A year on, and Meng is now following up on that release with that other perennial favourite of German armour modellers, the Panther.
There can't be many modellers who haven't at least heard of the Panther. Along with the Tiger and Sherman, it's one of the iconic tanks of WWII, and for many people, it's considered to be one of the best all-around tanks of the war.
The Panther's development can be traced back to a design project in the late '30's to create a replacement for the Panzer III and IV. However, after the German Army first encountered the Russian T-34, they realised the initial designs simply weren't up to the job of taking on the killer soviet medium tank. The design specifications were hurriedly upgraded, incorporating many ideas taken from the T-34, including the use of sloped armour, and by 1943 the Panther began to hit the battlefield.
The initial version, the Ausf. D still had many teething troubles when it had its baptism of fire at Kursk in the summer of 1943, and many were lost due to mechanical failures. As a result of these experiences, the Ausf.A was rolled out in September '43, and featured several improvements to increase the reliability and effectiveness of the tank. With over 2000 units built, the Ausf.A became the second most produced Panther variant and continued in use until the end of the war.
Meng has picked the Ausf.A model for their first Panther release (presumably there will be other versions to follow). It arrives in a fairly large box with the usual lush satin finish that Meng favour, which always makes a good impression before you even lift the lid. On the box side, you'll find a listing of all the paints you'll need for the build, using Meng's (AK Interactive produced) paint range.
Like their previous King Tiger, you'll also find the logos of the Bovington Tank Museum and AFV Modeller magazine, both of whom have assisted with the development of the kit.
Once you actually delve into the box, you'll find it's pretty well packed with parts. Eleven sprues in total, all individually bagged for protection. The seven main sprues are in the same red primer colour that Meng used on the King Tiger. Sometimes I moan about kit plastic being in anything other than grey, but I'm fickle if nothing else, and I actually quite like this red styrene. Of course, it makes no difference once it's painted, but at least it brightens up the workbench while you're building it. On top of that you get three track sprues in black, and a final sprue in clear for the vision ports. Two photo-etch frets, two lengths of wire and the decal sheet round out the parts count.
The first sprue holds the main upper body components. Meng have taken the route of moulding the glacis and side armour as separate pieces, which mount onto frames on the main upper hull. That should allow for the maximum level of detail on each section, and since the parts will just drop into place on the upper hull, there shouldn't be any alignment or fit issues.
The main upper hull piece is well detailed, with some nice weld bead textures around the interlocking joints where the side armour attaches. The side panel framework on the right-hand side is a little warped on mine, but I think it should be fine once the side armour is attached.
This one gives us various hull details, together with the large fenders. Many of the parts on this sprue are quite thin and delicate, so you'll need to be careful when removing them. Meng has kept the sprue gates fairly small though, so it shouldn't be too fiddly.
Meng has kept the lower sides of the fenders free of ejector pin marks, restricting them to the upper sides, which are subsequently hidden by the bodywork. That's one round of filling/sanding that won't be required then.
This sprue also holds a small jig for setting the correct track sag when using the kit supplied indi-link tracks. This won't be needed if you use the separate working track set.
There's some beautiful moulding on this sprue (and all the others too, in truth), including this tiny but perfectly formed wingnut.
Sprue C holds the turret parts, and here Meng has created the main turret as an open frame section to which panels are added to build up the structure. It's an interesting approach, and would lend itself well to creating a cut-away (no, I'm not!) if/when an interior set is released.
Even though there's no interior included with the kit, Meng has supplied a basic breech section for the main gun.
The first production batch of the kit comes with a turned aluminium barrel, but if you pick up a later boxing without the metal option, you needn't worry as the styrene single-part barrel is easily up to the job, being essentially identical to the metal one (except in plastic, obviously).
There are two very sharp looking MG34's on the sprue, with slide moulded open barrel ends. No need for after-market replacements here.
Also, slide moulded are the muzzle break for the main gun, the hull and turret mounted MG's, and the ammo pouch for the cupola gun.
Here we've got the lower hull parts made up of a base plate to which the side panels attach. As with the upper hull, keeping these panels separate allows for much better detail than you get with a single part tub style lower hull. This sprue also holds the two blanking strips that go inside the hull to hold the ends of the suspension arms. On the previous King Tiger release, those parts caused a slight problem with the suspension alignment and needed to be trimmed down to alleviate the issue. Hopefully, we won't see the same problem arise again here.
