At no other time, or during any other conflict, has so much technological innovation and progress been made as during the six years of the Second World War. Germany was at the absolute front of new developments, and indeed the influence of German designs was evident long after the war, but the Germans did also have a keen sense of 'want not, waste not' when it came to using otherwise obsolete, underused, and/or captured equipment. Germany was most prolific in the motorisation of both (heavy) artillery and troops to enable these to keep up with the Panzer troops. Many designs were drawn up, some of which made it beyond the 'paper' or wooden mock-up stage while others even saw field trials mainly on the Russian Front. The subject of this kit is just one of those, fulfilling an original specification brief that asked for a fully tracked vehicle with a rotating turret, which should be capable of being detached and fight on its own, whilst the tracked carrier would be used to supply ammunition. Eventually the full rotation, and detach-ability, of the gun were dropped because it made the design too complex with no real operational gain.
In 1943 three prototype vehicles of the 10.5cm le FH 18/1 L/28 auf Waffentrager IVb
'Heuschrecke 10' (Grasshopper) were build by Krupp-Gruson, using the lengthened Pz.Kpfw.IV hull and running gear which would eventually be used for the Nasshorn tank destroyer. The Heuschrecke was one of a number of designs by Krupp-Gruson and was in direct competition with the similar design of 'Deutsche-Eisenwerke' who used a slightly different howitzer and turret on the same Pz.IV derived chassis. Neither design made it past the prototype stage.
The kit comes in the familiar heavy cardboard box with a painting by Vincent Wai on the front of the lid. The painting correctly shows the 'Heuschrecke' at the factory during a presentation of some sorts. On the side six photos show a model finished in Schwartzgrau which is unlikely to be the correct colour for this vehicle given the timeframe. Also on the side of the box is a small 'biography' of the Heuschrecke outlining its design and and proposed use.
The sprues are packed in plastic wrappers and the box is divided to stop the loose upper and lower hull and turret from moving and getting damaged. A small fret of Photo-etch, a length of fine chain, a small sheet of water slide decals, and the rubber band style tracks complete the contents.
The instructions take the shape of a 16 page booklet and explains in 21 initial steps the construction of the model and the various parts that make up the gantry and cradle to dismount the gun. There are then 10 further steps guiding the builder through the process of building the model either in traveling mode (turret mounted, lifting gantry, etc. stowed on the vehicle) or 10 steps guiding the builder through the process of fixing the gantry raised and the turret dismounted. More about this option later.
I will be outlining all good and bad points that crop up whilst building the kit in the build log so this review will concentrate on the quality of the parts, the accuracy of the kit, and general points of note that become obvious when looking through the box and the instructions. To this effect, rather than using the more conventional approach of following the instructions, I will look closely at each individual sprue instead.
Sprue A. Wheels and Suspension.
Two of these sprues are included in the kit to build four bogie stations with two wheels each for each side of the vehicle. These sprues are the same that are included in the earlier Trumpeter kits that use the Pz. IV suspension and therefore have the same problems. One of the road wheels is not fully molded and you have to make sure that you mount that one on the inside. The parabolic springs are too wide to fit in the hanger and need to be trimmed for fit. The bolt detail on the bogies is not very convincing but the correct number of mounting bolts, in the correct position, are depicted. The corners of the backing/mounting flanges are cut at a 45 degree angle but they should be a sharp 90 degree corner. The cover plates over the hinge pins do have correct raised detail where the grease channels are and the bumper stops also show the correct version.
Sprue B. Sprockets, Idlers, Miscellaneous Parts.
There are two of sprue B, containing the amongst other things the sprockets, idlers and road wheels for the main gun when dismounted. Both sprues are cleanly cast with hardly any clean-up of the parts needed. The sprockets line up good and fit the tracks well. They are fully detailed with strengthening ribs and bolt detail inside and out. The large howitzer wheels seem accurate when compared to my reference photos and have some big knock-out marks to contend with, but as they are on the side of the wheel that faces towards the hull when mounted in travel mode, they may not be a big problem. If you want to build the gun dismounted, you will have to clean them up as they will be clearly visible.
Sprue C. Main gun and Miscellaneous Parts.
This sprue is cleanly cast with very fine detail and no flash to worry about.
Sprue D. Main Gun Barrel and Gun Dismount Frame.
This sprue only contains 10 parts, including the 2 halves for the gun barrel, and the two main girders for the gantry. One of the girders is warped at the end but this is easily remedied by heating it with some boiling water. Not so easy to fix are the many large knock-out marks that plague the parts on this sprue. Most of the marks are inside the beams but they will be visible on the finished model. The beams for the dismounted gun platform have smooth 90 degree edges but they should have a small edge running along the length.
Sprue E. Gun Mantle, Turret Base and Parts, Track Guards and Miscellaneous Parts.
The track guards have large knock-out marks on the underside but adequate detail on the top. A nice touch is the moulded-on head light wiring. The disappointment is the turret bottom part which has the knock-out marks on the facing side. This could have easily been avoided by moulding the part the other way round but unfortunately you will need to fill and sand them all, taking caref to avoid damaging the other detail on this part. In contrast, the four hinged turret wall parts that are also on this sprue are very good with fine hinge detail on both sides and no marks, or flash, at all. The overall shape and external details of the turret match the photographs I have for reference.
