St. Chamond (Late Type) Build Log pt. I: Upper Body Assembly

One cursory look at this blog – or even better, at my Finished Build display cabinet at home – and it becomes immediately obvious that my modeling interests lay with aircraft and naval vessels.  As a historian, I have always found naval and aerial combat post-1918 more compelling than ground warfare.  Don’t ask me why, but its true.

Which puts me in an interesting predicament regarding the recent surge in WWI armor models.  I don’t necessarily care for armor builds, but Great War armor fits into a weird niche that, for some reason, resonates with me.  Perhaps the early experimentation with the tank concept and the evolution of its tactical uses fascinates me (it does); perhaps there aren’t so many examples of WWI armor out there that stimulus ennui has rendered the topic unappealing to me (there aren’t).  Whatever the reason, I am excited about the early twentieth-century armor kits hitting the market, so it was only a matter of time before I decided to tackle one myself.

“La Bigorre”, A St. Chamond (late type) tank in 1917 or 1918

If there’s one thing I’ve found about WWI armor builds, it’s that they are seemingly tailor-made for mud and weathering.  With huge slabbed sides, prominent and protruding rivets, and the simple fact that early armor designers didn’t have the experience to create ideal terrain-handling beasts, the possibilities to really go wild with weathering is what excited me most about the lead-up to selecting an armor kit.

With a gift card to my local Hobbytown that would offset the usual fear of investment in something new, all I had to do was select a particular kit,  The Mark IV design is certainly the most iconic of all the Great War armor models, which is a key reason why I did not want to tackle it; its much the same as why I don’t know if I’ll ever build a Sherman or a T-34: the market is just so damn saturated.

In a perfect world, the store would have been stocked with the new A7V from Meng, but – alas – the opportunity to build the first operational Panzer was not to be mine.  Instead, however, I was greeted by Takom kits of both models of the French St. Chamond tank.  The long body, the sloping glacis, the long and balanced treads…I was hooked.  Since the Late Model of the tank was a newer release, I opted for that one.  Box in hand, I strode triumphantly home, eager to see what awaited me.

{An unboxing video of this kit can be found here.}

Well, I was expecting a simple body, and I was not disappointed.  A single piece makes up 4 out of the craft’s 6 slab-bodied sides of the craft.  This construction certainly eases assembly while ensuring that the most visible faces of the tank’s body are clean and perfectly aligned.

Out of the box and already 80% done.  Right?

Out of the box, and already 80% done. Right?

The instructions have the builder add doors, hatches, and hull ridges to the kit at this time.  These are molded very nicely, with good hinge detail and solid riveting.  You just have to watch alignment: half of each hinge is already molded into the hull piece, with the other half on the hatch.  These must be bonded adjacent to each other flush on their respective short sides,  Bonding the long sides, as I was initially tempted to do, offsets the hatch just enough to be noticed.  Doing it right, though, results in a perfect fit.  It’s an early sign of the engineering and manufacturing that Takom put into this kit.  A note: these hatches could be positioned open, but the kit lacks interior detail of any kind.  It’s best to resist the temptation and just close it up (unless you feel like entering a scratchbuilder’s purgatory).

With that done, it was time to add the front Glacis plate and the main armament, a 75mm Model 1897 field gun.  I was unable to locate any suitable aftermarket replacements for this gun, but fortunately they would not be needed anyways.  The weapon is made up of three cleanly built pieces; using thin cement along the barrel eliminated any seams and allowed me to build and mount the barrel in a short time.

While the kit is an excellent example of design and production, it is not without its flaws.  When cutting the glacis from the sprue, the modeler is forced to deal with thick sprue gates on top of the outside face of the piece.  These required significant cleanup to eliminate, especially as they mar an otherwise perfectly flat surface.  In addition, mounting the glacis creates small, unavoidable seams where it meets the hull.  Luckily, Squadron White putty thinned with acetone filled these quickly and easily.  Still, the flaws are worth noting,

Close but no cigar

Close, but no cigar

This phase of the build has the modeler add a number of perpendicular braces to the hull, either as evidence of internal bracing or as armor surrounding the 75mm cannon.  I opted to use thin cement for all of these,  CA glue might seem the more obvious choice, but I wanted to make sure that:

  • each seam between the pieces was full and free of gaps, and
  • each seam would be as strong as the surrounding plastic.  Some of these pieces protrude quite far, and I do anything I can to minimize the risk of stress damage in transport.

Other armaments are also added at this stage: four 8 mm Hotchkiss Model 1914 machine guns.  The detailing on these guns is exquisite, with cleanly molded charging handles and scale-thin triggers.  The sad reality, however, is that about 75% of this detail is hidden inside the hull.  Takom might well benefit from producing a version of this tank with an interior – the better to show off otherwise lost detail such as this.

Everything from the annular rings back is completely lost

Everything from the annular rings back is completely lost

These four weapons are each placed inside a swivel mount which is left mostly unglued so as to facilitate movement,  The tight fit of the mount, however, allows for little wiggle room, so I opted to glue mine into various positions training toward unseen enemies.

With that, the first phase of the build was done, and my was it a quick one.  While working on two other kits concurrently, I want to say that this segment took me all of two evenings to complete.  With such straightforward construction, surely the rest of the kit can’t be much different, right?

Gulp

*Gulp*

We shall see.

Look for parts II and III of this build log coming up shortly, as well as the usual photo gallery and overall review of the completed build!  Also, following The Museum Modeler Facebook page gets you much more frequent updates and musings, as well as regular in-progress build shots of whatever’s on my workbench at that time.  I hope to see you there!

Until then – as always – happy modeling, friends.

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