måndag 17 december 2012

PSC Universal Carrier review

I'm going to reminisce a bit first, if you are just here for the review you can skip right ahead to after the break where I will actually talk about the kit. Don't mind the train picture, there are no trains after the break!

I started my wargame hobby playing "carpet wars" with Matchbox and Airfix figures like many other wargamers of my age. We didn't have many vehicles since all that was available were the model kits from the same companies and you could get a box of 50 soldiers for the same price as the smaller kits. The choice was easy as you didn't have to build the figures. Some vehicles were eventually bought and assembled with great globs of glue and those that didn't get stepped on saw countless battles. The rules were very simple and homebrewn but slowly got more complicated. Esci began to release figures and models in 1/72 but to get them I had to visit a "real" model shop located in the outskirts of my hometown. As my model railroad layout also doubled as my wargames table, my allied forces travelling in Airfix carriers usually attacked a Scandinavic looking village and battled germans in Matchbox Panzer III's and Panthers transported by a German freight train.

My layout didn't look as good as this, but the train is the same one as I got. It usually transported Airfix Germans.
The Airfix carrier kit was one of my favourites since it was easy to put together and you got a 6-pounder gun  too. Those days it was all about getting stuff on to the table as fast as possible and getting more bang for your buck. Although the more complex Esci kits were better I still preferred some of the airfix kits (some were horrible though) and most of the Matchbox ones. I then started with Warhammer which fulfilled all my gaming needs. I still kept modelling but now the more complex esci kits and larger 1/35 Tamiya models were the focus of my interest.

As I rekindled my WW2 gaming about ten years ago I rediscovered the joy of building an easy kit for wargaming purposes. Now as much as before the main problem is getting the most bang for the buck while actually putting stuff on the table. Yet my standards have changed and I'm much more critical of the kits I build. The term rivet-counter is not that far away, I fear. When Plastic Soldier Company announced they were going to release their version of the venerable british Universal Carrier I was very happy as the Airfix kit really is quite bad, both under-scale and under-detailed. For far too long it was the only available carrier in plastic and a staple of many wargames despite its shortcomings.

So enough rambling, on to the review!
The Universal Carrier was both a scout vehicle and a light artillery tractor, which also dabbled a bit as Armoured Personell Carrier, ambulance and what-not when nothing else was at hand. I have been reading a bit about the tactics of the british scout platoons that were carrier-born and I'm tempted to model one in 20mm. The problem is I need thirteen carriers for that! Even with the Airfix version being quite cheap I wasn't too keen on the work involved in getting them all to look good enough. And what would I do with all the six-pounders?

Each carrier fits on one sprue, and there are three sprues in a box. Note the crew.
I immediately ordered a box of carriers from Maelstrom Games when PSC announced their release. Unfortunately, this box was one of the items that Maelstrom never delivered to me before they went belly-up. I believe they never had them in stock or even tried to order them from PSC at the end. Lucky me I didn't order all boxes at once! After much gnashing of teeth and venting in various forums I ordered a box of carriers from Caliver Books instead, which delivered without any hassle.

The hull sides have been attached to the chassis. The pieces for the engine bulkhead are next.
Assembly of the carriers are straightforward. There are a few bits that differ between Mk I and Mk II versions, like the headlights and track guards. The instructions clearly tells you which they are, so no problems there.

Bulkhead in place and the end section too. Notice the rivet details.
The quality is good with rivets and other nice little details. I do think the figures could have been a little bit "crisper" though, especially the faces. While on the subject of the figures, four crew are included which is welcome. The crew was usually four even though the vehicle could carry more people in a pinch. I will talk more about the figures further below.

View of the driver's compartment with the driver and gunner. The engine cover behind the bulkhead is in place.
Since I will be using these models for gaming I would like to have the crew removable. That is not a problem with the two in the back, but the gunner will be tricky to remove once the front plate is on. The solution; don't glue the front plate on. At least for now, I may decide to fix it in place after painting.

Ahh, that's better. Nice and cosy in here, innit?
The tracks are one-piece and go on without any problems. The Airfix carrier also had one-piece tracks, but they were very thin and didn't look convincing. It was also the possible to put them on back-wards; the instructions showed them one way and the box art showed them the other way -- I forgot which way was correct, but I remember my two carriers back in the old days had their tracks glued on differently! It seems like Will at PSC also remembers this problem, for there is no way to do this with the PSC kit.

The finished carrier. The front armour plate is still not glued, hence the small opening in the corner.

Being used to the smallish Arfix version I was a bit suspicious about the size of the carrier. Sure it's supposed to be larger, but it looked a bit too large somehow.

A size comparison with a PSC british figure.
I rummaged around the net a bit and found a couple of pictures from The Longest day. It does seem that a person standing beside the vehicle would have his head just above the edge of the side; but the PSC figure I used has the top of his helmet at the same level as the side of the carrier.

