When the German army invaded Russia in 1941 it had completely neglected to realize that the USSR possessed KV-1 and T-34 tanks, and as such were unprepared to deal with these heavily armoured tanks of the time. The 37mm Pak 35/36 standard army anti-tank gun soon earned the nickname 'doorknocker' for its inability to penetrate the armour of these formidable opponents and the new 50mm Pak 38 gun wasn't fairing much better. With the 75mm Pak 40 gun still under development a stop-gap solution was needed and so the Germans looked towards their vast supply of equipment captured during their earlier campaigns.
Here they happened upon the 19th Century French Canon de 75mm mod'le 1897, a WW1 field gun captured from French and Polish forces. In order to bring it up-to date as an anti-tank gun, it was fitted to a Pak 38 carriage and fitted with a muzzle brake to help reduce it's vicious recoil. While a moderate success, the guns low muzzle velocity made it ineffective at long ranges and it was unpopular with crews, being relegated to rear areas and fixed installations like the Atlantic Wall as soon as the excellent Pak 40 became available. Interestingly, it was only after this that HEAT (hollow charge) ammunition was invented, which would have made the gun much more effective.
Italeri supply you with 113 parts on 4 sprues (A-D) moulded in a dark blue-grey plastic, which are packed loose inside the box with a fold-out black and white instruction sheet.
- Sprue A (19 parts) Upper gun assembly including cradle and inner shield
- Sprue B (41 parts) 4 gun crew members and their accessories
- Sprue C (26 parts) Lower gun assembly
- Sprue D (27 parts) The gun barrel, outer shield, ammunition and the gun wheels
The gun appears to consist of 2 sprues from Italeri's older Pak 38 kit (A and C) with a new sprue (D) holding the relevant parts for the French 75mm barrel version. Initial impressions are that the moulding quality is not up to today's standards by a long stretch. In fact many of the parts lack the refined detail that we have come to expect, and resembles a 10 or even 20 year old kit in many respects. For example there is a prominent mould seam on many parts with some minor flash in areas that will require cleaning up, however, this is not a major problem for most modellers.
However, the detail that is there is crisply moulded and Italeri have made a real effort to keep things 'in scale', such as the shield thickness, shell ejection guard, elevation and traverse handles and parts of the gun carriage which are very delicately moulded.
Interestingly, in what is probably the newest sprue in the kit, sprue D, the moulding is sub-par to those from the Pak 38 kit. On this sprue Italeri provide you with 8 shells and 8 empty casings, although a prominent mould seam will need to be removed and the empty cases are moulded solid and so will need drilling out for realism. The French 75mm barrel is moulded in two parts and so some care will be needed to get a smooth finish when mated together (There are no AM barrels available I'm afraid).
This however is a fair representation of the real thing from the reference pics I have, although the German-added muzzle brake will require its many small holes drilling out with a pin vice (I did this before
taking the sprue photos so expect to just see circular indentations on the real kit). The real 'spoilers' on this sprue are the adjustable shield, that sits above the barrel, which is way to thick to be in scale, and the gun wheels, which are badly moulded in one piece including the tyres, and don't match the rear castor wheel in their pattern.
The figures appear to be the same set of 4 SS 'servants' supplied with Italeri's Pak 38, 7.5cm howitzer and old Pak 40, which would make them about 30 years old! Obviously they are far outdated by today's standards and the serious modeller would probably want to replace them with a different set. However, saying that, they are not a complete write-off and some careful painting could produce a set of passable figures. The gas mask canisters, water bottles and Kar 98's supplied with the figures are not bad, but the entrenching tools and two shell cases leave a lot to be desired.
The instructions are the usual exploded view diagrams and are in clear, simple, easy to follow steps, and a good look through failed to spot any mistakes or problem areas. By all means a perfect set of instructions.
The painting guide however, is a different matter. Italeri use the rear of the box as a painting guide and frankly, their effort at a suggested paint scheme is terrible. The gun is shown in Dunkelgrau, which is fair enough, but the SS figures have what can only be described as an 'imaginary' camouflage scheme for their smocks, which doesn't even correspond to the two (also dubious) camouflage schemes given for reference. I'm more than disappointed that Italeri actually show a non-existent camouflage pattern on the back of their box, (which is an act of laziness from using the same pictures of figures from their older kits) when the front of box artwork is actually very good and shows the SS figures wearing 'pea-dot' pattern smocks and trousers, and should be used as a guide rather than the rear of the box.
However, this raises the issue about how suitable SS figures in camouflage smocks are for this gun, as it is doubtful the SS would have had to use such a makeshift weapon and the pea pattern smocks were issued in 1943/44 according to my references, long after these guns had been relegated to the Atlantic Wall, where they would be manned by Heer troops.
After a couple of recent Italeri releases such as their Camionetta AS 42 Sahariana, which have had excellent reviews, it is obvious that Italeri really didn't try very hard with this kit. They saw a gap in the market that they could fill by making one new sprue and re-boxing some older ones and that was about all the effort they put in. While you could accept the older parts with a nicely done sprue for the newer parts, the reality is that the newer parts are possibly lower in standard, and this coupled with their tired set of 'servants' and a terrible painting guide make this a disappointing release from Italeri.
The bulk of the gun however is nice enough and will build OOB into a great representation of the real Pak 97/38 with a bit of TLC. Aside from the old DML kit it is the only version of this unique PaK on the market and at £6 / $12 it's not going to break the bank. Worth getting only if you want to build this gun in particular. If new to modelling it's a great simple learner kit, and beginners and kids alike probably won't have any problems with the issues mentioned here.