Building Academy's M3 Stuart
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

Academy Hobby Model Kits

Academy's kit is pictured as the famed "Bellman" of the British 7th Armored Division in Libya in 1942, but it also serves as a good basis for a trainer at the Armored Force School at Fort Knox, or one of the Stuarts shipped to the 194th Tank Battalion just prior to their desperate battle against the Japanese in the Philippines following the attack on Pearl Harbor. I chose this unit because Company A was made up of National Guardsmen from my home state of Minnesota.

This early production Stuart features the second type of turret produced for this light tank; the welded hexagonal plates replaced the bolted assembly of the earlier type. I used period photos, Hunnicutt's Stuart, and Zaloga's article in Military Modelling to help provide the detailing that Academy missed.

Starting with the lower hull, I used AFV Club's superb suspension set and track sets, both of which are more refined than the Academy parts. It's necessary to make some modifications, however, to fill some gaps where the bogey units attach to the hull walls. The backside of the idler housings need to be shaved down so they fit properly. Keep an eye on the alignment of the parts and you should be in good shape.

I used Mr. Surfacer to texture the cast armor final drive cover (as well as the bow gun cover and gas cap covers) and added the missing bolts along the two outer vertical edges.

Since I planned to replace the solid engine intake vent screen with an Eduard photoetch part, I scratchbuilt the engne bulkhead and drive shaft leading to the fan surrounded by a cowling. There's just enough detail to be seen through the screen so there's no gaping void below.

On the upper hull, the main problem is that Academy one-piece molding has depicted the fenders and sponson walls as one flush assembly. In reality, the fenders should be shown to be separate parts attached below the overhanging sponson. (Tamiya got this separation right, even though they left the sponson open per their usual strange practice.) So I carefully sanded down an indentation across the bottom edge of the vertical wall, leaving enough plastic at each side where the fenders were attached. I had to make sure there was no lip remaining of the sponson that is molded to the hull sides. This produced the proper look, which Academy probably felt was easy to ignore with "Bellman's" side skirts in place—though the Fort Knox diagram for decal placement depicts the fenders correctly. Go figure!

The other significant detailing was the addition of rivets missing from the hull sides where the fender stowage boxes are located. If you use the boxes you can get away with this, but since these boxes were not seen on photos of the Philippine Stuarts, I had to resort to adding a lot of Tichy rivets, as well as welds from Archer Fine Transfers.

Formations air cleaners are more refined and provide the proper brackets. I also replaced the Academy tools with the higher quality Formations items. Oddly, Eduard doesn't include the brusch guards for the front headlights, so I scratchbuilt those and added wiring for the lights and sirens. The rear lights also were wired.

The turret received some attention. The viewing ports around the exterior of cupola are not very deep, so I put a small burr bit on the Dremel and carefully corrected that. I also added the details to the interior "peep holes" as they were called in the official photos included in Hunnicutt's book. Archer welds were applied to the roof plates and around the cupola base. The small Dremel burr was used to replicate welds on the tureet and cupola outer corners.

Academy has nicely textured the gun mantlet. The aluminum barrel comes from RB. Even though it was unlikely to be seen with a crew man in the cupola, I modified the Academy parts for the breech end of the gun by adding the shoulder brace made from plastic stock.

The kit was painted with rattle can Model Master OD as the base coat, and weathering began with an application of faded OD with the air brush. The wheels were painted, idlers, and return rollers were painted. I always use Testors Gloss before laying down decals, but this time I decided to try Future. Unfortunately, it produced some white blotches on the glacis and rear plate as you can see below. I loaded the air brush with some more OD to get it back to the proper color. After giving it a few extra days to make sure it was dry, I went back to the tried and true Testor's gloss. And then I gave that a few more days than usual. Patience is a virtue—which, conversely, is probably why so many of us having numerous projects running at the same time!

This early Stuart would have had blue drab registration numbers, which I pulled from a DML decal sheet. They are individual numbers, so they need to be aligned carefully. They are based on what would have been a likely series to have been shipped to the Philippines. The few photos of Stuarts on the island do not show any unit designations. The star on the inside of the turret hatch cover is seen on some, but not all, Stuarts of the period. I added on the presumption of identification purposes for friendly air cover (what there was of it at the time) and to give some visual break of the all-OD scheme.

The antenna is another item from Formation's, with wire molded into the resin base. I did not glue it in place so it could be removed for transporting the kit to shows. The final addition was a Tamiya .30 cal. machine gun and cradle from the superb Jeep kit. Because this is a very early war vehicle, it was likely equipped with a wooden ammo box, and Collector's Brass provided just the right part.

I intend to situate this battered Stuart in a small Philippine vignette shortly before the collapse of the American force on Luzon in April 1942. So I'll do some additonal weathering at that time. As it is, the tank took a gold at the Minnesota Military Figure Society "Boots and Treads" show and silver at NordicCon, both in 2010.


  • "Light Relief," by Steve Zaloga, Military Modelling, Vol. 32, No. 12, 18 Oct. - 7 Nov. 2002, Highbury.
  • Modeling the M3/M5 Stuart Light Tank, Steven J. Zaloga, Osprey Modelling No 4,ISBN 1-84176-763-8.
  • Stuart: A History of the American Light Tank, by R.P. Hunnicutt, Presidio Press, 1992, ISBN 0-89141-462-2.
  • U.S. Light Tank at War 1941-1945, Steven J. Zaloga, Concord Publications, ISBN 962-361-678-3.



Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © Timothy S. Streeter