With military toy ranges, I always want to know how accurate are the models they create? After all, since the models are based on, and represent real-life subjects, most people will assume that they have a reasonable degree of fidelity. But this is always dependent on the quality of the research done, and subject to the constraints of the production process. Many compromises are made in order to reduce costs.
So, how does a typical Solido model fare in this regard? Let’s check this out by turning to one of the most iconic and probably best-documented fighting vehicles from World War Two, the mighty German Tiger tank.
The Tiger Tank
The need for a heavy tank had been recognised by the Germans quite early in the Second World War, but gained urgency once they encountered the relatively advanced T34 and KV1 tanks in Russia. Production of the 57-ton Tiger began in August 1942, and it was rushed into action almost immediately, thereafter seeing service throughout the war. Very quickly, the Tiger gained a reputation as a powerful fighting machine.
It wasn’t until the Panther in 1943 that the German tanks took advantage of sloping armour. The Tiger by contrast was a square, slab-sided vehicle that relied on the sheer thickness of its steel plate to resist enemy fire. It was well-armoured all-round, with 10cm of armour to the front, which made it proof against most allied tanks at normal fighting ranges until the arrival of the 17-pounder armed Sherman Firefly and the Soviet JS2 late in 1944.
The Tiger carried the very accurate 88mm L/56 gun, which could hit targets out to 3km, and easily penetrate the armour of most Allied tanks. It was heavy and fairly slow, perhaps averaging 10mph cross-country, but nevertheless had good mobility, with wide tracks and interleaved wheels ensuring a relatively low ground pressure. German crews liked it, and the Allies feared it.
The biggest drawback with the Tiger was that it was complex to build and initially difficult to maintain. Throughout the war, only 1,347 were built – a low production figure that indicates how few there were to go around on the fighting line. As a result, the Tiger became something of a bogey-monster – feared but seldom seen. It was nevertheless the iconic German tank of World War Two.
Solido Tiger Tank
Solido 222 Tiger Tank
Year first produced:1969
L169xW77xH54, Metal 463g, Scale 1:50, Features: 3
The first thing to say about the Solido Tiger is that it is a hefty model, weighing in at just under half a kilogram. This is due to the high metal content of the model which is fashioned out of several Mazak (a zinc-based alloy) castings. The major components form the hull, the underside plate, the turret and the gun-and-mantlet.
As with other Solido models, the wheels and other running gear are plastic and fitted on metal axles. Naturally, the tracks are the usual Solido articulated castings. The rearmost axle is tensioned against a spring within the hull, so that it can be pushed forward to create enough slack to remove or fit the tracks. With a little downward pressure, the wheels turn and the tracks roll as the tank moves forward or back; the turret rotates; the gun elevates. A plastic aerial and hull machine-gun complete the model.
On the baseplate is the normal selection of Solido information:
“solido”, “MADE IN FRANCE”, “CHAR TIGRE” and “No. 222 12/1969”.
The latter dates the Tiger model to December 1969.
Unusually, the Tiger was released in two colour versions simultaneously, field grey and ‘sable’ (sand). Our example is one of the latter – actually a camouflage finish as the sand basecoat is over-sprayed with blotches of green-grey. Decal crosses and numbers are added.
A Tale of Two Tigers
One way of quickly checking whether a model is likely to be accurate is by comparing it to a model from another manufacturer, to see whether there are differences. If there are, then surely one or the other must be inaccurate. When I decided to investigate the accuracy of the Solido model I already had a comparator in mind, the Tiger produced by the British firm Corgi only 4 years after the Solido model.
This Tiger is in a different, smaller, scale to the Solido 1:50 model. In fact, it scales out at roughly 1:62 (which by the way makes it a good scale match for the famous Dinky military models of the 1950s – see also my comparison of the two companies’ Centurion tanks). However, the two models are very similar in the level of detail portrayed.
The Corgi model has a gun that can fire projectiles, and to facilitate this the barrel ends in an oversized plastic muzzle. Setting this aside, the two models are very similar, and most importantly, both appear to represent the fairly simple shapes of the original tank quite faithfully. So far, so good.
However, a careful observation identifies a series of differences in detail that need to be explained:
- the wheels and tracks are noticeably different in number and shape
- the detail on the turret top varies
- the two models appear to have long cables stowed in different positions
- the Corgi has a strange apparatus strapped to the rear of the hull
- the Solido has a circular ‘bump’ front centre of the hull which is absent on the Corgi
- the camouflage pattern and markings are different
Has someone made a mistake? Let’s look at each of the differences in turn.
The Corgi model has 7 road wheels a side, 3 recessed behind the others. The wheels, drive wheels and idlers are unadorned discs. The tracks are plastic, and have a noticeably open pattern. The Solido, on the other hand, has eight larger road wheels a side with detailed surfaces, plus spoked drive wheels and idlers. The tracks, of course, are the magnificent articulated Zamak constructions unique to Solido.
A bit of digging into reference works reveals that prior to February 1944, the Tiger used blank dished road wheels with rubber tyres, arranged in eight groupings to a side. Each group actually comprised 3 wheels stacked behind each other so the heavyweight Tiger required no less than 2 x 8 x 3 = 48 roadwheels! However, as they were interleaved with adjacent wheels and surrounded by the tracks, only the outermost wheel of each group is normally visible.
