AFV Club AEC Dorchester in-box review Feb 16, 2013 12:15:03 GMT -5
Post by mshackleton on Feb 16, 2013 12:15:03 GMT -5
AFV Club AF35227
Reviewed by Mike Shackleton
During World War 2, the United Kingdom was the only country to develop and widely employ purpose-built armoured command vehicles. These were essentially armoured boxes based on truck chassis with 10-12 mm armour and had a crew of 7–8 people.
The most common ACV of the British Army was the AEC 4x4 ACV. The vehicle, based on the AEC 0853 Matador 4x4 chassis, entered production in 1941 and a total of 415 were built. It was powered by the same A187 95-bhp 6-cylinder diesel used by the Matador and weighed in at 10.5 tones. They remained in service until the end of the war. Big and comfortable, they were nicknamed Dorchester by the troops after the luxury hotel in London. Initially, the Dorchester was planned in four variants: as a command vehicle (ACV), an engineer-sappers (demolition) truck (ADV), a mine layer (AML) and an armoured personnel carrier (APC). In 1941, the first variant that went into production was the ACV and was used for the first time in the North African Campaign. Three ACVs of this type were captured by the German Afrika Korps. Two of them, named ‘Max’ and ‘Moritz’ were used by Rommel who was so impressed that he and his staff used them as his personal command-post vehicles from thereon. The story of the Dorchesters used by Rommel can be found here: www.oocities.org/firefly1002000/mammuts.html.
The Dorchester was built in two configurations, with different radio equipment. The changes were made to the internal fit of the vehicle. There were two versions: LP (Low Power) and HP (High Power). The LP was fitted with a No.19 radio (LP and HP sets) and a 550 Watt charging set under the floor. The HP vehicle was fitted with an RCA (Radio Crystalline Amplifier) receiver, a No.19 set and a 1260 Watt charging set isolated within the nearside-right body compartment. Louvres on the left side and rear indicate an HP body. The early versions of the vehicle were fitted with a canopy that, when unrolled, had side panels attached to form an extended working area. These side panels are not included in the kit. There were also two types of body: No.1 had a large single combined office and radio room (which is what this kit represents). A later version was the No.2 which had a partition creating a separate radio room and this was only built in the LP version. There was normally a crew of seven with the vehicle, one driver, two radio operators and four officers. It is interesting to note that when the Dorchester came into service, the No.19 radio set had not yet been introduced so they must have had No.9 and No.14 sets?
Some Dorchesters had curved sheet metal covers between the top and sides intended to facilitate disguise as a normal load-carrying truck. The other part of this disguise was a false nose and here again there are two versions. The first was made of canvas over some kind of frame and was devised by the camouflage expert, Major Jasper Maskelyne. Together with carefully painted black panels and a large shade over the windscreen, this served to disguise them as standard lorries similar to the Matador gun tractor.
Later, another more substantial artificial nose had rigid sides and a soft top and front face as seen in the SKP kit. There is some suggestion that the nose housed the charging set required for the HP version but this is very unlikely as it was already carried internally.
The earlisest contract (April 1940) was for 137 vehicles (47 ACV, 30 demolition, 30 mine-laying, 30 personnel) with census numbers L4426417 to L4426516 and L4427073 to L4427109. L was the prefix for trucks over 1 ton. This was followed by a further contract in January 1942 which included 210 ACVs F89104 to F89313. F indicates armoured cars. This totals 347 vehicles so there are still some missing. Apparently the mine layers were all converted to ACVs.
Upon opening the box you are presented with fourteen sprues containing the majority of the parts. Also included are four rubber tyres, one brass fret, a decal sheet, very thin rise-type paper for the sunshade and nine printed maps on the same kind of paper. As with other recent AFV Club kits, also included is a print of the box-top art. All of the sprues have identification letters and part numbers.
