Asuka 75mm M4A3 Sherman: Okinawa

I’m new to the PTO scene and the Sherman field mods there is so fascinating. I’ve changed my mind multiple times on what I want to build for the Sherman contest – Tawara, Iwo Jima and Okinawa tanks are visually quite different. In the end I chose a photo build of an Okinawa tank from the Son of Sherman book, which is a bit less work than the elaborate mods in Iwo Jima, but still looks awesome. I’ve been scavenging parts for PTO builds, in particular figures seem hard to come by, but the tank I’m building just needs a lot of track armor and some minor scratch building.

The interesting thing about this vehicle is that the hull is considerably lighter color than the turret. Speaking with folks the prevalent theory is that the tank drove through very murky rivers or the mud and slough were so great that the limestone-based soil kicked all over the hull. The very distinctive look was what gave me a bit more affinity to Okinawa tanks.

I asked around and Asuka’s M4A3 75mm “Cougar” is a good kit to base this on.

When I started the build the kit was still being shipped from Japan, so I started on the Bronco tracks. The system is pretty self-explanatory, and I use a piece of masking tape to keep the pieces in place for assembly. It isn’t too troublesome, but keeping it workable with carefully glued pieces isn’t something I’m good at, so to have the track movable I have to eventually resort to heating and bending. The duckbills is another tedium but there aren’t duckbilled T54E1 tracks around so you live with it.

There has been a lot of Asuka build blogs so I’ll fast forward through most of the constructions. From a couple of other references the vehicle appears to be using open spoke wheels with level return roller arms. I chose to paint the parts first before assembling the full bogie. The return rollers are in Tamiya’s OD and not black, while the other parts had a layer of LifeColor’s weathered OD on top.

This is so that I can paint the wheels separately. This Voyager wheel template has been a good investment, although the circle here was meant for Dragon’s VVSS, it fits Asuka’s perfectly as well.
Being new to Asuka I didn’t realize they don’t offer non-PE periscope guards and their plastic guards are sold separately. I was influenced by something I had read elsewhere that PE periscope guards aren’t exactly accurate since they are really bent rods (plus they’re a chore to work with), so I temporarily commandeered Ryefield Firefly’s guards and wait for the Asuka guards on order.
The rest of the vehicle was standard fair. The Meng kit offered a jig to bend the three Sherman guards, and it mostly works for Asuka’s as well.
I also did the cast texture with Mr Surfacer roughened up and sanded down.
For this Sherman there is a special MG mounting bracket built in front of the right side of the commander’s cupola, and I scratched one.
The vision cupola hatch is one disappointment for me, it is molded closed whereas the Meng kit had it be open/close. The photos I saw with open hatched Shermans all have the periscope installed, so I needed to make that happen. Fortunately Asuka has periscope cover D11 spares, so I hacked out the molded cover and added back a styrene sheet.
Then I hacked up a periscope piece into two parts and glued them onto each end of the sheet, put D11 on and it’s done.
The 6th battalion Shermans all have some make-shift applique armor installed using welded metal boards. Fortunately there was an aerial shot of a submerged Sherman that tells what they look like.
Then goes the first layer of Tamiya Olive Drab followed by LifeColor UA005. I did a bit of lacquer thinner chipping before applying filters.
6th Battalion shermans have metal beams welded to the bogies, so before I attempt those I needed to weather the lower hull and install the tracks. Because these Shermans were caked in mud, I used Tamiya’s Brown diorama paste to build volume.

The paste is easy to work with – easier than vallejo’’s mud paste because they don’t stick to everything. The paste has coarse grains so they needed to be followed up with pigments or else they look terrible in this context. The grains however are difficult to remove from the brush so you are probably not going to use that brush for anything else.

I then installed the bogies and run the track across. The Bronco tracks were undersized; despite the official track length is 83, it needed something close to 85 even with the minimum track tension. I found a good way to get the tracks together by gluing top and bottom halves of track pieces on respective ends. The duckbills came off all the time however. In the photos below I haven’t yet weathered the bogies so this looks a little toy-like.

Another major piece of work is the spare track armor, and the 6th Battalion Shermans are full of them. So it’s back to grunt track assembly. The one thing you have to DIY here are the exposed track pins that were not attached to any cuffs. With these Bronco tracks I made them by clipping segments off the pin pieces. Patience is needed… The pins are a little undersized but it served the purpose. I will do this again and use Panda tracks instead. I held off on buying Panda because they charged $9 shipping on each item you bought… but that’d have been worth the time I spent on this.

The pins are deliberately made long so that I can later clip them to the correct length in one go. I know these pins have notches at the end thanks to the earlier discussion from Paul, I am going to create them with some quick filing.
These Shermans also had hybrid track types for spares, both T54E1 and T49 were used. To keep everything on the same scale I used the Bronco T49 tracks here as well. After a full weekend I got them ready.

