M16s have Plastic Too: BattleFront M4A1 76mm Sherman Platoon With Plastic Parts | Print |  E-mail
Written by Don MacVittie   
Friday, 31 August 2007

The box as delivered

With all of the conversation and concern out there over the new plastic parts BattleFront (BF) included in its miniatures, we decided to grab ourselves one of the Sherman 76mm Platoon Box sets as soon as they came out. Don walks through the box, assembly, strengths and weaknesses for you, pointing out the gotchas and making a firm call on what he thinks of the new plastic parts.


The platoon leaves a village

It often amazes us how violently hobbyists will decry a change in their favorite product, sight unseen. While it is indeed true that "improvements" are often a massive step backward, it is equally true that "improvements" can be quantum leaps ahead. The simple fact is that a major product change is often an incremental, possibly even small, improvement.

For those of you who have come to trust us for impartial advice on miniatures, we felt that a timely look at this box might give you an indicator for all of the upcoming models that will have plastic.

Since you're likely reading this article for information about the plastic bits, we're going to skip the little historical introduction for this one, and delve right in.

The very first thing you notice on receiving this box is how light it is. We've got several tank platoon boxes, and there's a noticeable difference in weight. This set us a bit on edge, because it felt more like a model than miniatures.

Nonetheless, we popped the box open and approached it with an open mind. BattleFront has presented a certain front that this change is a good thing, so we were willing to give the company chance to prove it.

First, we laid out the box contents and snapped some pictures to show exactly what you get.

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find no hot glue holding the turrets in place. This change seems to me to be a win-win. They don't have to pay to put it on, and I don't have to waste my time trying to scrape it all off. Everyone wins.


Box Contents laid out

As you can see, shipping a tank now requires (at a minimum) a hull, a turret, a track/gun sprue, and a commander. That likely means less QA issues, which is something we can get behind. In fact, that alone would be worth the change.

The next thing we noticed was that there were no dismounted crew members. We wrote a contact we have at BF and asked if this was a mis-ship or by design. We were told that this is a conscious choice on the part of BF due to the fact that most players use markers and not dismounted figures for this purpose. If you're like us, you agree with this decision. I personally have a bits box that is just dismounted crew figures. Sure, they're great for building dioramas or objective markers, but I don't need them. For those of you without them, you will likely have to special order some, or hunt around to find tanks that do have them, since you only need a few per army anyway.

Our one problem with this is that BF seems not to have been forthright about it. We have read all of the releases and articles they've put out about this box set, and nowhere did they mention this change. We've criticized BF for public relations issues before, this seems to be just a bit more of the same.

The next thing we'd like to point out is the Sherman 75mm barrel on the sprue.

One sprue. Note the Sherman 75mm barrel, bottom right

While this sprue can support a Sherman 75mm tank, this tank cannot be built as a Sherman 75mm. Just ignore this piece, or toss it in your bits box for some unforeseen future use. That's what we do. Thinking it through, this appears to be another cost reduction tool for BF � one sprue to work for several models? Less expense with masters and setup. Good call � better than raising prices at least.

Also note the four metal sprues of Sherman stowage. Good stuff, we used as much as we felt there was room for and threw the rest in our U.S. bit bucket.

Next up, check out the new track-mounting system.

Track mounting.

Note how the three slots on the hull line up with the three on the right tread. Note also that the left tread has only two studs. The other side of the tank has only two slots on it. If you're a regular reader, you remember our little gaffe with QRF models that mounted the tracks backward. No possibility of such a gaffe with this system.

As a modeler, I am well aware that no two brands of plastic sprue are the same, so I pulled out snippers and an X-acto knife, to figure out which works best for taking the items off these sprues. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did my Citadel snippers work better, but with a little care they could take bits off the sprue with no need of trimming. Some of you will snicker at that correlation, but it is indeed nice to get the tracks free and not have to spend half an hour cleaning all the built-up junk off, something that is relatively standard for most metal tracks. So when you go to cut, we recommend using snippers and a bit of caution, you'll be happy with the results.

The Gunk Goes On�

Nothing is ever perfect, and this box is no exception. Each of the hull pieces must be trimmed before the tracks will fit correctly. There is a spot at the back of the track guards that must be cleaned with snippers and file or your tracks will not go on.


Note the area circled in red

This is really not a big deal, just be certain that you clean it up well, and the tracks will slip right on. And the clean-up is both relatively simple and relatively quick.

The other bit to watch closely is the barrel. It is a very tight fit into the mantlet, so make certain that you test fit and trim as required before you put any glue on the barrel.

Priming and base-coating leave these tanks looking like � well, like a platoon of BF Shermans. The material has changed, but the only difference we saw in parts when the models were assembled was that there was more detail and less gunk. Some of this is of course due to the newness of the molds, some is due to the difference in material.


Assembled, primed, basecoated

Once assembled, there isn't a whole lot of difference between painting these up and painting up the BF models with metal parts. The largest difference in my opinion is that it is far easier to paint the track bits than it was when they were metal. There's less gunk to toy with, and a more even sheen to paint on.

My biggest problem when painting them up was The Great Sherman Primer Incident � wherein I was hurrying to get this review online, and when final dull-coating, grabbed the wrong can out of the cupboard. If you're a registered member, visit the members only area to get a peek at the disaster. That's certainly not BF's fault, that's all mine. Thankfully, I was able to fix it the same night and include the model in the final pictures here.

When these bad-boys are painted up, lookswise, there's not a noticeable difference between them and the old Shermans. But enough of my talk, take a look at the platoon in its natural habitat and decide for yourself �


The platoon emerges from a wood


. As you can see, there's not much difference.


From the front. The black on the mantlet is overspray from the accident


The platoon from the side

Conclusion

As you no doubt know already, if you like heft to your vehicles, these bad boys are going to disappoint you. Likely because most of my 20mm vehicles are actually models, I don't suffer from that problem. I want them to look good on the table, that's more important than weight to me. If you can get past the weight problem, you'll be as pleased with these models as you are with any other BF product.

In comparison to other (older) BF products, here is a summary:

Strengths
Weaknesses
Cleaner Light compared to competition and even other BF product
QA easier � less errors Cheaper to make, same price
Lots of stowage Excess resin on tread guards
Nice track mounting system PR failure on dismounted crew
Cullen Cutters!  

Rating: 4.5/5.0

We've got the U.S. Airborne Box Set waiting as an Army Boxes review (we're on Army Boxes #3, I believe it is slated as Army Boxes #5, so a month or two out), and these will make a nice support unit to throw in there. Or to use historically as the heavy platoon of a Sherman company. Of course, since they went to 2nd Armored, and The Editrix is tied to Hell on Wheels, maybe we'll see if someone has 15mm 2nd Armored decals (I-94 perhaps? Dom's Decals doesn't � yet), and send one of them to her � in all of her editing, she's only gotten a single Sherman 75mm out of it thus far.

Manufacturer: BattleFront Miniatures
Model: UBX-05
M4A1 76mm Sherman Platoon

US Sourcing: The War Store
(Note that this was our first purchase at The War Store, and we were very pleased).
US MSRP: $45.00

UK Sourcing: Battle Honours
UK Price: � 27.50

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Edit: At reader request, We're adding some pictures comparing these tanks to similar vehicles.


BF M4A1 with metal tracks on left, BF M4A1 (76) on right.


BF with Metal, BF with plastic. Peter Pig, Command Decision
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