The contents are:
1. Sprue "A", front and back. (2 supplied) Wheels, chassis members, small engine and suspension parts.
2. Sprue "B", front. Steering wheel, instrument panel, driver controls.
3. Sprue "C", front. Main floor, rear wall (half), main chassis rails, exhaust pipe, sunshade poles.
4. Sprue "D", front. Roof, side panels, rear wall (second half), interior bulkhead, roof hatches, headlights, various details.
5. Sprue "E", front. Driver’s cab floor/bonnet, engine front bulkhead, front body parts and hatches, various details.
6. Sprue "F", front and back. (2 supplied) Jerrycans and flimsies.
7. Sprue "E", front (from AF 35178 Valentine). Only radio parts and tools from this sprue are used.
8. Sprue "H". Clear parts – windows, light lenses.
9. Sprue "I", front. Engine sump, leaf springs, drive shafts, transaxles, transfer case, varoius details.
10. Sprue "K", front and back. Office seats, roof panels.
11. Sprue "L", front. Interior walls and desk tops, desk lamps, roof panels.
12. Etch fret. Jerrycan joints, radiator grilles, roof racks, fuel can racks, small brackets.
The overall quality of the parts is very, very good with excellent moulding and superb moulded-on detail throughout. There is some minor flash on some parts but nothing to worry about. As is normal with AFV Club kits, there are many small parts attached to the sprues that will need careful removal and clean up. Some of the parts such as the floor, walls and bulkheads have many ejector pins attached to them around the edges, but this means that ejector marks are mostly absent on the parts themselves. Where they do appear, they will be hidden when built. A lot of thought has gone into the planning of this kit. There are traces of oily release agent, so clean the sprues in detergent before starting the build.
The body panels are all separate parts but with the number of interior parts there shouldn’t be any problems with getting the angles right. All rivets are very fine. In fact, compared to photos of the actual machine, they look a little too fine. The walls have reinforcement frames moulded on, again with very fine rivet work which matches what’s on the outside. Wood grain on the floor is very fine. There is no engine detail apart from the sump though the bonnet top (inside the drive’s cab) could be shown open. The rubber tyres are very well done. Everything under the floor is very well detailed and all there. The interior is very well equipped with two different radios, superb swivel seats complete with lap straps, desk lamps on the main desk and on the wall, drawer and cupboard units. The driver’s cab is fully equipped. In fact the only thing missing is the top of the engine which I’ve already mentioned. A sunshade on the left side can be modelled deployed with some very fine frame work topped off with some thin rice paper to represent the canvas shade itself. Printed maps on the same paper are also supplied.
You may think that with all of the interior detail in the Dorchester that most of it will be hidden, but with three doors and roof lights open there should be no reason to hide it all away. Of course, if you want a speedier build you could model it closed up and have a relatively quick build of an impressive, if somewhat ungainly, beast.
There are no building options apart from open or closed doors and alternative colour schemes/decals.
No crew figures are supplied. It would have been nice if some external furniture was supplied to go under the sunshade – tables, chairs, etc – but I’m sure some figure sets will come along soon to populate this vehicle.
The instructions are presented as a 16-page, A4 stapled black and white booklet. on page 3 we have a potted and illustrated history of the Dorchester which is a nice touch. Each step is illustrated in a logical order with beautifully clear and large line drawings. There are 24 steps in the construction process and I can’t imagine many problems being encountered although some of the steps are quite dense - though easy to understand - with many small parts to be added. However, there are two strange things about the instructions. The build stops at step 24 which is followed by another step 22! In this additional step 22, the wheels have magically appeared under the body shell. There is no advice anywhere about where or how the chassis is introduced to the body.
I have already posted the instructions here if you want to refer to them:
As you might imagine the build starts at the bottom. No surprise there. We start with the engine sump to which is added the gearbox which is built from 11 parts. In between the two is a chassis sub-frame. As I mentioned above, the engine above the sump is not included. It forms, in fact, a structural element at the front of the chassis because it sits on a false floor plate that slots into the two main chassis rails. Rear brake servos and a box (the LP charging unit) between the rails completes the basic chassis in steps 1 and 2. In step 3 the suspension leaf springs and their mounts are fixed on the chassis along with a strange cylinder with a sphere on the end. I have no idea what this is. Step 4 details the construction of the front and rear transaxles, the transfer case and the drive shafts. The front brake servos then go onto the front axle in step 5. The final step in completing the chassis is to build the brake drums, add wheels and tyres, add the exhaust system and a further drive shaft from the transfer case to the front axle. There is no facility mentioned in the instructions for making the front wheels ‘steerable’, though looking at the parts it appears that it might be possible. I think they can certainly be posed, and with some carefull pinning it might be possible to make them workable. Apart from a lack of clarity about the last point, all very simple so far.
