France sent 15 Leclerc in Kosovo within KFOR between late 1999 and May 2002. This was the first deployment of the French main battle tank.
The Leclerc tank quite a story
During the 70ís, France has realized that its AMX 30 was old and had reached its limits. In 1977 the long genesis of the Leclerc tank started. After considering buying tanks abroad (such as the Abrams or the Merkava) and then trying to create a tank with Germany (as the AMX 30 at its time) France decided to develop its main battle tank and set detailed specifications which focused on a low final weight thus increasing the mobility of the tank and an accurate fire control.
In 1990 began the series production of the Leclerc with four vehicles of the batch 1 (T1 in the French denomination) primarily designed for testing. The batches 2 (T2) and 3 (T3) that followed were improved in their overall design, suspension and engine.
The first models
entered into service just after the Gulf War in
1991 but were quickly phased out with the entry into service of the batches 4
and 5 (T4 and T5). In the late 90s all the Leclerc were upgraded at the factory
and called RT5 (R for retrofit).
All these batches are grouped in the series 1.
The cycle of upgrades and other developments continued until the batch 11. the series 2 includes the batches 6 to 9 as well as the RT9. The latest batches belongs to the series XXI. While it is easy to differentiate the series, it is very hard to differentiate the batches because of the external changes are minor and others are just internal.
Externally at first glance, a series 1 tank is recognized by
the absence of the air conditioning unit on the roof of the turret, a series 2
tank just by the presence of it and a series XXI tank by the bigger box to the
right of the gun (which includes an electronic system).
A urban combat kit called AZUR has also been developed.
The only other user of the Leclerc is the United Arab Emirates. Their version is very different from the French tank (new engine and different equipment) and is called Leclerc EAU (UAE).
Today, the Leclerc is on active duty with the series 2 and XXI, it was deployed to Lebanon from 2006 to late 2010.
For my diorama, the version I made is a RT5 used by the 501-503rd regiment de chars de combat in Mourmelon. To model this version I had to use either the very poor Heller kit or to convert the Tamiya one. The second option seemed the simplest.
At first the Tamiya kit appears very nice and comprehensive. The casting is standard of the brand that is very good, details are sharp, the decal sheet offers many options. Despite its high price in France, it gives enough to make a nice kit. As I like super detailing my models (especially those that motivate me the most) I started to compare the model with the photos that I had of the real tank. I realized that once again Tamiya grace us with an overall pretty model but if you look in detail, it lacks a lot of small details. So, let's start to work!
I started slowly by following the steps of the manual and removing the handles of the engine hatch that are molded in plastic and I replaced them with copper wire handles, I also added stops in plastic card. Then the rubber mudguards are redone in 0.25 mm thick plastic card and bent to simulate the weight of the mudguard, the mounting bracket on the upper part is made of aluminum.
Since the ground of the diorama will be irregular, I start by
addressing the adaptation of the running gear. But first I create the foundation
for my future diorama. For this I wanted to be original, the aim being to give a
country look to the scene. So I put together blocks of raw cork and molded the
ground with putty that hardens in air.
The final rendition will give the impression that the scene was torn from the ground to be placed on a pedestal (and the symbolism is taken from a photo depicting a scene from life, it captures the scene to put it on paper).
I then adjusted the chassis of the tank and definitively bonded the suspension arms but not the roadwheels. To remain realistic and avoid exaggerate variations between the arms, I glue the first and the last arm in their original position, then for the other arms I do not exceed 30į deflection.
The sprockets are unrepresentative of the true sprocket. I used the cooling disks offered by the photoetched (PE) sets brand Voyager Models in their very comprehensive set. This one also includes parts to glue in layers to create thick parts, an aluminum barrel and some finely molded resin parts.
Before having to add all the external details on the hull, I redid the nonslip surfaces on top of it with Mr. Surfacer 1500 by tapping with a brush. In fact the original ones are too thin and too smooth.
Remaining in the structural works, I redid all the weld seams
on the hull and the turret, because they were either absent or too smooth. To
create the weld lines in series, I use a practical and simple method.
I use a clean glass plate, extra fluid glue or trichloroethylene and lengths of stretched plastic of the diameter you need (cheaper than the plastic profile).
I fix the lengths of stretched plastic on the glass with adhesive tape. I stretch out the plastic to get straight lines. Then I generously brush the plastic with trichloroethylene and I let the product work till the plastic melts and becomes soft. At this point in the soften plastic, I print the relief of the weld with an old cutter blade. If you want to make a rough weld you can vary the pattern of the weld.
Let the plastic harden, then once itís dry, remove the lengths from the glass plate with a razor blade and you get weld lengths ready for use.
The next step concerns the driver's hatch which is simply detailed with PE parts and supplemented with a few additions made with plastic card such as the brackets of the protections of the vision ports, the crank manual opening, and the window washer nozzles in front of the hatch. I also glue the Voyager Models grilles on the engine deck.
Then I addressed the armored side skirts. The original rubber
flaps are too thick (due to the molding process) and their details too flat.
To fix that I sawed off the bottom of the skirts and I added plastic card holders (small rectangles that jut out by a few millimeters). Then I set a section of plastic rod 1.5mm thick that I drilled in its width to enable to slide the locking pin.
Once they are glued, I cut the flaps using the originals as a template. I drill the mounting holes. To give the flaps a more realistic look, I bend some of them and create damage on others. Then I put them on their brackets.
To create the pins, I use super fine wire. I put one end into the hole in the rod and I make a full turn and then I cut the end, in the end all fits perfectly.
Back to the front of the tank, where I added the power cables of the headlights, the PE bracket for the decontamination device, a series of bolts in front of the headlights and on top of the hull. Using plastic rods I also added the stops for the armored skirts when they are folded up. I detailed the air vent on the front, I added a metal piece on top of the lid and attached a small chain of fine wire (I first twist the wire and then I flatten it).
I also redid the front mudguards latches with plastic card, and the various triangle-shaped lifting hooks on the rear deck.
Regarding the droppable fuel tanks supports, I added to their
bottom face some bolts with hexagonal profile Plastruct and the securing lever.
On top of them, I textured the rubber pads with liquid glue and I worked the
soften plastic with a blade.
The fuel tanks will not be present (they are rarely used) but I must nevertheless make the straps and hooks, for that I use the photoetched parts. The arm which is integral part of the fuel tank mount is made with plastic card and plastic rod.
I chose to make all of this fully functional to give strength and flexibility to fix the assembly. The straps are made of lead foil and elastic thread, the buckle is copper wire.
Then you have to make the fuel pipes connector (too basic in the original kit). With the help of the pictures that I have at my disposal, I use plastic card to make this part. Then the pipes are made of copper wire.
The exhaust is dented on the outside and inside I added the two walls. At the exit, I redid the securing strap of the insulating cover with metal foil and plastic.