Scratch conversion on Esci T-55
Model, figures and texts by Zacharius Sex, painting and base by David Coynes
Some tanks never get the recognition they deserve and while
the T-55 has become synonymous with Soviet post-war tank design, a whole range
of T-55 variants remain pretty much unknown. For example the Sudanese Abu-Fatima
SPG and North Korean M-1978 Kochsan are relatively unknown because of their
exotic locale and the camera shy nature of their current owners. However, the
main Cinderellas of the T-55 family are engineering and recovery variants, a
group of vehicles that, until recently, patiently waited in the shadows for
their moment in the sun.
While 'Wings and Wheels' latest photo manual on the T-55 recovery variants leaves the modeller with little excuse if he wants to build a BTS-2, BTS-3, WZT or MT-55. However information on the Russian IMR combat engineering vehicle is a little trickier to get ones hands on. Happily, since the end of the cold war a number of Russian authors have produced books and magazines which have begun to fill in the spaces in the giant jig saw puzzle that is Russian armoured vehicle production and development. One of these authors is M. Baryatinsky whose book “Tanks in Chechnya” provides the reader with a myriad of atmospheric images of Russian equipment, not only in Chechnya but all over the former USSR. Included in this photo-fest are two shots of the illusive object 616A or IMR combat engineering vehicle carving out a mountain path in South Ossetia. These two images provided plenty of visual detail and were the inspiration for this scratch built project.
After conferring with Aaron Smith over several pints of Guinness at our local modelling club and picking his brain for his knowledge of Russian vehicles, but also for his outstanding scratch building abilities, I decided to give the IMR a stab. The first step was to produce some form of template or scale plan to work from. This was greatly helped by a series of images of an IMR vehicle serving with IFOR in Bosnia, on the French military website armyrecognition.com.
The initial planning for this project involved five main sequences, the first being the central turret and boom arm. The second involved the adjustable dozer blade. The third step centred on the grabber or log clamp suspended from the rear of the boom arm. While the fourth stage was based around producing the side fuel cells, side lockers, drivers section and engine bay. The fifth and final sequence was based around producing a number of crew figures and various accoutrements. This neglects the array of hydraulic lines and various other fittings, extras which I neglected to plan for in the scheme of work I set myself. As a result, the whole project took far more time and became at times all engrossing, so much so that on a number of occasions the IMR was put away and I proceeded to build three T- 34’s just for a mental break. In retrospect, the IMR became a bit of a monster with its abundance of hydraulic tubing, windows and myriad of tiny fittings.
Stage 1: Central turret and boom arm.
This first step involved fashioning the boom operator’s armoured turret. The turret itself is a relatively simple shape, sitting to the left-hand side of a circular base. The right-hand side is dominated by a boom ram and various hydraulic tubing. On this model, all of this delicate work is exposed. On later IMR models, such as the T-72 based IMR-2, this mass of hydraulic tubing is covered by an armoured drum. I built the sides of the boom operator’s turret by heating 1/35th scale Trumpeter T-55 fuel drums and gluing them to flat sections which represented the front and rear sides of this armoured cupola. The next step was capping this with a sheet of plastic card. Then, using a Dremel I set about drilling out the openings for the windows and hatch. Fine finishing in this area involved the use of small jewellers’ files, surgical blades, and small rolled tubes of sand paper. A similar approach was used in the driver’s armoured cupola. Interestingly, the turret and drivers' section avail of the same hatch lid. These two were made by adapting two spare Skif MTLB hatch lids. Returning to the turret, the large elbow joint to the rear was now carved from various pieces of waste plastic and attached to a large triangular shaped boom arm. The boom arm is a relatively straight forward structure with a number of boxes and housings running down the length of its right-hand side. The boom structure ends over the rear of the vehicle with a large fivesided reinforced wrist joint from which the grabber or log clamp is suspended. The wrist joint housing was a straight forward little project which provided a satisfying full stop to the sequence.
Stage 2: Adjustable dozer blade
This stage revolved around a complicated dozer blade and mechanism which is attached to the front of the vehicle. In real life this blade is versatile and can be adjusted to suit many applications including snow clearance, road building and land clearance. I was hooked by an image in ' Tanks in Chechyna' where the blade is tilted to the right and pushing rubble off a mountain path. The construction of this blade, which is in effect two blades joined together, was the lynch-pin for this essential stage of the project. I finally settled on strip lengths of aluminium beer can super-glued to strips of plastic yoghurt pot. Needless to say I was forced to consume copious amounts of the former in the search for just the right can. The constructed blades were then attached to a wedge shaped pivoting joint which in turn is attached to the front hull by chunky dozer arms. The blade is operated by six hydraulic rams and these were fabricated using sections of Dragon T-72 tank barrel for the outer sheath and tubular sprew bar for the inner arms.
