The M3 Half Track (By Nigel Robins)
This is a curious beast indeed! Even when I was 10 years old I decided that this was not an M3 or M3A1 but I was more disappointed that the kit did not contain ten infantrymen as featured in the box art picture. However the Airfix kit is the most accurate in terms of overall length and width measurements in 1/76th scale (according to the vehicle handbook), really captures the appearance of the vehicle and has very nice track units. It is therefore better to work on than any other model in the scale despite being the granddaddy of all halftrack kits.
So what actually is this kit? It is not an M5 as most suggest but something more interesting! It is in fact a model of a modified M14, the International Harvester variant of the M13 AA half-track. The M14 was originally fitted with a twin Maxson turret and supplied to the British Army Lend-Lease. However the British did not like them, removed the turret and converted the vehicles into troop carriers. This is why the kit features the rear door but has an internal dividing wall, not a feature on the standard M5 troop-carrying version, and only contains only two seats in the rear. It is a British modified vehicle, probably in a post war condition because the rear door would not have been an original feature of an M14. The vehicle that Airfix have based the model on may well have been a 15cwt cargo carrying conversion to add even further confusion. Remember the kit was originally released in 1966! In those days an American half-track was an American half-track and subtleties such as variants and manufacturers were lost on the teenaged modellers it was designed to appeal to.
SO TO THE KIT
Well, other than the obvious fault that it is not what it claims to be; the wheels are in my opinion too large and set too far forward on the chassis (though the original vehicle Airfix based the kit on may have been fitted with oversize tyres). The only other fault is that the corners of the hull should be rounded, an important feature of International Harvester Variants, easily achieved with a little filler and filing. The 50 Cal machine gun and mounting are probably inappropriate for an M14 (though nicely modelled) as, I suspect, are the mine racks. The decals are for an American M3 A1 and are very good. The original issue featured a nice tarpaulin roof for the rear compartment, which would be appropriate for a British modified M14 version but this is now not part of the kit, which is a shame. Airfix chose to model the armoured plates protecting the windscreen and side windows in place as if the vehicle was in action (only appropriate about 1% of the time) which does make the cab area look odd, yet have left the armoured shutters covering the radiator in the open position! This is curious, in action these shutters would also be closed. To open the armoured cab shutters becomes a tricky job for the modeller because a new windscreen needs to be scratch build as well as new shutters. To construct an M5 from the kit requires seats and back rests to be constructed in the rear compartment, the dividing wall between cab area and rear body cut down considerably and the rear body corners rounding off. It also requires the detail along the top of the rear body, supposed to represent the hinged drop down plates of the M14 to be removed. To produce the M3 or M3A1 the mudguards need to be modified as they are a different pattern to the M5/M14 and new headlights need to be sourced and attached to the sides of the bonnet either side of the radiator. This is in addition to the work required for an M5 except that the rear body corners do not need rounding off. For American variants rear stowage racks may be appropriate, as would stowage, in quantity, all over the rest of the vehicle: refer to original photos for guidance on this.
DO NOT DESPAIR
Matador Models provide a conversion set to rectify the main faults and turn the halftrack into an M3/ M3A1/ M5/ M5A1 (KCA-01) or an Israeli version for the Six-Day War (KC Is-02). Alternately John Church provides plans for the British modified M14 variants such as the radio version and the 15cwt cargo, which may be built from the Airfix kit. The vehicle, remember, is pretty accurate as an M14 straight from the box. I have a collection of post war half- tracks modified this way, which provide a talking point. Alternatively you can remove the Maxson turret from a spare Matchbox M16 and produce either the twin gun M14 in original form or the M17 with the quad turret. For both versions the rear body top needs to be modified slightly, the hinging armour side plates stop about 2mm short of the end of the rear body producing a small step at the rear of the vehicle. The rear door also needs to be removed and the parts appropriate to the Matchbox M16 need to be added to the rear of the model.
HOW DO OTHER KITS COMPARE?Well, after criticizing the Airfix kit so completely, how do all other models of the M3/M5 series compare? Answer: very poorly. None are better; all kits have their faults. The Fujimi kit is a better-defined carbon copy of the Airfix (perpetuating its faults) though it does give a Maxson turret but is more expensive and is manufactured from hard, nasty Fujimi plastic. The Matchbox kit is under-scale, 2mm too narrow and 1mm too short, feels “small” elsewhere and the track units are not as nice. In 1/72 the Hasegawa kits are a big 1/72, too wide by 1mm and the cabs are, in my opinion, incorrect, as are the headlights. The Hasegawa kits subsequently look huge compared to the Airfix whilst the Matchbox kit looks tiny.