The Right Track: A Panzer IIIJ FireFight! | Print |  E-mail
Written by Don MacVittie   
Monday, 31 July 2006
Our very first FireFight! Don takes a look at some of the most popular 15mm Panzer IIIJ models out there and offers you pictures, notes, and advice on mixing and quality issues.

Introduction



When we set out to perform a comparison of 15mm Panzer IIIJ long-barrel/Panzer IIIL tanks, our goal was simply to find the miniature best suited our gaming needs. As professional reviewers, though, we soon realized that there's more to the decision process than what we like � after all, "best" is definitely a relative term in the miniatures space. Is "best" the same as "cheapest"? For some people, yes. These bargain hunters will ignore blemishes and assembly problems, focusing on the finished product and counting on their skills to fill in where the model falls short. Others want the best-looking and easiest to assemble product for a middle-of-the-road price. And finally, some connoisseurs value ease of assembly and fine detail, cost be damned.

We're okay with all of these approaches to miniatures, and see them all as absolutely valid. So we approached this article with a view toward finding out which model would most please each of our three groups.

We purchased Panzer IIIJs from Battlefront, Command Decision and Battle Honors, along with a Panzer IIIL from Peter Pig. Peter Pig did not offer a Panzer IIIJ, and at this scale the differences--measured in millimeters of armor thickness--shouldn't be obvious. We tried very hard to get our hands on a QRF Panzer IIIJ or Panzer IIIL, but they just don't exist yet. Having settled that with staff at QRF, we decided to leave the company out of this review, but will consider it for the Panzer IV review we're planning for the future.

While there are other vendors out there selling these tanks, we tried to stay with makers that have relatively complete WWII 15mm lines. We have two reasons: First, we ordered them at the same time as we ordered the support units for our next 15mm WWII review, and second, we had to limit the vendors we looked at somehow. After all, this is Wargames @ Nordalia.com's first review, and we're just getting our feet wet with this format. In addition, we're paying for all the models reviewed, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future (check our FAQs for our position on ads and free stuff).

In the course of this review, we painted and finished each miniature but did not attach decals or stowage because we thought that additions would detract from your ability to evaluate the model itself. What you see in our photos is what came in the package. Of course, before they leave the "reviews" bin and enter active service on our gaming tables, these puppies will be sufficiently laden and marked.

We chose Africa as the setting to paint these up for. This was a simple case of wanting to expand the armor in our Africa Corps armies. We needed to paint them to get the full experience while writing, and to bring out details in our photographs, and we didn't feel the coloration mattered, as long as they were all painted the same.

After assembling and painting all of these models, we found the Battle Honors tank to be the best value for the buck, hands down. The Command Decision three pack is the most affordable if you need three Panzers, and the Battlefront mini has the most wing-ding add-ons. All of the products in this review will do the job--after all, these are not new companies--but we found each miniature had strengths and weaknesses, which we'll discuss in the following sections of this article.

Quality Castings

Quality Castings, one of the many lines of miniatures produced by 19th Century Miniatures LLC, offers a complete selection of WWII figures, vehicles and AFVs. Its product packaging is confusing because its models are sold off-the-shelf as Battle Honors. But the actual packaging is second only to Battlefront/Flames of War, and having all of those recloseable clear plastic boxes around is always a good thing. We certainly find uses for them.



Panzer IIIJ
The Quality Castings Panzer IIIJ is a solid metal cast with three main pieces: body, turret (with gun) and hatches. The body of the tank is hollow, like most all-metal castings, and the front and rear of the vehicle run about 1/2 inch to 3/8 inch in, giving us plenty of coverage for average viewing. This is the only tank we looked at that came with the barrel as a single piece with the turret. Considering the hoops we had to jump through to make the barrels fit precisely in some of the other models tested (read individual product write-ups for more information), we were pleased with the result and don't understand why Quality Castings is the only vendor doing the barrel as part of the turret.

The greatest strength of the Quality Castings product is the way the turret fits on the body of the tank. So many vendors use a shallow cusp that slips out far too easily and is just a general pain in transport. We use magnets and crimping to lessen the problem, but why should we have to? The Quality Castings model has a nice, big spindle that fits perfectly into a hole on the tank body. Plenty of play to turn the turret, and you can still remove the turret. Now, this didn't stop our War Photographer, Mr. Steve Hill, from flipping one over and dealing doom to the tank commander when the turret fell to the ground, but it does keep turrets from randomly popping out during transport and when someone brushes the barrel mid-game.

