AFV Club M109A2 Howitzer in-box review Feb 18, 2013 7:54:04 GMT -5
Post by mshackleton on Feb 18, 2013 7:54:04 GMT -5
AFV Club AF35109
Reviewed by Mike Shackleton
The M109 was the medium variant of a U.S. programme to adopt a common chassis for self-propelled artillery units. The light version, the 105 mm-armed M108 Howitzer, was phased out during the Vietnam War, but many were rebuilt as M109s.
The M109 saw its combat debut in Vietnam. Israel used the M109 against Egypt in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and in both the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon Wars. Iran used them in the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s. The M109 saw service with the British, the Egyptian and Saudi Arabian Armies in the 1991 Gulf War. The M109 also saw service with the U.S. Army in the Gulf War, as well as in the Iraq War from 2003 until their withdrawal.
The 155 mm M109 series, are highly mobile combat support weapons. They have a range of 220 miles at speeds up to 35 mph. Combat loaded, the M109 series weighs 27.5 tons. The M109A2/A3/A4 howitzers uses M185 cannon and achieves a range of 23,500 metres. The later replacement of the 23-calibre long barrel with the M284 cannon 39-calibre barrel on the M109A5/A6 increased the range capability to 30,000 metres. The 155 mm projectile weights 98 pounds.
The vehicle provides armoured combat support, is air transportable, internally loaded, and has excellent ground mobility. It allows firing in a 360 degree arc. The system is capable of both direct (line of sight) and indirect (out of the line of sight) firing.
The M109 has a crew of six: the section chief (commander), the driver, the gunner, the assistant gunner and two ammunition handlers. The gunner aims the cannon left or right (deflection), the assistant gunner aims the canon up and down (quadrant). The latest version, the M109A6 Paladin needs only a crew of four: the commander, driver, gunner and ammunition loader.
The basic variants up to M109A2 are:
First produced in 1963, with 155 mm M126 gun in the M127 Howitzer Mount, 28 rounds of 155 mm were carried. Also armed with a .50 cal M2HB machine gun mounted.
M109A1 and M109A1B
Replaced M126 with longer barreled M126A1 gun for greater effective range. Same M127 mount and ammunition amounts carried. A more recent model, intended for export, incorporated more recent improvements into a new production M109A1. These were designated M109A1B.
The M109A2 was a new production weapon which incorporated 27 mid-life improvements to the M109A1. The improvements provide for increased reliability, availability and maintainability (RAM) and safety characteristics as well as enhanced operational capabilities.
Major changes from the M109A1 included a redesigned rammer and improved recoil mechanism, engine operation warning devices, a redesigned hatch and door latches, an improved hydraulic system and a bustle designed to carry an additional 22 rounds of ammunition.
The M109A2 has the long-tube M185 cannon installed in the M178 gun mount. The cab has a rear bustle rack which provides an increased ammunition stowage capacity. It has an all-weather ballistic shield mounted over the panoramic telescope, counter-balanced travel lock and provisions for mounting the M140 alignment device. It entered production at BMY Combat Systems in 1978, with first deliveries made early in 1979.
Rebuilds of earlier M109s to A2 standard were also re-designated as follows:
M109A3 and M109A3B: M109A1s and M109A1Bs rebuilt to M109A2 standard respectively.
M109A4: M109A2s and M109A3s improved with nuclear, biological, and chemical/reliability, availability, and maintainability (NBC/RAM) improvements, including air purifiers, heaters, and mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear.
Users include or have included: Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tunisia, UK and USA. More than 7,000 machines have been produced.
Upon opening the box you are presented with fifteen sprues (including one clear) containing the majority of the parts. Also included are two vinyl tracks, polycaps, a small vinyl sprue, one very small brass fret, a decal sheet, thread for the tow cable and a turned aluminium barrel with spring and a brass sleeve. 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", 2 supplied. Road wheels, sprockets, idlers, torsion bars, idler mounts.
