Miniart M3 Lee Late

 I found inspiration to do another M3 Lee for the Sgt. Prouty Santa Claus vignette. Earlier I tried to do the scene with the Takom M3 Lee Late, got pretty far with it but the kit really left a lot to be desired and the project was suspended.

The MiniArt M3 Lee Late (35214) has been around for a while, and is the best Lee on the market to date. For this Late variant it was offered with no interior.

The photo was such a lovely one that I felt obliged to do one for the holidays. The vehicle “Buccaneer” is depicted visiting an orphanage at Perham Down, English on 5th Dec 1942. This is the original B&W, and later colorized.

Despite the multi-piece nature of the whole lower hull, the fit is perfect – and I don’t use that term lightly. I’m quite amazed at how well the differential cover fits for instance.
The tracks are workable. It resembles the Master Club type of tracks where the cuffs has knobs that are sandwiched between the rubber blocks. It’s a bit of work to clean up all of them as each has multiple gates connected, especially the cuffs. To ease handling to kept the cuffs attached in 4-somes.
I painted the cuffs a dark steel mix color and the rubber blocks XF-85. The assembly is a pretty good experience unlike the Bronco ones which drove me nuts. I kept the bottom block on masking tape, put the two cuffs on, put glue in the middle and sandwich.
The links stayed on pretty strongly after assembly. A tip here is for the last piece you can glue the bottom block on one side and top block on the other, linking them up at the end when you put them on the tank will be pretty easy.
The back around the engine compartment is pretty intricate with quite a few pieces of PEs involved. They aren’t going to be visible at the end. The air filters are better designed than Takom’s with easier assemblies for the hooks on the sides.
As I mentioned earlier the differential cover fitted really well. The side fenders also got on easily, but the contact points are rather subtle. It took a bit of figuring out to get all the pieces to fit together, but once they do they fit perfectly.
The superstructure was a bit more challenging, but it was simply orthogonal armor joints unlike the rather strange Takom 45 degrees junctions. There are 3 variants offered on the front left glacis, and from the read of the photo Buccaneer had one with the machine guns sticking out.
The outer shell of the superstructure is now more or less complete, and it’s time to decide what I want to do closing it up. First I should paint the interior before closing up, and second the 75mm gun is movable and makes accessing certain parts of the right front fender of the vehicle difficult, so it’d be best to leave it off until I have to.
With MiniArt we are looking at lots of PEs for attaching the OVMs, and is probably one of the most time consuming aspects of the build.

There are engravings on the kit surfaces so that the placement of PE is precise, but not so for many of the mounting brackets which will require you to position them carefully. The mounting brackets themselves are probably the not-so-great part of the kit, with oversized weld joints at the ends, and it’s a bit difficult to form it into shape for the belts to pass through. I should’ve used the Voyager handle set for this as it was better in both ways. The belts themselves are ok, but the Alliance Model Work’s version with buckets passing through the belts would look better even. MJ Miniatures has tie downs with molded brackets which I eventually remembered I bought, and used them on the axe, the mattock handle and the tow cable eyes, after some struggle with getting the PE version of the tie down on the crowbar. However MJ doesn’t have the double bracketed one for the shovel handle and crank, which appeared in Ammo’s 3D printed set for the Sherman. So I still had to mess with the PE belts, which after annealing worked ok.

