In war, there are a lot of different factors that can influence victory. Certainly, technical superiority is important, but there’s an important caveat that goes along with this: Size matters. (Get your minds out of the gutter! Stop sniggering!) Having great weapons doesn’t mean much if there’s an imbalance in the “fighting mass” of your adversary. If the enemy has weapons that aren’t quite as good, but are much cheaper to make and can be churned out far more readily, then you’re in trouble.
That’s what the Germans found out when they went up against Russia. Sure, the early victories were easy, as the Russians retreated to buy time and space. It’s when the Russians began to deploy masses of cheap-to-make and highly producible T-34s (never mind all the Lend-Lease weapons they were given that tend to be ignored by historians) that things went south. All of a sudden, there were just too many tanks, and German industry couldn’t produce enough tanks to counter the new vehicles.
So, what’s a Wehrmacht to do? German tanks were technically great, but they were a bit fragile and quite expensive to make. The Germans needed something cheap and easy that could help redress the mass imbalance they were encountering. They needed something like their StuG assault guns, but configured for anti-tank work. They needed (or so they thought), a dedicated tank destroyer. Of course, the irony is that if they’d just have focused on tank production instead of diluting their efforts on tank destroyers, things might have gone better for them. That’s apparently what Guderian thought, anyway. However, that’s not what happened, and this isn’t a “what if” kind of article!
The answer to the new requirement was to take the Panzer IV chassis and modify it with a solid superstructure with sloped surfaces, and then mount a big gun in it. The resulting vehicle was known as a “Jagdpanzer”, in this case the Jagdpanzer IV. Initially, the desired gun (the PaK 42 L/70) wasn’t available, so smaller PaK 39 variants were used. Eventually, though, by August 1944, the definitive version of this new vehicle was in production. This was equipped with the long PaK 42, and thus became known as the Jagdpanzer IV L/70. Some sources say that this is not actually the proper name, but that it was just called the Panzer IV L/70. I’ll let armour guys argue it out.
The vehicle was a fairly low and sporty-looking tracked gun platform. Unlike some of the StuG series, it was quite streamlined, designed as it was for anti-tank work, rather than infantry assault support. The “streamlining” was conveyed by slanted surfaces, the better to deflect enemy anti-tank rounds likely to be directed at the Jagdpanzer. The L/70 cannon, though, was so heavy that it caused mobility issues, and the rubber on the front set of road wheels often gave up under the load. To remedy this, later vehicles had the front two sets of rubber tires replaced with all-steel road wheels, and this solved the problem.
Given the importance of the Jagdpanzer IV L/70, it is not a surprise to know that it has been, is currently, and likely will be, kitted by a lot of companies. There are some older kits, and some beautiful newer ones. Of course, most are in the “conventional” 1/35 scale. Needless to say, they don’t interest me. However, throw a Matchbox label on the box and make it in the lovingly-awkward scale of 1/76, and you have my attention! Thankfully, I was able to secure the old Matchbox L/70 at a flea market, and that’s the kit we’ll look at today! (This should NOT come as a surprise to regular visitors to the Lagoon.)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time: ‘70s Matchbox box art RULES YOU! Be it a plane or an armour kit, there is just something about the art style of these old boxes that grabs me and won’t let go. It makes me buy kits I might not even want, just to get the box art! It’s a plot, I tell you! Its voodoo and it works! No surprise, then, that I absolutely love the box art on the L/70!
In the almost palpable style so typical of the era, the box shows two L/70s advancing through a field. While neither one of them is firing, there is definitely something going on, as the commander of the main vehicle in the illustration is pointing to something in the distance and shouting into his intercom. In the background, another L/20 is emerging from some dark and foreboding looking forest, something that looks like the woods in which Hansel and Gretel would have found the witch’s house. The vehicles themselves are in the common dark panzer yellow/maroon/dark green with splotches paint, but the grass over which they drive is a fairly bright green. This contrasts with the dark blue forested background, and really gives an eerie feeling to the illustration. It’s not as action packed as the box on the either the Panzer II or the M16, but its’ still a cool piece of art. It definitely makes you wonder what’s going on “outside the frame”, just off the box top.
On the one side of the box is a rear view of the L/70 and the copyright information. This is odd, since a lot of other Matchbox kits I have present a “cross sell” on the one side. However, even more odd and striking is the angle at which the L/70 is drawn. It’s a “worm’s eye view”, almost looking up at the vehicle from the ground. It’s very unusual and adds a lot of visual bulk to the subject. I don’t know why it was chosen to do it that way, but I do applaud Matchbox for this unique perspective, and it will help with painting the back end of this particular model!