This one holds the glacis armour plate, together with various smaller details, several of which are specific to one or other of the marking options, the details of which are called out in the instructions.
There's a nice armour plate texture to the glacis panel, although in the majority of cases this is going to get covered by Zimmerit.
Meng has given you a choice of two styles of "Jerry" can should you wish to add them to the build. One pair with regular German Wehrmacht markings, and oddly a pair with British War Department stamps. The flanges that run around the centre of the cans are supplied on the photo-etch sheet.
Something else you'll find on sprue E is that most ubiquitous and essential of all German AFV model accessories; the bucket, without which no self-respecting WWII German armour build is complete (apparently). In fact, Meng has been generous enough to give you two, so now you can hang one off both ends. Handles for these are on the PE fret.
As if the buckets weren't enough, Meng has also catered for you in case you get peckish while building, as they've seen fit to include a Matchmaker chocolate stick on the sprue. Err... alright, it's supposed to be an unditching beam but, well.. it does look like a Matchmaker. Probably best not to try eating it though.
Sprue F (x2)
The final two red sprues hold the wheels and running gear. You also get the inserts for the radiator and fan elements which will be partially visible under the photo-etched screens.
The engine fans are slightly simplified, but more than adequate given how much you'll see of them under the PE grills.
The vents that sit above the fans have also been given a very nice looking cast texture.
Sprue G (x3)
Unlike the King Tiger, which came with link and length tracks, Meng has opted for individual links for this release. That may be a positive or a negative, depending on your point of view. These are non-working tracks, and will need gluing together then wrapping around the wheels before the glue sets. In addition, you'll need to add two separate guide horns to each link (87 per side), so it's going to take a fair amount of time and effort to get these together. As an alternative, you can pick up the workable track and suspension set.
The level of detail on both the links and guide horns is excellent though, so even though putting them together will take some time, the end result should look great. A set of ice cleats are also supplied on sprue F should you wish to fit them.
The final sprue supplies the clear parts for the vision ports. Nothing too exciting here, but they're all cleanly (and clearly) moulded nonetheless.
Meng has included two sheets of PE in the box, one in traditional brass, which holds the engine screens and other small details, including those vital bucket handles. The other sheet looks to be steel, and is used for the schurzen plates that hang on the sides of the Panther. It's a great addition to see these supplied in PE, as they look more in scale and can be given more realistic damage compared to a plastic part.
This is only included with the first production batch of kits, so if you want one don't hang about. It's nicely finished, but is essentially the same as the plastic part, so don't worry too much if you miss out on it.
Poly-caps and Cable
There's a set of poly-caps for the wheels, which should make painting a little easier as you'll be able to remove the wheels, then refit them at the end. The two lengths of braided wire for the tow cables are a little springy, and might be better replaced with copper. They are a big step up from the string that Meng used to supply for this purpose though.
In recent releases, Meng has switched their decal supply from Cartograf to a homegrown source, and the quality has diminished slightly as a result. These ones look okay for the most part, although the crosses aren't in perfect register. The bulk of the markings are just white though, and not affected by the registry issue. It'll be interesting to see how well these decals go down over the Zimmerit texture though.
Instructions and Marking Guide
I regard Meng's instruction manuals as some of the best around, and the one included here is no exception. You get a brief introduction to the subject, followed by 34 build steps, all with clearly drawn diagrams that are very easy to follow. They point out anything pertinent to the build along the way, and always describe what the part you're fitting actually is, which is a great way to learn more about the subject. The marking guide comes in a separate fold-out sheet, and features no less than 7 different schemes, all with full-colour 5-view illustrations. This is a nice step up from the King Tiger release, which only featured a rather poorly printed black and white guide
The markings feature a nice selection of vehicles, including a Befehls Panther command tank and a captured Russian example. The full list of options are as follows;
1. No.534, 5th Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Panzer Regiment, Ukraine '44
2. No.113, 1st Battalion, 35th Panzer Regiment, 4th Panzer Division, Eastern Front '44
3. No.135, 1st Battalion, 31st Panzer Regiment, 5th Panzer Division, Poland '44
4. No.613, 6th Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Panzer Regiment, Poland '44
5. Sd.Kfz.268 Befehlspanther, No. 96, 3rd Panzer Regiment, 2nd Panzer Division, Normandy '44
6. No.011, Headquarters, 2nd Battalion, 5th Panzer Regiment, Summer '44
7. No.503, 8th Guards Tank Corps, Soviet Red Army, Poland '44