- Published on Tuesday, 01 October 2013 00:00 Matt McDougall
1/35 Object 279 Soviet Heavy Tank
Catalogue # PH35005
Available from Hannants for £30.99
Panda – like most of the up-and-coming kit manufacturers – has eschewed any logical pattern in their releases. Indeed, much like Meng or Great Wall or Kitty Hawk, it seems like Panda is drawing each new subject out of a hat. Not that I'm complaining! Indeed, I find the sheer randomness quite refreshing (though I do question their ability to build a loyal following as they skip around eras and subjects and even scales). Panda's latest release continues the company's streak of eccentric choices. The Soviet heavy tank prototype, Object 279, is definitely a left-field subject, a quirky prototype that in many ways represents the culmination of early Cold War thinking.
A fascinating subject, sure, but how does it hold up as a kit? Let's find out.
Object 279 was an experimental heavy tank developed in 1959 to operate effectively in difficult terrain and, if necessary, withstand chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack. It was also the culmination of Soviet heavy tank doctrine, which was abandoned in 1960 in favor of lighter, easier to produce and capable main battle tanks such as the T-54/55.
To fulfill the cross-country requirement, Object 279 employed a unique four-track drivetrain that spread the tank's 60 metric tonnes to a ground pressure of just 0.6kg/cm2 (the 46-ton IS-3 exerted 0.8kg/cm2 of ground pressure, by comparison). Unfortunately, it also proved complicated and expensive to produce, maintain and repair, and raised the tank quite high off the ground. The elliptical shield served multiple purposes. First, it took the concept of angled armor to the extreme, to defeat the latest anti-armor munitions. Second, it was intended to keep the tank from being overturned in the face of a nuclear shockwave.
In a different world, Object 279 may have formed the basis for the next generation of Soviet heavy tank. But in our world, changing military doctrine effectively relegated it to the footnotes of history.
Panda's Object 279 is spread across five sprues of green plastic, three sprues of a grayish-brown plastic, upper and lower hull parts, a small PE fret and a length of braided copper wire. There are no clear parts and no decals, since the sole Object 279 prototype was unmarked.
The hull is cleanly bisected into upper and lower halves in a fashion that, due to the unique elliptical shape of Object 279, may be more familiar to aircraft modelers than armor builders.
Compared to most tanks, Object 279 featured a very clean and unadorned hull, and the same holds true for the kit, though it does replicate the differing textures of the cast hull and the additional armor plates and other elements.
The cast texture is not the best I've ever seen, but it's rather good, and holds its own.
The underside of the hull clearly shows the troughs for mounting the two drivetrain beams as well as the separate mounting points for the drive sprockets (more on these later).
Sprue A (x2) features the various drivetrain and suspension bits. Detail here is adequate, but slightly short of where top tier armor kits are operating these days.
Sprue B is all about the turret and the massive 130mm M-65 rifled gun.
The turret detail, like the hull, is rather good, with nice cast texturing and some very good weld seams and bolt heads.
The M-65 gun shows promise, but I must admit disappointment at the decision to mold it as two halves.
The muzzle break at the end of the long, long barrel is rather distinct, and one of the kit's more prominent visual elements, and having to join the two halves introduces all kinds of opportunity to mar the detail. Why this wasn't offered as a slide-molded single-piece element is behind me, but I would recommend seeking a turned metal replacement.
Sprue C, which was split into two sprues in my review sample, contains, essentially, the rest of the tank, of which there's not much. The main elements here are the two longitudinal drivetrain beams, plus the side runs of the elliptical hull.
When building the 279, you'll want to take extra care with these side ellipticals to make sure they are properly aligned. And be prepared for some surgical-grade cleanup of the anti-HEAT panels to erase the join line without removing any of the surrounding detail.
The three remaining sprues consist of individual link tracks.
The detail on these tracks is pretty good, but please note, these are not workable or even semi-workable tracks. There are no pins to keep them together, so a great deal of care will be required to assemble and mount them.
Beyond the plastic, Panda includes a small photo etch fret mainly consisting of various grillwork, as well as a length of braided cable.
Panda's instruction manual is well-put together and easy to follow, though sometimes it might be a bit too easy, as can be seen in the languid pace taken through steps 6 and 7 below.
For me, the biggest red flag in the entire kit comes with step 5.
Note that the rear drive sprockets mount separately from the longitudinal drivetrain beams, then bang your head against your keyboard as you realize the degree to which this will complicate mounting those indy link tracks.
If it were possible to tackle the drivetrain and tracks all entirely separately from the tank, and then just glue them in place toward the end of the build, that'd be one thing. But the way the kit is engineered, you basically need to mount the drivetrain up, then install the tracks. Which should be great fun for those two interior track runs.
If the track runs are an unnecessary headache, the color profile is laughably basic. There was only the one Object 279, and it was painted in one color and otherwise unadorned. Which means that you get a nice, full color profile, with just one color called out!
If you're into it, the backside of the color profile also contains a copy of the box art.
So What Do We Think?
It's nice to see these up and coming kit makers wandering off the beaten path with their subject choices, and Panda is certainly to be commended for tackling the quirky Object 279. Overall, the kit is solid, with strong texture and detail on the hull and turret in particular. But two engineering choices definitely present obstacles to overcome.
The first is the decision to bisect the M-65 gun. This is at least ten years out of step with competitive offerings. Yes, Asuka nee Tasca bisects most of its Sherman barrels, but the muzzles or muzzle breaks are almost always slide-molded, single-piece affairs. And Dragon and AFV Club and others are way past even that. Panda would have been well advised, in my opinion, to provide a turned metal barrel (or offer one as an upgrade).
The second is the drivetrain. By more or less forcing track assembly to take place after the beams and drive sprockets have been installed, I have a feeling that Panda has destined many of these kits to languish on various modelers' shelves of doom, unfinished.
While I haven't seen one in detail yet, from what I've read, the forthcoming Amusing Hobby Object 279 looks like the stronger contender in both of these areas, with a superior rendition of the M-65's muzzle break, as well as pinned, workable tracks and an included track assembly jig. And apparently Takom is planning a 1/35 Object 279 of its own, providing a further option to consider.
Wait for the Amusing Hobby and Takom kits before pulling any triggers. Both will be reviewed here on SP&R.
Review sample courtesy of Panda Models. To purchase directly, click THIS link.