2. Sprue "B", 2 supplied. Small details including headlight mounts, hooks, tow clevises, small engine hatch.
3. Sprue "C". Commander’s hatch, roof sight, recoil spades, headlight shrouds, front engine hatches, cable reel.
4. Sprue "D". Gun mantlet parts, muzzle brake, breech parts.
5. Sprue "E". Upper hull sides, rear plate, front plate, part of top deck.
6. Sprue "F". Lower hull sides, hull floor, main hull top, two engine deck grilles.
7. Sprue "G". Clear sprue with driver’s periscopes, main sight window, roof periscope, light lenses.
8. Sprue "H". Vinyl front mudflaps and mantlet cover.
9. Sprue "O". Turret shell and base.
10. Sprue "P", 2 supplied. Stowage basket frames, jerrycans, assorted boxes.
11. Sprue "Q". Rear door, assorted hatches, gun travel lock, fume extractor, sighting poles, tools.
12. Sprue "X". .50 calibre tripod.
13. Sprue "Y". .50 calibre parts.
14. Turned aluminium gun barrel, collar, spring
15. Vinyl tracks.
17. Brass fret with only 2 parts – gun sight and exhaust net.
18. Thread for tow cable.
See 8 above.
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 and minor sink marks, 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. Ejector pin marks are blissfully free and when they do occur (and show) they will be easy to clean up.
The hull panels are all separate flat parts so it will pay to be careful when building the basic hull to get the angles correct. Most of the panels are at right angles so it shouldn’t cause many problems. All of the engine hatches, driver’s hatch, the rear door, turret doors and hatches are separate parts. However, there is no interior whatsoever apart from a very detailed gun breech and whatever handles or boxes happen to be on the insides of doors and hatches so they can be posed open. The hinged main engine deck grille has detail on both sides. Of course, this all cries out for the after-market guys to come up with some nice engine and interior sets for this kit.
The suspension is equipped with torsion bars so it can be made operable, or easily posed on a groundwork base. All wheels rotate thanks to polycaps which will also make painting tyres and the hull sides that much easier.
The gun barrel is a work of art in turned aluminium, brass, spring and plastic (muzzle brake and fume extractor) and is probably worth the price of the kit alone. It would be if it came from an after-market company!
The instructions are quite dense in places and some careful study beforehand might be wise. There are no building options apart from open or closed doors, recoil spades up or down and four alternative colour schemes/decals.
No crew figures are supplied.
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 M109 in it’s different versions which is a nice touch. Each construction step is illustrated in a logical order with beautifully clear and large line drawings. There are 31 steps in the construction process and I can’t imagine many problems being encountered although some of the steps are quite dense - as mentioned above - with many small parts to be added. Small reference photos of relevant parts of the vehicle are provided here and there of the real thing for clarity.
I have already posted the instructions here if you want to refer to them:
The build starts with a warning because two tiny triangular pieces need to added to the bottom of the hull floor. The bottom is fully detailed and has some nice welds on each of the torsion bar mounts. Flipping the floor over, anchor points for the torsion bars have to be glued along the centre-line of the floor. That is step 1.
Step 2 is a lot more involved and starts with building the hull tub. Each side is a separate panel so I suggest cleaning up all four sides in readiness. The floor and inside face of the rear wall have some small ejector pins which you might want to clean off. Start with the rear wall, then each side and the nose. Then the sponson floors and sides can be added. Once the tub is built, the sprocket’s transmission housings and main suspension torsion bars are added.
All of the wheels are put together in step 3. The road wheels have quite a lot of ejector marks on their inside faces which have to be cleaned up. All wheels have polycaps which are trapped inside. The sprockets are just two parts each and the fourteen road wheels and two idlers are each made from two halves. The rims have distinct overlaps which would be impossible to capture if the wheels were moulded in one piece. This means that some clean up will be required around the tyre to get rid of the joint. In step 4, the completed wheels are simply slid onto their axles thanks to the polycaps. Step 5 completes the structural part of the hull build by adding the floor with its very large turret ring and the driver’s hatch, and two engine deck panels.
Detailing the hull starts in step 6. Here we have five separate hatches for access to the engine and transmission. The four small hatches at the front have two small hinge mounts each which have to be added. After this the hatches can be added to cover the cavernous hole underneath. In step 7, the headlights, headlight shrouds, front tow hooks and small vinyl mud flaps are added.
