Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

The Japanese company Tamiya has been the mainstay for modelers of all stripes since the early 1970s. It's long held the leadership position among producers of injection molded plastic kits for quality, attention to details, and clear instructions. For many modelers, Tamiya can do no wrong. Others feel just as strongly that the kits have faults, though less glaring than most of the company's competitors. And kits of the same or similar vehicles are generally higher priced than those from Italeri or DML. The bulk of its AFV products are 1/35 scale but they’ve also produced a few 1/24 and have been increasing their output of 1/16 figures and vehicles since the late 1990s. Tamiya's AFV kits can be categorized into "before 1990" and "after 1990." A number of early 1970s tanks were motorized, and scale compromises were made in designing the hulls so they could accommodate motors and batteries. These kits can still be found and they're fun for kids to put together.

Tamiya's M4A3 Sherman made its debut in 1981 and has been rejiggered to produce subsequent variants. The most common complaints about all of these kits are the lack of sponsons over the tracks (which means you can see through the bottom of the tank if you leave the hatches open) and the hollowed out backsides of the roadwheels. While Tamiya has offered additional figures and stowage for the newer Shermans, they still haven't dealt with these two fundamental flaws.

The M3 and M5A1 light tanks and M8 GMC howitzer suffer from dimensional problems with the hulls and to some extent with the turrets as well. The most egregious error, however, is found in the rubber band tracks, on which the end connectors are molded to each link, and do not connect the track links together!

The M10 tank destroyer and M36 Jackson also have problems veering between 1/35 and 1/32 scales. Cookie Sewell wrote a good article for Fine Scale Modeler on how to fix these problems, but that's likely to be a moot point with the release of Academy's versions of these kits. Typical of Tamiya's tendency to be a spoiler, the company reissued these to coincide with Academy's releases.

Tamiya's halftrack series hails from the late 1970s. The most significant drawback on these kits are the solid spoke and idler wheels. The Tank Workshop and K9 offer resin replacements that capture the original look much better (through the resin track with the Tank Workshop set is no real improvement over the kit's rubber band track). It should be noted that the M3A2 halftrack was a "concept car" that never went into production, so it needs to be backdated to an M3A1 or to an M3 without the pulpit and with the .50 machine gun mounted on a pedestal. Verlinden produces a decent detailing set for this purpose.

The wheeled vehicles such as the jeep and armored cars are essential kits. The earlier jeep came with a trailer and several figures, and for a while it was surpassed by Italeri's offering (with the exception of the figures, of course). But the 1994 jeep is a gem of a kit with little need for additional detailing. It's probably as close to a perfect kit as has ever been produced. The two armored car sets and the 2 1/2 ton "deuce and a half" cargo truck are also fine out-of-the-box builds.

"Tamiya on steroids" might be one way to describe the company's fascination with large utility vehicles like the Dragon Wagon and Famo. Again these kits were acclaimed as virtually flawless, albeit considerably expensive.

As the company moved into the new century, it launched a series of 1/16 remote control AFV models, including a Sherman howitzer and Pershing. The Pershing also appeared as a 1/35 kit in the summer of 2002. This time, Dragon played the spoiler, reissuing its seven year old Pershing which had gone out of production despite rave reviews.

Early on Tamiya produced sets with eight figures. Unfortunately, not all the figures’ actions meshed well. In the “U.S. Infantry ETO” kit one figure strolls nonchalantly, while a couple other are firing weapons and two are running. Likewise, differences in uniforms meant some figures were suitable for one period of the war, while others weren’t (for example, the buckled service boots didn’t appear until the fall of 1944, so they wouldn’t be appropriate in a July Normandy setting).  Figures prior to the “U.S. Army Assault Infantry Set” are rather soft in detail; boots are oversized and hands don’t grasp weapons firmly. Faces are blandly sculpted. Equipment is detail less and weapons are clunky. However, with replacement heads, hands, weapons and gear and some careful painting, these figures are still serviceable.

Spurred on, perhaps, by competition from DML, Tamiya offered a nicely detailed, cohesive half dozen GIs in the “U.S. Army Assault Infantry Set” in 1994. Tamiya separately released the weapons and equipment sprue that came with these figures, as well as the new two tank crew figures that graced their M4 Sherman offering. Since then, however, the only new figures have come with their vehicles. The drivers for the jeep and 6x6 2.5 ton truck are nice, as well as the soldiers included with the Dragon Wagon and armored cars. One of the most exciting aspects of the two new Shermans released at the end of 2001 was the inclusion of new infantry figures in winter dress.

In 2004, Tamiya began selling sets of built and painted kits and figures. At the same time, the company focused its attention on its new 1/48 scale series, which appears to be quite popular. Its late 2005 offering of the "Red Ball Express" edition of its U.S. 2 1/2 Ton 6x6 Cargo Truck continues the company's approach of re-releasing older kits with some additional accessories. In 2011, the Stuart M5A1 and and M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage were reissued with some older figures—and the same botched rubber band tracks where the links do not connect to one another.

