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


I updated Tamiya's ancient kit at the same time I built Academy's gas-engined M3 Stuart. I had thought to cross-kit the two to improve the Academy tank, but saw that it would be more work than I desired to do. Tamiya's major drawbacks are the small size of the turret, and incorrect tracks, as well as some chunky detailing. For more information about the inadequacies of this kit, check out Martin Dogger's review.

On the other hand, the diesel version Tamiya portrays was still a legitimate tank used primarily stateside for training, and to a minor extent in the Pacific at the start of the war. As I got an idea into my head for a possible diorama setting, I decided my challenge was to make some relatively simple changes to improve the kit and make it look as good as practical.

I borrowed an unused barrel, tracks, tools, and other doodads from the Academy kit. The suspension came from the AFV Club set. It required shimming the openings in the hull where the suspensions connect. The rear idlers were glued into place after the wheel units had dried securely. The back sides of the idler wheel rocker needed to be sanded down in order to keep the wheels and idler aligned.

The stowage boxes have hollow sides against the hull wall, so I blanked them off with plastic card. A few rivets were added here and there around the air cleaners. I carved out the solid air intake grill and replaced it with brass. Through the screen you can faintly see a semblance of a driveshaft and engine shroud, which I built from scratch.

Eduard was the source of some of the photoetch, but I scratchbuilt the brush guards for the headlights, which were wired into the sloping glacis plate. I also scratchbuilt the rear mud flaps and detailed the rather plain inner surfaces of the commander's hatch.

Mr. Surfacer was used to texture the cast differential cover, the armored gas filler caps, the housing for the bow gun, and the mantlet. The sponson openings over the tracks had to be filled with plastic card. Surface welds from Archer Fine Transfers were on the turret roof and around the cupola.

Painting was a simple application of rattle can Model Master Olive Drab. I used the kit's decals, and discovered that the registration number is (surprisingly) accurate for an early diesel version. I did a wash and highlight job on the body but will add extra weathering when preparing the model for a diorama. This Stuart will be the focal point for a scene during one of the massive maneuver exercises conducted in South Carolina and Louisiana during the early 1940s, hence the additional large numerals and ID pennants. The tanks were lightly equiped, with photos showing racks of extra fuel and camo netting as the only external stowage.

This is still a decent kit for modelers just getting into the hobby. It's a simple build, and though the turret is undersized, it looks like an early war Stuart. I bought mine at AMPS for $10, but have seen them online for as much as $35. I don't think it's worth that much, but down toward the $10 range it can be quick project on which one could practice beginning painting or detailing skills.


  • "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