Sprue K. Individual Track Links.
Trumpeter really impressed with the tracks in the Brueckenleger last year and the track links that are included with this kit are equally impressive. If you are looking for 40cm tracks, with open guide horns, these are the ones you want. Unfortunately for the Heuschrecke, you don't want the open guide horn tracks, as all the photos that I have seen show the Heuschrecke at the factory with tracks with solid guide horns. Even the box art pictures the correct solid guide horns. This is a call that you will have to make but for accuracy, you will need to source some other tracks. I'll have to check when I build the kit but perhaps this is at last an opportunity to put those Tamiya rubber band tracks to good use.
Sprue N, M, P1 and P2. Various Pioneer Tools, MP40 SMG and Various Equipment.
There are two of each of these sprues which gives you an incredible amount of spare items. Luckily these parts are very nice and will be very useful for other models. The pioneer tools are fine and have moulded on clamps which are very convincing and won't need replacing with Photo-etch. Particularly nice are the jack mounting brackets and the tow cable eyes (with slide molded hollow ends). The only disappointing part on these sprues are the tow clevis which have very badly shaped handles.
The rubber band style track is very nice with no real flash to worry about, and again, as a 40cm track with open guide horns, it is a very good alternative to individual link track. But, as outlined above, it is not correct for this vehicle. A very useful addition to the spares box though and one which I can see being used with a few Pz.Kpfw. Ausf. F and G models in the future.
The lower hull comes as a one piece tub and includes the front hull and side walls. Detail is pretty minimal, and unlike what we have almost come to expect with Pz. IV derived kits today, there is no final drive detail at all just a marker for the final drive housing. In my kit there is a split at the front right of the hull but that should not be problem when the kit is being built. An initial test fit of the upper and lower hull shows no obvious problems.
The overall shape and detail of the upper hull appears to be correct when checked against the reference photograph in Brian Perret's "The Panzerkampfwagen IV", which shows a Heuschrecke during a test trail (as evident by the civilians operating the vehicle). The two large air intakes on the engine deck have the correct 13 strengthening ribs but they are a bit too thick in the kit. You can thin them with a small file but, if you add the mesh covers, that won't be necessary. The round driver and co-driver hatches to the front are fine but have a knock-out mark on the inside. The lack of any interior does not encourage mounting these opened anyway, so it should not be a problem. The vision hatches in the front are basic and, like the roof hatches, are best mounted in the closed position. The glacis plate has very prominent hex bolt detail and mounting holes for the spare tracks that are mounted on the glacis.
The turret seems accurate when compared with my reference photos but I can't confirm the accuracy of the interior. Trumpeter have included a lot of detail in the turret including a fully detailed LeFH18 with elevation gear for the gunner and also a lot of personal equipment such as MP40's, gas mask canisters, canteens etc.
The Photo-etch is quite thick as you usually find with the Photo-etch that Trumpeter include in their kits. This is not a problem however, as all the provided parts are various brackets, so they are not out of scale. Also included are two mesh grills for the air intakes and these are very nice indeed. Unlike so many other photo-etch screens, these have a very good 'woven' effect and look very convincing. Be careful when you attach them though because the back side is completely flat. Curiously, the fret is dated 2006, and marked as for the LeFH18/1 (without mentioning the vehicle), but the no. (00373) does correspond with this kit which is of course new and dated on the box as 2008.
As this vehicle never made it past the prototype stage, no unit markings and such are needed and thus none are included on the decal sheet. The sheet does contain a pair of national crosses and a full set of turret numbers in red with a white outline. However, none of these are in register, so they need to be replaced if you would like to add any.
The Pz.Kpfw. IV has for many, many years been firmly overshadowed by it's more impressive, some might say iconic, stable mates the Panther and Tiger. But in recent years we have seen that balance suitably redressed, and after Dragon and Tristar started to release some of the other variants, Trumpeter joint in with the most eagerly awaited Ammunition Carrier and the Bridge Layer. The Heuschrecke follows in that line of specialised versions and prototypes, models of which are notoriously thin on the ground in styrene.
The lack of an interior under the turret is a disappointment, more so as Trumpeter do include an interior in most of their other kits, notably the Geschuetzwagen IVb
, which is a similar open topped turret vehicle. The inclusion of the wrong tracks is probably down to economics as these are the same tracks as for the Geschuetzwagen IVb. The various tools and the Le FH 18/1 on the other hand are very nice and have some very delicate detail which should really stand out on the finished model. The large amount of spare tools, etc. will also be of use for other models and is an added bonus.
Whilst the kit is not without its faults, overall it depicts a Heuschrecke and should be a fine addition to the collection. Most of the inaccuracies are relatively small, and depending on your personal need for accuracy, can be left or fixed relatively easy. The fairly easy to follow instructions, sensible breakdown of construction, and minimal use of Photo-etch make this kit suitable for modellers with limited experience or those looking to expand their skills, as well as for the more seasoned modeller who wants to build something different. Highly recommended.
A Build Log will follow via the forums to evaluate parts fit and construction.