by: Bill Cross [ ]
Originally published on:
The Sherman tank, as everyone knows, was the workhorse of the Allied armor during World War II, including British forces, who re-gunned it, then gave it the wimpy nickname "Firefly" (perhaps someone was an admirer of Groucho Marx's Rufus T. Firefly in the 1933 comically anti-war film, "Duck Soup"? ). Thousands more were shipped to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. But probably the Sherman's most-famous role was during the Normandy invasion, especially the breakout from the beaches during Operation Cobra. Despite its limitations (light armoring and an underpowered gun), it had the “quality of quantity”— up to 50,000 were produced during the war, hammering the superior design and armament of Germany’s tanks with numbers.
And adaptability: to wit, the field modification known as the “hedgerow cutter,” or “Culin Rhino tank” used to open-up Normandy’s unique “bocage” topography.
For centuries, Norman farmers had planted hedges atop earthen “walls” to fence off their fields, producing a combination of sunken roads and small plots of land ringed by mini groves of trees and shrubs with the ability to withstand even an angry tank. I’ll leave the origins of the term “bocage” to philologists of the local Norman dialect. Suffice it to say Allied soldiers learned the word once they tried to move inland through these nearly impenetrable thickets. The hedgerows weren’t ornamental: their roots ran deep into the earthen walls like natural rebar, and produced both superb windbreaks for the farmers’ fields, as well as nearly impassable defenses for the Germans fighting acre-by-acre to prevent the Allies from breaking out of their English Channel beachheads.
Tanks were especially hemmed-in by the bocage: advancing down its narrow lanes meant heading straight into the sites of German armor or anti-tank guns waiting in ambush. Trying to surmount the hedgerows by a direct assault wound up exposing the tank’s soft under-belly as it was forced upwards by the earthen mounds. The results were as horrific as they were predictable: the PAK 40 anti-tank gun was already deadly enough when taking on a Sherman’s somewhat thin armor. Giving it a shot at the even thinner underside was murderous.
That’s when American ingenuity intervened.
Fellow New Jerseyan Sgt. Curtis G. Culin (a resident of Cranford, just down the Garden State Parkway from me) serving in the National Guard's 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, came up with the “Culin Rhino device.” As simple as it was effective, this “hedgerow cutter” was formed from scrap steel girders salvaged from the thousands of chevaux de fries steel barricades littering the invasion beaches. Intended to rip open landing craft bottoms, the barricades were dubbed "Rommel’s asparagus” by wise-cracking GIs. Welding the girders to the front of the M4A1 turned scrap iron into the Rhino. It simultaneously sliced the hedge roots and pushed aside the earthen walls of the bocage. Tanks could bulldoze their way through the barriers without exposing themselves to anti-tank fire.
While several resin manufacturers have released more than a half-dozen Culin Rhino hedgerow cutters, a complete “Rhino” tank kit is now available in styrene from Tasca.
In a radical departure for most model companies, the Tasca box is illustrated by Yoh Morinaga in a cartoon style that reminds me of R. Crumb’s “Mr. Natural” comix back in the 60s and 70s. I’m sure this will irritate many older buyers, especially outside of Asia, but should appeal to younger ones and fans of Japanese manga for sure. The perky illustrations are captioned in English and Japanese; inside the box you’ll find:
18 sprues of olive-green styrene parts
2 sprues of clear parts
1 sprue of milky-white vinyle parts
1 piece of black material for the suspension
2 strands of rubber band tracks in four pieces
A small fret of PE screens
A small sheet of decals printed by Cartograf
A 10-page instruction booklet (from the Mid-Production kit) primarily in Japanese
A 6-page booklet for the Late Production model & hedgerow cutter, also primarily in Japanese, but with some helpful English here and there
In a crafty and strategic use of its molds, Tasca has built up an expanding line of Shermans starting with its El Alamein version. This kit is actually a re-issue of Tasca’s already sold-out M4A1 Late Production Sherman (kit #35-012, itself a derivative of their Mid-Production Sherman kit #35-010, etc. all the way back to Adam & Eve. But this one has an additional sprue for the Culin Rhino device. Initially a field modification, but later an add-on supplied by the Allied armies, the bladed cutter isn’t “standard,” so Tasca’s variant is just that— a variant, and you can build it several ways. As mentioned already, numerous resin companies have other styles, if you’re so motivated. But for the rest of us, the kit combines an already well-received model with a hedgerow cutter made to fit. In fact, if you just want a Normandy M4A1, just leave off the Culin Rhino and put on the front tow lugs.