It's a bit hard to see how tall the carrier is when they are leaning against it that way...
A quick look at wikipedia lists the carrier as 1.57 meters high, while Sean Connery is 1.89 meters. While a regular soldier would be shorter than Connery they would definitely be taller than 1.57 meters. Why use Sean Connery you ask? Because he was in the movie The Longest Day, silly. So the PSC carrier appears a tad bit too high, but as my figures will be mounted on bases it will hopefully not look too big.

Sean Connery is definitely taller than the carrier's sides. (Yes, that's him with the Bren gun.)
So far I have had nothing but positive remarks about the kit. Yet there are some flaws. First, the interior is very sparse. Granted, the Airfix kit was also very sparse, but that kit is close to 40 years old now. The rear compartments are totally empty, when in real life there would be a couple of simple seats to sit on at least. Even the airfix model made an attempt at representing the seats. Instead the rear crew figures sit on the ledge above the tracks, which would have been used to store various boxes and equipment.

The suspiciously empty rear compartment.
My second gripe is the Bren Gun included. This problem is too-fold. First, the forward sight and flash suppressor were missing from the guns on all three sprues. I do not know if this was an error in casting with the molds not filling properly or if it was an omission during the sculpting, but it's irritating since it's one of the things that give the Bren Gun it's special look. It's also the bit that will be most visible of the gun when it's mounted on the carrier. Secondly, the darn thing is too big! It's too wide to fit into the opening without shaving a millimeter off on each side, and it's too long to fit between the armour plate and the  gunner without shortening the stock. Easily fixed but irritating.

Just enjoying the ride...

My third gripe is that you get a couple of different stowage boxes and a folded canvas tilt for the two different versions, but as the instructions only show the front of the two variants you have to guess which box goes where on the rear! I don't know if I put them on incorrectly, but afterwards I couldn't manage to fit the tilt on at the back of the carrier either! So I just left it off, I don't know if all the carriers had them mounted.

Ready for anything. Except the Teletubbies.

My last gripe is about the crew figures. Sure, it's nice to get some figures at all, the Airfix kit just had a driver and a couple of horrible figures for the gun. So what's the matter you ask? Well, they look like the belong in the back of a london cab, rather than in an armoured carrier on a battlefield. Their poses are relaxed and they wear just the most basic equipment pouches. No backpack, entrenching tool, water flask or gasmask case. And no weapons at all!

The before and after results of some plastic surgery.
If PSC had done them more crouched down or looking like they were doing something and included a couple of rifles for stowing on the carrier it would have been more appropriate. Although the carrier wasn't a battle taxi, it's still a wargames model. Let's try and make it look like there is a war going on, you know. Another point about that is that you get four separate heads for the figures; three of which are identical and sporting helmets, the last one has a beret. It's nice to get separate heads, but couldn't they at least have included four helmeted heads, making the beret one optional? I decided early on to convert the rear figures and chopped them in half with a pair of clippers. The PSC british infantry set was raided for suitable donors and with a little bit of carving and filing I managed to transplant two torsos to the seated pairs of legs.

At least now they look like they are in a war zone...
Now with all the bitching it might sound like I don't like this kit. That is wrong however, I like this kit lots. It's just that it could have been the perfect wargames kit -- some more stowage, a spare bren gun maybe, combat ready crew and Bob's your uncle. But it just falls short and my text is reflecting my high hopes being shot down, really. It's still a good kit, miles better than the Airfix kit, and the only plastic wargames kit of a highly common and versatile vehicle. IBG makes a highly detailed model kit which I am tempted to buy and do a comparison with. It has seats and spare weapons, but also link-and-length tracks! Yikes!

Forwards for King and Country!
A final note to soviet players: Soviet russia recieved a lot of universal carriers as lend-lease and used them frequently. Apparently the Mk I is most suitable if you want to do Kursk, with the Mk II just starting to arrive during 1943. You would of course have to find suitable crew figures somewhere else.

To summarise, I give this kit 4 out of 5.
Well worth the money for the wargamer and I will be getting more of them.

13 kommentarer:

  1. Excellent review - just the sort of information a wargaming kit basher needs, cheers! They are now on my (long) list of wants.

  2. Thanks for the review. I may pick this kit up, once they do it in 15mm, for FoW...

  3. Very useful review. WWII British are far away in my painting plans but you never know. I'm looking with interest to the PSC Hanomags now that I'mplanning to upgrade my German grenadiers to panzer grenadiers

    1. In case you haven't seen it I have a review of the hanomags as well:

  4. Very nice! This goes on my to-buy list. Sadly, that list already stretches into 2014. :-/

    1. I frequently find I have to re-jiggle my to-buy list...

  5. Excellent review, tells me just what I want to hear!

  6. Very good review! The figure-modification is awesome!
    Great Idea!

  7. I just bought two boxes, so I have quite a few to build. Mine will be early war though, Mk I.


    1. I plan on buying at least two more boxes, of which one will be built as early war and one late war. And I'm tempted to buy one of the IBG kits for comparison... Carrier crazy? MMMmmaybe :-)

  8. Nice trick with the WWII Late War British Infantry conversions
    Why didn't eye think f that before :)

  9. Glad its not just me who struggled with the bren gun.


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