The largest part in step 8 is the opening part of the engine deck. This is detailed on both sides and has a hinge bar across its rear edge that also extends across the back of the neighbouring fixed grille. This hatch needs five small hinge brackets adding to it so be careful if you want it to remain operable, which it is designed to be. In the same step, the driver’s periscopes are added which each have separate blast doors which can be posed open or closed. The driver’s hatch can also be added closed or swung open.
The gun travel lock goes together next in step 9. If you want to show the gun itself locked down, then you should leave off the two parts that make the top of the clamp for the time being. When the gun is in use, the clamp rests backwards on the engine decking. Neither of these points are mentioned in the instructions as an option. This completes the front of the hull.
Now we turn our attention to the rear plate and the rear door itself. Step 10 shows how to add a locking mechanism to the inside face and a cable reel and locking handle to the outside. In the next two steps, a tow hook, lifting hooks and the idler mounts are attached before adding the idlers themselves.
Recoil spades are built in stages 13 and 14. This is where the only distracting sink marks in the kit can be found on the inside faces of the spades themselves. Carefully fill them and they will soon disappear. The spades are just three parts each. They are each hinged inside fairly delicate mountings which are in two halves and will need to be cleaned up after gluing to eradicate the joint. Once the spades are in place on the hull, anchor spikes can be clipped on (not glued if you want them operable) and you have a choice of adding a tow clevis or tow hook to the towing eye between the spade arms. All of these just clip on without the need for glue. In step 15, the hull is completed by adding rear lights, rear mudguards and the vinyl tracks – no messing about with individual links in this kit ythak goodness. The tracks themselves are very well detailed on both sides but you do have to live with a joint line on the connectors on the outside edges. The real tracks also have a distinctive sag on the top run, but they only tend to touch the tops of the third and fourth wheels where they could be glued in place. Check your references. Of course, you won’t be able to roll your model around the floor if you do this, so maybe it’s not such a good idea!
Now we move to the business end. We start with the gun mount in step 16 and add three recuperator and recoil cylinders and an armoured offset periscope (I think!) to the curved rotor shield. Step 17 details this magnificent gun. A brass sleeve with a plastic ring attached is fixed into the recuperator assembly. The turned barrel has a fine groove machined along the top edge. The instructions advice masking off a 6 mm band around the the barrel at the end of this groove which you do not paint! If fact, this band is also very finely machined in!! The gun is now slid into the brass tube and it is retained in place by two collars D18 and D19. The fume extractor is in two halves and the absoutely humungous muzzle brake comes in three parts all snuggled around the aluminium barrel. Magnificent.
The circular rotor shield is completed in step 18 with the inside of the recuperator cylinders mount and the breech block which is also incredibly detailed. The locking teeth on the inside of the breech ring and on the breech lock are each made from four separate plates with the ‘teeth’ moulded in. The breech lock is hinged so this detail doesn’t remain hidden away. Although the gun can be made to recoil thanks to the spring, please note that the breech does not recoil with it. However, if part D3 is not glued to D22, I see no reason why it can’t be made to work. The rotor shield has more details added in step 19 before the trunnion mounts are added either side in step 20. The completed gun can then be mounted onto the turret base before the turret top and rear walls are added.
Detail can now be added to the outside of the turret in step 21. This starts with reinforcing strips around the gun opening, lifting hooks and rings, an aerial base, small roof hatch and a track assembly tool. The track assembly tool is particularly nice as it is not just a nice piece in itself, but the strap is moulded on complete with tie down loops at the end. Be careful not to cut them off when trimming from the sprue. The left-side turret door is detailed with a box and locking handle on the inside before being hinged to the turret wall.
The panoramic telescope in its armoured housing on the roof is next up in step 22. Paint instructions are given for the interior of this device because this has to carried out before the body halves are glued together and the window added which has to be tinted green (with a suitable clear colour). The complete telescope is rotatable when in position.