I’m doing the HQ vehicle using Star Decals’ Okinawa set. The film is a bit thick and I worried about it’s conformance on the curved turret she’ll with the bumpy cast texture. Good thing I have enough decal solution types to try… Eventually micro all did a reasonable job but Humbrol decal fix did the best on these films. I lightly sanded the edges of the decals to blend them better to the model surface.

Kudos to the Star Decals’ research in this case as I missed the back turret markings in the original photo.

The tools are painted and I got the Alliance works’ PE tie downs on them. They are good if a bit short. I blackened them before painting them, thinking it’s a good way to prime.

The reference photo had a more or less empty rack in the back, which showed the straps. I added some handles for the straps from a Voyager PE set.
6th Battalion Sherman had these metal bar welded to the bogies to discourage the enemy from shoving stuff into it, I guess like DIY slate armor… In the reference it was shown they were something like an uneven I-beam. I made them out of styrene stock.
Before I install them I needed to weather the bogies. I’m experimenting with building up pigments to stimulate thick mud, by applying fixers using capillary action.
I paint a base coat of dark steel color on the metal beams before installing them. Photos showed some tanks had 3 beams on each side and some had 2. The HQ vehicle I’m modeling had 3, fortunately one length of Evergreen stock took care of that.
initially I tried to run quick setting glue to set them in place, but super glue gave a better bind since the bogie surfaces wasn’t touching the beams well. The beams were often slightly dented so I bent the beams a bit before installing. I’ll have to put some heavy mud on them in later stages of weathering.
The back I was trying to replicate. There were tie-down loops at the horizontal plate as well.

This is a good time to talk about my references. I’m trying to build this vehicle, which I’m guessing it matches the Star Decals’ Okinawa set “B Company 2nd Platoon, Company HQ” markings.

There is another image of this tank.
But I couldn’t find its front, back and right, so I’m using other vehicles in the series to fill in those details. I like this front which had a combination of T49 tracks, sandbags and a 50 cal ammo can.
On the left side I like this photo, where I’m also taking some inspiration of a half-empty rear storage rack that I can get some straps on.

One peculiar thing about Okinawa Sherman is that their rear half is significantly lighter than the turret and the front. After asking around, the consensus is that those are serious mud splashes, as Okinawa’s terrain is very muddy with rain, evening out the splashes. I studied some colored film footage of those Sherman and was able to grab a few screen captures, which became valuable color references for how these vehicles looked.

Back to my model, I splashed Ammo’s Dry Steppe and Thick Soil onto the rear half, wanted to do that before installing the spare tracks to avoid mess.
Thanks to Herve’s tip I added more grab handles on the rear storage rack, here I just show the very nice Voyager handle set, it has a little PE jig included so that you can easily bend the handle to shape.

I realized I should probably further weather the “slate armor” around the bogies before I install the tracks. I wanted to a bit of chipping on these beams, so I brushed some AK worn effects on and later an MMP mix of a mud color, chipped it some. If you look at the reference, the Company HQ tank has heavy mud deposited around the bogies and between the beams, more significantly it seems to have what seems rags or vegetation hanging from those beams. I accidentally achieved the effect using Vallejo crushed grass paste. The green grass color isn’t quite right, so I added some Vallejo dry soil paste in. I’ll add some pigments later to harmonize the beams with the bogies.

I could now finally add the spare tracks on. Most vehicles in the Okinawa footage showed them not installing tracks on the make-shift applique armor, but the photo I’m building has them. You can tell the marking was showing underneath the spare track on top. Anyway I’m happy that I’m getting closer to the finish line with these guys on. I weather them a bit with some rust washes to give them some colors, will add pigments later.

Tank crew put varying amounts of sandbags on Okinawa Shermans. Before I started that work I installed the spare tracks onto the turret. Should’ve known this but the track lengths on the left and right sides are not equal because of the port on the left. Hence I had to make another length of 11 for the right side (vs. 8 for the right).

Onto the sandbags. I know the simplest way to make them would be to use epoxy putty and shape. However it is quite difficult to create an in-scale “snout” where you tied the bag with putty alone. After doing a bit of search I found this Youtube video in Russian https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa8QTq890No&list=PLbMJvGGXVyK5cjEAH-rV5wdl158Z4hFaG&index=50&t=0s where the modeler was using plasticine as core and then wrap some cloth tape around it, which allows you to tie a knot to create a very nice in-scale snout. So I began to experiment with this idea. I don’t have whatever he has, but I have Kneadatite putty and Play Doh to choose from. Play Doh doesn’t harden for a long time so I thought it might give the sandbag more malleability and fit, but in the end I decided to go with Kneadatite since it is harder and holds its shape better. I also don’t have his cloth tape which looked really great as it has that texture, but I have some first aid fibre tape. Here was the first batch of bags I created from this set up.

