War, like all facets of human behaviour and culture, goes through phases. Sometimes in history, it has been a largely static undertaking. The age of sieges and castles really didn’t involve a lot of maneuvering, nor, really, did WWI. However, in between those extremes, war has been a very fluid and dynamic, almost organic, thing. Think of all the Cavalry charges and rushing to and fro in the American Civil War, or of some of the great Roman victories that involved movement and envelopment. It seems that when generals get bored with one, they switch to the other, almost as if trying something “new”.
However, in World War II, maneuver and static warfare met head on, and maneuver handily won the day. The mechanization of the Nazi German army was touted far and wide, and proved itself more than up to the task of going around, over and through any enemy fortifications or obstacles thrown in its way. Throughout France and the Low Countries, the “Blitzkrieg” model of combined arms, mechanized assault carried the day. The fact that it did this is amazing when you consider just how poor most German tanks of the day were (cough… Panzer II… cough) and how much of the “mechanization” was really just horse-drawn. Still, the Blitzkrieg set the stage for the rise and primacy of highly mobile warfare for the foreseeable future.
Mobility in All Its Forms:
Tanks, though, weren’t the only players on the field of maneuver warfare. They’re the part most of us think of, but troop and supply transport, recon, command and control and even defensive weapons such as AA and anti-tank guns needed to be mobile as well. Germany knew this, but they just hadn’t had the time to get everything quite so mechanized by the time the war started. As the war progressed, though, they realized the importance of what they’d started, and by the end, pretty much everything left was, in fact, the way they’d convinced the world it was at the start.
One of the most important vehicle-types in the German inventory was the halftrack. While it was somewhat accepted by other nations (such as the US and USSR), no other country embraced it like Germany. There were halftracks of various kinds for everything; troop transport, engineering, cargo, command, artillery towing and mobile triple-A. The Germans liked the cross-country, “go anywhere” nature of the halftrack, with the result that most of their frontline “trucks” were of the halftrack variety.
One of the more common halftracks used was the Sd.Kfz 11. This battlefield workhorse was often used for towing artillery, although there were versions for many other tasks. The artillery versions often had boxy back ends that were part ammo storage and part gun-crew seating. The “11” entered service in 1938, serving throughout the war. It used a 100hp, 6-cylinder engine capable of getting it to only about 33 mph. Not a rocket, but good for what it was for.
At the start of the war, the Wehrmacht didn’t have a lot of tank destroyers; that idea had yet to take seed. Instead, anti-tank (AT) support was provided by towed AT guns. These, like their cannonball-spewing forefathers, were manhandled in the field on wheeled carriages and used for direct support. Once the battle was over, they were connected back to their tractors and fell in to keep up with artillery. One of the more common and well-known pieces of German AT artillery was the Pak 40. This was a towed, 75mm weapon with a barrel just over 11 feet long. It started entering service in small numbers in 1942, but the appearance of the newest Soviet armour lit a fire under the high command and by 1943, it was the most numerous of its type deployed.
One other iconic German WWII vehicle is the BMW R75 motorcycle/sidecar combination. Few are the people who haven’t seen images of dusty-faced Afrika Korps riders in their R75s, or the field grey versions motoring down various European streets. The R75 was, in many ways a smaller, simpler two-man Jeep. It was three-wheel drive, since the wheel on the sidecar was driven, and thus it had excellent cross-country capability; far more so than one might expect of a motorcycle/sidecar combo. With shaft drive and a reliable engine, the R75 was a very tough and mobile vehicle. That it could also mount an MG-34 made it a perfect choice for patrol and recon, too.
Given how important all three of these things were to German military endeavours during WWII, it comes as zero shock that they have all been kitted numerous times, in a number of scales by a large number of kit makers. Few are any armour model collections of note that don’t have at least one of these three in it, and more likely several of each. Of course, I’m not an “armour guy”, so that leaves me out. Or does it?
