by: Matt [ ]
IntroductionI'm sure most of us know by now the story of the Firefly, solid American design improved by the British. Mounted with the 17pdr gun the Sherman Firefly was able to take on Panthers and Tigers at a much more even range. Dragon have put out quite a few Firefly kits now and this lastest kit is the first I have built. Now, I'm certainly no expert on Shermans so I won't be in a position to comment on accuracy. So this will purely be a review on the quality of the kit. So, what do you get for your hard earned?
• 16 Styrene sprues
• 2 Clear sprues
• Seperate upper and lower hull tubs
• 2 DS100 tracks
• 1 Photo etch fret
• 1 Metal cable
• Decal sheet
The quality of moulding is good overall. Most of the kit seems to be a mix of spurs from other kits such as the M4 Normandy, M4 A2/A3 and a generic VHSS spur. Only a few parts appear to be newly tooled for the Firefly. I'm quite surprised about the amount of photo etch included as I thought the whole reason of the 'smart kit' was to reduce the amount of PE. Not that I'm complaining, the more PE the better!
As with most Dragon kits construction starts with the suspension. Before you start you immediately have to make 2 choices. First, which type of wheels you are going to use - either solid pressed steel wheels (V8 & V9) or open-spoked wheels (D6). You then need to choose which suspension bogies to use, either with straight return rollers (V10 & V11) or raised return rollers (D3 & D5). Dragon make no effort to tell the modeller about the different options so it’s a case of checking references here. Which wheels you use is up to you, but you should use the bogies with straight return rollers as the raised return rollers would have been very rare on this version of the firefly. Also added in this stage are the mounting plates for attaching the bogies to the hull and also the track skid plates on top of the bogies. The skid plates should have 4 bolts added to them and although there is no mention of these in the instructions they are in the kit (V33). I didn't notice these when I built mine so I ended up scratch-building these. You will also need to add the four holes in the forward-facing face of each bogie with a micro drill. The fit is gernerally good on these parts but you will need a little filler to eliminate the seam between the two bogie halves.
Steps 2 & 4
In these steps Dragon has you build the drive sprockets which again offer a choice, either 'fancy' (V37) or 'smooth' (V31). I chose the 'smooth' style but again, check your references. You will also add some details to the rear plate and build the square air-filter canisters (F1 & F2). You will notice that step 4 is below step 2 and shows construction of cylindrical air-filter canisters. Although the cylindrical filter are better detailed you should use the square filters as these were much more common.
Step three is the construction of the final drive housing. The main housing is moulded as one piece and features a nice cast effect along with some very fine foundry numbers. Be careful with the tow shackle mounts as the part numbers in the instructions have been mixed up, R1 is actually R3 and vice versa. Two small PE parts are added here but they lack any folding lines and looked to thin to my eye, so I replaced these with plastic card. Also note that the fit of parts R1 & R3 isn't great and it would be worth adding some weld beads here. The tow shackles have have no way of attaching to the mounts as they have no stubs to click into the hole, thus making them useless! Finally the final drive housing is attached to the lower hull but the fit isn't perfect. Care must be taken to ensure everything lines up without any gaps.
Construction moves back to the rear plate along with the construction of the idler wheels, idler mounts and adding the air-filters. The general fit of parts here is not so good and the instructions are a little vague. First you need to add the rear plate which has no locating points what so ever. Beware of any warping in the main hull tub as this may affect the fit of the rear plate. The instructions are split here depending on which air-filters you use. If you are using the cylindrical air-filters beware of the parts call-out for the sponson extensions. The instructions call out for parts G2 & G4 but if you look for these parts you will find they are actually parts for the hull hatches. You need parts E3 & E4 as depicted in the diagram right next to it for the square air-filter option. The fit of parts E3 & E4 as well as F5 & F6 are rather sloppy with next to no locating tabs or holes. The instructions are also a little vague here so care must be taken fitting these parts. On the rearward-facing side of E3 & E4 there is a small lip that is thinner than the rest of the part, you should remove this now to avoid fit problems which will be explained later. Also added in this stage are the idler mounts which did not pose any problems. Beware that although not mentioned in the instructions you do have a choice of which idler wheel to use. The instructions call for the use of the solid pressed-steel idler (V18 & V32) but you can also use an open-spoked version (D7 & D8). I used D7 & D8 to match my choice of road wheels but again it's best to check your references. Finally you are instructed to add the British-style leaf spring towing pintle but this was rarely fitted to the Firefly. Although not mentioned in the instructions, the more common American-style towing pintle can be found on the C sprue (C20) and should be fitted below the engine access doors. Adding weld beads will finish it off nicely. Finally, the suspension bogies are to be attached now, but I skipped this for now.