On the back of the turret is a simple rectangular bustle which houses some of the ammunition. Steps 23 and 24 show us how to put this together from four separate walls and a beautifully moulded insert that represents the tubes in which the shells are kept. The walls of the tubes are very fine but the piece is only a few millimetres deep so it lacks depth. Are these the ends of the shells inside the tubes? I don’t know. If they are, then they need more detail. Either side of the bustle are two stowage baskets. These are each made from four individual horizontal bars and three vertical bars. I would suggest cleaning up the mould seams while they are still attached to the sprues, with final clean up when they are assembled. A call-sign holder is added on the left basket side.
The problem of the exposed ammunition stowage can be solved by having the doors closed which is taken care of in step 25. Locking mechanisms and a supplementary door are added. Boxes are then added to the rear of each turret basket. In step 26, the right side turret door can be added, detailed in the same way as its opposite number. Jerrycan holders, jerrycans and tools are also added, the tools having the same moulded-on straps and tie hoops as mentioned before. Step 27 deals with the equipment fitted to the roof which includes shovels, tow cable, crowbars, sighting poles and hammer amongst other ‘stuff’. A canvas cover over the mantlet is done in vinyl, like the mud flaps in step 7.
The last three steps take us through the build of the .50 cal machine gun mounted to the commander’s hatch ring. A folded tripod is added to the roof, the turret swivelled on and a 5 cm long aerial from stretched sprue (or whatever you prefer) is added and the build is complete! Almost!! One last thing is a stand-alone collimator aiming device on its own tripod which has it’s own cylindrical carry case.
These cover four options but none of them give any dates, units or whereabouts.
1. Egyptian Army in Sand.
2. Portuguese Army in Olive Drab. Serial MX-20-64.
3. US Army in NATO colours of Bronze Green/Leather Brown/Tar Black. VI/11CAV, HOW 18.
4. US Army in MERDC colours of Yellow/Sandy Brown/Green/Black. I(triangle)I-22-F, C-41, COBRAS with a snake on the turret.
In 1.35 sale, M109 has been tackled many times. Indeed, I remember building a Nichimo one about 40 years ago. Enough said about that.
Many versions are available and most are listed here: www.scalemates.com/search.php?q=m109§ion=&qs=Search. From the same link there are 21 walkarounds of various types of M109.
I’ll stick to telling you about M109A2 alternatives. In recent years the one to have has been the Italeri’s M109A2 (kit no. 246) which dates back to 1983. This has been updated several times over the years into more modern versions up to and including M109A6 Paladin.
Recently, a new company called Kinetic have produced a completely new A2 kit (which includes British Operation Granby markings). This kit is reviewed here: www.panzer-modell.de/ausgepackt/archiv/kinetic/61006.htm
At one time, Warriors did a resin set for the turret interior (WAMW006) which was designed for the Italeri kit:
They also did a Detail and Accessory set (WAMW007) and a Lower Fighting Compartment set (WAMW011).
Just like the Dorchester which I’ve just reviewed, I love this kit and the same kind of comments apply. Compared to some other AFV Club kits, although most of the detail is there, the parts count isn’t too high, so it is not too daunting. Production values are high. Detail is high. Apart from lacking an interior – which would have sent the price sky-high – I have no complaints at all. A very fine kit indeed.
AFV Club only have Kinetic to compete with and from the views of M109 fans that I’ve read recently on the internet, AFV Club has the better product and it is far better than the old Italeri kit, good though it was for its time.
The model for this review was kindly donated by AFV Club.
M108-M109-M109A1/A2, Warmachines No.1, Verlinden Publications
US Mechanized Firepower Today, Tanks Illustrated No.26, Arms & Armour Press, ISBN 0-85368-732-3
Self-Propelled Howitzers, Tanks Illustrated No.18, Arms & Armour Press, ISBN 0-85368-765-X
Sheridan: A History of the American Light Tank Volume 2, RP Hunnicutt, Presidio, ISBN 0-89141-570-X
British use: arcaneafvs.com/m109.html
M109 to A2/Comparison with Italeri: www.network54.com/Forum/47209/thread/1358807827/AFV+1-35+M109A2