Afghani Northern Alliance Tank Transporter Diorama in 1/72 Scale

A diorama showing the arrival of an Northern Alliance T-55 being welcomed by Afghani militia. The tank transporter is Takom’s MAZ-537, the T-55 is from Trumpeter. Figures on the vehicle are from Paracel Miniatures, the rest are modified from various components to represent Afghanis. The structure is a 3D resin print.

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Afghanistan Northern Alliance Diorama Build in 1/72 Scale

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I wanted to display my MAZ-537 tank transporter on a diorama base, so I chose to depict the arrival of a Northern Alliance T-55 to support Afghani militia. First I would need a crew for the vehicles. These were a little hard to find, but finally I located a nice set from Paracel Miniatures in Viet Nam. Paracel website here: http://www.paracelminiatures.com/12-mini-seri-172

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These are the sculpts. They are beautifully done and well-cast. They come with some stowage for the tank, but none of the photographs of Afghani tanks I found had much in the way of stowage so I’ll save those bits for a future project.

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I still needed a driver for the MAZ so I used the Paracel tank driver bust and built up a figure with parts from the spares box. He should look the part in the cab!

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I also needed a crowd of militiamen to welcome the armor to town so I found some figures to convert. The white and light blue figures are from Preisser sets. The one on the lower left is from a Zvezda Soviet Motorized Infantry set which also provided many of the weapons.

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The robes and scarves common to the region made converting the figures a little easier. These were made using masking tape, secured and blended with superglue and Mr. Surfacer. Beards are Squadron Green Putty. The crouching figure on the left was a late addition, another from the Zvezda Soviet Motorized Infantry set.

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Here are the Paracel figures painted up and blended with oils. Figure painting is a skill I am still working to develop.

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This is the painted militia. Additional weapons are 3D prints, after some experimentation I realized that I was running into the same issue as injection kit designers – accurately scaled weapons are too small to print properly. After adding about 1/3 to the thickness they printed well. Weapon slings are lead foil.

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For the diorama’s vertical element I printed out an Afghan house intended for 28mm wargaming. This was scaled to 1/56, so I reduced it and angled it on the printing bed so only the front would be produced. It is called “Arabic Style Modular Village” and is on Thingiverse here: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2379715

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Here is the base with the structure in the corner. The base is a 16 inch (40,6 cm) long strip of Oak trim, textured with wall repair compound. Rocks are kitty litter (clean), and everything was given a coat of tan acrylic paint.

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Here is part of the “cheering throng”, gathered to welcome their armor support.

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The finished diorama with the Tacom MAZ-537 transporter and Trumpeter T-55.

Takom MAZ-537 Tank Transporter Build in 1/72 Scale Part II

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Here is the chassis for the MAZ tractor. Internally I have added a printed resin engine to fill the space. Externally the molded-on grab handles have been replaced with wire and the boarding ladders have been braced with plastic stock.

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Here is the cab piece in place, a really beautiful slide-molded piece. The cab is just posed for the picture, I left it loose throughout construction to be able to paint the interior and set the driver figure inside.

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The tractor with the trailer. The PE is the best way to represent the mud guards at the front of the trailer, they are a little fiddly but not bad as PE parts go. I did not use the PE grab handles on the sides of the foldable ramps at the back of the trailer, preferring wire stock because it is round and can be set into holes so it won’t be knocked off. Along the sides of the trailer frame are tie-downs which are present in some photographs.

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Basic camouflage colors. This is a scheme worn by a transporter of the Afghani Northern Alliance, I like the contrast between the tractor and the trailer.

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This is a test-fit of the Trumpeter T-55. One thing to watch is to make sure the tank’s gun is elevated sufficiently to clear the spare tires mounted atop the trailer “goose neck”.

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I covered the paint with Testors Glosscoat and then added markings from Star Decals sheet 72-A 1050, then shot everything with Future (Klear). Future is an acrylic and provides some resistance to the oils and washes I use for weathering.

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Here the oils have been blended to simulate dirt and distress to the paint. The oils are relatively forgiving, they can be blended to achieve the effects desired or removed with a little thinner if you make a mistake. The engine and the floor of the cab are toned with oils.

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Here are the tractor and trailer with a misting of tan “dust” and sealed with a flat coat. The MAZ is in the markings of the Afghani Northern Alliance. The figure is from Paracel Miniatures, which I will show in detail next week.

