Panzer II Ausf. A/B/C (Sd.Kfz. 121)
Updated: Jun 8
I would like to address the elephant in the room. No! Not the German tank-destroyer Elefant, but rather why I am building a Panzer II to kick off this series instead of the Panzer I. Well, many years ago I built Tamiya's 1971 tooling of the Panzer II and now I have my hands on their 2008 new(ish)-tooling kit. I thought it would make for a slightly nostalgic build and a way for me to check how the state-of-modeling has changed. I also expect that a kit from 2008 should go together well, and probably won't have an insane number of bang-wow parts that some of the even newer kits have (looking at you full interior kits).
Editor's note: Choose your own content! Click here to be taken to the kit and build, or continue reading to learn about the tank's background.
A not-an-expert-so-don't-quote-me translation of German
As this is the first tank in my series, let's start with a quick lesson in German, and yes, I promise it will be useful as this series goes on. The full name of this vehicle is: Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung A/B/C (Sonderkraftfahrzeug 121) which loosely translates to the following:
Panzerkampfwagen: "panzer" (armor) + "kampf" (combat) + "wagen" (vehicle), or panzer for short.
"II": The second main panzer design.
Ausführung A/B/C: "Ausführung" (model) + the choice of specific sub-variant, designated by the letter "A/B/C", that this plastic kit can build into. I will be building the B sub-variant. Reader tip, capitalized letters denote production sub-variants and lowercase letters denote testing sub-variants. Therefore, "a" is different from "A" in panzer-speak.
Sonderkraftfahrzeug 121: "sonder" (special) + "kraft" (purpose) + "fahrzeug" (vehicle) and abbreviated Sd. Kfz. provided the ordnance inventory designation. In this case "121".
Wow, that was an unexpectedly large number of bytes put to disk. If you got lost in the bullet points, just know that I will be building the Panzer II Ausf. B (Sd. Kfz. 121).
Oh, a bonus phrase is what you want? Here's one: Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper which loosely means "farm tractor".
Farm tractor? What the heck does that have to do with panzers?
The Panzer II
In some ways the Panzer II should not have existed. After the defeat of Germany at the conclusion of World War I in 1918 and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany was forbidden from building armored vehicles for military use. Despite these treaty limitations, the German army continued the development of tanks during the interwar years under the cover of codenames describing the vehicles as landwirtschaftlicher schlepper (that's right, farm tractors and other such equipment!).
By 1934 production of the Panzer I had begun. This first light panzer was envisioned as a means to ready the German industrial base for future war and train soldiers in mechanized warfare. The real thrust of German armored divisions was to come from the future medium Panzer III and Panzer IVs. However, in 1934 it was realized that development and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV would take longer than expected and that a stopgap was needed. Enter the Panzer II.
As a stopgap, the Panzer II was meant to be put into production fast. In many ways, it was an evolution of the Panzer I and included a larger 20mm gun instead of two machine guns. The core design of the Panzer II was undertaken prior to the 1936 deployment, and subsequent experience, of the Panzer I in the Spanish Civil War. As such, the Panzer II was only designed with armor that could protect against machine gun fire and shell fragments.
The Panzer II formed the backbone of the German mechanized divisions at the start of the blitzkrieg invasions of Poland in September 1939 and France in May 1940. According to some sources, approximately 1,000 tanks were used for each campaign. Despite being outgunned and lacking in protection relative to their adversaries, Panzer IIs were able to utilize speed and tactics for great effect in these operations.
However, after the invasion of Russia in June 1941, it was clear that the Panzer II was no longer an effective main battle tank. First, Panzer III and Panzer IVs were available in large numbers and second, newer Soviet armor in the form of the KV-1 and T-34 were being encountered en masse.
Once withdrawn from front line service, many Panzer IIs were stripped down to their hulls. The turrets were sent to the Atlantic Wall for use in defensive bunkers and the chassis were rebuilt to mount larger guns for self-propelled artillery (Wespe) and tank-destroyers (Marder II). Production of the Panzer II was concluded in January 1944.
From what I can tell, the Panzer II was effective in its role as a stopgap tank. The onset of war came earlier than German industry was ready for. With limited quantities of the Panzer III and Panzer IV available for the opening campaigns of World War II, the German army successfully leaned on the Panzer II to achieve its initial strategic objectives. And if you're still not convinced, components of the tank proved useful enough to be repurposed into fortifications and subsequent families of vehicles.
To kick off my panzer series I opted to go with a relatively new-tool (2008) kit from Tamiya. For me, Tamiya represents a trusted name in the hobby and in fact, all of my armor builds from childhood were Tamiya. I was hoping that this kit would build up quickly and allow me to experiment on some of the painting and weathering aspects, namely pre-shading (never tried on a tank), rusting (never tried), and the use of pigments (what the heck are these)!
First, my apologies for not taking photos of the sprues. But from what I can recall, there was no noticeable flash or ejector pin marks. Detailing on the parts was also very well done and even includes nicely molded weld lines. The kit included "link and length" tracks, which aren't as [choose your adjective] "good"/"bad" as [choose your noun] "rubber band tracks"/"individual tracks". Rounding everything out were some very manageable photoetch muffler covers.
One thing that stood out to me in the newer tooling is that the hull did not have any internal support structure for the placement of batteries! Yes, batteries! I distinctly remember Tamiya's 1971 Panzer II hull having an area for batteries and an "on/off" switch that indicated a motor was available. Things like this aren't easily forgotten. After all, what's worse than a "toy" that doesn't come with batteries? It's a "toy" that doesn't come with the motor!