On the other side of the box is an illustration of how the kit looks unpainted. Like all Purple Range Matchbox armour kits, the L/70 comes in a full, glorious two colours. In this case, they are medium grey and dark grey-black. The illustration shows how this looks just slapped up, and while not terrible, it certainly reveals that some painting is going to go a long way on this kit. This diagram also shows a small view of the mini diorama base that comes with the kit. It doesn’t look like much, though. It’s only a flat plate; no hills or walls, no buildings or other interesting features.
The back of the box presents a full-colour paint plan… sort of. There’s a coloured drawing of the L70 in action on its diorama base, and now you can get a feel for what’s really on the base. There’s some debris, maybe a girder or two, a tank’s wheel of some kind, and a guy. Yes, it was hard to see before, but there’s an infantryman accompanying the L/70! Personally, I’d see that if this was a StuG, but it seems odd to have an infantryman with a tank destroyer. Maybe it’s legit; I’m not as knowledgeable about armoured warfare as I should be. However, right away I know that I’m not using the soldier in this kit. I’m going to save him for my Hanomag half-track!
Below the main illustration are two side elevations of L/70 paint schemes. These are for the 116 Panzer Division, Army Group H, in the Ruhr area in March, 1945 as well as for the XX Panzer Division, Russia, 1944. Oddly, below that description it says “Dresden, May 1945”. So, maybe the vehicle is the same colour for both? Again, I’ll leave historians to fill me in on the details. All I know is I like the three colour cammo best, and I’m going with that. Also on the back of the box is the odd little “window” so you can see the parts inside. I’ll admit it; I don’t get this. The parts aren’t interesting enough through such a small window to entice me to buy this thing. I don’t know why Matchbox bothered, and that’s likely why they stopped.
Okay, so we’ve established that the box is awesome, and that there might be some promise to the diorama base after all. We know, too, that there’s a bonus random soldier dude in the box, too. But that’s not all. Cracking open the end-opening box we are greeted with two sprues of plastic, a set of rubber-band tracks and an instruction booklet into which the decals have been inserted. At first blush, it doesn’t seem like much. Compared to a Purple Series plane, the parts are smaller and look more fiddly, but for a tank, it all seems just about right.
The one sprue, in light grey, has the lower hull, the diorama base and what appear to be all the road wheels you could ever want. There are a few other bits too, like some vehicle-mounted spare track, but that’s pretty much it. The road wheels look fairly well-moulded, and close inspection shows that there are four that are quite different from the rest of them. That’s the two pair of steel road wheels for the front two bogeys! Good ol’ Matchbox got that detail right, and that’s a good sign. The drive sprockets look pretty good, too.
What really jumps out at you, though, is the diorama base. I will admit that I buy these kits as much for the base as the vehicle and box art. What looked like a bit of a tiddler on the side of the box is, indeed, an amazing piece of work! Far from being just a random “pad of dirt”, the diorama base is chock full of detail and tells an amazing story all on its own! Along the longest side is the broken stub of a brick wall. Thus, we must be near some kind of building. There’s a perpendicular row of bricks near the tapered end, too, so we get the feeling that this must have been a house, or outbuilding, of some kind before the fighting got this far. There’s some broken brickwork all over the base, so the “dirt” isn’t just dirt.
Among the debris on the “floor” of the building there are pieces that look like broken timbers, as well as something that seems to be a mechanism. Right by the semi-buried steel-like wheel, there’s a number of straight lines with diagonal lines running through them at an angle. The detail implies that these are connected, with a bolt or rivet, and the whole unit looks like it could be hinged. I have no idea what it is. Could it be some kind of harrow? Is the steel wheel not a broken tank part but part of a wheel-harrow or tilling system? Likely. That, then, means the “building” depicted by the diorama is likely a barn, and this is supported by the fact that the floor is actually dirt. Oh, there are some craters in there, too, just or good measure.
By now, you might be thinking “What’s the big deal? Why go on about the base so much?” Well, it’s simple, really. When you make a diorama, you make it to tell a story, to give a snapshot in time. Setting and context are what it’s all about. When you make a diorama, you control these things. However, with the Matchbox armour kits, you AREN’T the one making the diorama. In this case, you need to get “inside” the diorama. You need to see what the original moulder/designer was thinking. Then, you can go ahead and make it work. Now you’re being told a story, and trying to figure out how to make it come alive the best you can. You’re a director, not a set builder, working with what’s given to you. It’s a subtle difference but it’s important. With these little diorama bases, your freedom of setting is restricted, but it opens up different avenues of creativity, and to use them to the maximum, you need to really study what’s in the box.
