Why Model "The Good Guys"?
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

While the Allies may have triumphed over the Axis armies who sought to enslave the world in the 1940s, German AFVs and figures have dominated the modeling scene since the early 1970s. This, of course, has created much consternation among modelers who prefer to focus on Allied subjects, which combined make up perhaps a tenth of kits available. If you model American vehicles and troops, you've got considerably more options than our British, French or Russian allies. But still, if this was a real war we'd all be eating sauerbraten and singing "Deutschland Uber Alles."

The fascination with the Third Reich's military might is puzzling. An outsider might say that these modelers are nothing more than Hitler worshipping neo-Nazis. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, since any sane modeler detests the evil that Hitler and his henchmen wrought. There may be a few addled Adolf lovers in this hobby, as there are in any other walk in life, but you don't hear them spouting Reich rhetoric on the AFV newsgroups. They would be immediately vilified and ostracized by their more sensible fellow modelers.

Yet there remains an overwhelming compulsion of the majority of AFV (and aircraft) modelers to focus exclusively on German armor and troops. Manufacturers seeking to build profits for their companies feed them a steady diet. And this has meant fewer opportunities for those of us who prefer to model "The Good Guys."

The German Mystique

There are numerous reasons why German subjects have captivated modelers since Tamiya began offering AFV kits in the early 1970s. Tamiya's largest market segment is its home country, Japan. This provokes a "chicken and egg" question, as to whether Tamiya created the market for German AFVs, or was there a demand from the Japanese hobbyists for more German subjects. Was (or is) there some sort of nostalgic "underdog" kinship with their fellow Axis power? It's interesting to note that Tamiya produces even fewer Japanese military subjects than it does Allied subjects. A reflection of the Japanese renunciation of militarism? Is this Tamiya-san's ironic revenge on the Western victors? Remember, many of these early kits were motorized for play on the living room floor, and modeling was seen more as a kid's pastime than an adult hobby.

In any event, Tamiya has consistently churned out more German kits than any other subject and were later joined in this regard by Italeri, DML and a host of other companies. These businesses were not addressing local markets (can you see Italians or Hong Kong modelers clamoring for more Tigers?), but saw these German kits were selling more than others. Perhaps that's because there were more of those kits available to modelers. Unless you're one of a few amazing scratchbuilders, you can only make what the manufactures give you. Consequently, I contend, this has become a self-perpetuating cycle that has maintained the German stranglehold on the hobby. If the only kits on the shelves are German, and everyone else is talking about their Panther or Tiger, that's what you're going to be building, too.
So extreme is this domination that for many years the box art for Warriors figures featured a grinning caricature of German soldier, while proudly proclaiming that it was a product "Made in the U.S.A." You have to wonder how that sat with veterans!

A Personal Journey

When I got back to modeling in 1990, I started with U.S. subjects, those being the few Tamiya kits I could find. But everyone in the modeling magazines (this was pre-Internet, mind you), was building Tigers and Panthers. It wasn't long before I'd exhausted the available American tanks and figures and started in on German kits. And I enjoyed them as much as anything else I'd built. My first diorama was set in the cold rubble of Stalingrad.

When the Internet brought modelers together worldwide, it was vividly clear how strong the German fixation held sway. But there were other voices out there wondering why this had to be, and the discussion groups then and now debate this issue with some regularity.

I found myself making a conscious decision to focus more on Allied subjects, beginning with a yet-to-be-finished diorama of the battle at Arnhem, and carried through with my completed dioramas "Taking Aachen" and "Between Life and Death in the Hürtgen Forest." And while I have nothing against anyone who models German subjects, I decided to shift my efforts back to The Good Guys and make their case. Hence this web site.

So Why Model the Good Guys?

The German aficionados are quick with their stock answers for why they are so compelled to build this subject. Clearly, the question one is left with is, why would anyone want to put down his Mk. VIII Einheitsfamohanohummelwagenschlepper and take on a Sherman or GI named Joe? Olive drab is just so . . . drab!

Let's look at the reasons often cited by the German fans and come up with some of our own why we should pay more attention to modeling The Good Guys:

German U.S/Allied
German tanks were technically superior. We'll buy that reason that if you're really into the mechanics of a vehicle, own the Spielberger collection and can expound on the changes in oscillating pumps over the course of Pz. IV production. But most modelers just parrot what they hear from other modelers, ignoring the fact that these finely machined German tanks were notoriously prone to breakdowns because they had little tolerance for significant changes in climates or hard usage. So maybe Shermans were "Ronsons" and "Tommy-cookers" and didn't have the range to knock out a Tiger or Panther at a distance. But a Hellcat, Pershing or upgunned Firefly could. And so could a lone GI with a bazooka. What really counts is the technical superiority of the simple design and production of the countless Allied AFVs that ultimately overwhelmed their foe. Besides, if you really want to be building technically superior tanks, why are you putzing around with 60-year-old armor? Surely "modern" AFVs have much more sophisticated weaponry and mechanics than those tired old Tigers and Panthers.
The German army had more diverse vehicles and more kits are available.

