by: Gino P. Quintiliani [ ]
Originally published on:
M48A3 ďMod BĒ Late Production History
The M48 tank was introduced in 1952 and used large castings for its turret and hull for ballistic protection. This hull design gave the vehicle its characteristic look; a squat, elliptical turret and a boat-shaped hull, with the bow resembling the nose of a frog. It was seen as a capable tank to counter the Soviet tanks of the day. It was fitted with a 90mm main gun and a gasoline engine.
The M48A3 was fielded in 1959 and retro-fitted M48A1s with a diesel engine for greater fuel economy and safety. It was able to mount a xenon white light or infrared searchlight on the gun mantlet. Due to lack of space in the commander's cupola, the ammunition box for the commanderís .50cal MG was reduced from 100 to 50 rounds, but conditions were still cramped for the commander.
Due to tank lessons learned and losses in Vietnam, Bowen-McLaughlin-York, Inc. (BMY), converted 578 tanks to M48A3 (Mod B) standard starting in 1967. The Mod B tanks differed from the earlier M48A3s by having armor framing running along the tops of the engine exhaust louvers, armor boxes surrounding the taillights, and an adapter ring incorporating vision blocks which raised the commander's cupola by about 5". This, combined with a redesign of the cupola door, provided more room for the tank commander. M48A3 (Mod B) tanks also received driver's controls and gauges from the M60A1 tank, the fuel lines were relocated, and the suspension was modified by the addition of knock-out holes for the torsion bars and the redesign of the track return roller mud shields. Detachable headlights were mounted, and the fender telephone intercom was mounted in a higher position. Infrared fire control equipment was installed in the upgraded tanks as well. A bracket was also fitted to the left hand, rear of the turret to secure the searchlight to when it was not in use. Lastly, the fenders were reinforced to handle the harsh jungle foliage. The upgrades that BMY installed were eventually retrofitted to all M48A3s, and the Mod B designation was subsequently deleted.
M48A3 Mod B tanks were used by US Forces in Vietnam from about 1968 on. Most replacement tanks from '68 on were Mod Bís as well. Some were also passed down to ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) forces. Most Mod B tanks were upgraded to M48A5 standards in the mid to late Ď70s.
Dragon Models surprised just about everyone with the announcement of a new M48A3 tank kit. Even more were happily surprised when it was revealed as an M48A3 MOD B tank, which previously had to be cobbled together from the Tamiya kit and aftermarket. Upon opening the box, you will not be disappointed with this kit.
The kit comes on eight sprues of gray plastic with no visible flash. It also includes a set of T97 tracks in DS styrene, a length of braided wire for the tow cables, a set of 2 polly caps, and decal sheet which includes markings for four vehicle; three unidentified Army tanks and one USMC tank; B33 from B CO, 3rd Marine Tank Bn, Vietnam, 1965. The sprue layout and the way the hull is constructed easily lend themselves to different versions of the M48 tank being made by simply swapping out a sprue or two for the new parts. Hopefully this is a hint of future versions to come from Dragon Models. The instruction sheet is the typical Dragon Models sheet with blue and black line drawings of the kit which are crowded, but readable. They have the numbers clearly shown with lines for easy placement of parts. The instructions cover the build in 15 steps.
The kit is missing two key elements of an M48A3 Mod B tank though. There is no searchlight and the dust cover for the gun mantlet is missing. These were present on all Mod B tanks and should have been in the kit. More on these items later.
The build starts in step 1 with the familiar format of the building of the road wheels and rear sprocket. The road wheels are nicely done as four separate parts so that the proper undercut of the face is well represented. The face of the sprockets are also nicely done with the correct flat profile for a Vietnam era tank, however there should be three teardrop-shaped mud release holes in the sides of the outside halves (C16). These holes should be at the 12, 4, and 8 oíclock positions. They can be easily added using a couple of drill bits and a small file. To make them, I drilled two holes and then connect them to make the teardrop shaped openings. I used a 5/32 bit for the larger end nearest the sprocket and a 1/16 bit for the smaller end. I then connect the two holes and file the opening smooth with a small file. I also partially assembled the road wheels by placing the inner dished surfaces (C15, C17) inside the outer rings (C13), but left them on the sprue to make painting them easier.
Step 2 continues with the lower suspension. The suspension is very detailed and looks great. The separate bump stops and road wheel arm mount housings really bring up the level of detail. You should add a small piece of sheet styrene under the rear portion of the forward double bump stop (parts D17 and D18) as this was changed during the production, but the hull was already cast for a single bump stop. There are a lot of parts here, so take your time. The parts go together well and I had no issues with assembly or alignment.
Step 3 begins the upper hull. Here you add the driverís hatch and some smaller details like the drivers periscopes and front lift rings. You also add 5 return rollers per side. These items went on without any problems. I also added texture to the curved portion of the upper sides of the hull which will be under the fenders on part A1. I did this the old fashioned way of brushing liquid glue onto the part then touching it with my finger to craze the surface a bit. This leaves a nice cast texture effect.
Step 4 mates the upper and lower hulls.