Plan of attack
My plan was to break this project into several large tasks.
Assemble the hull and superstructure. Assemble the turret in parallel.
Try pre-shading the tank and then lay down the base coat.
Add the decals and pin wash.
Assemble the tracks and experiment with rust effects.
Complete weathering with the use of pigments.
The assembly of this kit was fairly straightforward. I don't recall any major fit issues and my experience can be summed up by the following YouTuber parlance: "everything just clicked".
To avoid glue marks on the finished panzer, I attached the majority of the small accessories while everything was unpainted. The wheels and tracks were parked to the side because it would be easier to paint them separately and then attach them at the end.
As for the turret, I chose to build it fairly "closed up" because there was limited interior detail provided in the kit. In the process, I may have committed a modeling sin because I didn't even bother to paint the gun breech mechanism!
There is a lot to say about pre-shading and I think it will make for a good post in its own right. But in general, you want to give the tank a dark base coat (for Tamiya acrylics, XF-69 NATO Black is often used), and then fill in larger panels with white. These two steps will yield something that looks similar to a chessboard. Then you add thin layers of the final base coat color (I'm using Tamiya's XF-63 German Grey) until subtle variations in tone are created across the model.
Looking back at these photos I can say that 1) I need to clean up the white paint pattern, 2) thin my paint better, and 3) go a bit easier on the final base coat color. Overall, my execution here leaves some things to be desired. But hey, that's what half of the hobby is about: experimenting and honing skills. Pity that I will need to build another tank before I can practice pre-shading again :-)
Decals and pin washing
After the base coat was on, I went straight to applying a gloss coat of Pledge, slapped on the decals (I chose the numbers that came in yellow for some color pop), and applied another coat of Pledge to seal everything in. The nice thing about tanks is that they usually do not require many decals, and in 1/35 scale they are much easier to work with than the 1/700 scale decals I have been dealing with recently. I rounded out this phase of the project with a pin wash of Tamiya's Panel Line Accent Color in crevices and on some raised details.
Tracks and rust effects
Like the main kit assembly, the link and length tracks went together easily. Personally, I think they represent a nice compromise between individual track links and one piece rubber-band style tracks. They don't have an insane number of parts and they can still produce a nice "track sag".
After the track's initial assembly, I went ahead and painted them a metallic grey color. Then I started playing around with Vallejo's Rust, Stain & Streaking set. First I added the Light Rust Wash, and then I added a thinned down Dark Rust to random track sections.
When I had the tracks completed, I paused and took stock of how the overall build would look if I had rusty tracks and a "clean" hull. After realizing that this wouldn't feel right, I decided to give a go at chipping and rusting the rest of the tank. And because I had never done this before, I was lucky that Vallejo included an instruction sheet that details the process.
It was a time consuming effort and required a few different brush techniques. In the end I was happy with the results, but next time I might try for a more subtle and uneven look. Ultimately, much of this process comes down to the artistic eye of the modeler.
Over the years I have always read and heard about modelers using pigments, but I never quite understood what they are or how they are best used. Enter today's glorious internet and its abundance of information? Not exactly. I will give credit to the internet for telling me what they are: they are the ground up compounds that give paint color. But, after watching countless YouTube videos I was still confused as to the proper ways of using them because every modeler had their own preferred "can't go wrong technique". I watched all manner of applications ranging from straight dry application, dissolving in water, usage of "binders" or "fixers", and even paint thinners. It was an information overload. Honestly, the time had come for me to toss the computer aside and get my own hands dirty rather than continue to watch others do the same.
Here went nothing! For my first attempt at using pigments I wanted to achieve a dusty look. To that end, I decided to dissolve several different colors in their own mineral spirits. Then, using a brush, I dabbed the solution onto the model in areas that would naturally accumulate dust and dirt, namely the wheels, tracks, and lower hull. Editor's notes: Mineral spirits could be used because the model had already been sealed with a coat of acrylic-based Pledge Floor Gloss. When the pigments were still wet, they looked much darker than they did in their bottle. Don't worry about this, they will dry to their original lighter color.
I noticed that the pigments took an extremely long time to dry which must have been the result of using mineral spirits. Now remember, pigments are not paint, so by their own nature they will not bind to the model unless you force them to. This is a key property to bear in mind and it is what makes them such a flexible tool for experienced modelers. Because the pigments were not actually adhered to the model I was able to take a cotton bud and wipe away areas of excessive pigment buildup. Recall, I wanted a dust effect, not mud.
Once I had a look that I felt happy with, I added more pigments, straight from the bottle this time, to the upper surfaces of the tank with a dry brush. I found that this achieved a very subtle dusty effect. Bingo.
And with that, I think I can call a wrap!
I really enjoyed this project! The Tamiya kit went together easily and that allowed me to focus more time and effort on expanding my modeling skillset. Pre-shading my first tank, check. Rusting and chipping practice, check. Experimenting with pigments, check. Each of these new techniques will require honing:
My pre-shading can use more control during the highlight application as well as paying closer attention to the top layer paint opacity.
Rusting and chipping can be done to subtler effect and more unevenly.
I would like to experiment with using water and binders for future pigment application.
Overall, I am happy with the end result and the only thing left to discuss is which panzer to build next! Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,
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