Sunday, 6 March 2016

Zvezda 1/72 T-34/85 Soviet Medium Tank - Unboxing

[Part of my Egyptian 122mm SPG Project.]

I've been looking forward to unboxing this model, as I was so impressed with Zvezda's earlier T-34/76 m43 tank kit. Until I bought that earlier T-34 I had no experience of what modellers might call premium 'display quality' kits, having just made wargame and 'easy build' kits up to that point.

So, the Zvezda kit was something of a revelation for me and marks what is perhaps a transitional stage in my model-making, being a nice half-way house between entry level kits and full-blown premium kits. My kit building career moves on!

Bring out the big guns
The T-34/85 has, of course, a lot in common with its earlier sister. Basically, what the Soviets did was to stick a bigger, (relatively) roomier turret with a more punchy 85mm gun onto their innovative T-34 design.

A T-34 Model 1943 (left), next to the T-43 (the precursor to the T-34/85). You can
see how the turret has been widened considerably. Source: Wikipedia
You have to hand it to the Soviet designers, they hit gold when they came up with the T-34. While British and American tank designers struggled with the technical problems of shoe-horning bigger guns into their standard medium tank - the M4 Sherman - those Ivans created a design that had plenty of room for upgrades right from the get go. This tank put the USSR at the forefront of tank design during WW2, wrestling the crown from the Germans for the first time. And from this point, to the end of the war, the Germans struggled to play catch up with whatever the Soviets came up with.

The production T-34/85. All the advantages of the T-34's innovative sloped armour
with a new 85mm gun. Ominously, for the Germans, the 85mm gun could penetrate
the turret front of a Tiger I at 500 meters! Source: Wikipedia.
The Zvezda kit represents a 1944 variant of the T-34/85, at point in the war where it could be said that the Germans had redressed the balance in tank design innovation with their superb Panther and Tiger tanks. However, what the T-34/85 perhaps lacked in sophistication it more than made up for in ease of and sheer volume of production. (Plus, little did the Germans know that the next generation of 'heavies' was about to be unleashed in the form of the superb 'Joseph Stalin' IS-2 tank with its Tiger-killing 122mm gun.)

KISS - Keep it simple stupid!
The T-34/85 was, like it's earlier incarnation, a 'simple' tank, and Zvezda's kit is suitably simple as well. It's something of a hybrid kit, half-way between a 'wargame quality' (easy-build) and a full-on premium 'display' model. But therein is both it's strength and weakness.

And this is all there is to Zvezda's T-34/85! One and a bit sprues, 64 parts in all.
But is it enough for your modelling needs? (By comparison, the Revel kit has
135 parts and a Dragon kit has 98.)
I made the mistake when I first bought their T-34/76 kit of thinking it was akin to the kits of manufacturers like PSC, Armourfast and Pegasus and their very simple quick build models. But I soon realised that Zvezda had aimed this kit not at wargamers but rather at display modellers who wanted something with a good degree of authenticity but that was quicker to put together than some of the more complex premium kits (by the likes of Trumpeter and Dragon).

While I give Zvezda full marks for trying to carve out a niche for themselves in a very competitive market many experienced modellers have been left wondering if they have created an area of the market that there wasn't really a demand for? What didn't help was that they originally priced their T-34 kit at roughly the same as a premium Dragon T-34 (£14) and because of this there seemed little advantage in actually buying the Zvezda offering!

Clean and crisp. Very tidy moulding from Zvezda and with hardly any flash. A
good start, especially with the subtle surface detailing. But some may find this
moulding a little too clinical, with bearly noticeable welding marks and seams.
I get what they are trying to do, young display modellers and people like myself (who are returning to modelling after many years) might appreciate being eased into scale model making with Zvezda's 'easy build' approach. But, to be frank, it won't be long before consumers get past this stage - and like me - start to eye up Trumpeter and Dragon kits as the logical next stage in their kit-making career.

