper fitting, and even if not, they look kind of ugly:
After that's done, pay careful attention to the shape of each track. The distance between the roadwheels and both the return roller and drive wheel are different, so the lower tracks will be relatively straightforward, but the uppers are a bit tougher. In essence, the more gentle slope is for the front, the one that curls more distinctly is for the back. Equally, if not more important, is figuring out which is for the left, and which is for the right. The inner track teeth are slightly offset, and the narrower side should be to the outside of the tank:

(Here you can see all four track sections lined up, with the bottom two (track uppers) clearly showing the offset.)

I find the upper track pieces easiest to put on first, because they lay flatter, and curl around the wheels tighter.
Here you can also see the offset on the lower track sections more clearly, as well as the difference in curve for front versus back. Be careful when gluing on the second parts to ensure both that the tops are dry, and that the lower lines up with the upper at the crucial joins front and back. They will be visible, and if I had one criticism of the kit, it's the cleanliness of this join.

Panther G Early Customization

So now comes the part where I put on my crazy conversion hat for a bit, as the tracks dry. There were two parts of the early-G that were distinctly different from the late-G, and one requires some customization, namely; the tailpipes. The Panther D had two thin ones, modified during the A's run to have twin extra exhausts off the side of one, to make the engine run better. In the early Panther-G run, they modified the engine's in-out to make it more efficient, eliminating the need for a triple-pipe, and returning to a twin, thin exhaust. Luckily, with minor modification of the PSC's G back, and the PSC's D exhausts, you can imitate this look:
First, I carefully removed the jack from the back (because I'm imitating a G that put two jerry cans there, this isn't necessarily integral to the look.)
Next, I carefully cut off the connecting bar between the two D exhausts. On my other Panther Gs, that didn't have the jack moved thus, I had to even more delicately remove the one on the lower engine access that you can still see in place here, leaving the vertical one in place.
Finally, I glued it all in place, resulting in a passable approximation of the Panther G's early exhaust arrangement. Notice also when you cut off the connecting strut, you will have to shave the plastic off the 'inside' so that the G's connectors will cleanly mate.
(Here, the rear-hull is glued to the back of the assembly, which should be done before the track assemblies are glued in place)

Fun Geeky Fact Time

The big round exhaust vents from the later Panther G were put in place to mask the glow and occasional bursts of flame visible out of the exhausts of the Panther at night. They were called Flammvernichter exhausts, and weren't installed until October of '44, about a month after the chin mantlet started to be installed. However, as of May '44, the Panther G had thin metal 'guards' welded to the thinner exhaust pipes, meaning all Panthers modified like above should also have curved exhaust guards going from about halfway down the socket where they enter the tank to just above where the upper strut is. I will be modifying mine after zimmerit's been applied, likely with leftover photoetched metal I have.

Early Panther G Distinguishing Feature, Part II

The other thing that made the earlier Panther G distinct was it lacked the later's chin mount. It's also the case that not all Panther Gs were built with the chin even after it was enacted, so it's entirely possible to have a Panther G, without Zimmerit, with the Flammvernichter, and yet no chin! For mine, in various points during the Panther build where I had to wait on something else to dry, I was assembling the turret:
  First, of course, the back was glued in to the top of the turret. Because of the way the pieces slot together, this must be done before gluing on the bottom.
After the underside is glued in place, I glue on the mantlet. Notice the two holes on the left side of the turret: This was the binocular viewports distinctive in the Panther D and early A, but dropped by the end of the A's production, and never on the G. I used liquid greenstuff to fill in the outer port, leaving the inner one in the right spot.
Finally, the gun barrel is carefully glued in. I find it is an easier go if you drill out the barrel slot's hole a bit, to ensure no plastic is in the way, and slightly thin the 'male' connector at the base of the gun. I found this an easier way to ensure the gun didn't accidentally get glued in with a gap.
These are the remaining pieces before we move into more detailed work: The hatches, barrel cleaning tube, hull MG, and commander's cupola. The cleaner tube should typically go on the side, though some crews moved it to the back of the engine deck. Since this was a field mod, only one or two of my tanks will have this particular modification. Similarly, because the tank is meant to be rolling into battle, I will have my Radioman's and Driver's hatches closed, to allow the gun free room to swivel, and because, battle...

Of similar importance: unlike the drive wheels, the commander's cupola does not have a guiding mark for where the 'front' should be. On the drawings I've seen, the hatch's connecting pole will be at 270 degrees (front of tank being 0), which will put the various viewscope mountings at cardinal directions as well. Oddly, this means the commander had no view directly left from inside the hatch, and I can think of no reason why this was considered the most efficient setup, but hey, hindsight perhaps?

Final geeky bit of detailing that one must be very careful to do without cutting a piece improperly is the driver's scope. It had a weather cover, which on the model is a flat piece on the front hull. To get the best look, I cut a small wedge out from underneath, first by making the horizontal cut until I touched the hull, then cutting extremely carefully along the line of the hull, slowly so as not to entirely take off the periscope cover:

*Edit* Looks Like I Forgot Something

One last thing that significantly varies from the default construction of the Panther G, is the AA cupola ring. It was rare that the AA MG was used (and FoW doesn't even recognize rules for it) but the ring itself seems to have been welded to all period tanks. There is, then, two modifications to be made to the ring. The first is to remove the post to stick the MG on to, and the other is to correctly shorten it. The ring did not wrap all the way around, but stopped at the rear, or 180 degree point of the cupola.
(Ignore for now the track links on the turret sides, and the weird plasticard shapes on the rear deck!)

Tune in next time as I do a masterclass on making the Panther G kit sing with all those fantastic details one would expect of a mad modeller!

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