As World War II progressed, armoured warfare evolved in new and previously unexpected ways. Tanks got heavier and more powerful; they were now the kings of the battlefield and at the top of the ground-based “food chain”, so to speak. However, their increased capability didn’t render them any less vulnerable to destruction raining down from above. As tanks progressed, so too did the means to knock them out from the air. The British, with their 5” rockets proved particularly adept at this, but the Americans weren’t far behind. The Germans themselves adapted heavy cannons for the job, culminating in the Ju-87G Panzerknacker aircraft of Eastern Front fame.
With all this danger buzzing around overhead, it’s no surprise that anti-aircraft protection became increasingly important to ground forces. No longer would infantry’s simply pointing their rifles at attacking planes work; small arms fire was too imprecise and planes were getting too fast and thickly armoured. What was needed was some kind of organic air defense that could be embedded with armoured columns to defend them from the air.
This took on several forms. One way of doing this was to mount Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns on lighter vehicles, like halftracks. A perfect example of this was the US M-16, which was a quad of .50 Cal machine guns on a turret in the back of an M3 halftrack. This had the mobility to keep up with tanks, but the armament was still insufficient. To mount heavier guns, though, required a heavier chassis. The Germans found the same thing, and thus created a new tank based on the Panzer IV chassis.
This new vehicle was the Flakpanzer IV. It was nicknamed “Wirbelwind” (Whirlwind), and was armed with a Flakvierling mount of four 20mm cannons. The Panzer IV’s turret was removed and replaced with an odd-looking angular turret that had nine (!) individual faces, but no top. The top was left off to allow the massive amount of gun gas and smoke to clear the turret. While this sounds like a good idea, it tended to make the crew extremely vulnerable to airburst weapons and shrapnel in general, so it was something of a hit-and-miss proposition.
Granted, the four 20mm cannons could be vicious and deadly. Once trained on a target, the Flakvierling installation could throw up quite a wall of lead, and it is easy for us in the present to equate this vehicle to something like the Russian ZSU-23-4 Shilka. However, the Wirbelwind was not that successful, and not all that many were built. It was felt that the 20mm guns weren’t enough, and a more powerful Flakpanzer IV, the “Ostwind” (East Wind) with a single 37mm gun was developed to replace it.
Despite its late entry into the war (the Wirbelwind only began production in 1944), the Wirbelwind is a popular vehicle to kit, and there have been a lot of different models of it over the years. Oddly, despite having a Panzer IV chassis in 1/76 (from the Jagdpanzer IV), Matchbox never made a Wirbelwind kit. This was a bit disappointing to me, since I wanted a 1/76 Wirbelwind to help defend my existing model tanks! In fact, the closest thing I could find in my cursory Google search was a 1/72 Hasegawa kit. Close, but not quite.
Then, I was at a nostalgia show in Woodstock, Ontario, and I found a guy selling some old model kits. My heart soared thinking there might be more Matchboxes in his stash, but sank again when I saw that there was no such luck accompanying me that day. Or was there? To my shock and surprise, He had two model tanks, both in 1/76. One was a Fujimi, so I knew it was good, and the other was an Arii. I don’t have any Arii armour kits, but their Macross kits were always okay (not super, but passable), I thought. Then I saw it was a 1/76 Wirbelwind, AND it was a “Diorama Set”! Now it was on! Japanese kits don’t usually come with a diorama base, and since this is just as enticing as the model itself, I had no problem paying what the guy wanted for the kit. He said it was complete (and it was), but it was wrapped in saran wrap, so I couldn’t get into it until I got home.
Let’s take a look, then, shall we, at what awaited me once I returned to my abode. Let’s see what was inside that mass of unprofessionally taped saran wrap and find out what kind of tank kit Arii makes.