The good, the bad and the ugly
OK, so Zvezda is neither one thing or the other, so what is it good for? Well, it does actually out-do some of the old-guard kits in some respects and pushes the envelope for both ease of construction and accuracy. No, it won't worry the likes of Dragon - they are far too far out in front with their superb range of 1/72 scale T-34/85 kits, but Zvezda does compare well, in certain aspects of it's design, with the likes of UM and Revell T-34/85s.

Compensation for the rather bland surface detail comes in the form of some very
nicely crafted 'furniture' items. Although, Zvezda has given you what might be said
to be the bare minimum of accessories.
Young modellers may find that they like the idea of being able to produce a finished kit that looks nearly as nice as a Revell's excellent T-34/85, but  with just half the number of parts. And with Zvezda dropping their price somewhat (this kit cost me £7.66) it is starting to make at least some sense in the marketplace now.

The Zvezda kit is a very nicely crisp moulding, very precise, and - as you might expect from a Russian manufacturer - is quite authentic and accurate...Although, there are some gaffs!

Chief among the disappointments is a rather inexplicable inaccuracy in the placement
of the top-port-side periscope and antenna plug. A really rather obvious gaff, and one
that is all the more inexcusable as Zvezda is a Russian company with, one would think,
adequate access to real examples of this tank. Inset (in red) is the correct placement.
A good reference shot of the top of a T-34/85 - knocked out during The Third
Balkan War (1991-2001) - showing the antenna position. It's a testament to the
utility of the T-34 design that it remained (and remains) in active service for so long.
Here's how I would rate the kit, in terms of what's good (accurate), what's bad (mistakes) and what's 'ugly' (the compromises they made to make it an 'easy build'):

The Good
• Dimensionally accurate
• A reasonable amount of delicately moulded surface detail
Superb late war 'Full Spider' road wheels
• Good amount of hull 'furniture' (including spare track, tow hooks, boxes and tow cables)
• Nicely done, and accurate, gun mantlet
• Very nicely done plastic tracks (nice and thin with good pattern)

Zvezda's lovely 'Full Spider' road wheels. Moulded in two parts (front and back
wheel) they represent the design of wheel used in the later stages of WW2 and
then post-war. Noteworthy is the fact that on the Dragon kit the holes are not
drilled out! One to Zvezda I think!
Another commendable aspect of Zvezda's kit are the very nice tracks. Made of
plastic (not vinyl) they are sturdy but still thin enough and also have some
very nice track pattern detail.
The Bad
• All hatches are moulded 'closed' (as are driver's vision ports!)
• Turret periscope and antennae are in the wrong position
• Hardly any weld markings and casting marks (though, this may be an 'ugly')
• Were I picky, I would say the spartan look of this kit means it rather lacks character (but this is a subjective observation)

The fly in the ointment. Detail on the hull is fairly sparce, but what's more is
that the drivers hatch is closed as is the driver's vision ports! If you want to
model the T-34/85 with hatches open then this may not be the kit for you!
The Ugly
• Complete absence of grab rails
• 85mm gun is not 'drilled out'
• Engine vent mesh is moulded on
• Engine transmition access door is not separate (so can't be modelled open)

Somewhat contentious, there will be some disagreement among modellers
about the moulded on engine deck details. My opinion is that the vent mesh
is probably as good as that on the Revell and Trumpeter versions of this model.
No cast marks on the turret, but how noticable would they be at this scale? There
are some subtle welding seams and generally - aside from the antenna and
periscope mistake - this is actually a nice representation of a 'Model 1945'
turret (actually deployed in 1944). There is a lack of certain detail - like the
grab rails and lifting hooks, etc - but the keen modeller could add these.
Now, just to reiterate, the 'ugly' parts are the compromises that had to be made in order to make the kit an easy build. But I'd just like to point out that the engine deck details - like the mesh vents - are every bit as good in their sharpness of detail as I've seen on some of the review of 'premium' kits! (They are on a par with those done by Trumpeter and Revell). Only the superb Dragon kit includes a etch brass mesh component. (If these aspects of the Zvezda kit do offend you, though, you could alays purchase a third-party etch accessory kit.)

To further put things into some sort of perspective, I'd say that Zvezda's superb Full Spider roads wheels actually out-do Dragon's!

