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M-1A1HA Abrams
Operation Iraqi Freedom 1st Marine Tank Battalion, Baghdad 2003



S u m m a r y

Stock Number and Description Dragon Models Limited 1/35 Scale Modern AFV Series Kit No. 3533; Operation Iraqi Freedom M-1A1HA Abrams 1st Marine Tank Battalion, Baghdad 2003
Media and Contents: 346 parts (318 in grey styrene, 14 in gray vinyl, 10 in tan lightweight cardboard, 4 etched brass)
Price: Estimated cost between $33-40
Scale: 1/35
Review Type: First Look
Advantages: Most accurate M-1A1 chassis available; based on current materials and photographs of vehicles in action; includes accessories to make an accurate model, including "kit"
Disadvantages: Bustle rack notoriously difficult to assemble cleanly; While tracks are "link and length" they need considerable cleanup
Recommendation: Highly Recommended for all current US armored vehicle fans


Reviewed by Cookie Sewell

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F i r s t L o o k


Since DML released its M-1A1 series of models about ten years ago, they have remained the best overall in regards to accuracy and faithful presentation of the Abrams; of the others on the market right now, Tamiya's is easier to assemble but needs a lot of annoying corrections to be accurate, and Trumpeter's splits the difference but has some problems of its own.

In the "race" to get models replicating the most recent versions of the Abrams the "Operation Iraqi Freedom" version of the M-1A1 to the market Tamiya and DML are in a rough tie; so far no comparable kit has been advertised by Trumpeter. While I do not think the Tamiya one is out in the US yet (as of 23 September 2003) the DML one is on its way.

Having reviewed (and built) the basic version of this kit previously, I will make the following comments on it. It is the most accurate of the Abrams kits on the market, and has a number of very good features to make it "modeler friendly." These include a partial turret interior and driver's compartment, as well as posable side skirt plates and a separate engine deck which makes "dioramaizing" the model very easy. It also uses "link and length" tracks, meaning only 36 units are required per side to get a good fit rather than the full 82 required by the model.

On the down side, the tracks are loaded with injector pin marks and take a good deal of cleanup; as the pins were happily on the "inside" of the tracks, many modelers will probably ignore them where possible. The bustle rack is formed from a relatively large number of parts, but as DML tried to replicate scale thickness rods they are fragile and very hard to clean up. This makes for a tedious and frustrating job of getting the racks ready to assemble.

The kit basis is the original M-1A1 kit (#3517) minus its set of crew figures, and as such comes with the original set of smoke grenade launchers and the original sternplate mounted APU. These are ignored, and to that end DML has provided several new sprues with a total of 68 new parts; some are carried over from their previous M-1A1HA USMC kit (#3531) such as the fording gear. DML advises leaving it off, and other than the basic exhaust snorkel frame on the engine exhaust (Part H9) that is a good call. (Many of the USMC tanks appear to have that permanently mounted, and with no rear photos of the subject vehicle provided, it is a good chance it was left in place.)

The new parts cover a number of changes. From the USMC kit comes the new bustle-mounted APU, which appears to be a standard fitting now to both Marine and Army Abrams tanks. One new fitting which apparently came in as an MWO (modification work order) to fix the problem of storage is a "bustle basket" that hangs on the rear of the tank's bustle rack, and DML has provided one complete with etched brass grilles. The tank also has the newer 10-shot grenade launcher mounts in place of the older 6-shot ones.

There are some new devices added which probably need some explanation. There is a device mounted on top of the base for the M-1A2 tank's commander's independent thermal viewer (CITV) which is not described. Based on its location and appearance, I think it may be part of an IFF system, as many US tanks are now being fitted with this to avoid fratricide in combat. It is hard to tell from the photo, but it appears to have some sort of plastic "lens" covering on the front which would be useful for radio wave propagation.

Also, the tank is fitted with a full set of thermal identification panels. These are made of a plastic material which has different infrared characteristics than the tank's armor, and when viewed through a thermal sight show up as black instead of white (actually a light green) color. The result is an extra added ability to distinguish friend from foe in combat. These consist of three louvered panels hung on the sides of the turret and at the rear, and two plates attached to the front faces of the turret. DML provides five louvered panels from thin styrene and which appear to be close to the actual shape and thickness of the originals, and two pieces of thin cardboard with the velcro strips imprinted on them for attachment to the front of the turret. These should NOT be painted but installed as is after the model is finished. (Most people thought they were just straight plywood, which is a rough description of their color and thickness.)

The kit also includes four cardboard MRE boxes ("Meals Rejected by Ethiopians" in troop parlance) and 14 vinyl pieces of crew "kit." These include what appear to be two of the unpopular MLLE "Mollie" packs, six duffle bags, three smaller packs with weatherproof covering, one tarp and two foam sleeping mats. The packs all show that they were provided with tab-installation straps, but DML has not included them and thus leaves some rather large slots to fill on the backs of the packs; stored right they will not show. However, they do fill up a good portion of the bustle rack and bustle basket, and as most people who even casually looked at the actions of troops during Iraqi Freedom can attest, most American military vehicles looked like "gypsy caravans" in action.

Markings are included for only one tank, "MANIACO" of the 1st Tank Battalion, completely painted in sand. This is too bad, for many other USMC vehicles were "spot" painted with the new (Desert Storm) sand color over their standard European/NATO camouflage and would have made for a more interesting finish. (See the following tank on the box photo to see what I mean!)

Overall this is a very nicely done kit and should be popular with modelers of modern items as well as the fans of the "Jarheads!" While as noted I have not seen the Tamiya one, hopefully they did a US Army (3rd Infantry Division) one so there will be a contrast between the two kits, and two different subjects.

Thanks to Freddie Leung of DML for the review sample.

Review Copyright 2003 by Cookie Sewell
Page Created 26 September, 2003
Last updated 26 September, 2003

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