by: Darren Baker [ ]
MiniArt Has become quite a power house when it comes to releases with a broad appeal and then offering lots of different versions of that vehicle in order to meet the needs of every modeller with an interest. That approach goes one step further in that MiniArt also takes the time to offer versions with and without interiors. MiniArt has announced in their catalogue a whole family of Grant and Lee M3 tanks and in this review I will be looking at the M3 Lee Early Production with interior.
This offering from MiniArt arrives in the usual packaging of a cardboard tray with a separate card lid; the artwork on the lid represents an Early Lee in service with the Soviet Forces as part of the lend lease arrangement. Inside there is a substantial instruction booklet and a single plastic bag containing all of the plastic for the model plus the clear sprue and decals in a bag of their own and packed along with the other parts. In this example no obvious damage has been caused to any elements of the model; while no damage has been done to the model from what I can see it does leave small and fragile parts exposed to be knocked loose or damaged. There is a sheet of photo etch included with this release and that is protected by a card envelope in the packaging.
This offering from MiniArt is supplied on a huge number of sprues, an aspect I have come to expect when it is one part of a model line from MiniArt. An examination of the model parts has not revealed any major issues that will need to be remedied. There is the usual clean up aspect of the model parts and I believe some of the parts have ejection pin marks that will need to be tackled, the ejection pin marks have been kept minimal in this example which is in no small part due to the limited number of parts on many of the sprues. Many of the sprues that contain larger mouldings in particular the hull plates there are flow marks present, I have checked these as best I can visually and by touch and I have been unable to detect any issues with these marks.
The crew compartment of this MiniArt offering of the M3 Lee is very well detailed in all respects that can be covered in plastic. The drivers’ position and controls look perfect to me, and with this being an early M3 Lee the radio operators’ position on the left of the driver is correctly laid out in all respects that I can see; one of the indicators for this being an early vehicle are the twin hull machine guns, one of which was deleted when the radio operator was done away with. The gear box exterior and drive shaft tunnel add a nice detail that from what I can see looks correct with the reference I have. The floor of this area is very nice as regards detail and the rivet detail is very nice, but I did find a glaring error here in the form of an escape hatch on the floor; the floor escape hatch was introduced when the side doors were done away with in later versions of the M3 and this applies to both Lee and Grant tanks. It is possible that the plate here is a blanking plate rather than a hatch in which case some trimming and filling will correct the issue. The catch detail is not present or added to the panel and so correction only requires some filler to hide the panel. I like that MiniArt took the time to supply the personal weapons on the side wall mounts on the interior. The details covered here are very good and MiniArt deserve a big slap on the back for a job well done. The details should more than meet the expectations of most modellers, but for those who are into super detailing there are a number of cables that could be added to bring the interior close to perfect.
The interior aspects of the 75mm gun look good in all respects when checked against my reference. The ammunition storage appears correct and very nicely detailed; I appreciate that the ammunition storage has been provided with the option of open or closed access doors. The gunners’ seat is nicely done and correctly mounted. The handles for adjusting the guns arc and elevation are also correctly tackled by MiniArt. The recuperators sit above and below the gun and these have exceptional detail on them for what are in effect shock absorbers. The recoil guard is a simple piece that has again been well tackled by MiniArt. The rear portion of the gun has been supplied in two halves and so will have a seam line that will need careful filling to hide; these two halves cover the recuperators and the gun breech, but on the positive side the breech block is separate and so could be displayed open or closed. On the exterior side of this weapon MiniArt has provided a standard naked barrel for the gun, the canvas cover protected gun offered on the Grant has been done away with and in fairness I did not find a Lee with this set up.
The M3 tank series was powered by a radial engine which in this case is the Wright R975 EC2 air cooled radial engine; this engine was also built under licence by Continental. I can honestly say the engine here is a beauty; the piston air cooled cylinders have a good level of vane detail along with all of the needed plumbing present. The cooling fan has a nice level of detail that with all of the other details and some careful painting should result in a very pleasing result for the modeller who wishes to display this aspect of the model. The exhausts have been well tackled as has the mounting bracket. The engine bay has been provided with a good level of detail both moulded and added during construction. MiniArt from what I can see has provided most of the plumbing for this element of the model and should only require some additional wiring and plumbing to provide a perfect scale replica.
The turret of the Lee is smaller than the Grant and my reference is very weak here as it concentrates on British Grants. The 37mm gun in the turret looks quite nice in all respects and the ammunition is stored correctly throughout the tank. Space inside the Lee turret was especially cramped for the commander and is the reason that the British switched to the larger turret of the Grant; I cannot imagine how horrid it must have been for the crew members in the turret in the desert war. The lower interior portion of turret is very nice in all respects from the floor detail to the vented areas. The ammunition stored here and the seating for the crew is nicely replicated. I have found a minor error here though as around the outside of the lower portion there are receptacles for water bottles and there, there should be four bottles in their own segments in a group of four, MiniArt has only applied two X three in a single segment. Otherwise I am very happy with this element of the model with my found error being very minor.