Now we move onto the front of the upper hull to start adding smaller details like the headlights, crew hatches and addition armor plates. Part fit is good here with some nicely detailed parts. A couple of notes on the instructions are needed here. Firstly, Dragon would have you add periscopes for the bow machine-gunner position but there was no crewman in this position in the Firefly due to the need for extra ammunition storage. You should ensure no periscopes are added here and fix the covers in the closed position. Second is the part numbers for the 2 PE brackets mounted to the hull front. In the main diagram they are numbered as MA36 & MA 9, which are the correct numbers, but in the expanded diagram above they are numbered MA10 & MA5 which is incorrect. Also part MA9 needs at least 4 bends but there are no bend lines on the part leaving you to guess where to make the bends. In the end I just omitted these parts.
Steps 7 & 8
The next two steps mainly cover adding all the tools and fixtures. The first thing to note is that quite a few holes need to be drilled out from the inside to locate all the tools. The only problem is that not all the locations for the holes have been marked to be drilled out. You will have to cut the locating pins off part L8 and fit by eye or guess where to drill the holes out. In the end I decided to just fit all the tools by eye! However, before I did this I attached the upper hull to the lower hull. Now if you remember in step 5 I mentioned removing the small lip on parts E3 & E4. If you haven't done this you will notice there is now a large gap at the front where the upper hull meets the bolted rib of the transmission cover. Removing those lips on E3 & E4 will allow the hull to pull forward to close this gap. At this point I also decided to add all the running gear and tracks. After fitting the suspension bogies, drive sprockets and idlers I test fitted the tracks. It turns out the tracks are about 1 link too long so had to be shortened. It’s quite an easy process, a sharp blade will have no problem cutting the DS material. After shortening the tracks I then glued them to the suspension.
Step nine covers adding a few more parts to the rear and the gun travel lock. The only issue here is that none of these parts have any locating holes - they all need to fitted by eye.
Step ten covers the construction of the commander’s copula. Here you have two choices, either the standard American style or the British style. Strangely the British version is moulded entirely in clear plastic. This will make it more difficult to clean up the parts, so for this reason I chose the American version. Also note that if you wish to mount the very nice .50 cal you will have to use the American copula as it cannot be mounted to the British version. Construction of the copula was straight forward with no issues.
Now we move onto the construction of the turret, where most of the newly-tooled parts come into play. The fact most of these parts are newly tooled really does show here. The fit is nigh on perfect except for the join between the upper and lower turret halves. You will need to scrape off the moulded-on seam around the back of the turret and replace this by filling in the join between the turret halves. I overdid my join seam and need to sand it down to be flush. There is plenty of PE to add to the turret, some of which is very fiddly so you will need to take care handling these parts.
On to the final stage of construction and there are only a few parts left to add. The front fenders are easy to build and really do look the part. Also added are three PE strips each side to represent the side-skirt mounting points. No side skirts are included in the kit. The fit of these parts is based on best guess but they didn't pose any problems. Finally you need to fit the hull mg blanking plate. You have a choice of two different styles but neither incorporates any weld detail so you will need to add this yourself.
Having never built a Sherman before this was a little bit more difficult than I expected. The instructions are a real let-down - in this day and age there is no excuse and is something Dragon really need to sort out. Providing only one decal option is also rather poor. Even if they couldn't find any other vehicles to provide options for, what is wrong with just providing some generic options? With the kit being made up of many sprues from different kits it does present some fit problems. The difference between the new parts and the old parts is quite noticeable in some areas. On the plus side you do get more PE than usual and you will have lots of parts for the spares box. In the end you will wind up with a nice model but be prepared to put in a little more effort than you would usually expect from a Dragon 'Smart Kit'. Finally I'd just like to thank all those that helped out with their technical knowledge during the build.