Nonetheless, while more-skilled modelers complain about the lack of new products and the re-pops of the old kits, the clarity of instructions, precision fit, and manageable number of parts make Tamiya products particularly good models to get younger kids into the hobby.

Figures and Equipment

35004U.S. Army Tank Crew
35013U.S. Army Infantry
35048U.S. Infantry West European Theater
35080U.S. Combat Group Set
35086U.S. Machine Gun & Mortar Team Set
35121U.S. Infantry Weapons Set
35192U.S. Army Assault Infantry Set
35206U.S. Infantry Equipment
35229Allied Vehicles Accessory Set
35231U.S. 2 1/2 Ton 6x6 Cargo Truck Accessory Parts Set
89537M4 Sherman Figure Set (newer figures from M4 Sherman kit)
25106 WWII US Field Maintenance Yard (2 figures from "Red Ball Express" set and Italeri maintenance tools set)


35039U.S. Medium Tank M3 Lee Mk. I1st Armored Division, 13th Armored Regiment, 2nd Battalion, F Co. #3 "Kentucky"1942 (Tunisia)
  2nd Armored Division, 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Battalion, D Co. #101942 (Morocco, Algeria)
MM139A U.S. Medium Tank M3 Lee Mk. I with five figures old reboxing of above kit with US Army Infantry 35013  
35042U.S. Light Tank M3 Stuart1st Armored Division, 13th Armored Regiment, 1st Battalion, C Co. Tunisia 1942
  3rd Armored Division, 32nd Armored Regiment, A Co. Europe
  7th AD, 4th Armored Brigade, 8th Light Cavalry, B Co. Africa
  Canadian Army, 4th Canadian Armored Brigade, 22nd Armored Regiment, C Battalion.Africa
35097M5A1 U.S. Light Tank2nd Armored Division, 67th Tank Battalion, E Tank Co. #15 or B Co. #4Europe
  3rd Armored Division, 83rd Armored Recon Squadron, E Tank Co. #15 or B Co. #4Europe
35313U.S. Light Tank M5A1 Hedgehog Pursuit Operation Setre-release of 35097 with inclusion of 81mm mortar team from 35086 
35190M4 Sherman5th Army, 756th Tank Battalion
Italy, February 1944
  2nd Armored Division, 66th Armored RegimentNormandy, August 1944
  U.S. Army unassignedFrance, 1944
35122M4A3 Sherman4th Armored Division, 35th Tank BattalionArdennes, December 1944
  14th Armored Division, 25th Tank BattalionGermany, February 1945
  U.S. Army unassignedGermany, January 1945
  "Classy Peg" U.S. Marines unassignedPhilippines, January 1945
35250M4A3 75mm Sherman Late Production ("Frontline Breakthrough")6th Armored Division "Caballero"Ardennes, January 1945
 6th Armored Division, 69th Tank BattalionArdennes, January 1945
  "Classy Peg" U.S. Marines unassignedPhilippines, January 1945
35139U.S. M4A3E2 Jumbo3rd Armored Division, 32nd Armored Regiment, C Co.Europe, 1944-45
  4th Armored Division, 37th Tank Battalion., C Co.Europe, 1944-45
  9th Armored Division, 747 Tank Battalion, A Co.Europe, 1944-45
  2nd Armored division, 67th Armored Regt., 1st Battalion, B Co.Europe, 1944-45
3018M4A3E8 Sherman U.S. Army Medium Tank  
89554U.S. Tank Destroyer M10601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, B Co. #11 
 (early motorized kit)

701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, A Co. #23

  704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, B Co. #15 
89553M36 Jackson Tank Destroyer1st Army, 814 Tank Destroyer Battalion, B Co. #15(Europe, 1944-45)
 (early motorized kit)3rd Army, 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, C Co. #20(Europe, 1944-45)
  5th Army, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, A Co. #23(Europe, 1944-45)
35254M26 Pershing (T26E3)2nd Armored Division, 76th Armored Regiment, E Co. #10

Elsdorf, Germany,
February 1945

  3rd Armored Division, 33rd Armored Regiment, F Co. #5Germany, 1945
  8th Armored Division, 18th Tank Battalion, A Co. #9Czechoslovakia, 1945
  USMC, 1st Tank Battalion, Co. BInchon, Korea, September 1950


35070M3A2 Halftrack U.S. Armored Personnel Carrier1st Armored Division, 6th Infantry Battalion, A Co. #3(North Africa, Tunisia, Italy)
 9th Armored Division, 9th Infantry Battalion, A Co. #11(Europe)
35081U.S. Multiple Gun Motor Carriage M161st Armored Division, 2nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, A Co. #132WWII (North Africa, Tunisia, Italy)
 1st Army, 482nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, B Co. #242Post WWII
  1st Army, 203rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, A Co. #122Post WWII
  8th Armored Division, 50th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, B Co. #162Korean War
35083U.S. 81mm Mortar Carrier M2110th Army, 193rd Armored Division, HQ 22/23/24WWII
 10th Army, 771st Armored DivisionWWII
  1st Armored Division, 25th Infantry Battalion, H-S 55/56/57Post WWII