MiniArt has done a nice job on this offering as regards the exterior as there are a lot of angles that are brought together with ship rivets in effect; riveting was not a good idea on tanks as a hit could break them and result in a sizeable lump of metal flying around the tank interior even if the round did no penetrate the vehicle. The angles of the parts look good on this offering as do the round head rivets (I have seen rivets replaced with large screws/bolts and so you could add this feature if you wish). There are a huge number of these rivets present and I am sorry but I am not going to count them for a review, I will say that as far as I can see the rivets are where they should be on the mouldings.
Moving to the engine deck and there are some very nice details here, the fuel filler caps are separate mouldings with a nicer level of detail; interestingly the fuel tanks are the only major component missing from the model. The main engine deck sits on a drilled surround and so can be placed on the model and removed to display the work you have done in the engine with that realistic flange present as well. Moving to the cast features on the front of the vehicle and very nicely done casting marks are present where expected. The gear box housing also has an exceptional subtle cast texture present.
The raised brackets for securing straps for the tools are supplied in photo etch and so raised and realistic in appearance. All of the tools are supplied clean which worried me to begin with but MiniArt has not tried to provide working photo etched clamps and so all is good in my book. The tow wire has been provided with photo etched restrainers and eyes for the end, but the cable is not provided and you are directed to the needed length for the cable and told to scratch it; some may see this as a bad thing but I do not take issue as I prefer metal cables to string and kit wire is not usually the greatest so RMG Factory cable for me.
The Tracks and Suspension
The tracks for the M3 Lee were the T41 tracks and that does appear to be what I have here in the model. They are workable providing care is taken with the glue and so look rather good. Clean up is minimal with the small ends likely to prove the most difficult due to size alone. The T41 tracks look very similar both wheel and road sides and so take care not to mix them up as It looks as if the thicknesses are slightly different. Looking at the bogies it would seem they are workable if so desired, but I do not believe they have been designed with that in mind; it is I believe for the purpose of allowing the bogies and wheels to be accurately portrayed on an uneven surface. The main bodies of the bogie assembly have beautiful casting marks present that the super detailers will really appreciate. The tyres on the wheels are extremely well detailed with the size of the tyres present on both sides as is ‘MFG by Monarch Rubber Co’, stunning detail on a model that is Allied rather than Axis in nature. The star drive cog appears to have all of the needed detail present and can be assembled while remaining workable and so easier to paint and add the tracks to. The idler wheel can also remain workable if desired and the only part to bother some modellers here are the discs of photo etch that need to be added. MiniArt has put a lot of work into this area of the model and I think that the effort will be approved of by modellers of all skill levels.
The raised rounded turret of the Lee and the machine gun turret on top of that provides the M3£ Lee with a fairly unique look to it. The turret shape looks to have been very well replicated here with MiniArt having taken some excellent notes on the finer details. The seam line where the top and bottom halves of the turret join mimics that of the real vehicle and so do not sand and fill this detail as you perhaps otherwise would. Hatches and viewing ports are correctly placed with high levels of detail provided.
MiniArt has provided finishing options covering eight vehicles and I was very pleased to see a broad range of countries thrown into the mix.
1st Armoured Division US Army, Military Manoeuvres, State of Carolina, November 1941
2nd Armoured Division US Army, Fort Benning (Georgia), Early 1942
Canadian Army, Training Armoured Division, Great Britain, 1942
Red Army, Supposedly 192nd Tank Brigade, 61st Army, Bryansk Front, District North of Bolkhov (Oryol Region) July 1942
Red Army, Supposedly 192nd Tank Brigade, 61st Army, Bryansk Front, District North of Bolkhov (Oryol Region) July 1942
German Army, Wehrmacht, Captured Unit, Mzensk, February 1943
German Army, Wehrmacht, Captured Unit, Eastern Front, 1943
Re Army, 5th Guards Tank Army, Steppe Front, Kursk, July 1943
The Lee/Grant Tanks in British Service Written by Bryan Perrett Released by Osprey Publishing
M3 Lee/Grant in Action written by Jim Mesko Released by Squadron/Signal Publications, Armour Number 33
MiniArt has done an excellent job on this interior kitand it pays off for the modeller due to the very large and plentiful viewing points. The details look to be very good with little in the way of issues beyond the errors I have found and even these are easily corrected in one case the water canteen storage issue would only likely be picked up by a purist. For unknown reason MiniArt has not provided any syowage for this offering unlike the M3 Grant. Taking everything into consideration and you are being offered a very accurate model with some minor corrections needed and a model that can be displayed in a number of ways that includes opened up which allows the interior effort to pay off. The eight finishing options are a nice touch but I feel MiniArt was a little heavy on the Soviet and German captured vehicle options. For the super detailers there is some plumbing that will need adding to get this spot on and you could of course scratch the fuel tanks if desired.