The evolution of warfare drives the evolution of the weapons to fight it, and the opposite is also true. With the stalemate of trench warfare in WWI, it was clear that mobility would be the watchword in future conflicts. For anyone who doubted such a thing, the smashing success of Germany’s Blitzkrieg throughout the Low Countries, France and then into Russia and in Africa surely put paid to any lingering doubts. One of the key instruments of this new style of highly mobile warfare was a relatively new class of vehicle: the half-track.
The idea was to combine the speed and handling of a wheeled vehicle with the all-terrain capability of a light tank. At the time, this worked well, although as it turns out, it was something of an evolutionary dead end. Despite this, during WWII the half-tracks did it all: artillery and troop transport; assault and artillery support; command and control and anti-tank work. While the Germans seem to have had something of a fetish for half-track, they were not the only nation which found a use for this most interesting hybrid. The US also developed several similar half-track families, and like everything else the US did, they did it in numbers; they produced somewhere between 40, 000 and 50,000 (depending on which variants you include, this number can be higher) during the war.
Because it was a “go anywhere metal box”, it is inevitable that the US forces would find many uses for their M3 family of half-track troop carriers. One such variant of the basic chassis was the M16 multiple gun motor carriage, a basic M3 with a special surprise in the back troop area: a quad mount of M2 .50 calibre machine guns! This was designed to provide low-level anti-aircraft support for troops and armoured columns. With that kind of firepower, the M16 also found use in other roles, such as suppressive fire support against enemy infantry. Think about it, would YOU want to face down four .50 Cals? It was basically like running into a fighter plane at ground level!
Even after WWII, the M16 saw service with many nations, and until more advanced mobile AA units could be fielded, it proved to be a valuable asset. It’s not difficult to see why this particular vehicle has been kitted as much as it has. However, given that it’s me doing this review, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I chose the old 1/76 Matchbox iteration. Strap in for a blast from the past!
I will never tire of Matchbox cover art, at least not of their earlier stuff. This is a perfect example of how to make even those not interested in the subject matter sit up and take notice. Let’s face it; I’m not a big fan of Allied armour, but I sure wanted this when I saw it! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; good cover art is essential for selling a kit. This seems to be largely neglected at different times through history, but thank goodness the art department at Lesney knew what would sell!
The box is yet another combination of dynamic, perilous action and breathtaking chaos. It has all the elements of a comic book cover or a boy’s annual, and tells a whole story in literally one picture. It’s at least a thousand words worth of drama, this small snapshot of a moment in WWII. According to the small write-up in the bottom left corner, the action depicted is of a 5th Armoured Division M16 fighting off FW-190s during the action at the Remagen bridge in March, 1945.
The image has everything it needs to grab you by the eyes and give you a good stiff shake. There’s an explosion from an FW-190’s bomb as it goes wheeling away after its run-in; it’s not close enough to the half-track to hurt it, but you can almost feel the “Whump” right through the box! Add to this the four .50 Cals hammering away in what appears to be a desperate attempt to defend itself and its comrades, and you’ve really got a great piece of art! Never to be content, though, the artists have drawn the M16 at full speed; leaning backwards and spitting dirt from the tracks, the vehicle is just about to be thrown into a violent evasive turn by the driver. All this plays against a backdrop of burning buildings and a leaden late winter/early spring sky. Kudos to Mr. Huxley for a most exciting and enticing first impression!
My box, interestingly enough, has been “officially vandalized”. There are several fuchsia stickers on it letting everyone know what this is, IN FRENCH. The colour is a dead match for the “purple” colour denoting the kit’s price range, so I assume they were added at the Factory for sale either in France or a French-speaking country, or most likely in this case, Quebec. There’s also a strange bilingual ad for Humbrol modeling supplies on the back. It’s an interesting piece of history, but it blocks the second best part of a Matchbox tank kit’s box – the “no painting required’ picture on the back!
Once the cellophane was slit open (Yes, this was still factory sealed when I got it!) I was able to pull the advert out and see the true glory of the M16 kit. As always, it’s a two colour kit, and if the image is to be believed, this one comes in green and brown. One of the best parts, of course, is the diorama display base. In this case, it’s a piece of railway line with a bomb crater in the middle of it. I LOVE it! What a cool thing to make as a base! Some of the Matchbox bases are kind of lame, but this one has all kinds of potential for both excellent painting and customization as well as for telling a story. Does the bomb crater spell the end of the M-16’s forward march? Is this the crater the driver on the box was turning to miss? Did the bomb that made the crater hit recently, or is this a relic of a past fight? It may not seem important to some, but this base effectively makes the builder, and those looking at the kit, stop and wonder.
The side of the box shows the paint plan for the alternate scheme, a 2nd US Armoured Division in Germany, 1945, while the 5th Armoured Division scheme is called out inside the box, on the instructions. Not that it matters, mind you. Save for the decals, both schemes are identical; olive drab with black wheels and tracks. Of course, if you want to do it in post war service with another country you’re certainly welcome to. However, appropriate markings in 1/76 may be difficult to come by.