It's difficult to identify a significant weakness in this product--it's priced right, the details are superb, the mold is clean and the attached barrel is an excellent benefit. But we believe there is room for improvement in all things, so we will point out that the mold is a little cloudy around the road wheels, with some buildup running from wheel to wheel. Now that we've issued a nit, we'll add that the buildup was less than any competitor that we reviewed, but it is a place for improvement.

The hull machine gun on this tank is excellent, a small piece you must attach yourself, but with that attachment comes a gun that doesn't have a big hunk of metal stretching from the barrel to the body (as some competitors with machine guns do), or a hole in your tank where a machine gun belongs but where, too often, there's nothing there (as other competitors do). Our only issue is that the piece is tiny, and might well get lost if you're not watching for it when you remove the tank from its packaging.

Quality Castings came with a tank commander, open and closed single-piece hatches, and the hull machine gun. The treads are separate pieces from the rest of the tank, and easily attach where you would expect.

Even without the hull machine gun, the detail of the Quality Castings tank is superb. While all of these vendors are very close in what they include and don't include, we liked the finely detailed imagery of this particular product. There are excellent lines to differentiate separate painting areas, and the overall model was a pleasure to paint. The layout of the road wheels and the smoothness is as good or better than all competitors.

If you like to model your tanks with crew just coming out of the hatches, then the single-piece open or closed hatch arrangement might not be to your liking. But for the vast majority of us this is the perfect setup--we can model in either of the two formats, but we're not stuck cutting hatches, filing them down to make them fit, or trying to hold them at just the right angle long enough for the glue to set.


We're pleased to say that for Panzer IIIJs, the Quality Castings miniature cannot be beat. This is one of the many product lines in the space that is hindered by the merging and renaming that seems to be a constant part of metal miniatures, but that is why we're here, to help you find the products you want. This miniature is definitely worth a second look.

Manufacturer: Quality Castings/Battle Honors
Model: Panzer IIIJ
Price: $7.49
Source: Warweb.com/Grandiosity



BattleFront Miniatures




BattleFront has brought true marketing into the Miniature Wargames market--particularly into the WWII market. And that's a good thing: Snazzy marketing brings new players into the game, and that just gives us all more opportunities to play.

But marketing is not product, so how do BattleFront's figures stack up?

Panzer IIIJ
BattleFront's is the only mini we reviewed that uses resin for portions of the vehicle, specifically the turret and hull. This is unique in the market, but in general we do not feel that it detracts from the models. There are some instances, noted below, that make resin less appealing, but these are more about casting and less about casting material chosen. The ability to build a solid-appearing tank without any extra work is nice, but by the same token, the hull is solid, and if you like to model tanks as wrecks without turrets, this is the worst choice to make for that scenario because you'll have to drill and/or carve out the resin. But because 99 percent of all tanks are bought to be combat-ready, we don't see this as a huge deal.

The biggest plus of the BattleFront offering are the included optional components: open and closed hatches, commander, dismounted crew member, and separate barrels for either the long- or short-barrel version of the Panzer IIIJ. These options are useful for BattleFront's miniature rules--Flames of War--but they're also a nice touch for the modeler.

The single biggest weakness of the Battlefront Panzer IIIJ was scale in comparison to competitors. The turret sits significantly higher than any other model, and it's glaringly obvious on the table, making this mini difficult to use with other models of the same tank.

Overall, the BattleFront Panzer IIIJ had more metal and resin spurs than its competitors, though shaving and drilling easily resolved this issue. To balance this weakness, BattleFront offers an acceptable level of detail on this model--from well-defined engine hatches on the back decking to detailed road wheels, the details are outstanding, though in some cases obscured by sprue. In the end, the difficulty we had putting this model together--from excess sprue to bumps on the model--earned it a low rating in the ease-of-assembly area.

As for painting, the BattleFront miniatures offer relatively clean lines to differentiate paint areas, and though the grille depth on the ventilation plates was barely discernable, if you're a painter who likes to prime in black and then lightly coat over it to achieve a shadowed look, this should be fine with you.