In February 1944, using experience gained in the design of the King Tiger tank, an improved and more robust ribbed wheel design was adopted that also did away with the visible rubber tyres (repositioning them to fit between the wheel and axle). This allowed the number of wheels on new vehicles to be reduced to 2 per grouping (that’s 2 x 8 x 2 = 32 roadwheels in total), though as before only the outer wheels were visible.
The wheels on the Solido are clearly of this later type, and a fairly accurate portrayal judging by contemporary photographs. The wheels on the Corgi, on the other hand, although much simplified have the shape of the earlier wheels – except that the rearmost group has been omitted. The Solido is also more accurate in showing the spokes on the driver wheel and idler.
The Tiger had wide tracks, to accommodate the large number of wheels and spread the weight, and both models show this. The treads on the Solido tracks resemble those on the real tank, while the Corgi tracks leave something to be desired.
The turret tops of the two tanks are broadly similar, but there are a couple of differences worth investigating. To deal with the most obvious distraction first, the Corgi model carries a prominent aerial on the turret. It acts as the trigger for firing projectiles out of the spring-loaded gun. As the real Tiger tank didn’t have an aerial on the turret, this is clearly an inaccuracy knowingly introduced to make the gun functional.
More puzzling is the different form of the commander’s cupola (the raised sighting structure surrounding the commander’s hatch). Once again, a little historical delving provides an answer. The Corgi model shows an early form of cupola, while the Solido sports a new cupola introduced in July 1943, which improved vision by providing seven periscopes around the circumference.
Turning to the engine decking on the upper ear of the Corgi model, we can see two features modelled in black plastic (and thus very noticeable) that the Solido model lacks: coiled hawsers to each side of the turret, and bottle-like contraptions strapped onto the rear of the hull with pipes leading into the engine.
What do these represent? Taking the cables first, the Tiger carried two main sorts. Long and fairly thick hawsers were carried for towing, while a lesser gauge cable was used to replace the tracks when wheels were changed. The former were normally carried as shown on the Corgi model, and the Solido model simply doesn’t have them. The latter was normally coiled against the left side of the hull, as shown on the Solido model. The Corgi model lacks this. Both of these omissions appear to be mistakes (though of course it is likely that from time to time, tanks did lack these items), or perhaps decisions made due to the difficulty of representing these items (since the track cable would have been very small on the Corgi, and for the Solido, it would have been difficult to model the towing cable as it lay on top of the engine decking).
The other structure on the back of the Corgi model is a set of additional ‘Feifel’ air filters fitted to early Tigers that were expected to serve in dusty environments, such as North Africa. These were discontinued in mid-1943.
Now, let’s spend a moment considering the mysterious ‘bump’ on the hull front of the Solido Tiger. This probably represents a headlight, since from January 1944 Tigers were supposed to carry a single one in this location. The Corgi omits this, but clearly carries two headlights, one on each front corner of the upper hull, which was normal practice until July 1943.
Finally, what do we make of the camouflage pattern and markings on the two models?
A yellow-ish main coat overpainted with a darker camouflage colour is an authentic, if simplified version of what one might expect of a later-war German armoured vehicle. Many camouflage schemes seen in photographs or illustrations are more complex and subtle that those on either model, but there was considerable variation in practice. The base colour on the Corgi is more beige than yellow, but given the variable effects of wear and weathering that must have been experienced on actual Tiger tanks, it’s difficult to definitively call it wrong.
The markings are few, consisting of small crosses and tactical identification numbers on the turret sides. I can’t find any support for the placement of the crosses on the turret sides and the front hull glacis on the Solido vehicle, and one wonders what purpose would be served by the small cross on the glacis visible only from above. However, there are many depictions of the crosses on the hull side as shown on the Corgi model. The tactical numbers on both are plausible, especially as once again there was considerable variance in their use.
Putting all of these bits of evidence together, we can see that the Corgi model is of an early Tiger. I’m speculating here, but it is quite likely that the Corgi team based their model on ‘Tiger 131’, a tank captured in Tunisia in April 1943 and now on display in the Bovington Tank Museum.
Our Solido model, on the other hand, is of a late Tiger built probably in 1944. Perhaps it was based on the two examples preserved in France (in the Saumur Museum and at Vimoutiers), both of which are later production vehicles.
So, both models are pretty accurate, they just depict different variants of the Tiger. But if I had to make an award, the Solido would edge it because the Corgi model doesn’t have all of the road wheels it should. Bien fait, Solido!
In addition to the Tiger, Solido made models of most of the main German tanks from late WW2: the Mark IV in both long and short gun versions (no. 237), the Panther (no. 236) and the mighty Jagdpanther (no. 228). A King Tiger was not produced, but a compatible model was made by Polistil.
To these can be added for reconnaissance, the Sd.Kfz. 232 heavy armoured car (no. 226) and to carry the infantry, the Sd.Kfz. 251/1 halftrack personnel carrier <Story 2> (no. 241).