Takom MAZ-537 Tank Transporter Build in 1/72 Scale Part I

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Here is the Takom MAZ-537 Russian Army Tank Transporter kit number 5004 released in 2019. Takom has also released the cargo truck version of the MAZ-537 chassis, but this boxing comes with the CHMZAP-524Z heavy trailer. I have become fascinated with tank transporters and there are now a few in the stash, like I needed another rabbit hole to explore!  I’ll be building this one as one in service with the Afghani Northern Alliance.

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There are five main sprues in the box. Molding is crisp and features sharp, finely engraved details. These are the detail parts for the MAZ tractor. Sprue attachment points are well located and my example had no flash on any of the parts. One odd thing is the sprues are square in cross section.

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Sprue “E” contains the main parts for the trailer chassis.

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More trailer parts on sprue “F”. These are mainly the folding ramps at the back of the trailer and the supporting structure at the front.

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Sprue “C” is the frame for the MAZ tractor. Wheels for both the tractor and trailer are rubber. There is a small PE fret, most of these parts make sense represented in PE and so were used. The main cab is a finely detailed example of slide-mold wizardry and a real gem.

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I started construction with the MAZ chassis, but there is no reason why the trailer could not be built first if you felt the desire, or in parallel while waiting for glue to set. The parts fit together well without any surprises, but pay attention to the part numbers as some parts are quite similar.

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After the MAZ chassis I skipped ahead in the construction sequence to rough out the trailer assembly. I wanted to get an idea of the size of this beast – just under a foot (30 cm) long! Massive for a 1/72 vehicle subject, but that is part of the appeal.

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Test fitting revealed that the area inside engine enclosure could be viewed from the rear. Not obvious at first but sure to be seen by inquisitive people with tiny flashlights. I found a Cummins diesel which could be sized to fit on Thingiverse and printed a copy to fill the void. I know this is not the prototypical unit for the MAZ but it will do well for the viewing angle. File here: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3774206

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Here is the resin engine mounted in the bay. The fan boxes in the cab are made from spare Academy B-29 bomb racks as are the side details in the engine bay floor. More spurious details but they will serve for what will be visible and prevent the see-through look at the cooling vents.

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The cab piece showing some added details. I shaved off all the grab handles and replaced them with wire, a simple fix which enhances the appearance of the model quite a bit. I carefully “rolled down” the windows in the clear doors with a Dremel tool, and opened up the roof hatch so I could pose a figure there on the finished model. The replacement roof hatch was made from parts from the spares box.

Trumpeter T-55 Build in 1/72 Scale

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This is Trumpeter’s T-55 tank, kit number 07284. It was released in 2009, a reboxing of the kit from the previous year to include the BTU-55 mine plow and Finish markings. I’ll be building mine as a machine from the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan so I won’t be needing the plow.

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The T-55 is a straight-forward design and the kit has relatively few parts. Everything is crisply molded. I was surprised that the 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun often seen mounted on the turret is not included.

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The running gear is as expected. The torsion arms are molded with the lower hull so that will make things easier. The tracks are the single piece rubber type which are resistant to glue. More difficult to work with but not a deal-breaker.

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The turret is well-molded with sharp detail. The grab bars are too thick, a limitation of what can be molded in this scale. I filled the mounting holes with Evergreen stock and superglue, the advantage this has over putty is it can be sanded right away.

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Photographs show that the T-55’s in Afghanistan were typically missing the fuel tanks at the back of the hull. I filled and sanded the mounting holes and made the mounting brackets from plastic stock.

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The driving lights are protected by brush bars, here made from wire stock. Photos show some of these guards mangled but they were always in place. The bottom of the hull is filled with BB’s set in casting resin to give the model heft.

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The grab bars were replaced with wire which is much closer to scale. This is a simple improvement which really enhances the overall look of the model. The fabric cover for the gun mantlet is made from Perfect Plastic Putty and Mr. Surfacer.

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The completed assembly prior to painting. The top run of the tracks should ride on the top of the road wheels. I pushed them down and glued them in place with super glue but it was a struggle.

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The Afghani vehicles sported some rather unusual and puzzling camouflage schemes. This is one of the more tame versions.

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The model was shot with a coat of Future (Klear) to preserve the paint during weathering and washes. Decals are from Star Decals sheet 72-A 1050. I used Tamiya black wash to bring out the details and oils for weathering.

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Here is the finished model under a layer of dust and Dullcoat. Markings are for a Northern Alliance T-55 from the “Zabati” unit near Bagram in 2001.

Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East Book Review

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Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 312 pages, photographs, references, and index

Published by Casemate February 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1612002676

ISBN-13: 978-1612002675

Dimensions:  6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches

Like so many of the modern world’s current political problems, the on-going turmoil in the Middle East can be traced back to diplomatic missteps in the aftermath of the First World War.  Those decisions remain with us and are still costing lives on a daily basis over a century later.  In the first twenty pages of this book Oscar E. Gilbert traces the modern history of the Middle East which imparts on the reader an understanding of the basis for the conflicts which have plagued the region.  This chapter is concise and exceptionally well-written, it alone warrants the purchase of the book and is worthy of periodic re-reading.

The bulk of the book focusses on the use of Marine armor in Iraq and Afghanistan, both the M60 and M1 Abrams main battle tanks along with the lighter LAV-25.  The dominance of the better trained and equipped Marines during the conflicts with the Iraqi Army, even when outnumbered, are well described.  The use of armor in the drawn-out counter insurgency operations also offers many insights, such as the use of the vehicle’s impressive array of sensors.  Tactics used during the Battle of Fallujah illustrates the value of armor in clearing an urban environment, an arena where tanks are generally considered to be at a disadvantage.

The book is well researched and interspaced with first-hand accounts taken from interviews with the participants.  This is an engaging read, made somewhat more poignant by the recent decision to eliminate tanks from the Marine Corp’s inventory.  This is the second of Gilbert’s Marine tanks histories which I have read, and I can recommend them without hesitation.

Hunter Killer Book Review

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Hunter Killer: Inside America’s Unmanned Air War

By LCOL T. Mark McCurley with Kevin Maurer

Hardcover in dustjacket, 368 pages, photographs

Published by Dutton, October 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0525954430

ISBN-13: 978-0525954439

Dimensions: 6.25 x 1.13 x 9.25 inches

This book pulls back the curtain on America’s MQ-1 Predator “drone” program and the people who operate it.  LCOL McCurley was a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot who volunteered for transfer to the Predator program after the 9/11 attacks.  The transfer was not a normal request, the program was not a popular assignment within the USAF – “real” pilots flew fighters, and the Predator had become a dumping ground for officers who didn’t qualify for other assignments.

The term “drone”, though widely used in the press, is inaccurate.  A drone is an automatous vehicle, programmed to perform its mission without human intervention.  The U.S. Navy’s XM-47B is an example.   The MQ-1 Predator and its larger cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are more accurately described as Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), flown by a pilot and a sensor operator on the ground.  The crew is linked to the aircraft via satellite and can be physically located anywhere in the world.  RPVs operating over Afghanistan are routinely piloted by crews within the U.S.

One revelation for me was that it takes two separate crews to fly a mission – one where the aircraft is physically based to launch and recover the aircraft and one to fly the mission.   Many missions are flown in shifts due to the duration.  The crews operate under similar rules of engagement as any other U.S. unit.  Strike missions which eliminate high-value terrorist targets grab the headlines, but these are usually supported by weeks of routine 24/7 surveillance missions to establish the target’s patterns and minimize collateral damage.

The book is written from the first-person perspective and follows LCOL McCurley’s career in the RPV community.  It is an interesting insight into one of the USAF’s most-used platforms, and corrects many popular misconceptions.  It is an enjoyable read and an engaging story which I can recommend.

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The Fighters Book Review

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The Fighters:  Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq

by C. J. Chivers

Hardcover in dustjacket, 400 pages, indexed

Published by Simon & Schuster August 2018

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1451676646

ISBN-13: 978-1451676648

Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches

The Fighters follows the stories of six American military personnel through their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In some cases this is a single tour, in others there are multiple deployments.  The progression of both wars is viewed through their personal perspectives, and those perspectives and the wars themselves change over time.   The protagonists are:

  • a Navy fighter pilot, flying F-14s and later F/A-18s from carriers
  • a Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine platoon
  • an Army OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter pilot
  • an Army infantryman
  • a Marine platoon commander
  • an Army Special Forces sergeant.

The stories are very personal and often tragic.  Chivers pulls no punches and gives the reader the whole story, both the good and the bad.  The book is arranged chronologically, so the chapters follow one individual and then shift to another, later returning to the original person on a later deployment.  It is thoroughly researched and very well written, just as you would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  I can recommend it without hesitation to anyone interested in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

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