Just to show that there is some detail on the underside of the hull. But it's only
just there. Hardly a big issue though.
Unfortunately, the gaff's in Zvezda's model are hard to justify, and they are sorta biggies (for the display modeller who is after complete accuracy). The turret periscope and antenna port misalignment are unforgivable and I am actually considering trimming them off and putting some spares I happen to have back on in the correct position. Not something a young modeller might feel up to.

Likewise, the moulding of the hatches in the closed position, while in keeping with a quick build approach, will undoubtedly annoy many people and will make the difference as to whether they buy this kit or somethings else (though to be fair, the Revell kit also has the main driver's hatches moulded closed too).

Rather nice plastic tow cables. The Dragon version of this kit includes a scale
version of these cables done in wire. I guess if you fancy having these cables
in any other orientation rather than as they are in this picture, you could cut off
the end-loops and make your own wire cable by pleating some thin wire.
As to the 85mm gun, everyone (Armourfast to Dragon) makes a plastic gun. The Zvezda gun is no different and the main niggle is that it is not drilled out. To my mind, this isn't a 'biggy' as I have come to the conclusion that this is the one part of a plastic model tank that modellers will exchange out for a third-party metal version quite happily. That said, Zvezda's plastic gun is quite adequate, is the correct length and thickness and really just needs the modeller to do some drilling-out themselves - a process which is probably one of the first advanced-beginner level techniques that newbie modellers learn.

When complete, the lack of a properly bored-out barrel is patently
obvious and a bit of a spoiler. Luckily, even for a relative beginner
this is easy to rectify.
Finally, the absence of much in the way of welding or casting marks is something of a mixed blessing. I, personally, would have liked to have seen some more welding seams on the hull and turret as standard. And the fact that there is no casting texture on the turret at all is a little baffling, but that said some expert modellers might argue that at this scale such detail might not be so apparent (as say it would in 1/35). The jury is out on that one!

Note on instructions and decals: I really like the Zvezda instructions (text in Russian and English), the illustrations are very nicely done and precise. Colour guidence for painting is in the form of the box art, but - sadly - there is only one decal option supplied. Annoyingly, there is no information as to which Soviet unit, which period of the war or which front this tank's decals represent.

Boy, this model is one long see-saw battle of the 'buts'! As in, 'this is good but this is bad...But then again this is good...BUT this is bad'!

In balance, Zvezda's 1/72 T-34/85 is a brave attempt, and it come so frustratingly close to being as good or, in certain cases, better than the established makes of this model that it leaves you, ultimately, a little frustrated as you contemplate what might have been.

If only they hadn't gaffed with the turret periscope!

That said, it's nice and crisp and goes together well and quickly too. And wasn't that what Zvezda was after?

I would recommend this kit - highly - to a young modeller, or even to someone like myself who wants a quick build for whatever reason. But I couldn't recommend it to either a wargamer (buy a Pegasus T-34/85 instead) or an expert display modeller (you know you are going to buy a Dragon)!

I, myself, had very particular needs as my T-34/85 is only a component part of a conversion project that I am doing, and I won't even be using the turret. So, for me, the choice - and price - was right.

The bottom line: Would I, otherwise, buy this or the Revell T-34/85? Surprisingly, I would probably go for the Zvezda, as the road wheels and tracks are lovely and I am pretty certain I could scratch-upgrade other areas to be as good as the Revell model. But, between the two, if you want the closest thing to an authentic T-34/85 out the box, you'd have to go with the Revell (with the caveat that you know you would eventually want to build the Dragon version)!

Comparative costs (I'm adding this just for fun):
• Zvezda T-34/85 - £7.66
• Revell T-34/85 - £10.79
• Dragon T-34/85 - £14.99 (If you can find it in the UK)

Next: I begin to turn this T-34/85 into an Egyptian 122mm SPG.


  1. Have you seen this excellent article on T-34/85 turret versions?
    It's enough to make me confused but it seems like Zvezda used the distance from the commanders cupola from the early smaller cupola with the later bigger cupola, the port should be at the same place, the difference is the cupola size.

    1. Wow! Well spotted! Excellent article...I'll bookmark that. Thanks!