M3 Lee

Kit Used: Tamiya 1/35

Review & model by:
Paul Romans
Pictures: R. Forys

September 2005
Model of the Month

[The M3 Lee was an effort produce a heavy tank carrying a 75mm gun.]

Armament:   One 75mm w/50 rounds,
  One M6 37mm gun in turret , (178 rounds)
  and up to four .30 caliber machine guns
Crew:   Originally 8, but most typically 4 to 5
Weight:   30 tons
Engine:  Wright R975 9-cylinder air-cooled radial
  producing 340 net hp at 2400 rpm
Road Speed:  21 MPH
Cruising Range:  120 miles (max)
Entered Service:  1941

History:   American designers, alarmed at the advances in German armor in 1939, decided to build a heavy tank carrying a 75mm gun.   As this was too large to fit into any turret that the Americans could cast, they mounted it in a sponson on the right side of the tank.   Although this gun had limited traverse, it did give the tank a heavy punch, and left room for a 37mm gun in the turret.

[It was originally designed to carry a crew of 8 men.]

The M3 was a good design, featuring an air-cooled engine, good range, speed and firepower.   Its shortcomings became apparent early, but it was decided to build it as an interim measure until the M4 Sherman was produced.   The riveted construction meant that a direct hit would send rivets flying around the interior, not a popular feature.   It was originally designed to carry a crew of 8 men: Commander, turret gunner, turret loader, main gunner, main gun loader, driver, machine gunner, and radioman.   The interior was crowded before anyone even got in, but once fully manned, it was impossible to move around.   Most actual combat was done with only four or five men aboard.

[The M3's air-cooled engine performed well in the desert, but the tank's high profile was an issue.]

In North Africa, the 75mm gun was a surprise to the Germans, and the M3's air-cooled engine performed well in the desert, but the tank's high profile and relatively thin armor made it a good target, and the limited field of fire for the main weapon often hampered its effectiveness.   Overall, the M3 is well remembered, and a total of 4724 were made, but it was always recognized as a stopgap design, which held the line until better tanks could be built.

[A full-size wooden M-3 Lee.] [It took two years of work.]

A few years ago, my father wondered if he could build a full-size flexible tank track out of wood.   Once he'd figured that out, he needed a tank to go with it, so after two years of work, he wound up with a full-size replica of an M-3 Lee in his barn.   From a few feet away, the rough wood surface looks like cast iron, and it's a hoot to see him pulling a 30-ton tank down the road on a 3-ton double-axle trailer with a pickup truck.   (He's really freaked-out some semi-truck drivers.   One even pulled him over and demanded to know how the bleep he did it.   Dad told him there was a homemade anti-gravity generator in the tank.)   See article on this website:

[The Tamiya M3 Lee with Verlinden goodies.]

The Kit:  I decided if my father could build a 1:1 scale model M3 Lee, I should be able to build one in 1/35.   Tamiya's kit is old, but still pretty accurate, and is the only game in town anyway, so I grabbed one and got started.   I decided to model an M3 Lee with a full interior, and as much detail as I could cram into it.   Verlinden makes a very complete interior kit, with all bulkheads, transmission, the 75mm gun, and a complete turret assembly, with basket, 37mm gun, ammo, etc.   They also make an air-cooled radial engine for the early M4 Sherman tank, which is the same basic engine used in the Lee. I picked up both of these, along with the obligatory Eduard photo-etch set, and went to work.

[Verlinden interior and radial engine] [Verlinden turret basket]

Assembly was straightforward, with no real problems, except for trying to get everything to fit inside the tank.   There's a lot of stuff to go in, and it took a lot of test fitting to get the sequence right.   Everything is painted white, with a lot of washes to bring out the detail.   Burnt sienna acrylic simulates oil and grime better than black, and I added brown and tan dry-brushes to simulate mud from the crew's feet.   The shell casings were painted brass, and the G.I. radio was olive drab.

[engine compartment]

The top of the model was opened up for the turret and basket, and the rear bulkhead was cut away to make room for the Verlinden resin replacement.   The rear deck is in two pieces, so this was carefully sawn through with my trusty razor-saw so the engine could be displayed.   I also cut away the rear access doors.   I added flanges near the top of the engine compartment to support the covers, and drilled holes in them to match the bolts that held the covers in place.   Reference material on the M3 engine compartment is very hard to find, with only a few grainy period photos showing it, so some of the interior detail here in imagineered.   The compartment was boxed in with sheet plastic, and there are two tall thin fuel tanks in the front corners of the compartment that I made from more sheet.   I had no info at all on the air intake and exhaust plumbing, so I had to get creative.   I bent sections of 1/8" solder for the pipes and super glued them in.   Thinner solder replicated the fire-suppression piping, and thin wire and stretched sprue were used for electrical wiring.   Again, everything here was white at first, then weathered with simulated oil, dirt, grime, etc.

[I used Testors O.D. green.] [The upper deck pieces were modified with photo-etch grills, brackets, and handles from the Eduard set.]

The upper deck pieces were modified with photo-etch grills, brackets, and handles from the Eduard set.   With all the handles and do-dads in place, I painted everything Testors O.D. green, applied a few decals, and then started weathering.   I was modeling a tank used in North Africa in 1942, so for a desert sand effect I used yellow and gray pastels to simulate dust and sand.   Thinned flat black acrylic was dripped around the gas fillers to simulate spilled gasoline, and a little gloss black was used around the bogie axles to simulate grease.   You can get a fine-powdered water-soluble glue from the railroad section of the hobby shop, which railroaders use to glue down ballast around their tracks.   It has a sandy color, so I brush a little water on the tank, then sprinkle a little of this glue on, letting it build up in the corners and cracks.   It will stick to the water, and it looks like desert sand once it's dry.   If you over-do it, it will brush off easily and you can start over, and it has a grainy 3-D texture you can't get with just paint or pastels.

[I used a set of Sherman tracks because nothing was available for the Lee]

I picked up a set of separate link tracks designed for the Sherman (nothing was available for the Lee), and started putting these together.   As usual, this took longer that any other part of the build.   Once together, I painted the rubber center pads with Floquil Grimy Black, and the side links with Testors Stainless Steel Metalizer.   The tracks were given a flat black acrylic wash, then heavily brushed with sand-colored pastel powder to simulate desert use.   As the sand tended to scrub metal clean, I stayed away from rust and dirt colors.   I carefully installed the tracks and finished up a few other details, such as an antenna made from stretched sprue.

[This project stretched out over 6 months.]

Conclusion:  The original kit would make a very quick build, as most Tamiya kits do.   Adding the interior, engine, link-tracks, and scratch-building a lot of the interior made for plenty of extra work, and this project stretched out over 6 months.   I was surprised at the lack of reference material on the Lee, which is nothing compared to what you can get on the much more popular Sherman.   Still, I was pleased with the results, and I can add this to my small armor collection.   Even my Dad, builder of the full-sized model, said it looked pretty good, and I guess he should know.

[It was always recognized as a stopgap design, which held the line until better tanks could be built. ]