Naturally, this is important to a modeler. We enjoy a range of AFV types and the minute differences from one variant to another. But all sides had their range of light, medium and heavy tanks and myriad utility vehicles. There are more varied German vehicles for the modeler than U.S. simply because of what the hobby manufacturers offer us. It's to the point that Heller re-releases the French Somua with artwork and decals portraying the tank in German service because anything with a balkenkreuz will automatically ring up at the cash register.

But the Allies fielded as wide a range of AFVs as the Germans. All told there were a couple dozen variants of Shermans used as attacking armor and support. The Sherman chassis also served numerous other AFVs. Manufacturers could offer early, middle and late versions of the M7 Priest as they have with German Stugs. They could produce the numerous versions of U.S. halftracks as they have with Sdkfz. 250's and 251's. They could give us the U.S.-made Staghound and British Humber in plastic as they have with the many German armored cars.

Thankfully, as the well dries up for German subjects we're seeing more releases of U.S. armor and softskins. We've finally gotten decent models - from two companies - of the M8 and M20 armored cars. We've gotten the more esoteric Dragon Wagon.

Recall that the U.S. actually produced vehicles that were made for water travel and used in quantity during the war: the amphibious jeep, the Weasel, the Amtrac, the DUKW, not to mention adaptations to tanks for wading onto the shores of Normandy. For 20 years we've had one of these kits available to us, Tamiya's GMA amphibious jeep. Finally in 2001 Italeri gave us plastic kits of the Amtrac and in 2002 a DUKW. Let's hope a Weasel is not far behind!So this argument will, in time, be turned on its head by the very fact that the variety of German armor was indeed finite. Of course, Tamiya and its brethren could decide that the only way they can sell more Shermans is to put black and white crosses on them and label them "Captured Sherman M4A3."

German tanks have more interesting colors and camouflage schemes.

The Allies got it right the first time - olive drab, or some such shade of green. No dark gray, then yellow, then multicolored camo. OD was the basic color for U.S. equipment throughout the war. But if you think that U.S. AFVs were just OD, pick up any of Steve Zaloga's books or The Modeler's Guide to the Sherman and you'll see enough camo schemes to make old man Henschel proud.

And maybe it's time to come clean here about painting our tanks. What's easier - creating a visually interesting surface with three colors, or just one? Take a good look at the better OD tanks and trucks on the web or in the magazines and you'll see an amazing variety and subtlety of shading that most German AFV modelers ignore with their three-tone schemes. Panzer's Tactics, Armor Model Painting and Weathering Techniques by Chris Mrosko is an excellent step-by-step guide to mastering OD paint.

There are more references available. That was true at one time but has changed significantly over the past decade to where nearly all U.S. AFVs have basic coverage through Squadron, Concord or Osprey publications. Richard Hunnicutt has covered U.S. halftracks and light, medium, and heavy tanks in unrivaled depth. And the Internet has made photos, documentation and collaborative help more widely available than ever before.
German soldiers had cool camo uniforms.

Maybe, but apparently they weren't very effective! Again, OD won the war.

But if you want to speckle dots on a figure, check out the camo uniforms wore by units of the 2nd Armored Division for a few weeks in the summer of 1944 until they'd incurred too many accidental casualties from being mistaken as SS soldiers. DML kit # 6129 and a couple Warriors figures feature this unique uniform.

And on the other side of the world the U.S. Marines were winning their war in multicolored uniforms, too!

Superior tactics and leaders.

I guess this is kind of like building model Toyota Corollas or Boeing 747s because those companies are so well run and profitable. It's not unusual that we appreciate how the quality of a product reflects its creator's business ethos.

But this reason is probably the least compelling for such a domination of the market, as it pertains to AFV modeling, for the simple reason that it invites discussion of the reason the Germans needed superior tactics and leadership -- to invade, enslave and annihilate peaceful citizens of Europe.

One is on much firmer ground extolling the Allied command and the determined soldiers who masterminded and carried out the exceedingly complex and successful invasions of North Africa, Italy, Southern France and Normandy. The Germans lost the war for many reasons, including its tactics and leadership.

Over the past four or five years we've a slightly higher rate of output of Allied subjects from Tamiya, Italeri, DML and Academy, and the welcome presence of Skybow, which has focused exclusively on U.S. subjects. With so many smaller Eastern European and Asian companies picking up the more esoteric German vehicles, it may be that the tables are finally turning and The Good Guys are beginning to get the recognition they deserve. Against all odds they persevered, and we should be able to honor their heroic sacrifices in plastic, resin and brass.



Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2007 Timothy S. Streeter