BT Cruisers: A 15mm Soviet BT 'Fast Tank' Firefight! | Print |  E-mail
Written by Don MacVittie   
Saturday, 08 September 2007


Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Soviets built nearly 10,000 BT fast tanks. These vehicles were an integral part of Soviet defenses at the outbreak of Operation Barbarosa, when the Nazis set out to invade Russia on June 22, 1941. During the early days of the war, thousands of BTs were captured or destroyed by Germany and her allies.

In this article, we take a look at several BT tank offerings from four vendors, giving you our take on what will work best when defending Mother Russia.

BT tanks were withdrawn from active service in 1942, but factory closings and the high rate of tank loss while fighting the Nazis forced the Red Army to keep using some BT tanks right through 1943. As the war progressed, the viability of these lightly armored vehicles was significantly reduced, but like the PzII, they were kept in service because there were no ready replacements.

The design of the BT series of tanks enabled them to drive on road wheels as well as on tracks. Trials showed that the tank had a much greater range running on wheels, but we can't find evidence that they were used with wheels alone, likely because of the time required to refit tracks�a minimum of 20 minutes. That also explains why none of the models in this review come with trackless versions.

The initial production version of the tank, the BT-2, was largely (though not completely) out of service by the time of the German invasion, but it was used extensively in the Winter War and the invasion of Poland. The up-armored BT-5 was in use for all of these actions, and the BT-7�both the early BT-7-1 and the specialist BT-7A close-support tank�were available in large numbers at the time of Operation Barbarosa.

We brought all the BT-5 and BT-7 tanks we could find, 11 in all from four vendors, into our workshop and painted them up. We ordered from a fifth vendor, Stronghold, but its delivery timelines are questionable, so we decided not to hold the review. Considering that there are only four vendors, there's a decent amount of variation among the tanks. Note that the armor on the BT tank wasn't very thick to begin with, and didn't change at all between the models we're looking at. Most BT iterations were simply gun upgrades, though some were engine upgrades.

Interestingly, all of the tanks we received have storage boxes installed in nearly identical places on the track guards. Because we have pictures of plenty of tanks that do not have these boxes installed, we were intrigued by this situation. Other that that, due to the number of variations on this tank, the models don't have much in common, though a couple of vendors reused tracks or bodies in cases where it made sense.

The models of BT tank included in this review are BT-5 early and late, BT-7 early and late, and the BT-7A, which sported a 76.2mm short-barreled gun for artillery support.

A Note on Consistency:

The BT series of tanks were largely evolutionary and experimental. Differences in roadwheels, turrets, hatches, and engine grilles can generally be ignored. While not as bad as the T-34, which varied wildly from specifications before leaving some factories, or the Sherman, which was field modified regularly, you can still be very forgiving of minor differences between sculpts.

Camelot Miniatures


This is the first review in which we have included Camelot Miniatures out of Italy. Camelot covers a lot of the lesser-known vehicles of the primary combatant nations, along with non-World War II lines. Camelot's products are resin-based with metal parts, very much along the lines of the Battlefront product line. Camelot uses a resin that's somewhere between Battlefront and Gaming Models, with some porous bits, but whose quality is mostly in-line with BF products, though the minis were a bit lighter. In the same shipment we received a German command armored car, which we'll talk about soon.

In the United States, currency conversion and shipping combine to make these models the most expensive in the review, at around $14 each, all things totaled. This is a major negative for U.S. customers but should not be such a big deal for European gamers as the base cost is 6 Euros per model.

BT 7-1U Command Vehicle


The Command Vehicle is a BT-7-1 that comes with the command antenna typical of early Russian tanks. Assembled without the command antenna, this is a regular old early war BT-7, but since the antenna was included, we of course modeled it for you. Conveniently, it's the only one of the 11 models we received that included the antenna, so it will also function as the command vehicle for our army.

The best thing about this model are the options: With two figures, open and closed hatches for both commander and gunner, aerial for a command tank, and built-on stowage, it easily wins in the most options on assembly department.

The worst thing about the vehicle is assembly. That many bits on a 15mm model offer a lot of little fiddly pieces to fit together, and there are no instructions (surprise!). There are pictures of the real thing on the packaging, which helps a little. The aerial was the worst part, with six wires that had to be bent to contact and glued onto the turret without connection points or guides.


This model includes a rear-mount for a machine gun. Only some models of BT tanks mounted rear-facing machine guns, but it is a cool addition that Quality Casting also followed. Note that since the turret is resin, the location for the gun exists, but the machine gun is not provided.

