Fleet Street war comics were all the rage among schoolboys in the British territories and ex-colonies in the 1960s and 70s. We grew up with “Tally Ho!” and fighting the Jerries with the likes of Biggles (a mythical RAF pilot who managed to be in both First and Second World Wars). The North African campaign loomed large in these comics with Tobruk and El Alamein as the centers of actions. Airfix issued some very lively-looking 1/76 scale Eighth Army figures in the early 1970’s and these combined very well with the Crusader tanks as icons of that theater. The Crusader tank was prominent in late 1941 through the middle of 1942. The tank had somewhat sloped armor, which was a stark departure from the boxy looks of the Matildas and later Churchills. Despite its short career as battle tank, the Crusader was certainly a good-looking tank for the British Army.
The Crusader was a departure from the earlier “infantry tanks” in that they were faster and lightly armored. The idea was to be able to move faster to provide a mobile striking force, similar to what the Germans were doing with the Pzkfw III. Sadly, the 2 pounder gun did not have as much punch as the 75mm and so the Crusader’s potential was lost. Crusaders were used in the relief of Tobruk in October-November 1941, and the Mk. III version was deployed in the battle of El Alamein. However, by late 1942, the Crusader was replaced by the arrival of the M4 Sherman.
IBG came out with several versions of the Crusader in 1/72, complete with a small photoetched fret for the side skirts. The parts were very nicely detailed and I do like the molded tracks that simplify the construction of the road wheels and installation onto the hull tub. Other people may complain that not using the individual track links method reduces the accuracy of the track details, but I tend to disagree. Once constructed, you can see very little of the tracks to start with, and keeping the repetitive nature of roadwheels and track construction to a minimum is a plus. The fit of the tank kit is excellent. The Airfix 8th Army 1/76 scale figure set is a true classic and has that unique charging figure that is probably the best looking British lieutenant in all of the 1/76-72 scale world.
Instead of showing all the assembly steps that are very similar to other 1/72 AFVs, I will only focus on the areas that are significant in this kit.
As is my usual custom, I prime the major sub-assemblies in Tamiya NATO Black XF-69, followed by highlighting the panels with Tamiya Sky Grey XF-19. I decided to paint the tank in that unique North African campaign British splinter camouflage of Desert Yellow, Slate Grey, Silver Grey (almost like a light blue effect).
I airbrush Silver Grey (Model Master Gull Grey FS36440) first. Then I apply masking over these areas.
Then I apply Slate Grey (Model Master RLM81 Braunviolett), and then mask these areas in addition to the earlier masks over the Silver Grey areas. Finally, I apply Tamiya Desert Yellow XF59 over all remaining exposed areas. Once the masks are removed, they reveal this lovely splinter pattern. Some minor touch-up needed for the overspray, but remarkably few for such a complex pattern.
IBG’s unique method of track and roadwheel assembly minimizes the number of parts that I have to deal with. Since the tracks are already molded together with half of the road wheels, there are no concerns with track fit and sag. Plus it saves a ton of painting and struggling with fiddly road wheels. The trade-off is that the road wheels are not individually attached each to it’s own axle.
The completed track assembly looks every bit as fine as the conventional method of assembly without the track fit anguish.
The two sets of track assemblies are attached to the main hull, and the tank looks very close to completion.
After decals, painting in the paint chips, sealing varnish, and an oil wash of Black + Burnt Umber, the Crusader is ready for action.
As for the Airfix figures, I prime them first in grey primer. All the colors used for the Eighth Army figures are shown here.
I place the tank and army figures onto the base to pre-determine their placement.
One last step for weathering the tank by lightly airbrushing Tamiya Buff XF57 on the tracks, road wheels and undersides . This will help the tank blend onto the base color of desert sand.
Most schoolboys in my time dreamed of an action diorama like this one, with soldiers charging beside tanks. This composition is a nod to that time, together with the war action comics genre.