Inside the box, one finds a typical Matchbox armour kit. By this I mean there are two sprues of plastic, each in a separate colour, and the bulk of the plastic actually goes into making the Diorama Base. By far the largest pieces of styrene are those for the base, but then again that makes sense, since it has to hold the M-16. As seen on the back of the box, the kit comes in dark olive green and medium olivey-brownish-green (kinda like a dried booger, to be honest) plastic. There’s no real logic to how the kit is broken up, but that’s fine, since it’s going to be painted anyway!
The detail on the M-16’s parts is actually very nice. The entire chassis comes moulded as a single piece including the engine and most of the drivetrain. The rest of it makes part of the front axle assembly. This simplifies construction, and if you want to do things in different colours, it won’t be hard to paint them as necessary. I’m not certain, but my guess is that nearly everything on these vehicles was Olive Drab, so there won’t be a lot of variety.
The construction looks simple; the vehicle was basically a tin box on a chassis, and construction is laid out the same way for this kit. The armoured shields are in position over the front windscreens, which is a great way for Matchbox to get away without providing any clear “glass” parts. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a dashboard anywhere; the steering wheel fits into a construct on the cabin floor, but that’s it. I guess that means the inside of the hood and chassis areas will have to be painted black to make sure it doesn’t look too hollow. This is unfortunate; I was hoping for some kind of interior detail.
The .50 Cals, as expected, are pretty basic. They have the rough shape of an M2, and there are ejection ports on the side of them, but that’s about as much as I can say for them. There are much better replicas of this gun around, but it’s important to remember that this kit is more than 40 years old, and it doesn’t seem fair to hold it to modern standards, now does it? The turret looks simple to build and not overly detailed, but the ammo boxes are a separate piece, which is cool. The only figure in this kit is a “halfie”. The person manning the turret is an unfortunate soul who appears to be part of a cruel biomechanical experiment; only his top half is present, it being fused with the turret itself. Was this a WWII attempt to make living weapons? Is it a secret US Government cyborg project? No, it’s just Matchbox cutting corners, but the possibilities to create your own Human/Vehicle Cyborg Centaur are nearly endless.
The suspension and track assembly is basic but the tires and road wheels are nicely detailed. I’m very impressed with the detail on the winches; it is extremely fine and well done! Sadly, the interior detail of the vehicle isn’t. As I mentioned, there’s no dashboard, and the seats have the bottoms moulded into the floor, and the backs moulded ont the back wall. Are these square pedestals seats, or are they mounting posts for other biomechanical guidance units? Maybe other “halfies” would be installed on these mounts, and the boxes are life support systems for their organic components? Hmmm… maybe not. Still, you see how much fun you can half with a little soldier cut off at the belt line?
Oddly, while there’s no interior detail, the doors are moulded as a separate piece. You could, technically, glue them open. I have no idea why you’d want to, other than the fact that the M16 has no crew, and this would give the impression of a quick abandonment of the vehicle. I think I’ll glue them closed, myself.
The only really dodgy part of this kit could be the tracks. Most armour guys cringe when they see rubber band tracks. However, my experience with the Panzer II has shown me that they’re not necessarily all that bad! If they’re pre-assembled and painted under tension, they can be handled quite easily. The good thing is that the tracks on M16s were really just black rubber around metallic link pins, so the fact they’re black isn’t a big deal. Also, the tracks don’t look “sided”; the tread pattern is the same either way, so you won’t have to worry about putting them on backwards!
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are typical Matchbox, with a colour plan for Option 1 and decal plans for both models. The building instructions are very clear and simple, and should present no problem at all for anyone who’s ever built a model, done a paint-by-number drawing or who can read numbers and handle and X-Acto knife. Matchbox made these kits to be simple to build, and they appear to have done a good job. The instructions are very clear and seem to follow a logical order for building. The only problem I can see will be painting the inside of the hood once it’s all together. I’m thinking it’s going to be better if the entire “box” of the body can be assembled separately and then attached to the chassis at the end.
The decals are nice but simple. Everything is a white stencil, so here’s hoping they work alright; it’s not like I have a lot of US Army markings in my collection! The decals are very simple, including the aforementioned stars, as well as individual vehicle code numbers and registration numbers. There’s also the “Calamity Jane” decal for the right front door, as seen on the box.
Like all Matchbox armour kits, this one looks like it will be a tonne of fun. Sure, it’s a bit simple and crude in spots. There’s no photoetch cooling jackets for the guns, there’s no real interior and the tracks are just elastic bands, more or less, but that’s what I love about it! This isn’t a finicky new-era armour kit. It’s just a solid representation of an M16. It doesn’t get bogged down in minutia that nearly no one will notice. It gives you the basic shape and does it with some nice detail, without bogging down in its own unnecessary piece count.
This looks like a fun model to build, and it will be great practice for weathering and washing, as well as having the extra bonus of providing a chance to work on ground cover techniques on the diorama base. If you’re new to ground cover, like me, it helps to have a base built up already; now a builder can focus on painting and maybe gluing on some grass and the like to make it more realistic!
Overall, Matchbox armour kits are some of the most fun kits to build and learn on, and this one seems to follow right in the family line. If you know someone who likes tanks but is afraid of the complexity of modern armour kits, then this is a great place to start. It’s also a great kit for a younger modeller!
I cannot recommend Matchbox armour kits enough. There’s a lot of value to a simple, fun model. This kit, and its brethren, help to remind us all that sometimes modelling should just be enjoyable. This kit doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you don’t have to either. I can’t think of a better commendation than that!