Unlike a lot of Japanese boxes, the illustration on this one is not full-width on the front of the box. The illustration that is there, though, shows a Wirbelwind parked by some kind of fixed radar dish. By the dish, there’s a dude with binoculars looking in the same direction. It seems to me that if your radar is picking them up and you’re verifying it with WWII-era optics, then the enemy’s basically right on top of you… The Wirbelwind’s turret is trained in the same direction, and there’s very much an air of tension. There cannons aren’t hammering away yet, but there’s definitely a feeling that something is impending. The level of detail on the art isn’t fantastic, but it’s got that heavy, almost chunky, feel that a lot of old box art does. It’s charming for that alone.
The colours are somewhat muted, and there’s an odd ‘scratchiness’ to the way in which the colours have been applied. As far as art goes, this one is really a two-footer; it looks better at a bit of a distance than it does close up. However, what really sticks out is the sky, or lack of it. Had Photoshop existed when this box was made, I’d have accused the artists of using it poorly. However, it didn’t, so now I don’t know what to say. Look at the sky; there isn’t one! The artwork is simply laid over a black-white transition. It looks completely unnatural and the transition from the painting to the background is so jarring that your eyes need airbags! A closer inspection of the tank gives the impression that it, too, is a separate piece of art glued onto the ground part of the background. It gives the whole scene a very alien feeling, and almost makes it feel like you can see the layers physically popping up at you.
There’s a lot of the box lid devoted to the diorama base. Once I’d gotten past the odd spectacle that was the art, I could afford to see what awaited me here. It looked somewhat interesting, if not all that well built, from the small photo on the box. There’s some kind of base, it seems, with a road cut into it, and there’s also what appears to be a searchlight trailer and a long-range binocular artillery spotting unit. Huh? I don’t get it. Neither of these things is really useful with a Wirbelwind. So, then, why are they there?
Reading under the HUGE “Diorama Set” lettering, though, I saw that the set comes with “some accessory parts” as well as figures, powder, etc. Thus, I assume these are said accessories. It’s an odd choice, but okay, whatever. I can see where the powders have been used to make grass and shrubs, but I don’t see the aforementioned figures anywhere in the small photo. Still, it looks like it might be interesting.
On one side of the box there’s a cross sell of all 12 kits in the “Diorama Set” series, which is apparently Series 4. There’s a good selection of armoured vehicles here. It seems that Series 4 is exclusively Wehrmacht vehicles, so I assume other series have other nationalities covered. On the other side of the box is a picture of what happens when you “collect them all”. Along with the picture (repeated from the box front) of this particular kit’s diorama base, you can see a picture of the ENTIRE diorama created when you get all 12 bases and put them together.
I honestly couldn’t decide if this excited me or troubled me. The idea is cool. Matchbox diorama bases are stand-alone context only; they don’t link together. However, that’s also a strength, since not every piece of armour belongs together. The fact that Arii took a single diorama base and chopped it into 12 pieces is interesting, but has its downsides, too. Fit is a major concern, as is how crowded the diorama would be. This is confirmed by looking at the picture, which looks something like gridlock on an L.A. freeway.
When I was younger, I was into many different kinds of toys, but the 3.75” G.I. Joes were one of my favourites. In the mid ‘80s, they came out with “Battle Force 2000”, a collection of 6 vehicles that could be divided into two other vehicles, or a vehicle and an emplacement. The “secondary” parts could then be combined to create “Future Fortress 2000”. What does this have to do with anything? Well, bear with me. We all wanted to create Future Fortress 2000. However, once it was built, you realized how lame it was. It wasn’t a “fortress” at all. It was a bunch of secondary vehicle components roughly positioned behind one another to create the illusion of a fortress from one side, and the reality of a disappointing mess from the other. The pieces didn’t lock into each other, and the whole thing was something of a rather crushing let down.
I fear that this diorama scene, composed of 12 individually-available and only-butted-together components, immediately reminded me of the Future Fortress 2000. The combined diorama shown on the box side looked slapdash, junky and more like a bunch of almost-integrated pieces loosely associating with one another than a real diorama. This started to make me worry about the kit. The Future Fortress vibe made me wonder if this was more a kit for kids than modellers. Sure, it said “Authentic Scale Model” on it, but the Future Fortress image kept kicking me in the brain stem. With some trepidation, and a bit of child-like excitement, I popped the top, eager to see what awaited.