Now we can start the fun part of the build – the ‘office’. The first thing to do in step 6 is to drill out a couple of holes under the main floor. A rack for flimsy cans is folded from photo-etch before four flimsies (with separate tops and handles) are stowed away.
A lot of items have to be added to the right wall before it is attached to the floor in step 7. These include a complete cupboard unit at the rear over the wheel arch and small items of equipment. A large box goes under the left side floor and half of the rear wall is added, ensuring that the right wall stays at right-angles. Be aware that holes have to be drilled in the two walls before assembling them.
Step 8 has some painting guidelines and suggests that the floor and walls are painted dark sea grey. I find this a bit strange as it would make for a very gloomy interior. Looking at photos of preserved examples, it would appear that the floor was natural wood and the walls above desk level were white. I know we can’t always rely on museum examples for accuracy, but this seems more plausible to me.
For their research, AFV Club used the vehicles at IWM Duxford and at the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford Forum. My interior colour suggestions above are based on the Royal Signals vehicle (references below).
Returning to step 8, the no.19 radio set from the Valentine kit (included) is added as is the main table with its two rather delicate desk lamps. Maybe these are best left off until the interior is buttoned up. Five individual swivel chairs are made up from seven parts each. They look quite comfy and could have come straight from the Dorchester Hotel! They each have laps straps moulded on. These round off step 9.
In steps 10 through to 12 the interior of the ‘office’ is completed with a co-driver’s seat and a further set of cupboards on the left side. The No.11 radio from the Valentine kit sits on top of the cupboard on this side. The wall and the second part of the rear panel are then attached to the floor. For the amount of detail involved here, all of the steps so far have been very straight-forward.
We move up to the drive’s cab in step 13. The floor and bonnet are moulded as one and the first parts to add are underneath the floor are - wheel well walls. Steering column, separate foot pedals (not the usual blobs moulded into the floor), are all added to the floor before the bulkhead is attached along with the dashboard. On the front of the bulkhead, a Matador cowl is supplied into which two etch grilles have to be carefully glued. Here the instructions tell you to add the grilles to the inside face. This is WRONG as they should go on the outside so that the bracing bars are behind the grille. Step 14 adds the driver’s hand levers, the bonnet top and another seat on the left. In step 15 the bulkhead between cab and office is introduced before we build the armoured nose in step 16. Here the suggested colour is khaki green for the cab interior and silver for both sides of the bulkhead. The preserved Royal Signal’s vehicle is silver overall so, once again, I would tend to agree with this and not the instructions. However, I’m no expert so make your own choice. I would be interested to hear from anyone who might ctually know what the interior colours might be.
In step 17 the completed cab and nose are slid into and attached to the front of the ‘office’. The cab can then be completed in the next two steps by adding the driver’s front panel. However, before doing this I’d be tempted to deviate from the instructions a little here because window boxes and shelves have to be added to the rear of the panel. This will be easier to work on separately before gluing the panel in place as suggested in step 18.
In step 20 the mudguards are completed, bracing bars added across the corners, headlights, indicators, AoS sign holder and hooks are added to the nose. On the left side of the body you are given parts to build an erected sunscreen. There is no option for a stowed screen, so if you want to go this way, you will have to duplicate the stowed screen on the other side of the vehicle. To this end, part D17 is a roller from which the screen has been unfurled. It would have been nice if part D15 (the right-side roller with the shade rolled up) had been duplicated. I digress. Once the frame is built, rice paper has been supplied for the canvas screen which will have to be trimmed and glued in place on the frame. All of this will be very delicate so it is probably wiser to leave this until the very end. The left-side door is also added with the suggestion in the instructions that it should be positioned open. One omission are the tools carried on the back panel. All of the clips are there and the tools are represented on the colour scheme drawings and the box art, but they are not mentioned in the instructions. However, all of them are present on the Valentine sprue.