As Matchbox expanded their series of (totally awesome) 1/76 armour throughout the 1970s, they decided to “take it up a notch” and create larger, more elaborate kits. These generally were of either larger subjects (Like the M19 Tank Transporter) or included several small kits in one box. If it’s one thing I love it’s a gift set, and essentially, that’s what a lot of these kits were. Two or three models and a LARGE diorama base (as strongly emphasized in the 1978 Matchbox Kits catalog) made these new kits a step up from their smaller, pocket-money cousins.
One of the first of these “Orange Range” Matchbox armour sets was one that contained a Pak 40, an Sd.Kfz 11 and a BMW R75. For a background there was some blown up building chunks with the remains of a Reichsadler over the door. This has always been a kit I’ve wanted, but it hasn’t been available for ages, and finding the old Matchbox Orange kits is surprisingly tough, at least if you’re not going to use the internet. Helping me out with my Matchbox armour lust is Revell Germany, who now own the moulds and seem to reissue a couple of them each year. To this end, I’ve been able to greatly improve the completeness of my “Matchbox Army”. Just recently, Revell Germany reissued my much-sought-after Sd.Kfz 11/Pak 40 set.
So, let’s pop the new box and see how the old plastic inside looks now, shall we?
I have long maintained, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future, that no one, and I mean NO ONE, can outdo Matchbox when it comes to box art, especially on their armour kits. They were all hand drawn, and had a gritty realism that grabbed you, even though the boxes themselves weren’t that large. When Revell Germany reissues these classics, they do change the box art. I get why, but I also don’t get why. I mean, with retro modelling being such a big deal now, I think Revell would be better off reissuing these in spanking new renditions of the original Matchbox boxes. Think of what Round 2 does with its kits? There’s no more AMT or MPC, but you can still buy their kits. Anyway, I digress…
The new box art on the Matchbox armour kits is actually not horrible, and the one for the Pak 40 set is one of the better ones. It’s certainly action packed! There’s that European-looking burning building in the background, and the Sd.Kfz 11 is parked at the far left, looking somewhat inscrutable with its headlight shades on, revealing only narrow, uncaring slits. The BMW dispatch rider certainly seems to be excited about something, too. Maybe they left the keys in the half track, or he’s telling them that they left the iron on and that’s the source of the flames in the background? You can never be sure.
Of course, he could be exclaiming that he dropped his co-pilot/gunner some way back, because the sidecar is empty. Given that the sidecar appears to be hanging off the edge of the world, onto the “information” part of the box, it’s possible that’s where he went. I’m surprised I don’t see a machine gun on that bike, by the way. That always seems to be de rigeur for those things. Rounding out the illustration is the Pak 40 itself and it menaces the foreground! With a barrel protruding well into the “nothingness”, the surreality of the forced 3-D perspective really hits home.
One thing I find odd is that there are only two guys running the gun. Where’s the rest of the gang? Normally a gun like that was serviced by a crew of 6 (hence the 6 seats in the halftrack), but it looks like these two guys drew the short straws and are just hanging out waiting for some excitement. The gun is dug in, kinda… it’s in a shallow depression with some stones in front of it. I’m not sure how much help they’re going to be protection-wise, but I’m sure they’ll hamper a quick retreat if it’s needed.
Overall, the box art not bad, but there are some aspects that just don’t work, and it looks surprisingly cartoony, compared to the gritty original. It’s not as bad as some, and it’s not a cold, lifeless technical masterpiece that forgot its soul, but it’s not enough for me to pick it up just on its merits as art. If it was the Matchbox one, it would be. The back of the box has a few pics of the finished kit (unusual for a Revell Germany!) and shows each piece separately, too. The sides of the box are nothing but text, although the description does mention “Diorama base”, so if the weird 1/76 scale didn’t clue you in that this was originally a Matchbox, that should.
Since I don’t intend to keep the box (unlike for all my Matchbox stuff), we can now dive into the vintage plastic inside!
Inside the box you’ll find three sprues of medium tan plastic, one rubber one for the tracks, a typically small decal sheet and an atypically large instruction manual. The first thing that hits you, and makes me a little bit sad, is that this is now a one-colour kit. It used to be a 3 colour kit. I know, I know… it doesn’t REALLY matter, since everything is going to be painted, but there’s just something magical about the Matchbox multi-coloured plastic. It makes the unbuilt kit more visually exciting, like looking at a Gundam’s mutli-coloured mouldings.