Finally, there's one important detail missing from the BattleFront tank that all the other products had: a hull-mounted machine gun. We understand that because the body is single-cast resin, there can't be nitty little things poking out of it all over, but we think BattleFront should have offered the single-piece machine gun in the manner that the Battle Honors tank has. We will model one out of telephone wire after this review is done, but we wanted to present you with the "pristine" out-of-the-box model. Historically, we have had problems with BattleFront's barrels being full of sprue so that they had to be carved out. We were very happy to find this barrel clean out of the package.

In addition, the hatches on the BattleFront Panzer IIIJ could be improved on. While it is nice to get both hatch styles in a single shipment, the requirement that you cut the hatch in half yourself is less revolutionary and more a pain. However, if you like to model your hatches in various stages of opening, these models are a good bet. Since the hatch halves are glued on separately instead of being a part of the hatch base, you can glue them at whatever angle best suits your needs. Note that Command Decision also makes hatches of this style, but its are a little easier to deal with because you do not have to separate them yourself.

One gotcha with the hatch was (accidentally) driven home during this review. We were cutting sprue off the tracks with our snippers and needed to cut the hatch in half. Since the snippers were readily available, and our normal tool for this task on BattleFront tanks � an X-Acto knife � was packed away, we tried the snippers. The result: Uneven halves. If you use a bit of caution this should not be an issue, but we've built dozens of BattleFront tanks with this hatch style, and we made the mistake. You could too.



Overall, we were more pleased than we expected to be with the BattleFront offering. It's a clean model that looks good--albeit a tad large--on the table, and while it was a pain to put together compared with most rivals, it is a usable product. It is also more expensive than most, but if that's okay with you, you'll be pleased with the final result.

Manufacturer: BattleFront Miniatures/Flames of War
Model: Panzer IIIJ
Price: $9.00 (edited/corrected 01 August 2006)
Source: www.FlamesOfWar.com



Command Decision



Command Decision is the only vendor in this review to provide tanks only in multi-packs. We purchased a pack of three tanks, and they were the least expensive tanks we looked at, on a per-unit basis.

Panzer IIIL Or J (The same kit can be used for either model)
The Command Decision Panzer IIIL is an all-metal casting that has an empty hull with no bottom. While the bottom goes further back than on competitor's hollow tanks, it still will cause you to put in a lot of work if you intend to make wreck models with turrets off.

The single biggest strength of the Command Decision tanks is price. Let's face it, they're significantly cheaper than competitors, and nearly half the price of their most expensive competitor--but not half the quality of the competition where your average gamer is concerned. If cost is your primary consideration, this is the tank for you. If price is not your main concern or you're going to have just a few Panzers in your force, then read on.

The biggest weakness of this model appears to be age of the molds. Honestly, the right-side track on all three of our models was worn through--so thin that it had holes in it! The entire model shows signs of an aged mold, and we'd like the opportunity to see some from a crisp new casting. Other areas where the age of the molds shows: pockmarks on the chassis and the tracks, where the wheels were not round; each model required some shaving to make road wheels round.

Overall, this miniature is not as nice as the others reviewed. There is a trench around each hatch that is very deep, the tire wells are likewise very deep, the method to attach the main gun is not a very solid mechanism--a depression in the turret and a nub on the barrel--which we feel will not hold up well during normal play. While the tools on the models are well done, and the finished model looks acceptable, it took a considerable amount of work to make it appear on par with the competition.

As with the Peter Pig model, we wish that the standard distribution included a tank commander. Purchasing a separate package to get one or two commanders seems like a waste of time and resources, and unlike Peter Pig's, this particular model is inexpensive enough that the price could be raised to cover the expense of including them.

Like BattleFront's Panzer, this tank comes with separate hatches that you can model as open. Unlike BattleFront, the Command Decision tank comes with the hatch tops as separate pieces. This would work OK, except that the tops do not cover the hatch well. Indeed, the samples that both Command Decision and Skytrex show on their Web sites do not include hatch tops in pictures of the "closed hatch" version.

The mounting to place the turret into the hull of the tank is questionable if you play a set of rules that utilize turning the turret. It's a circle-and-ring arrangement that we've found to be less stable than the equivalent brackets on most of the competition. It is harder to use sheets of magnet to get around this problem in the command Decision tanks, and we have taken to trying to crimp the turret "ring" outward, but it is not the best solution.



