M4A3 Sherman 105mm Howitzer and M1 Dozer Blade
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

The new Academy M4A3 105mm Sherman with M1 Dozer Blade kit arrived hot on the heels of the new DML M4A3 105mm HVSS kit, so I can compare both of them as to their subject.

First off, Academy fudged on one fact—the dozer blade provided for this tank should have been the M1A1 dozer blade, which was designed to fit on the wider M4 series tanks with HVSS suspension, not the M1 series blade. The difference was the earlier blade had a width of 124 inches and the new one was 138 inches. That works out to just about 100mm even in 1/35 scale, but the one in the kit is only 96mm assembled. Reversed, that comes out to 132 inches, so Academy split the difference. The later T7 installation used variable blades, but as it had no arms on the sides, this could only have been meant to be the M1A1.

Moving on to the kit proper, the details are not bad but some could have been better done. One case in point is the fact that the upper hull still has the "trench" type of weld beads used, and hopefully Academy can fix this bugaboo of Sherman modelers with subsequent kits. Otherwise, the hull is nicely done with a separate engine deck and access panels, fenders and braces, hatches with separate viewers, viewer mounts, guards and cover flaps, gas filler caps, two styles of travel lock, and a cast nose with separate tow shackles. The mounts are molded in place, which could be awkward if the modeler chose to use them, but with the dozer blade in place they are nearly impossible to see so it is probably a moot point.

Also, the kit does not come with the correct bore cleaning rods for the 105mm howitzer, giving the 75/76mm set instead, as well as not including the rather prominent first aid kit for use outside the tank.

The HVSS bogies comprise ten parts each, but all are fully detailed and the wheels have details on both sides. The idlers do not, but they are detailed on the outsides and the inner parts are hard to see so again not a major problem. The drivers consist of six parts each (disks, track guides, and two drums) with a choice of the "cast" or "plain" toothed disks. Note that you need to pay attention to details, as if you use the dozer blade you have to not install the front two bogie bearings (E3) on each side of the tank as the dozer frame mounts (C25 and C26) fit in there.

The tracks are one place where Academy took a shortcut. T80 and T84 series tracks cause problems for manufacturers producing Sherman models, as the center guides are basically hollow cubes with a hole for attaching them by bolt and nut to the center track connector. DML's solution with its new series kit was to make the track from its styrene cement compatible DS plastic, and provide 176 separate slide molded guides for it. Academy basically cheated, combining the features of the T80 tracks from the M4 series and the T80E1 series tracks from the M26/M46 series tanks by having a square guide open at the top with separate "teeth" on the longitudinal ends. Most modelers who hate track will be happy, however, as you only have to heat seal the ends and mount them.

The turret is completely new and makes use of slide molding in the same fashion as DML, namely to capture the pistol port detail accurately and also to hollow mold the gun barrel for the howitzer. However, this turret does not come with the "cheek" casting of the DML one nor does the kit provide the attachment fittings and "gutter" for the mantlet cover used on many M4A3 howitzer tanks. Both of the subject tanks of this kit had mantlet cover attachments, so you will have to come up with these on your own.

On the other hand, the turret has nicely done parts for the rest of the bits, and it does come with both a .50 caliber and a .30 caliber machine gun for use on the turret. The turret also has separate ventilators, so those into "mix and match" can easily convert it to a good late-model "high bustle" turret with a 75mm gun or even a MAP 76mm. (Think "Kelly's Heroes" and the Yugoslavian Army tanks they used.) The turret sprue also comes with the late model twin exhaust deflector grille for the rear of the hull.

The kit comes with two finishing options, both Marine Corps and both from Korea. They are B43 and D43 of 1st Tanks at Hagaru-ri, November 1950. Since there is a good shot of both tanks on page 500 of Hunnicutt's Sherman book (among others, as this shot gets around) that shows both tanks less their dozer blades, you can see exactly how to finish them. B43 has the fenders removed and the spare tracks mounted directly on the hull sides, the dozer blade piston attachment missing, and its commander's machine gun either stored or removed. D43 is more complete, with fenders and the piston, as well as mounting an M2HB and with the first aid kit on the left side of the hull. Both tanks have twin whip antennas at the rear of the turret.

The directions show them in olive drab with white markings and stars, and it is hard to tell from most photos as to the accuracy of the colors or not (e.g. Marine Corps green, which has a bluish tinge, or real OD that has burnished out). The large numbers (B43 and D43) appear to be yellow, as do the serial numbers.

Overall, this is not a bad kit but once again Academy cut a few corners that could easily have been kept. It is an easier kit to assemble than the DML one, and modelers who want a reasonably good kit that will not take a long time to assemble should keep it in mind.

Sprue breakdown:
A 89 M4A3 47 series degree hull
B 99 M4A3 75/105mm high bustle turret and detail parts
C 36 M1 dozer blade
E 59x2 HVSS bogies
F 103 M4 series details
1 M4A3 lower hull
2 T80 vinyl tracks

Thanks to Bob Lewen of MRC for the review sample.

-Cookie Sewell-

Editor's Note: The 105mm howitzer appeared in both the ETO and PTO late in the war, so you could use this kit, without the blade and with appropriate markings, in a WWII setting.


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