This is the first Tasca kit I’ve ever purchased, other than their superb German jerry can set, and I was impressed by the same molding techniques I found in that small gem: very crisp and even delicate in spots. The details are lush and intricate, and few things are missing. Fellow rivet counters like myself may want to add the retaining bolts to the suspension bogies, but the .50 cal machine gun is as close to metal in quality and delicacy as I've seen in styrene.
There is some debate about the rounded nose/transmission cover provided in the kit as not being truly a “late” shape. I checked with importer Pacific Coast Models, and they said use part J-16 and you've got the right one. Chris "Toadman" Hughes is in my debt for posting photos of the version in the Tasca kit ("Battling B****"), proving that Tasca nailed the right cover profile for that particular tank. If you feel the "narrow nose" transmission cover is more appropriate for the vehicle you're building, then Formations #F110 resin "narrow nose" cover is only $10 and designed to fit the Tasca late M4A1.
Since this kit has its origins in Tasca’s Mid-Production M4A1, some features of that kit (and tank) are carried over. The later M4A1 had a welded hull, and so the instructions ask modelers to sand off the rivets on the lower hull sub-assembly (step #6) to replicate a cast one. A little extra work, but nothing too taxing. The kit also has a tank commander figure. Tasca figures aren't setting the world on fire, but this one is pleasant and the detailing is within the styrene range of acceptability.
I don’t like everything about the kit, especially the lack of a turned metal barrel. Styrene just isn’t up to the level of metal, and a premium kit like this cries out for the metal barrel option (it wouldn’t add more than a dollar or two at most to the base cost of the kit). I have a turned-aluminum replacement on order from JBModel.eu. The other issue is the tracks: they’re the glue-able vinyl “rubber band” variety. The Dragon Sherman PTO kit I built had their DS styrene rubber band tracks and they worked out fine, since Sherman tracks don’t sag. I’m hoping these won’t be a problem.
The instructions are the usual exploded-view format and unfortunately, primarily in Japanese. They shouldn’t offer any difficulties, except the main ones are for Tasca’s Mid-Production Sherman, a fact that might confuse modelers at first. The differences between the mid- and late-variants are mostly cosmetic (some appliqué armor to protect the magazines, and a different travel lock for the gun), and these apparently are the same instructions that came with the previous Late Production model. But there is some switching back & forth, including making sure you have the right road wheels for the version you're building.
As always, consult your sources.
Proceed carefully and you should be fine, though I wouldn't build this model within earshot of small children who aren't regularly exposed to profanity.
One feature I especially like is the 1-1 scale drawings showing the positioning of the hedgerow cutter, the length of the tow cables and the placement of the appliqué armor. I’d like to see more kit makers do this sort of thing, rather than make us guess or dig up reference photos.
painting & decals
The kit offers three different tanks:
D Company, 66th ot 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, Normandy, June, 1944
70th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division (same time frame)
31st Tank Battalion, 7th Armored Division, France, August, 1944 ("Battling Biatch")
The third one is the only version with a Culin Rhino device, since it was not present on tanks right after the landings. The paint scheme is presumably Army-issue olive drab, but the instructions don’t really indicate anything other than parts that aren’t OD (for example, the tracks). There is a painting guide for Tamiya and Gunze Sangyo, but it’s in Japanese, a really annoying oversight in my opinion. I mean, how complex would it be to make the painting guide less of a hassle to figure out? Yes, I can look up Tamiya XF-62 and see it's "olive drab (or GS 38), but why can't a kit with instructions in English have a painting guide that doesn't require research, especially for modelers using colors other than by these two Japanese companies?
There seems to be both an inexhaustible appetite for Sherman variants and a plethora of types, so it’s terrific that Tasca has taken on the job of providing good kits for every one of them. The hedgerow cutter is sufficiently famous in WW2 history to rate its own kit, and even if you don’t want the Culin Rhino Device on yours, you can cop one of the now OOP M4A1 versions that dominated the Allied armor forces in France during 1944 and on the road to the Rhine.
Having started the building of the kit, I can say this is one of the best kits I've built, both for fit and precision in molding. I have increased its rating appropriately.
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