Wheeled Vehicles

35015U.S. Jeep 1/4 Ton 4x4 Truck Willys MB 1st Armored Division, 13th Armored Regiment, HQ-2, MPI, A1, B1, or C2 North Africa
 2nd Infantry Division, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, HQ25 or ambulance Czechoslovakia
   8th Army, 14 Corps, 32nd State Militia Infantry Division, T-00 2810-P Philippines
   82nd Airborne, 307th Engineer Battalion, HQ-2, MPI, A1, B1, or C2 Rhine
MM115AU.S. Jeep 1/4 Ton 4x4 Truck Willys MB same as above, including four fighting figures from U.S. Army Infantry 35013  
35219Jeep Willys MB 5th Armored Division, 95th Armored Field Artillery Battery Normandy, Summer 1944
   7th Armored Division, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Recon Co. #22 Belgium, January 1945
   2nd Infantry Division, 38th Infantry Regiment, HQ #17 Czechoslovakia, May 1945
   5th Army, 101st Military Police Battalion, C Co. #1 Italy, 1945
   ASC2 3886th Transportation Corps, Truck Co. #2 (Europe, 1944-45)
35043Ford G.P.A. Jeep, Amphibian 1/4 Ton 4x4 Truck 2nd Armored Division, 17th Engineers (Europe, 1944-45)
 U.S. Army unassigned  
  U.S. Marines unassigned  
35084U.S. Military Police Set (WLA 45 Harley Davidson) 1st Army, A41  
16M8 U.S. Army Armored Car out of production motorized kit  
35228U.S. M8 Light Armored Car Greyhound 2nd Armored Division, 82nd Armored Recon Squadron, C Co. (Europe, 1944-45)
 4th Armored Division, 25th Cavalry Recon Squadron, A31 Czechoslovakia, Spring 1945
   7th Armored Division, 87th Cavalry Recon Squadron, A10 France, August 1944
   Free French Army, 5th Armored Division, 1st Recon, 5th Squadron, 2nd Platoon France, 1944
35234U.S. M20 Armored Utility Car 2nd Armored Division, 82nd Armored Recon Battalion, C Co., 1st Platoon
France, 1944
   807th Tank Destroyer Battalion, B Co., 1st Platoon Germany, 1945
   Free French 5th Armored Division, 2nd Dragoon Regiment France, 1944
35218U.S. 2 1/2Ton 6x6 Cargo Truck 3rd Army, 8th Corps, 537th AAA Battalion, HQ Co. Belgium, February 1945
 1st Army, 3549th Transportation Corps Co. Normandy, July 1944
   ASCZ 3886th Transportation Corps Co., "Red Ball Express" France, 1944-45
   10th Armored Division, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion, HQ Co. Europe, 1944-45
89648U.S. 2 1/2 Ton 6x6 Cargo Truck "Red Ball Express" Includes fuel drums, jerry cans, welding equipment, packs and bags, one driver and two new standing figures  
35230Dragonwagon U.S. 40-ton M26 Tank Transporter with M15 Trailer 12th Armored Div., 134th Armored Vehicle Maintenance Battalion, A Co. France, December 1944
 9th Army, 464th Ordnance Maintenance Co. Germany, November 1944
 458th Independent Ordnance Maintenance Co. Holland, March 1945
   457th Independent Evacuation Maintenance Co. France, April 1945
   Japanese Ground Self Defense Force Weapons School Postwar
35244M26 Armored Tank Recovery Vehicle 458th Independent Maintenance Co. Holland, March 1945
 Unknown unit, "Black Sheep II" Europe, 1944-45
   Unknown unit, "Dry Run" Europe, 1944-45
   Unknown unit, "New York" Germany, July 1945
   Unknown unit Germany, March 1945
   Japanese Ground Self Defense Force Weapons School Postwar

Artillery, Wheeled and Tracked

6502U.S. 75mm Pack Howitzerwhite metal kit, out of production
35110M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage2nd Armored Division, 67th Tank Battalion, IHQ-27Europe
 5th Armored Division, 85 Armored Recon Squadron, F Tank Co. #13Europe
35312U.S. Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 Waiting Sortie Setre-release of 35110
35251M4A3 Sherman 105mm Howitzer756th Tank Battalion, H Co., "Houston Kid II"Germany, February 1945
 7th Army, 14th Armored Division, 48th Tank BattalionFrance, January 1945
6th Armored Division, 69th Tank Battalion, H Co.Ardennes, 1944

Limited Edition Kits

89689 M5A1 Stuart, Ford GPA & Assault Infantry
model vehicles for assembly and pre-finished figures
89690M4A3E2 Jumbo & Assault Infantry model vehicle for assembly and pre-finished figures
89691M8 Greyhound & Assault Infantry model vehicle for assembly and pre-finished figures
89692M26 Pershing & Assault Infantry model vehicle for assembly and pre-finished figures
89741Scene Set #3: US Infantry - 1/35 Battle of Ardennes 1944three unfinished winter infantry figures from Sherman tank sets, Italeri building, stone paving sheet, and diorama base

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