Considering that, and remembering that the kit is now 40 years old (or older, if you read this after 2018), it doesn’t look too bad! The moulds seem to have held up rather well to a long period of use, and there’s almost no flash anywhere. Some of the detail is a bit soft but I can’t say it wasn’t that way to start. There’s nothing that’s a: “Wait, is this a road wheel, a guy, or part of the building? Bloody heck…” It’s also miles better than that sad Wirbelwind in terms of moulding, and that thing was far less aged. There is, though, that “raised lip” around all edges. If you’ve built any old car kit, you know what I mean. It’s not quite flash, but it needs to be scraped down to get the piece ready for building. There’s that on every piece, so be ready for it.
The first thing that struck me was how much of the three sprues is actually devoted to the diorama. That’s my favourite part, to be honest, and I’m glad to see that Matchbox did a typically awesome job of making something interesting to park your convoy on when you’re done. There are all kinds of layers to the blow-up building, with a clear delineation between a parged façade and rougher stone underneath. The building parts, when unpainted, look a lot like mouse-gnawed cheese, but I’m sure someone good at building work will be able to make something rather impressive out of all of this. The baseplate is a bit less impressive, being basically a curved chunk of track-marked muddy road. As is expected, the Swastika (actually Hakenkreuz) in the wreath below the Reichsadler is totally carved out. Given the sensitivity of post-war Germany to their wartime symbol, I get it, but it’s just one more example of rewriting history. That’s a separate rant, though.
As far as the vehicles go, it’s typical Matchbox all the way. That means there are a tonne of wheels (thanks to the Sd.Kfz 11 and its trademarkedly German “billions of roadwheels” design) and that the halftrack itself is basically made out of a box. There’s no engine or drivetrain really to speak of, and the suspension is very simple; it’s axles moulded to the ladder frame chassis. The interior is just as Spartan, with no dashboard save the firewall, simple seats and a steering wheel. There is a crew, including a driver and 6 gun crew. Why they weren’t shown on the box lends credence to my idea that perhaps they’re working on evacuating their stuff from the building in the background. As figures go, they’re typical Matchbox – basic, but not horrible. I’m not a figure guy, so I don’t even know if I’ll use them, but they’re there. I might keep them for the understaffed Sd.Kfz 251 I have.
The back end of the vehicle is just as basic, although there is some nice checkerplate detail in the back “footwell” area. The grille texture is also nice and the roadwheels have very nice detailing on the outward-facing side. To literally top off all of this is a beautiful, wonderfully textured and sagged canvas top. Some pigments and pastels on this will absolutely make it pop and will help hide the rather lacklustre interior.
The Pak 40 parts look good, but again, there’s not a lot of room for detail because the gun itself isn’t very big. The barrel comes as one piece, along with the breech, but it will need to be drilled to make the solid-ended muzzle brake look even halfway realistic. Construction is simple, being completed in 4 steps. The trail can be split for firing, or closed up for towing, whichever you chose. Towing is recommended because of the space constraints of the base, but if you’re not going to use the base, then feel free to put her in firing position.
The BMW is hilarious, being completed in two steps. The bulk of the bike comes as a single piece, with only the gas tank, handle bars and saddle bags missing. The funny part is that there are no wires in the wheels. In order to make the wheels “airy” looking, Matchbox elected to have the tire held in place by the bike’s forks! The end result is a “floating” hub, and it all looks very futuristic. I assume this is where the Tron light cycles got their distinctive look. Shows how advanced Nazi motorcycle tech was, eh? What’s odd is that the wheel for the sidecar has beautiful wire detail, but it’s moulded solidly, so there’s going to be some work to bring that detail out. To my surprise, there’s no gun on the sidecar, so the box got it right. There’s also only a driver, whose hand is up to wave forward his companions, or to block the sun.
The only part of the kit that suffered was the rubber band tracks. Some people hate them. I love them. Get over it. They are nicely detailed and can be easily managed at this scale. The problem, here, is that their moulds haven’t fared as well as the harder plastic ones. There’s a lot of flash on the side of the tracks, and it’s going to require some work to clean them up. They’re also not very detailed or interesting, as halftrack tracks tend to be. The only real downer is that with no skirts, there’s nowhere to hide the joint. That’ll take some work too.