The vehicle is sized in-line with most other vendors, working just fine with Gaming Models and QRF, but a little large for the Quality Casting models. This is a theme you will hear throughout this review, because as usual, the Quality Casting models are smaller than anyone else's.

The detail on the road wheels and the core body is more than acceptable, and the barrel fits well to the turret. The turret is separate from the body (and also resin), but interestingly, Camelot has pre-drilled holes in both body and turret for pinning the turret into place. A nice touch, in our opinion.


Overall, this makes a great command vehicle, and the fact that it is sized well to fit with most other vendors in the review is a bonus. We're glad we have it.

 

BT-7-2


This model shares a body with the BT-7-1U, which is no surprise as up-armoring didn't happen between these versions, and even if this was a case where up-armoring did happen, it wouldn't be noticeable at 1:100 because it was measured in millimeters over the life of the BT series. Where the BT-7-1 has a spot for a rear-mount machine-gun, this model has an escape hatch on the rear of the turret.

The best thing about this tank is, again, the options. We enjoy having choices when putting a model together.

The worst thing about this model is the quality of the resin. This mini is the worst of the three Camelot miniatures, with air bubbles on both body and turret. Because we otherwise like these models, after this review we will likely fill and file the holes, then repaint it.


We mounted the AA machine gun on this tank for some variety; like all of the Camelot models, the coaxial machine gun is not present due to the resin makeup of the turret. Because the coaxial machine gun is very close to the main gun, we're a little surprised that Camelot doesn't mold them together on the BT-7-2 and BT-7-1, but it's not a huge deal in our opinion.


This is an acceptable tank, aside from the holes in the body, and those are few and fillable. Thus, we're not displeased with these vehicles.

 

BT-7A


The BT-7A by Camelot is a nice enough miniature, sharing a body with the other two tanks and having a turret that approximates reality. There are a couple of gaping holes in the body, and neither of the turret machine guns was there. The turret of this vehicle is more gunky than the other two, with the hatch stops and MG mounts on the top of the turret looking like they've sprouted hair!

 


Overall, at three-foot distance, this vehicle looks nice enough on the table, with the holes being the only readily visible defect. We will definitely use the model, but it is the worst of those we received from Camelot.

Manufacturer: Camelot Miniatures

MSRP $14.00 (approximate)
�6.00

Sourcing: Camelot Website Direct

 

Gaming Models


We'll start the Gaming Models section with a reminder that this company makes "rough and ready" all-resin gaming gear, not museum collectibles. If you pay $4.00 for a tank and expect it to be the same quality as those that are more than double the price, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Gaming Models makes some fine figures, we're not claiming differently, but look at the overview pictures along with the close-ups. You'll find that things in our 4x close-ups are not as obvious on the larger overview pictures.

BT 5 Early

The Gaming Models BT-5 is on the larger end of the size spectrum; in fact, it measured in larger than any other model. The air bubbles that sometimes occur in Gaming Models products are minimal in this mini, with only one being obvious. The detail is very nice, with the wire grenade-protection grate over the exhaust system showing individual wires, and the rivets on the turret, while larger than we like, are clean and visible.

The thing that we like the most about the Gaming Models product is the price. Let's face it, for $4.00 a tank, you can put a lot of work into a model if you're tight on budget.

The worst thing about this model is the gunk factor. There are little blobs of resin here and there that detract from an otherwise fine vehicle. Again, you can file these down, but it would be nice if they were just not there to begin with. A reminder: do not file resin without a mask. Anything that creates very small powders and you work very close with can be bad for your lungs.


Overall, the tracks on this model seem very large. They add quite a bit to the width of the overall model, particularly in the middle. The turret, on the other hand, appears too small in diameter and too tall. The detail on the turret is nice, so if it doesn't look odd to your eye, it should work well for you.

To be fair, the road wheels on this model do not have the clumps of resin that we've found on other Gaming Models miniatures, and the tracks overall are cleaner than those on some of the other products in this review. The other side of this coin is the storage boxes on the track guards, which are pretty globbed up in our example.

Gaming Models vehicles (all of them) go well with all of the other models in this review, except for the Quality Casting products, which as noted above are rather small.


We like this tank well enough, but since we're willing to pay extra to get better product, we will likely not use them en-masse for our armies.