Stage 3: The log clamp attachment
The third component was a set of grabbers or log clamps which are suspended from the rear of the IMR boom arm. These are capable of lifting tree trunks and other obstacles while the grabbers range can be lengthened as a result of the telescopic nature of the boom arm. The grabber proved fairly straightforward being that it is similar to the fitting found on logging trucks. When not in use this device has an earth bucket attached to its' inner face, presumably for scraping and grading surfaces. To the left of the grabber is attached a strange two legged fitting with a spade like top which appears adjustable and capable of vertical movement as a result of a hydraulic ram. What it does I don't really know but it looks good so on it goes.
Stage 4: Side fuel cells, side lockers, drivers section and engine bay.
This stage involved building up the large right hand side fuel cell and left side stowage boxes. These run along the top of the T-55 fenders. The large right hand side fuel cell is detailed with anti slip metal strips and fuel caps. These were fabricated using ultra-thin strips of plastic yoghurt carton lids. The stowage boxes on the left hand side have large rectangular hatch lids built by utilising a number of Dragon T-72 hatch sections. A third of the width of each hatch-lid was removed and two were then bonded together to form the larger lids which were required. To the rear of the vehicle I decided to open up the engine deck area having watched some you tube footage of an Iraqi BTS-3 entering an Iranian town during the Iran-Iraq war with its engine screen bouncing up and down as it travelled over rough ground. This added detail would fit in with the busy composition of this particular model. After all a hardworking IMR with an overheating engine might well have its grill left ajar by a thoughtful crew member.
Stage 5: Producing a number of crew figures and various accoutrements.
This final stage of the construction process involved sculpting a set of figures which consisted of two crew members and two Russian troops. These were added to give a sense of scale to the project. But also add that all important human interest by completing the scene and giving the whole composition a sense of realism. The actual figures themselves were a combination of WW2 Miniart and modern Dragon Russian figures. These were amalgamated to create pieces which have the look of modern Russian troops deployed in Chechnya. By combining the lower sections of the Mini-art figures with the upper torsos of the Dragon figures I believe I achieved a figure which was realistic and reflected the look of modern Russian troops. To top off the figures I used Hornet heads on the infantrymen, however in the interests of originality, for the crew I combined faces from Hornet heads attached to plastic Russian tank crew helmets. I constructed the crew heads in this fashion to create a more diverse series of figures given that Hornet produce a limited variety of tank crew heads all of which I have used already on a variety of projects. The final act was adding two stowage boxes over the engine access hatches at the rear of the vehicle. The first of which was a simple closed box with handle constructed from scrap plastic. The second is an open container also constructed from scrap plastic and into which I put a ripped and rusty oil can, a pair of old boots, a sledge hammer, a coiled fuel line and topped off with an oil cloth. I then off-loaded this particular creation to David Coynes spray shop and didn't look at another model for a whole week. So over to Dave ...
Stage 6: Painting the model and building the base.
Having picked up the IMR from Zack I was struck by it's chunky and robust appearance. The first thing I did was mask the six turret windows with Maskol and then I sprayed the entire vehicle in a dark rich brown. This covered the myriad of multi-coloured plastic and provided a good primer coat for the three colour scheme myself and Zack had decided on. The camouflage scheme bore more than a passing resemblance to the type of NATO scheme found on German Leopards and various other NATO vehicles. I used a Humbrol 120 mid green and made up the other colours using Revell brown 84 and black-grey 9, I find the Revell colours are great for spraying but also brush on really well. Spray job completed I applied a mud mix to the lower hull and innocently presumed that Zack would merely weather and age the vehicle, however as is his want Zack had a change of heart as we shall see. I also persuaded Zack that a large vehicle like the IMR would need an appropriate base. After some think-tanking we came up with some rough sketches of a sloped hilly road with the IMR pushing aside rubble rockslide with its tilted dozer blade. This was constructed using a Styrofoam base, mounting board surround, plaster cast rock and various other diorama accoutrements. I was fairly pleased with the result that I achieved. Back to Zack...
