As WW2 settled in to an arms race on the Eastern Front Hitler demanded “wonder weapons” to secure victory, and Ferdinand Porsche did his best for the Allied cause with his efforts to satisfy this desire. Based on his unsuccessful design for a Tiger tank, the tank destroyer bearing his name fared badly in its debut at Kursk in 1943. The reasons included a lack of defensive weapons, so the survivors were recalled and upgraded with a hull-mounted machine gun before getting re-christened “Elefant”.
Several decades ago Italeri thrilled the 1:35 modelling community with its rendition of the Elefant. It was a truly enormous model, and really looked the part. Even better, the instructions proudly boasted that it was measured from the sole known survivor at the Aberdeen Proving Ground! AFV research was a very young discipline in the 1970s…
Of course, nowadays we know that there were a number of differences between the original Ferdinand and the Elefant, and we also know about features of the APG example that are artefacts of its long post-war captivity rather than its in-service design. And since the fall of the USSR opened up access to tank collections in the east we also now have an early Ferdinand to study. Dragon Models used this increasing pool of knowledge to design its own very accurate kits of both the Ferdinand and the Elefant in recent years, making the Italeri kit obsolete, but as it can still be found (often at a low price) this review aims to at least explain what is (and isn’t) possible with the Italeri kit.
For reference, note that there is a great walk-around of the APG Elefant
by Andy Bass.
Inside the typical “lid and tray” box are two large sprues and a smaller sub-sprue of dark grey plastic holding 231 parts. Then there are two sprues with eight vinyl track segments, a decal sheet, and instructions. The sub-sprue holds the lower hull and boxy superstructure, which are moulded with lots of detail in what was called “multi-part tooling” in the decades before Dragon invented “slide moulding”. Detailing ranges from crisp (the superstructure welds) to soft in typical Italeri style, and many items like the pistol ports that would be separate these days are moulded as part of the hull. The plastic isn’t anywhere near as brittle as the firm’s US offerings of similar vintage.
Starting at the bottom there is a fully articulated suspension that uses most of the kit parts. For its day this was very well done, but be careful gluing those retaining rings if you want it to move! Noteworthy are the front and rear sprockets, which are different. I’m not sure why the idler has teeth, but Doctor P’s tanks were strange…
The tracks are not too bad but suffer from a preventable mistake – there should be guide teeth on every other link rather than on each one. This can be corrected by trimming off the offending teeth, or by replacing them with AM sets from Hobby Boss (plastic) or Fruilmodelissmo (metal). Replacing them adds cost, and in the case of the Hobby Boss tracks it wastes the working suspension. The tracks were an odd number of links, leading to a very visible gap in guide teeth where the two “ends” meet, but as the Italeri runs give an even number you’d need to shorten them or just live with it.
Although the lower hull is multi-tooled, Italeri still managed to miss out a number of prominent weld seams. These are where the angled front (with vision port) meets the side, and at the back where the original Porsche-Tiger hull tapered in – a boxy extension over the drive sprockets was welded on to support the rear corners of the superstructure. Then there is the missing interlock detail on the front plate. None of these are show-stoppers, and adding them is easy enough, but it is annoying. The underside of the hull, however, is comparatively well-detailed! (And looks a lot like the DML version, so is probably OK. Then again, I’m not crawling under the APG example just to check…) Depending on how you model it, there is a problem with the aforementioned vision ports – the APG tank had these plugged when rebuilt after Kursk. Plugging them with plastic should be easy, and at the same time I’d remove the lumpen bases for the headlamps. The fenders are separate and have decent no-slip tread pattern, but these days we’d expect thinner ones since the real things were just bent sheet metal rather than thick armour plate. I have some vac-formed tread pattern plastic sheet that might be used to make replacements.
There is a certain amount of detail in the driver’s compartment, including seats and steering levers, but it isn’t complete. And there are crew figures, but as with most Italeri figures they are best not mentioned!
Most of the upper-hull panels are well detailed. There are lots of big conical bolt heads and other goodies like hinges, although these are typical 1970s moulded details that today would benefit from separate parts or even photo-etch. A nice touch is the way the circular ejector-pin marks on the front plate are located in the recesses for the tow-shackle eyes, so they won’t be seen when completed. Unfortunately at the rear of the engine deck we hit another error, this time caused by careful measurement of the prototype! There are a row of hinged plates just in front of the superstructure box that should sit flat, but are moulded at no less than three different angles. I gather this reflects the poor state of the original, which had been sitting outside at APG for thirty years when Italeri’s team turned up to measure it. The cosmetically restored beast now has these reset the way Porsche intended, but it means spending quality time with a razor saw and plastic sheet to fix the model.
The whole rear half of the upper hull is capped by the superstructure box, a one-piece casting of surprising detail. There are lots of nice weld seams here (so why not on the lower hull?) as well as bolt heads and various port covers. These last are cast in place, so opening them will require surgery. The roof hatches are separate and even have some internal details, but there is nothing to see inside. Even the gunner’s periscope is missing. And the curved cover for it was moulded way too thick, making it look like it was forged from 3” thick plate – it really wants sanded down or even replaced with one scratched from thin plastic sheet. On the front of the box there should be angled rain-gutters either side of the gun, but these are not in the kit. They are easy to add from plastic strip, and the APG one only had it on the left side – the other one was just a weld-scar.
Along with the gunner’s sighting periscope, this kit lacks all the other crew periscopes. (In fairness the APG one did too.) There should be three in the driver’s hatch and a ring of them around the commander’s cupola, but missing periscopes were always an Italeri specialty. They could be scratched from thick plastic strip, although no doubt there are suitable AM parts out there. The DML Elefant (reviewed here
by Bill Cross) of course has all the periscopes…
This just leaves the gun. The barrel is in two halves, and mine are both warped. It could be glued up straight, or replaced (at some cost) by an AM barrel. The muzzle brake is adequate, but not finely detailed. And there is no breach at all – the whole thing ends in a practical but fictitious ball joint.
One of the most visible flaws in this kit again stems from careful research of the prototype! The APG tank had lost its Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine coating ages ago, so the folks at Italeri modelled it as smooth bare steel. In reality all of the surviving vehicles rebuilt after Kursk emerged with Zimm, so our model needs it if it is to represent an Elefant during the war. Of course, you could just build it as a model of the APG museum exhibit and live without the Zimm and periscopes…
There is a range of markings on the sheet, all in black or white. The instructions offer three paint schemes with no reference to where or when, and all three options call for the same range of pick & mix markings. The instructions do include a table of info about each marking (“2nd Abteilung commander”, etc) but the modeller really needs to work from reference photos for want of clearer instructions to model any particular vehicle.
Aside from a few missing welds and “state of the art (1970s)” detailing, the biggest problems with this kit stem from a commendable enthusiasm to measure a real one as the basis for the model. If the APG example hadn’t been damaged and lost its Zimmerit the model would have been much better. As it is, adding resin Zimmerit, a new barrel, and tracks will push the price of this kit way beyond that of the newer and better Dragon version, so I’d advise serious modellers to seek a DML kit instead of this apparent bargain. But if you can live with the gun, fix the tracks yourself, and “roll your own” Zimmerit from putty then this old kit can still offer lots of modelling fun at a low price.