Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam Book Review

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Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 288 pages, photographs, bibliography, notes, and index

Published by Casemate 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-932033-66-1

ISBN-13: 978-1-932033-66-3

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.2 x 9.0 inches

Despite the number of books published about the Viet Nam War, many people are unaware of the role played by armor, or that the U.S. Marines deployed armored units.  Perhaps this is due in part to the nature of their employment.  Armor rarely fought in units larger than platoons, and often in groups of only two or three tanks.  There were no large set-piece battles, the tanks were generally employed to defend bridges or firebases, or to support sweeps through the countryside.  The result is the tanks were disbursed and moved in small groups from place to place, many of the crews commenting that they had never even seen their Battalion commanders while in-country.

Not surprisingly, the constant movements and changes in unit assignments have made it very difficult for historians to document the histories of the armored Battalions in Viet Nam.  Sweeps and patrols in support of the myriad of operations tended to blend together for the crews to the point that even the men involved were unsure if they had actually been part of a specific operation.  I was surprised to learn how vulnerable the M48 was to the RPG-7, a great many crew casualties were caused by this weapon.  Another problem was mines.  While these rarely totally destroyed a tank they generally were enough to disable the track and suspension, taking the vehicle out of the fight.

This is the third of Gilbert’s “Marine Corps Tank Battles” books which I have read.  Like the others, the bulk of the text is derived from interviews with the Marines themselves, in their own words.  The opening chapter gives a history of the country leading up to the war which is well worth reading just on its own.  The book is well written, and I enjoy the first-hand perspectives from the Marines who were there.  Recommended.

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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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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.

Zvezda Panzer IV Ausf. H in 1/72 Scale

This is the Zvezda Panzer IV Ausf. H in 1/72 scale, kit number 5017 released in 2018.  I replaced the hull Schürzen with sheet plastic and I added Zimmerit made with Mr. Surfacer 500.  A nice kit and loads of camo schemes to choose from.  Decals are from Kagero Top Colors 32 and depict a Panzer IV from the 116th Panzer Division in Normandy, August 1944.  I found the mixed camo patterns of the hull Schürzen and the rest of the vehicle interesting.

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Trumpeter Sd.Ah.116 Tank Transporter in 1/72 Scale

This is Trumpeter kit number 07249, the Sd.Ah.116 Tank Transporter.  This was normally seen with the Sd.Kfz. 8 or Sd.Kfz. 9 FAMO halftrack being used as the towing vehicle with various types of loads – lots of diorama potential with a little research.  I used this one to test various weathering techniques and was happy with the results, although there is much room left for improvement.  I have posed the trailer with a previous build of a StuG III which was one of the more common vehicles transported.

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Zvezda Panzer IV Ausf. H Build in 1/72 Scale

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This is the Zvezda Panzer IV Ausf. H in 1/72 scale, kit number 5017 released in 2018. This is a scaled down version of their 2017 release in 1/35 scale which uses the same box art. The box depicts a Panzer IV in Normandy, an early version with the Zimmerit paste in abundance (even on the Schürzen) but the kit is molded without the Zimmerit texture. This is a wise decision as fewer and fewer surfaces received the Zimmerit treatment as Panzer IV production continued.

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Zvezda uses a hard plastic, overall molding is crisp and flash-free. The Schürzen are molded as single pieces. While the edges are thin, the plate overlap is not represented. Tracks are single pieces and pliable enough to wrap around the running gear with careful gluing.

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The lower hull is built up from separate panels. The gun barrel is molded as a single piece and the muzzle will need to be drilled out. Despite what is depicted on the box art, there is no spare track provided for the front of the glacis plate.

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The hull tub components lock into place well providing a good alignment. Likewise, the running gear builds up quickly and lines up well. I pulled my usual trick of lining the bottom of the hull with BBs and fixing them in place with old casting resin.

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The particular vehicle I have chosen to model carried Zimmerit on a few panels. I made this with Mr. Surfacer 500 and a fine flat-head screwdriver bit chucked into a pin vice. Easy enough to do, and any mistakes can be “erased” with lacquer thinner and a little more Mr. Surfacer.

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I replaced the kit Schürzen panels over the tracks with panels made from Evergreen sheet so I could replicate the slight overlap, the turret skirts are from the kit. I scratchbuilt one of the turret skirt side doors so I could show it open. My plan is to leave the Schürzen off for now so I can better get at the hull for washes and weathering. The panels were arranged in the proper order on the cards so the camouflage will be consistent.

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The model received a coat of Future (Klear) to protect the finish from the weathering process. I applied mud to the lower hull and running gear, this will be mostly hidden on the finished model but I can use the practice.

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Here is the finished model after weathering. Decals are from Kagero Top Colors 32 and depict a Panzer IV from the 116th Panzer Division in Normandy, August 1944. I found the mixed camo patterns of the hull Schürzen and the rest of the vehicle interesting.