BT-5 Late


Not surprisingly, this model shares a body and tracks with the BT-5 early spoken of above. The turret is similar to the BT-5 early, but it lacks rivet heads and has a storage bin attached to the back. The turret is well crafted and contains a decent amount of detail. Overall, this tank is similar enough to the BT-5 early that all commentary on that vehicle can be applied to this one. The only additional issue is that the turret bin bottoms out on the engine access panel, making the entire turret lean forward. This could be resolved by filing the bottom of the turret bin down just a bit.


BT-7


The single BT-7 offered by Gaming Models is also a larger model�though it does not (thankfully) share a body with the BT-5 minis. The tracks on this vehicle are too wide, just as they are on the BT-5s, but otherwise the similarities are limited. The turret is sized well, and the body has the adaptations of the BT-7. The turret is oblong instead of round, and not too high for the other dimensions of the tank. The model we received has few air bubble problems, and only one spurious blob of resin, visible on the boxes placed on the side of the tank.


Sourcing

Gaming Models does not have a website. Contact them via email at: Gaming Models
There is also a product line overview article here.
Price: $4.00 USD per model


Quality Casting


Quality Casting always makes pretty models, with our only overall complaints being number of pieces and generally undersized scaling. While these models follow the undersized trend, they did not suffer from too many pieces. And as usual, the detail is beautiful on all of these tanks.

BT-5 Early

The BT-5 early tank is true to form, well detailed, and with just enough features to make it attractive.

We found the best item to be the details. They're hard to pull out in some places because they are generally scaled correctly�the wire mesh over the exhaust requires some careful drybrushing to pull out correctly, for example�but the detail is all there.


The worst thing about this vehicle is scaling. When all of the other tanks on the market are so radically different in size that we would not put them on the table together, you either completely commit to the QC product for all of your BTs from now to forever, or you avoid them. Even though this is a very nice model, we hope this vehicle is on the rebuild list.

BT.QC.BT5e.Front.JPG

If you are a QC fan, this is definitely a nice model, but if you mix and match brands, you should probably avoid it due to size incompatibility issues.

BT-5 Late


Unsurprisingly, this model shares a body and tracks with the BT-5 early, and has a separate turret. The turret is the oval style of a BT-7 as opposed to the rounded turret with an attached turret bin that Gaming Models produces. This is the version of the tank depicted in the famous "parade through Moscow on the way to the front" pictures, with a rounded and a square hatch sitting side by side atop of the turret. The vehicle came with a commander, so we used him.


We like this version of the turret, though we do not believe either is wrong, and the overall aspect of the vehicle is balanced. Again, we struggle with the sizing issue, but if that is not a concern for you, then you will definitely be pleased with this model.

BT 7


The best of four very good models, the BT-7 by Quality Casting is very clean. The model also contains all of the bits that can make a BT-7 interesting: It comes with the full complement of machine guns, the late exhaust system where the pipes come out of the grating and clearly defined road wheels.

The one negative is that that tracks seem very narrow for a Russian tank. This is true of all of these models, but this one is otherwise great, so we wish the tracks were wider.


There is, of course, the size issue, but if you want to go with all Quality Casting products, the company certainly makes a nice selection. You could make a BT company completely from QC tanks, and it would work fine.

BT 7a


This vehicle also comes with the turret machine gun in place, and the barrel of this 7A is cleaner than the other BT 7A models we reviewed. Again, the tracks are clean but narrow, yet overall we like the look of this vehicle. With two openable hatches and an AA MG, it has a nice set of options.


Vendor: 19th Century Miniatures

Model Numbers:
BT-5 Early 3087
BT-5 Late 3088
BT-7 3016
BT-7a 3086

MSRP:
US: $9.00 each Old Glory 15s

UK: No source at this time; order from U.S. source.


 

Quick Reaction Force



QRF has been hit-and-miss with us, with some of its products truly looking wonderful, and some being pretty poor quality. We're happy to say that overall, these models are the first type. Unfortunately, our order had two BT-7-1 turrets, and we held up the review while QRF sent us a BT-7-2 turret. Not a big deal, and QRF was quick to fix it for us.

BT-7-1 (SFV 29)


This model is very clean, with little in the way of flash or mold lines. The overall look of the vehicle is very nice. There are not a ton of options with the QRF BT-7, but the base model is there: main gun, machine gun, boxes on the tread guards.

The best thing about this model is the cleanliness. While other minis (particularly the QC models) are also tidy and well detailed, the QRF model just goes together nicely and has little cleanup required.