The details on the rear of the vehicle are added in step 21 – various handles, a step, formation sign holders, aerial and hooks. The stowed sunscreen poles are added to the right side. In step 22 the right-side door is added plus some final detail on the rear. The roof is made from numerous parts. We have the basic panel in step 23 to which are added five smaller panels to the underside, three with openings in them. Although it doesn’t say so, all of this is tinted in the instructions which suggests that the inside of the roof is painted dark sea grey like the walls of the ‘office’. Flip the roof over and three glazed panels are added on top of which are metal covers. These, of course, can all be shown open which will let more light inside to show off all the detail you’ve just been working on. Also on the roof are two ventilators and two more aerial mounts. Suggestions as to how long the aerials should be can be found in the last step.
Three jerrycans are included, two with WD marks and the third marked with 20L. A long-neck spout is included and also on the sprue, though not in the instructions, is a fuel funnel. These are extras with no suggestions about how to stow them. That completes step 24.
The instructions have been numbered incorrectly because the next step is 22! Mysteriously, the chassis has now been attached to the body without any intermediate steps. Let’s hope it is a straight-forward operation. It looks like these instructions were completed in a hurry because there are mistakes at the end. The final elements of the build are to add the roof to the ‘office’ and fold the etch stowage racks before adding them to the roof.
These cover three options which are in almost identical Caunter schemes with no.2 having a very slightly different pattern:
1. 3rd Armoured Brigade, 2nd Armoured Division, spring 1941
Caunter scheme, WD number L4426428 with a large number 5.
2. 2nd Armoured Brigade, Advanced HQ, spring 1941
Caunter scheme, WD number L4426425 with a large number 1.
3. 2nd Armoured Brigade, Advanced HQ, spring 1941
Caunter scheme, WD number L4426423 with a large number 3.
In 1.35 sale, and in plastic, the only other Dorchster comes from SKP who have recently released two kits without any interior details. Theirs has the option of a false nose, curved roof panels and louvres which suggests an HP version. However, there have been doubts expressed about its accuracy with the wheels being the wrong size and the overall dimensions being too large. Their second version is ‘Moritz’ operated by the Afrika Korps.
In resin there are examples from Cromwell Models and Panzer Resin Models. There is a build blog on this one here: panzerserra.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/aec-dorchester-armoured-command-vehicle.html and here: armorama.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=SquawkBox&file=index&req=viewtopic&topic_id=175752&page=1
All of the above have rivets which are way too oversized.
I love this kit. It is indeed a very fine kit. Compared to some other AFV Club kits, although most of the detail is there, the parts count isn’t too high especially considering the amount of interior detail, so it is not too daunting.
There are queries over some of the instructions which are lacking in the final steps. The suggestions for the interior colours are open to question. My main concern is the size of the rivets which seem to be too small to me. There are quite a few of them and it won’t be easy to replace them all so we’ll just have to live with it. At least they are not as over-sized as on the competition. The option of a second stowed sunshade on the left would have been nice. And the lack of tools at the rear is a strange omission.
AFV Club knock the competition into a cocked hate with the level of refinement and, from what I’ve read already on the internet, it clicks together very nicely, too.
The model for this review was kindly donated by AFV Club.
Wheels and Tracks magazine number 47
AEC Matador Taking the Rough wit the Smooth, Steve Richards, Ian Allan Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9563708-0-8
HP stowage drawings - these are confusing because they both show louvres for both LP and HP versions.
L4426482 (with Maskelyne nose, sun shield and black panels, though very faded)
L4426509 (HP with later long nose)
Royal Signals Museum Blandford Forum
Rommel’s Max: www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1YVrMwk2e0