The first thing I saw was the cardboard “Diorama Set” band that stretched across the box. On it was another, slightly out of focus, view of the combined diorama. “Man, they’re really pushing the cross sell…” I thought. I popped this out (it wasn’t stapled in any more) and took a look at the kit parts. There were four racks of parts in dark olive green plastic, a couple small bags of grass powder and a white base that filled the bottom of the box. There was also a single instruction sheet.
When I picked up the second rack of parts, I knew I was in trouble. This was the rack that had the single-piece lower hull on it, as well as the upper decking and the tracks. Yes, the tracks. ALL OF THEM. “What do you mean, all of them?” you ask. Well, the tracks, you see, are fully assembled on this kit. No more messing with rubber bands, separate road wheels, idlers or sprockets! No more worrying about threading the track guide spikes between the two sets of road wheels, and certainly no more worrying about aligning suspension pieces. Of course, there’s also no more worrying about authentic track patterns, realistic-looking sprocket/track interface or even worrying about scale thickness. Nope. Everything is all in one big, happy flashy LUMP on this kit.
Yes, I said flashy. No, I didn’t mean glitzy or exciting. I meant there’s a lot of flash on this kit. In fact, if I didn’t know better, and was just shown these parts, I’d have definitely said that this was an American kit from the ‘70s. There’s a lot of flash on all the parts, and detail is crude and ultra-simplistic. The tracks are WAAAY too thick, the road wheels aren’t doubled (they’re just cast as a single roller) and teeth on the drive sprockets don’t exist. The flash on the suspension components (such as they are) is terrible, too. Worst of all, there is a HUGE injection gate sticking OFF of one track on one side. This has to be cut away before the tracks can even be mounted. What a disaster.
The rest of the kit is no better. The detail on the top decking is faint and crude, and there’s a sink hole right at the top of a riveted panel. If it were in the middle of said panel, there’s a chance you could fill it. However, it’s at the edge, so good luck with that and not ruining the detail. The piece of spare track that fits on the front of the vehicle looks even less like track than the tracks, do, and that’s impressive!
The turret itself is no great shakes either. The guns are passable at this scale, but are encrusted with flash and look delicate. The turret walls are flashy, and the floor and gun mounts have only basic detail. Interestingly enough, the kit comes with the turret for a Panzer IV, too. Thus if I wanted to have a Panzer IV, I could build it out of this kit. Still, no thanks, I’m good. It’s a sad looking turret as well, so there’s no relief here.
Remember I said how crappy the Future Fortress 2000 was, and I was worried that the diorama’s combined form might resemble that, at least in theory. Well, I think I’m right. I get this feeling by working backwards. I also know that the secondary parts that made up the Future Fortress were not very impressive. The same can be said of this diorama base.
Oh Matchbox! How I pine for thy highly detailed, exciting and interesting bases! How I long to try and interpret the story your moulders were trying to tell! There’s none of that here. This diorama base is just some cut in road and a couple of rocks. Even better, there’s only one small area of tank tracks pushed into the dirt. It appears that a tank fell out of hyperspace on this one spot, and then disappeared again. It’s like an AFV crop circle! What? Why? How did this look realistic? C’mon… Making matters oh-so much worse is the fact that this diorama base is CHEAP.
The base is softy detailed, for one thing, unlike the usual quite-sharp detail on Matchbox bases. However, it’s the underlying reason for this that is truly scary. The base isn’t made out of the same “quality” of styrene as the kit. In a Matchbox kit, the diorama base is styrene, just like the tank. Well, not here. This base is made out of plastic so thin you can almost spit through it. It is far more akin to the cheap plastic trays found in cookie boxes or printer cartridge boxes. It is thin and flexible and “screeches” if you drag it over something. It can be easily twisted, too. It’s also hollow, and it sits a good ¼” or more off the ground. That means that once you put something on it, it will sag. There’s also a line of flash around the base, so good luck getting all 12 of these things to mate seamlessly together! Overall, it’s a sad base for a sad tank, and the small amount of landscaping powder they give you (in green and brown) can’t hide this fact.