Of course, it’s also important if you’re supremely detail-oriented. The colour of dirt used, the colour of the brick and wood… all of these things will depend on the kind of building you’re representing, and where it’s supposed to be. Now, I am not one to distinguish between Russian and German dirt, but there are a lot who are, and we all know farms and barns are built differently in different locations. So, again, knowing how to interpret the base will help you decide how to paint and detail it.
Now, as for the rest of the kit, the black rack is the bulk of the L/70. It has the hull, skirts, gun and the lone soldier figure. The detail is quite good, and definitely on par with the M16. It might not be quite as “greeblie” as the Panzer II, but overall, I get the impression that it will build into a nice-looking, appropriately-detailed (at least for the scale) replica. There’s a little bit of flash on both racks, but nothing any Matchbox builder hasn’t encountered before. The gun is made up in an interesting way, and should prove interesting to install. The bottom of the back of the gun has a half-ball on it, and there’s a semi-spherical receiver in the hull. The gun is held in place by part of the mantlet, s this will allow the gun to be moved when the L/70 is assembled. Whether this will survive painting or not remains to be seen.
There’s a bit of suspension detail on the hull sides, and the skirts have some rivets on them. From what I can tell, there is even some texturing to simulate welds on the mating surfaces of the front and side main structure plates. There are a couple of hatches to glue on; I wouldn’t glue them open, though. There’s no interior here, and if you want one, you’re going to have to do a lot of work. Since that’s somewhat contrary to the nature and intention of these Matchbox kits to start, I wouldn’t recommend bothering.
As always, you get a pair of “rubber band” tracks, as well. These look iffy and can be a bit hard to wrap your head around at first, but I’ve found they work well. With some Tacky Glue to hold them together (keep them under pressure while doing so) and some Krylon specific-for-plastic silver paint as a base coat, they can still be made to look good. That’s what I found on the Panzer II, anyway. Sure, they’re not individual resin links, but you know what… that’s fine with me. I don’t like that kind of thing anyway! These tracks will do the job, and are pretty detailed at least as far as tread pattern goes!
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are very small and don’t contain many steps. That’s not a surprise, since the kit is pretty basic. The one side of the instructions has all the steps for assembly, while the other side has a brief history of the vehicle as well as mini-paint plans and colour callouts. All symbology is typical Matchbox. The illustrations are clear, and with a bit of pre-reading, the instructions will be easy for anyone to follow. There are clear indications of what goes where, and the order in which things are attached. There’s really nothing mysterious here at all, and that’s always welcome!
The decal sheet is very, very small. It consists of some vehicle numbers, a couple of Balkenkreuzen and a couple of other small, vehicle-specific details. This thing isn’t a “stencil monster”, by any means. The decals are old, and in fact, the tissue paper was almost “welded” to them. I had to carefully pry it off the curling decal sheet to take the picture shown below. I know from past experience that Matchbox decals last a long time, and I don’t foresee any problems with these ones. (Now I’ve done it. Talk about how to jinx a project, eh?)
The Jagdpanzer IV L/70 was one of the more powerful tank destroyers deployed during the war. With a good, long ranging gun, it was the match for pretty much any Allied tank. However, like so many other German weapons, it was too little, too late. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t look cool, though, or that it wasn’t an important vehicle. That’s why it’s been heavily kitted to date, right?
The Matchbox L/70 is a neat little kit. It’s got a good level of detail for its size, but it looks simple to assemble and doesn’t have a billion fiddly bits. Sure, there are a lot of road wheels to cut and sand, but that’s going to be the case for any kit of this vehicle. I love the inherent simplicity of the Matchbox armour kits. They are there to make building an army of little plastic tanks fun. Since modelling should BE fun (at least in my mind), I give this kit, and its ilk, very high marks indeed.
This model will be a scream for anyone. A total novice could build it just fine. Even younger builders with limited tools and skills can make this look “good enough” to keep their interest in the hobby. That’s what these kits were for in the first place! However, there are lots of opportunities for old hands to work their magic on these little guys, too. Even if you’re a super-detailing, aftermarket-loving, rivet-counting armour aficionado, don’t turn your nose up at these little Matchbox gems. They’re great for practicing techniques and digging yourself out of any cases of AMS (advanced modeller’s syndrome) that you might be stuck in.
I love this kit. I love the vehicle, the diorama base… all of it. It’s a fun looking kit perfect for anybody, even guys like me who just have a passing interest in armour and want some cool tanks for their display shelves. The newer Revell Germany reissues are likely still findable, even if the original Matchboxes aren’t, but the best plan is to keep an eye open at model shows and swap meets. If you see one of these, get it. You’ll love it too!