Step 5 moves to the rear of the hull with the addition of the engine cover, rear exhaust grates, Telephone Ė Intercom box, and the lower rear plate with the distinctive armor-shrouded Mod B taillights and a very nice tow pintle. Here I found the rear side pieces (D1, D3) to be too tall. I removed about 1mm with a file from the lower portions (see pic) and they fit fine. A bit of filler putty was still required to blend them in smoothly. I also added texture to these pieces in the same manner as I did the hull above. Lastly in a callout in step 5, you build and add the lower rear plate (D35) with lights and tow pintle. This plate should seamlessly mold into the rear as it is all one casting, not a separate piece. I glued the plate on first, filled and sanded it flush, textured it as above, and then added the lights and tow pintle. This allows for the plate to easily be blended for a continuous look.
Note: As mentioned earlier, the layout of the engine deck and its louvered sides lends to Dragon Models coming out with other M48 versions. Another nice feature here is the foundry marks that are already molded onto the rear plate. They look very nice and add some more detail to this area.
Step 6 continues with the suspension by adding the road wheel arms, shocks, and rear final drives and sprocket assemblies. There were no issues with alignment or fit of the parts.
Step 7 begins the construction of the separate fenders with the left side fender. It goes together well with mostly having to add the stiffening parts, supports, and a few smaller items to the large, single piece fender. You also add the tool boxes and air cleaner assemblies.
Step 8 builds the right fender in the same manner as you built the left in step 7.
Step 9 attaches the two fenders and adds the Mod B headlights and their guards to the front glacis plate. You also add the exhaust for the crew heater. One small addition I made was to add 4 bolt holes to each of the square mount brakets in front of the headlights (B8, B9). These were to mount an additional fender support. Again, no issues were noted.
Step 10 builds the rear turret bustle rack from 5 separate pieces. Take care when assembling this part so it is correctly aligned and not twisted. It is easy to get this part crooked. Also of note, there should be mesh inside the turret basket, but none is provided. I will use a bit of bridal veil material inside of mine. You also build the turret fan intake cover and storage mount for the nonexistent searchlight in this step.
Step 11 begins the turret construction. Here you build the mantlet and commanderís cupola subassemblies. The mantlet (without cover) has smaller items such as the lifting rings added. You also build the upper part of the commanderís cupola with vision blocks for the upper part of the cupola made up of clear plastic inserts. There is no dust cover on the commanderís cupola MG mount either. This is easily rectified with a bit of A/B putty. Also it was more common for the internal .50 cal MG to be removed and the opening capped off with the MG relocated to a pintle mount on top of the cupola. Another nice feature is the water can with the proper cap; a flapper style as opposed to the screw on fuel can cap.
Step 12 continues with the turret construction adding smaller items such as grab handles, lift rings, range finder blisters, and the rear turret basket. There were no issues with this step of construction.
Step 13 has you add more detail pieces to the turret. Here you add the loaderís hatch, the gunnerís primary sight (made of clear plastic) and its covers, the turret fan intake housing made in step 10, the tow cables made of the provided braided wire and the water can from step 12. This step is also straight forward with no issues or problems.
Step 14 completes the turret construction by adding the commanderís cupola assembly which has the riser made out of clear plastic to make painting the vision blocks easier. You also add the earlier built mantlet, the gun barrel, and the bottom of the turret. These areas go together well with no putty needed to close up the turret halves. It is engineered well.
Note: Gun Mantlet cover and AN/VSS-1 Search Light. As noted earlier, there should be both the covered mantlet and an AN/VSS-1 searchlight in the kit. There are already a few options from AM companies to provide these items. Legend has a set with just these two pieces (#1268), Wind Mark has just a set for the mantlet dust cover (#315), and Def-Model also has released a set with parts for a covered mantlet and AN/VSS-1 search light. The New Tiger Model Designs and Iron Division II also have sets in the works. Another option is to build your own duct cover from A&B putty (similar to how I did the commanderís cupola dust cover). You could also rework a Tamiya AN/VSS-1 search light out of their M48A3, M60A1, or M60A2 kits as well. I will be using Legendís new set on mine.
Step 15 completes the build by marrying the turret to the hull and adding the very nice set of DS T97 tracks. The tracks were a little loose and I found removing one link per side tightened them up nicely.
The last step (unnumbered) shows the decal placement and markings for four tanks; three unidentified US Army tanks and one from B CO, 3rd Marine Tank Bn, Vietnam, 1965. The color call-out for all four tanks is for FS34102 green which is the wrong color for Vietnam era tanks, as most of them were in FS24087 semi-gloss or FS14087 gloss olive drab. These markings are suspect at best. The sheet lists all of them as being from 1965 while the Mod B update wasnít fielded until í67 or í68. Some better marking options and more research on colors would have been appreciated.
Overall this is a good kit that goes together well. There are no major issues with it and only a few minor ones that are easy to overcome. It is a major improvement over the Tamiya kit in both details and dimensions. It looks really good once done as well. I do wish it was complete with the covered mantlet and a search light, but they can be added pretty easily. Anyone with average modeling skills will find this a joy to build. I highly recommend this kit to anyone who enjoys building Vietnam-era tanks and vehicles.