Dave gave the model a very pleasing and professional factory finish and it was now up to me to weather this ungainly beast. I started on a small test area with a raw umber wash, some paint chips and pottery clay distressing. When I was happy with the effect achieved I set about replicating it on the entire model adding oil stains and wear. I also added my own personal favourite effect borrowed from the pointillists, which involves the application of acrylic paint dots similar to the main colour but lighter, warmer or cooler. This can be achieved by adding small amounts of white yellow or blue to the original base colour. The effect on the eye is similar to that of pixilation. While the IMR was progressing nicely at this stage two things caused me to completely reassess the whole project; firstly, the IMR seemed strangely familiar in its new colour scheme and checking it against the BTS 3 (Issue 37) I realised that we had indeed almost replicated the colour scheme and weathering of that particular project. This was a real no no, for while it was based on a genuine IFOR colour scheme in Bosnia I wanted the IMR to have a unique appearance which was modern Russian in its essence. Secondly, later that day I saw issue 40 of AFV in Paul Walshes model shop.
Always an inspirational read , this issue arrived with a key article by Mig and Adam Wilder. I was struck by Mig's assertion that modelling had become formulaic and safe, while Adam took the reader on a sequential guide to his latest Panzer build using the work of the old masters as an inspiration to produce a colour modulated Panther F. Inspired by the article and challenged by Migs comments I decided that a change of direction regarding the colour scheme was in order.
Thankfully the multitude of colour schemes applied more
recently by the Russian army gave the modeller wide latitude of choice. After
trawling through Internet images, scrapbooks and magazines I decided to alter
the red brown camouflage pattern to either a pale yellow or pale grey. After
some tests I fixed on an grey colour which initially started out as a blue and
through a process of experimentation ended out as a pale grey colour which I had
seen on a Russian MAZ and a BTS 2 ARV. After applying this colour I was
satisfied that the camouflage scheme which I had achieved was headed in the
right direction and while a bit on the Wild(er!) side it had yet to be treated
with washes, chips and rust effects.
At this point a fellow modeller Mick Jordan dropped around, Mick is a large 6 foot 4 strong silent type who likes his Panzers painted in traditional schemes but occasionally takes a foray into the modern world. 'Right Mick sit down there now i want you to keep an open mind, O.K.' I said ' All right' He replied with a suspicious look on his face. I popped the IMR down on the table and said 'what d'ya think?'. A look of stunned horror appeared on his face, Micks eyes widened slightly as he stared down at the victim. 'has Dave seen this' he said ' No' I replied with a nervous laugh 'he's...eh..away. Anyway, what do you think?' he fixed me with a stern stare 'it's striking' he replied curtly. 'O.K' I said ' Striking good or bad?'. He merely repeated ' Striking' When pushed further all he said was 'It's the colour. I don't know about it'.
I knew I was going down river on this one. What if I tone down I suggested. He looked at me in a way as if to say do you not realise what you've done? My first thought was Dave wouldn't be back till next week, white spirits and wire pad might scrub it off. However I thought back to the reason I had embarked on this unique colour scheme and decided that I would not be driven from my course. 'I know it takes a bit of getting used to Mick, but imagine it with weathering and rust'. He was non committal and merely replied with a 'Hmmmm, we'll see'.
I knew that I had a short probation period to get this IMR sorted out or it was going to spend a long stretch on the already groaning shelf of unfinished models in my workshop. After returning to Adam Wilders articles on the NATO loader and the more recent Panther F, and studying amongst other things his sponge effect and paint chip style I decided to go for broke. I toned down the pale grey by applying a cadmium yellow oil paint wash, then when this had dried I applied several patches of the original pale grey patting it down with a tissue to soften the effect. This created the impression of some areas being less weathered than others. Across the top of the boom I decided to recreate the rust and wear effect you might find in this neglected area of an older vehicle. This I achieved with Humbrol black, Humbrol red brown and Humbrol Orange. When these had dried I coated the area with a mix of red orange and yellow chalk dust.
The next step was painting the crew and tank riders. These four lads were a joint project in themselves with Paul Marshall and myself tinkering with the figures so as to achieve a suitable worn and weary set for the IMR.
Finally I took the base which Dave had constructed, which I think is one of his finest to date, placed the vehicle in position, proceeded an appropriate mound of rubble for the front of the blade using shale from my front driveway and calcium deposits from an old kettle. Great job Dave.
While this particular scratch build project took a number of months to complete and was a little more demanding than usual, I found that the most challenging and rewarding aspect was the eleventh hour change of colour scheme. The project had seen me venturing on to new ground and I felt that the vehicle bearing one of the more recent schemes appearing on Russian armour over the last decade or so and complete with a few Skif decals created a real sense of this long serving armoured engineering vehicle.
Thanks must be given to David Coyne, Paul Marshall, Mick Jordan, Herr Kunkles and most of all she who must be obeyed for allowing me to squander the many hours I did in the pursuit of plastic pleasure.
Baryatinsky. M (1999) Tanks in Chechnya. ISBN 5-93574-001-X
RAIDS special 'TCHETCHENIE' , Histoire & Collections, Paris