Instructions and Decals:
Well, if you didn’t think the tank was up to much (and it isn’t), then you’re not going to be surprised by the decals and instructions. The instructions are a single small page, printed on one side. Looking at the instructions carefully though is quite entertaining, because after a while you start to notice some very weird practices being used.
1.) There are no obvious paint callouts to anything, so you’re left on your own for what colour anything should be.
2.) The “accessories” have nearly as many parts as the tank does. It’s interesting to note that the binocular seems to have a four-footed base, but that it isn’t called out in the instructions at all. It could also be a base for a ground-mounted Flakvierling turret, since there is also a separate shield for something like this. However, from what I can tell, the “four poster” stand is wrong for this.
3.) There’s a sheet of decals, but no indication as to where to put them.
4.) There are NO PART NUMBERS. That’s right. There are no part numbers for ANYTHING in this kit. You have to go by shape, size and guess as to what goes where and in what orientation. This is exacerbated by the fact that the assembly drawings are not that great or precise.
The best and most helpful part of the instructions is the statement, given in both Japanese and English (So you know it’s important!) to “Cement Parts Together Right Position”.
Really? Wow. I would never have suspected that the point of modelling was to put things together in the right position. I thought I’d just go and assemble it wrong, MORON! This? THIS is the most help you can be? Gaaahhh..
If you’ve read any of my other articles, especially those on the Farpro Japan kits, then you know I am not afraid of an old, perhaps less forgiving, kit. In general, I am attracted to older, rougher kits and take great joy in not only pointing out their deficiencies, but in working with what I’ve got to make the best of them. I personally HUNT OUT crappy kits to exercise my problem solving skills, and I almost always insult them in a loving way.
Not this one. This kit is, plain and simple, a piece of crud. You can insert your own word for defecatory matter here, but I assure you that no matter what word you use, it won’t be strong enough.
I don’t like this kit. I don’t think it looks fun or charming or quaint. I don’t feel the burning need to build it just to see how it looks, like I do with so many of my old plane kits. I think it has almost nothing but flaws, looks cheap and will build awfully. I feel bad that I spent any money at all on this kit and I resent the space it takes up in my stash. I can’t bring myself to throw out a kit, but if I ever have to, this one is the first to go.
I cannot recommend this clunker to anyone. I can be hateful and vindictive as needed, but even then I would not wish this kit on my worst enemy. It’s not fair. To say this kit is a waste of styrene is being too kind. Sure, this kit is simple, but it will be difficult to make it look even half decent. It is largely a painting exercise, which I do like, but how can it look good when it’s done, when it’s so bad to start with?
I think an expert modeller would see this and set it on fire. I think a beginner would try to build it and give up in frustration at how cruddy it is. I think I would look at it, grimace, and swear under my breath that this slag heap isn’t worth my time. In fact, the time it took me to write how much I think this kit sucks is the most time I want to spend on it.
I don’t want to be morbid, but I really hope to build all the kits in my stash before I die. I realize that this isn’t likely to be possible, and I feel badly that some will get left behind. However, I don’t care at all about this kit. I DON’T want to build it and I DON’T CARE if I don’t build it. That’s how disappointing this kit is. It’s literally dead to me.
So, let my misfortune inform your own success. If you see an Arii 1/76 armour kit somewhere, leave it. Don’t worry about whether you walk or run from it… just leave it. It’s not worth even thinking about. Don’t even bother to waste the energy to open the box. It’s literally not worth it. It’s too late for me. This little blight will be wasting stash room until I can figure out how to unload it with a clear conscience, and I don’t think that’s possible. However, it’s not too late for you. Remember my pain and use it, grasshopper.
And, if you do give in to some kind of dark temptation, don’t say I didn’t warn you.