Next the front lights have wiring that you have to improvise. I did that with 0.2mm drills and wires.
I bought the L/40 gun set from RB Models for this kit. The kit barrel is fine and rifled inside which was a pleasant surprise, but the edges are soft. That’s one disadvantage of MiniArt kits as they still aren’t as sharp as Dragon’s moldings, despite being quite close. Strangely the lengths are off for both guns in the RB set compared with the kit’s, with the kit L/40 gun longer and 37mm gun shorter.
I have a bunch of M4 Sherman light guards from MJ but sadly no M3 is offered yet. The PE in the kit is not bad to work with, and they have eyes at the bottom that will meet the bolts in the kit to give you secure footing. That’s really nice!
The tripods are somewhat complex in terms of PE bending. I didn’t want to anneal them as some rigidity is required, but that makes the belt not wanting to conform without some coercion.
The 37mm gun is long as I’ve mentioned, and the base of it extended further, so I needed to drill out the gun support completely. The RB gun also asks you to stick 2 tiny pieces of PEs on each side of the gun for details.
The kit’s M1919 MGs were not too great; you’ll need to drill out the nozzles and the details weren’t too sharp. I replaced them with RB’s. For some reason they’re completely out of stock for a while now, I hope they’ll come back soon! With them in place the turret is mostly complete. There is no mechanism in place to keep the turret attached to the vehicle, so you’ll have to glue them.
After getting white into the interior, I masked off the inside and painted the exterior using a bit of modulation. I used XF-27 as shadow coat, XF-62 as base and LifeColor Weathered Olive Drab and Faded Olive Drab as highlights.
A Mig interior wash to do some very elementary highlighting before closing it up.
Closed up the top of the superstructure after the OVMs painted. The fit is great again so not much to touch up after the assembly.
Next comes the decals. Takom’s decals are a little thick, so I varnished them after putting them on and lightly sanded the edges smooth after the varnish dried. This avoids unsightly visible edges when you weather.
There are a couple of boxes on the exterior, one on the glacis and one in front of the turret. In the photo the glacis box has some wires tied around them which I tried to reproduce. The box on top isn’t very visible but it also appeared to have at least one similar wire running through.
I didn’t take any shots on the running gear as it’s pretty standard, the main difference here with Takom’s is that the couple of supporting plates are separated whereas Takom’s are cast in the same piece. These were not too difficult to install, but the resultant seam lines were difficult to remove. This is perhaps the only thing the Takom kit did better. Since my vehicle had the bogies caked in mud the seam line wasn’t a huge issue.
The other thing I love about this kit is the very elaborate weathering on the tank – I guarantee this falls into one of those “overweathered” judgement for someone who hasn’t seen the photo! The running gears are all pretty heavily caked in dried mud (just look at the drive sprocket!)
While the photoed side armor showed considerable amount of oil spills, soot, dust and I still can’t figure out what exactly happened to the rear stowage boxes.

I underestimated how much work was required to do the figures. Anyway I started with the Santa, modifying a Masterbox PTO soldier which had the closest pose I could find. I went on to tweak the pose, lump Apoxy sculpt on him to bulk up a costume, and created lining and long beard for him.

I was very surprised by the nice effect I’ve gotten from a stabbing motion with #11 on his beard to create a realistic texture. The part I wasn’t happy with at the end was a lack of wrinkles in his suit. I was semi-rushing for the contest at that moment and though that the bulky costume didn’t need much wrinkles, but the blandness was hard to overlook in the final product. That’s probably the least refined part of the build.
I had amassed 5 children figures from various sets, modified their poses to be running and waving towards the crew. They’re underdressed for the weather really, but not too much as in the photo some orphans wore shorts. But they should’ve gotten overcoats though. Painting these 5 kids was a chore and picking colors for them was not easy – being orphans I put them in muted clothing colors, but there were only so many muted vallejo colors in my stash.
After painting them I stationed them on my usual recipe of a base. This time I used static grass with an electrostatic dispenser, worked really great! The positioning of the orphans took a bit of trial and error, in terms of composition one mistake I made was having two groups, the tank and the children, in separate clusters. I needed to move them closer to the tank so that they look connected.

I’d say this project was perhaps too ambitious given my current skill level with figures, the scene live and breath with it and while I thought the regular commander on top was done nicely with the Tamiya crew figure, the modified Santa needed more finesse, the orphans definitely needed more love. I really wanted to finish this by Christmas however. The finished gallery is in another post.

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