The thing that we liked least about the QRF product was the lack of options. It's definitely easy to assemble, but there's not a ton there. It will do the job, but if you like to have a commander sticking out of your Russian command tank, you'll need at least one tank from another vendor or to purchase command figures. The lighter side of this issue is that Camelot models work well with QRF, and they have all the options you could want. Note that GM tanks come with even less�no machine guns.

The treads are, again, a little narrow; it's up to you to decide if they're too svelte for your tastes. Note that we have knocked both QRF and QC for narrow tracks and GM for over-wide tracks, leaving only the Camelot product looking reasonable for our tastes. Note also that the road wheels appear plain, but this was indicative of early Russian tanks. While we prefer the wheels with bolts on them, the QRF wheels are not too far off of reality�at 1:100 they may actually be more accurate, but they don't look as good.


We think the QRF BT-7-1 model is just fine, and will work great for your army. Just remember that you'll want a bag of commanders, or at least one BT tank from Camelot if your command tank is normally marked by the commander in an open hatch.

BT 7-2 (SFV 30)


This is the same hull and tracks as the QRF BT-7-1, but with a more conical turret. As such, it too will work just fine for you, and the turret is definitely nice enough.


BT-7A (SFV 31)


Like the BT-7-2, this uses the same BT body (which is historically accurate�the turret was replaced to make BT-7A tanks). The turret has the cool-looking stubby 76mm gun in it, but it is otherwise nearly the same tank as the BT-7-1.


Finally, there is the minor issue of the mal-cast track piece. Like the turret issue, this is not a big deal, but if you're in a hurry, you might not want to await a replacement.


Manufacturer: LKM Direct

Model Numbers:
BT 7-1 SFV29
BT 7-2 SFV30
BT 7a SFV31

MSRP

US: $7.95 each WarWeb

 

UK: �5.00 each LKM Limited/QRF

Measurements

Name

Length

Width

Height

Notes

Original BT5 / 100

5.58

2.23

2.25

 


Original BT7 / 100

5.66

2.29

2.42

 


Camelot BT7-2

5.40

2.30

2.40

 


Camelot BT7-1U

5.40

2.30

2.40

Not counting aerial

Camelot BT7a

5.40

2.30

2.50

 


Gaming Models BT5 Early

5.40

2.60

2.40

 


Gaming Models BT5 Late

5.50

2.60

2.40

 


Gaming Models BT7

5.50

2.50

2.40

 


Quality Castings BT5 Early

5.00

2.00

2.00

 


Quality Castings BT5 Late

5.10

2.00

2.00

 


Quality Castings BT7

5.10

2.10

2.00

 


Quality Castings BT7a

5.55

2.30

2.40

 


Quick Reaction Force BT7-2

5.6

2.30

2.30

 


Quick Reaction Force BT7-1

5.6

2.30

2.30

 


Quick Reaction Force BT7a

5.6

2.30

2.30

 


Height measurement is to the top of the main turret, AAMG mounts and open hatches not measured.

Discuss this article on the forums: Here

Tools of the Trade:

All models in this review were assembled and painted using the following tools:

- Floquil Black Primer

- Vallejo (Flames of War Branded) paints

o Quartermaster's Set

o Russian Set

o Some colors from the Vallejo

Vallejo brush paints are the first water-based paints that we have truly loved, and lately we have discovered that some of the non-flesh colors make better flesh and are less clumpy than the flesh colors.

- Future Floor Wax (Magic sauce) blended with paint for highlighting

- Brushes are primarily Valejo and Reaper, with a few Citadel, and Adikolor for specific tasks

- Armory Clear Matte Sealer for dull-coating

- Trimming and file tools from Foundry

- Gale Force 9 Super Glue


Addendum: OOP BF BT5 and BT7s

At the request of multiple readers, we picked up some discontinued BattleFront miniatures that would have qualified for this review, were they still available.

We won't talk about them, they're not available any more... But here are some pictures to help those of you that have them figure out what will look okay with them.




The BF tanks we picked up.

The BT5

The BT7

If you are in the EU, your best bet for a match is the Camelot Miniatures. They're exactly the same size in all dimensions (unless the Camelot BT7-1U has the antenna installed). Otherwise, the QRF are a close match to these also.

The BattleFront BT-42
A reader asked us to include some shots of the BF BT-42 Finnish model. Here they are...

A BT-42 from the side


And one angled from above.

These are the same hulls as the BT7 - or close enough so as not to matter.
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