Instructions and Decals:
Unlike Matchbox instruction booklets that were tiny and black and white, the Revell Germany one is a massive affair. Each page is about A4 sized, and has a black and white drawing on a blue-grey background, this high contrast is very effective. Add to this that the pictures are huge and there’s no excuse for not being able to see what’s going on, even if you can’t see the pieces clearly. However, it’s not as simple as that. There are some parts of the instructions that are not clear, despite the components in the drawing being well-rendered.
An example of this is the exhaust system on the halftrack. In Step 6, they show the exhaust pipe and muffler assembly going onto the chassis. Where? How? No clue. There are red arrows showing it going onto the chassis behind the tracks. That’s it. The muffler is even more nebulous. If you look at the paint plan, you can see the muffler under the back bumper, so that’s a bit of a help. Still, it’s rather disappointing, given the immense space available, that Revell’s instruction guys couldn’t come up with something better.
There are, as mentioned, two different full-page, full-colour painting plans. Oddly, though, they are both for North African machines; originally, there was one Afrika Korps one and one from Europe. Given the structure of the building and the Reichsadler on it, it really has a more European look, so I’m going to go with that approach when I build mine. With the burnt out building being so “Germanically decorated” one really gets a feeling of an enemy on the retreat, which I think what the folks at Matchbox were going for, even though it was always made in desert colours (even when a 3-colour kit).
The paint plans are good, and helpful for both checking things like detail placement (mufflers, stowage, etc.) and decal placement. Oddly, they show a grey square in the back of the halftrack. There’s nothing there; it’s an open exit-way for the troops inside. It’s odd that Revell didn’t just put a few lines of detail from inside, but there you go. For detail painting inside, there are references throughout the build, and a typically-difficult-to-access list of colours early in the instruction book. There’s also a lot of safety information (Who knew modelling was so dangerous?) and a very Japanese-like layout of the sprues. That, friends, I like A LOT. Not sure why, but I do.
The decals are small, and consist of a few unit markers and the “Swastika Palm” emblem of the Afrika Korps. They’re printed in Italy, but I can’t speak to how good they are; I’ve not built a Revell Germany Matchbox kit yet. They should be good though. I do love it says “Copyright 2016” on there. Sure….
I have always loved the look of this set, and have wanted it since I first saw it in an old catalog my brother got me. Despite the years, time has been pretty kind to this kit, and the new Revell Germany boxing is pretty darned faithful to the original. This has both its good aspects and its bad, but overall, I think that the outcome is fantastic. It’s nice to get your hands on an older kit without having to pay Ebay gouging prices. All I need now is for Revell to repop the Char B1/FT-17 and Jeep/Humber sets, and I’ll be a very happy camper indeed.
Given that this is a deluxe kit (for its day), the Pak 40 set has a lot of little things going for it. It’s simplified, but it should look good when it’s done. Let’s face it, you’re not building a Matchbox to get the feel of every nut and bolt in a vehicle. You’re building it because it’s small, fun and a good way to make something neat without a lot of effort. It’s a great beginner’s kit; it’s not so fiddly as a lot of armour kits and the inclusion of a large diorama base just adds to the fun.
If you’re a super-hardcore armour modeller, you probably aren’t going to bother with this kit. You might not bother with any Matchbox kit in any form. That’s okay, because this kit wasn’t ever intended for those who want to replicate every fine detail. However, if you’re a casual armour builder, or are curious about what armour is like, then I can’t recommend this kit enough. Sure, it’s got Tron-Cycle wheels on the R-75, there’s no motor in the half track and the Pak 40 is little more than a tube, a shield and some wheels. Still, it’s got a tonne of old-school charm, and I think with some love, it can be made to shine.
Overall, I love the look of this kit, and am pretty sure it’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s what it was for originally, and that desire to just be fun and make modelling a break, not a drudge, shines through. If that’s not enough to recommend it, then I don’t know what is.