While there is a decent level of detail in these tanks; the largest differences between Command Decision and its competitors is the lack of extra road-wheels anywhere on the deck of the model, and definitely less detail - or old molds. Whether this detail matters or not to you is a question of taste.

Manufacturer: Command Decision
Model: Panzer IIIL or J (3 Pack)
Price: $16.80 for 3
Source: WarWeb/Grandiosity




Peter Pig




Peter Pig is considered the leading contender by many customers. The company has been around a long time and has a thorough line. But in this case, "thorough" doesn't necessarily mean "worth owning" � we were reviewing Panzer IIIJs and had to use a Panzer IIIL for this review because we can't find any reference to a IIIJ in Peter Pig's massive and disorganized catalog.

Panzer IIIL
The Peter Pig Panzer IIIL is an all-metal casting that has an empty hull with no bottom. Not a problem for general gaming, but if you're modeling or making a wreck, this might be considered a weakness, as you would have to build this part out completely. Since the alternative appears to be a solid hull that would have to be Dremeled out, we don't see this as a huge downfall.

The single biggest strength of the Peter Pig Panzer IIIL is its high level of detail. The mold is very clean, and while packed full of detail, the model was originally carved to make nice clean lines that stand out well, giving the painter the opportunity to actually paint those details without having to repaint around them. Nice.

The single biggest weakness of this model is the main gun. Compared with rivals' guns, it's stubby and thick, with no tapering and appearing shorter than the competition. Since the L and the J Ausfs used the same caliber main armament, this is a problem. There were no Panzer IIIL short barrels, and the difference (as seen in our pictures) is glaring, and at 1:100 it should not be. Balancing this weakness is an excellent mounting mechanism for the main gun that makes it very easy to apply and stable after application. We also deplore the lack of a tank commander figure in the standard distribution. While this is an accessory, shipping a tank that has an open turret without the commander is just poor form. You can order tank crews separately from Peter Pig (or Brookhurst Hobbies, its U.S. distributor), but we did not do so for this review.

Overall, the Peter Pig tank is a fine miniature. The barrel is off in comparison with other figures in this review, and the hull machine gun, while there, is built in with excess running material down to the hull. Not a major problem, but something to be aware of. Once painted, this excess material is difficult to see, but it would be nice to get a hull-mount machine gun more like the one included in Quality Casting's offering in the future. The dimensions of this model would make it work well with Quality Casting's Panzer IIIJ, but the barrel difference ruins the effect. Next to the IIIJ long barrel, the Peter Pig Panzer IIIL looks like it has a large piece of sewer pipe for a barrel! Since the two use the same weapon, that's just not acceptable.

For painting, the Peter Pig figure is very clean, and was a pleasure to paint. The level of detail--particularly the shocks behind the road wheels and the items stored on the engine deck of the tank--is astounding, leaving us thrilled with the final result.

The top hatch comes as solid-piece open and solid-piece closed glue-on pieces. This is our preferred version of modeling hatches; if you like to model hatches in various poses, such as half open with the tanker just barely visible, you'll be better served by the BattleFront or Command Decision hatches.



When all was said and done, we were disappointed with the Peter Pig model. It was not inexpensive - the most expensive per-model in this review, and the nice level of detail could not overcome weaknesses that make it unusable with other models of the same tank.

Manufacturer: Peter Pig Miniatures
Model: Panzer IIIL
Price: $10.99
Source: Brookhurst Hobbies (www.brookhurst.com)

Tools of the Trade

All figures in this review were assembled and painted utilizing the following tools:

- Floquil All-Purpose Spray, 330010 / Base Black Figure-Primer
We use Floquil for our 1/285th projects because it is very finely ground and makes a nice thin layer of primer. We decided to use it for this review so that paint did not cause any obscuring of detail.
- Valejo (Flames of War Branded) paints
o Quartermaster's Set
o German Afrika Korps Set
Valejo brush paints are the first water-based paints that we have truly loved, though we admit that even their flesh is a little gummy.
- Future Floor Wax (magic sauce) blended with paint for highlighting
- Brushes are primarily Reaper, with a few Citadel, and Adikolor for specific tasks
- Armory Clear Matte Sealer for dull-coating
- Zap-A-Gap for gluing

Priming is performed pre-assembly, and painting post-assembly.



Note the differences in turrets alone � particularly the Peter Pig Monster Barrel. All turrets pictured mount the same gun.

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