The British army’s use of the tank in World War 1 was limited to a supporting role for infantry and little in the way of improvement in tank design was called for in the few years following its initial deployment. British post war doctrine assumed that any future warfare would follow the same pattern as the first, both sides set in position for trench warfare. The use of the tank as a support role for infantry was seen as the future of the vehicle and the use of mobile anti-tank weapons was also seen as unnecessary; the towed variety of anti-tank guns were seen as more than adequate to meet the needs of future conflict.
The onset of WW2 saw this policy for the antiquated view it was. Unable to compete with German vehicles on their own terms and unable to produce equipment in sufficient quantities, Britain looked to America and its Lend-Lease programme to provide much of the armour the struggling British manufacturing system could not provide. Even then, the British and American forces, then in the European conflict, quickly learned that the M4 Medium tanks manufactured by America were not able to meet the continually improving German tank designs being fielded. The need for dedicated tank hunting vehicles was quickly ascertained by the Allies and plans to develop the vehicles were put into hasty actions. The British initially developed the Archer Tank destroyer, a vehicle based on the old Valentine Tank chassis and armed with the 17 pounder anti-tank gun, used until then only as a towed anti-tank gun. Whilst satisfactory as a gun platform, the need to have the gun in a fixed rear facing position and not in a rotating platform presented its own problems. Furthermore, Britain could not produce the number of these vehicles in the quantity required.
The M4 Sherman series was to be the mainstay tank of the American Army and Britain as part of Lend-Lease, but the limitation of that design prevented a truly effective tank killing gun being fitted to the vehicle at the time (the British would later modify the turrets to fit the 17 pounder gun into the cramped fighting compartment, thus creating the Sherman Firefly). In response, the American Army commissioned a development of a dedicated Tank Destroyer using the basic M4A2 chassis as a base. The requirement was for a vehicle capable of fitting the 3 inch gun then available, in a rotating turret. The Vehicle was eventually produced under the designation M10.
The vehicle was naturally also supplied to Britain, but its crews found the 3 inch main gun lacking, and the British then upgraded many of the vehicles by fitting the now proven 17 pounder gun to their M10’s. This new vehicle was not named "Achilles" as commonly stated, but was applied to the vehicle after the war where it saw continued service into the 1950’s.
Academy initially produced a kit of the US M10 vehicle from which the Achilles was derived. They have now followed that kit with this offering of the British 17 pounder armed version. Opening the box you find it crammed with 9 large and one small sprue in tan plastic, a set of rubber tracks of the correct British pattern, a small decal sheet for two sets of vehicle markings and a large instruction booklet featuring large exploded view line drawings for construction.
The first impression is of the huge amount of parts on offer, including full interior, sponson fuel tanks (that will not be visible with the hull on) engine bay walls (no engine), two full sets of road wheels and idler wheels (the early open spoked and mid production closed spoked) as well as two spare late pattern road wheels, plus a choice of lace or circular drive sprocket discs, etc. The kit also provides two choices in the type of track return skids and Academy also provide a bonus to modellers being a series of letters, bolt heads, buckles, etc moulded on lengths of sprue. These are intended for use as casting letters and numbers and for tie down straps, etc by trimming them off the sprue with a sharp blade. The kit instructions are sadly lacking in advice of how to use these items.
Closer inspection of the parts revealed a plethora of sinkmarks and injection pin marks on kit parts. The worst effected pieces being on the inside of the turret walls, in places where huge pin marks will need to be filled as the holes will not be covered by stowage.
It is to be expected that Academy would produce this kit from their existing M10 moulds but a comparison of the kit to reference material quickly shows errors, some significant, are evident:
Construction begins in a fairly straight forward manner, with construction of the suspension. The Sherman suspension has proven to be a difficult subject to reproduce accurately, and whilst Academy’s effort is commendable, it still falls short of expectations. The bolt detail for the common late pattern track skids will need to be added by the modeller.
The rear idler wheel shaft assembly does not fit snugly, and a thin piece of styrene will be needed to fill the gap between parts G4 and G5 and C52 and C53 if the kit’s construction sequence is followed.
Construction of the forward interior will provide little problem, but fitting of front transmission case to the review vehicle presented problems later. Academy offer a choice of 2 transmission covers, however the "sharper" of the two does not look quite right therefore the other one was used in the review model. Getting the correct sit of part B49 when the top hull was later fixed to the lower hull proved nigh on impossible and it may be best to leave off the transmission case until the hulls are ready to be joined.
The radio unit does not appear to be accurate, but given little will be seen through the hatch, this is not a problem. The kit advises you to fit two radio junction boxes to the hull side, however references indicate only one (partC27) is required. This is to be set back further between the position for C36 and the turret floor.
The fixed turret floor assembly fits very well, the only matter needing attention being the filing of the locating holes for the fire extinguisher that is not to be fitted.
Test fitting of the forward hatch covers will reveal that they will not sit at the correct angle when open. This is because C39 and C40 are too short angled too shallow. Replacement items will need to be manufactured.
Head and tail light frames are overly thick, as is usually the case with Sherman kits, and PE replacements will probably be preferred by most modellers.
The pic also shows the filled sinkmarks in spare road wheel, the communication flags for inside the turret and one of the 32 scratchbuilt 17 pounder rounds.
The rubber tracks supplied with the review kit had a flash line through the side and by virtue of the material used impossible to clean up. Replacements may need to be sought.
The 17 pounder gun lacks detail on the top and back of the breach block, but references will make these easy to fabricate by the average modeller. The correct 'v' shaped bracket and securing pin for the internal travel lock are not provided in the kit and will also need to be fabricated by the modeller.
The turret wall sections are not securely fitting, and care will be required to ensure that the symmetrical turret shape is preserved. The lifting rings on the outside of the turret are too short and beefier ones should be made to replace these, and to provide the missing lifting ring that is found at the inside join of the rear lower turret walls on the actual vehicle. The .50 cal mount as per the kit is also incorrect, as Academy has created a cut out where the top of the two rear turret panels join. On the actual vehicle the panels have no cut out, the MG mount being fitted on a bracket inside the turret at the join.
The decals provided for the 93rd Anti-tank Reg. Royal Artillery 5 Corps, Savio River, Italy 1944 vehicle appear to be lacking. The Viking boat is depicted incorrectly, the #11 appears as a shield decal not the appropriate square and only markings for front of the vehicle are supplied. This is unlikely as British requirements are for both front and rear markings (although AFV club provide decals for the same vehicle and only one set are given).
The second set of decals is for a Canadian vehicle Royal Canadian Artillery 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, Netherlands 1945, and any accessories or figures will need to be Canadian in nature.
Despite the faults, the kit makes up to a reasonable facsimile of the Achilles vehicle. AFV Club has recently released their version of the Achilles, but that vehicle has no interior and has its own share of faults. For those wishing to build a model of this vehicle it will fall down to preference and cost. The best result would be to combine the best parts of both kits, but for the budget conscious it will fall to individual preference for manufacturer. Value wise, my view is that the Academy kit has the upper hand, purely for the interior and the spare parts that will be available when the kit is completed.
The finished model can be seen in the Gallery - Webmaster