It turned out they were too big.
They were a bit tedious to make and it was a bit of a chore to make them conform to the model surfaces. The tape has a very coarse texture which I’m not sure was appropriate.
I made 3 rounds of them because they were still too big compared with the reference photos. After getting that done I had to varnish them with whiteglue to smooth out the texture.
I base coated the sandbags with different shades of browns including Tamiya deck tan, buff and each with dark yellow mixed.
On the rear storage rack I placed a single jerry can as per the reference photo, but otherwise let the straps hung loose. These straps were from Alliance model works’ tie down set, and I annealed them for malleability.
The engine deck was hard to figure out from the side profile, so I made a best guess layout of various items. The tank is on standby so the items were scattered loose by the crew.
I spent a day applying OPR on the mud splatters in the back and the metal bars, as well as the sandbags. Without rendering them, the sandbags were too plain and I was a bit disappointed at how they came out. But with some oil they came to life somewhat.
From the reference photos the mud were sliding down the side of the hull in a way that is different that how you do streaks. So I used some Ammo heavy mud of various shades to get the basic drips, then sponged them to create small splatters, finished with some oils to give different shades.
I always have some level of angst handling tow cables, especially when they are not copper :-/ I got a few of these ETO model’s Sherman tow cable set and wanted to use them up. But they are steel and while they maintain their natural curve, it’s more difficult to make them conform when you need them to. I wonder if anyone has tips to get these cables into the hole, here the resin tow cable eyes have deep enough holes, but it was hard to push the cable into it without it flaying.
Asuka is missing a tow cable anchor on the front. I regretted adding them so late in the process but it was pretty glaring an omission.
On the reference vehicle the tow cable was secured with quick release pins (which seems to be the case for Okinawa Shermans), which was not available on Asuka kits. This seems like a hard part to source, I almost took the one from Mengs Jumbo but decided I’ll fudge it with parts from Dragon.
The other end of the tow cable eye was secured to the engine deck via tie downs.
Asuka doesn’t have the bent antenna part so I went for my Voyager set, which has a spring in the middle. The Voyager set also comes with the antenna, but they’re a bit bent but I managed to straighten them with some hard pulling on both ends. To keep the antenna at a bent position, I inserted a piece of brass wire inside the spring.
In the reference photo the crew tied down the antenna with some material that wrapped around the machine gun rack.
The crew tossed sacks onto the deck. I tried different ways to make the straps, but in order for them to conform, Kneadlite was the best option I had.
These were tow shackles by TMD, which offered ones with lock pins. The reference photo had these cuffed to the engine deck handle.
It was hard to re-create the crew in the reference photo, but I wanted to capture the moment of temporary peace they have stationed at the Naha Airport. I did not have a lot of options unfortunately, as the crew were often shown in the USMC caps in photos but those figures were far and few. I managed to modify a resin one from Royal Models, and took a Panzer Art tank crew in sleeveless shirt.
I had some misgivings about the figures. The PanzerArt figure was excellent, but the other’s casting was not so great. Fortunately I managed to get some reasonable finish out of it. I like the very natural “slacker” pose with some attitude the modified figure has.

The base was done partially with Model Scene’s steppe mat with sculptamold for the road, inspired by a photo I saw of this platoon’s location at the Naha Airport area after capture which showed quite a bit of grass & rock landscape. The junction between the mat and the road was a bit hard to work as you can imagine, because the edge of the mat and the clay would look very jarring. So I spent some time smoothing that out. I also adjusted the color of the grass with some oblique spraying of Tamiya paint so that it doesn’t look so green.

In my reference photo there was a stockpile of cast shells on the side and I was originally prepared to create that. Now that the deadline has been extended I may just go ahead with that.

There were more detailing around the turret, as the reference photo was showing 3 helmets being hung on the back plus what seemed like .50 cal ammo belt hanging from the side. USMC helmets has these camo wrap around them, and they are not so common as accessories, so I commandeered some from a Dragon USMC figure set.

Using masking tape I tried to create the straps used to hang them.I wasn’t particularly happy with how they came out as they seemed too thick, so I may redo this.
I wasn’t particular happy with the tarp I chose for the engine deck’s stowage as they weren’t sitting on it flush, so I replaced it with a box.
The rest is final weathering with OPR and pigments.
I want to add cues to the scene that the Sherman is parked. So I added another Panzer Art USMC tank crew who had come down for a drink. This is a fun figure to paint with a 6-pack ab.
Then the helmets’ straps were redone with thinner straps, and a bit of washes and weathering on them to blend into the scene.

I then went over and did more weathering here and there, and this is about all I want to do for this build for now. The kit was more work than I expected but I learned quite a bit from the process, especially on how to work with pigments, as well as feeling more at ease at painting figures. I’m quite glad I built an Okinawa Sherman rather than the Iwo Jima ones that I originally planned, which seemed even more work.

1 comment

  1. Great diorama!

    My father (Joe Molloy) and his brother (Bill Molloy) served in the 6th Tank Battalion, Company A, on Okinawa. My father’s tank was Circle 3 and his brother’s was Circle 2.

    Your interpretation of the metal beams as I-beams is very close.The metal beams across the road wheels were sections of rails from the Japanese narrow gauge railroad that existed on Okinawa. Another perfect example of Marine tradition of scrounging and using anything they could find.

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