by: Jolyon Ralph [ ]
The ISU-152 probably needs little introduction to most readers, the 'zveroboy' ("beast killer") was the most important assault gun in the final two years of WWII. The ISU-152 replaced the SU-152 in production towards the end of 1943 - both tanks carried the same ML-20S 152mm howitzer, and both were capable of destroying or disabling any tank they were likely to face simply because of the enormous explosive power of the 44kg (97 pound) high explosive round. While the SU-152 is best remembered for disabling German heavy tanks during the Battle of Kursk, the ISU-152 is best remembered for its part in the final battles in Germany, especially in the Battle of Berlin where it was equally at home taking on German tanks, pill boxes or destroying buildings. The ISU-152 was even used as mobile artillery, proving its versatility.
The ISU-152 survived long after the war in front-line Soviet service, with many modernized in the late 1950s. In addition, many were exported to friendly nations. After World War II they fought in the Hungarian Revolution (where several were destroyed), the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, with possibly the final combat use of the ISU-152 being in 1991 when Iraqi ISU-152s were reportedly used as mobile artillery.
The Zvezda 1:72 kit of the ISU-152 is far from the only offering in this scale. PST from Belarus produced the first injection 1:72 kit of the ISU-152 well over a decade ago, and although it was good at the time in terms of quality, it is not in the same league as modern kits.
Since then S-models and Pegasus models have both released 'quick build' versions of the ISU-152 in 1:72 scale, although as with all quick-build kits some compromises had to be taken to simplify the vehicle for production - usually this means a poor representation of the suspension and although the S-models kit does a reasonable job at it, it still lacks detail - for example very little detail on the inner tracks. You also do get two kits in each box in both of these.
Italeri released both a 'full kit' of the ISU-152 and a 'quick build' version, which is by far the least detailed of any of the ISU-152 kits with a toy-like suspension moulded as a single piece for each side. The 'full' Italeri kit is highly detailed although possibly a fraction too short - but this is not especially noticeable.
The Zvezda 1:72 kit is novel in that it is a snap-together kit - glue not required. But don't be fooled into thinking that means it is a 'quick build' kit. It took me around four hours to assemble mine and the kit is very highly detailed, on-par with the Italeri kit in most ways and surpassing it in some.
Opening the box we find two full-size sprues of grey plastic parts, a smaller black plastic sprue containing the tracks - a single length for each side in rigid plastic, and the lower hull as a separate slide-moulded part. Detailed instructions and decals covering three marking options for Soviet WW-2 service vehicles are included, although iIt would have been nice to have some post-war marking options (e.g. Egypt 1967).
Looking over the sprues and we see the details are on the whole excellent. Unlike both the PST and Italeri kits the ML-20S gun barrel has the right profile (the other kits don't show the taper of the ML-20S correctly), and although the characteristic muzzle brake is next-to impossible to get right in an injection kit at this scale Zvezda have made a very good effort at capturing its look. Still, because I had one spare, I decided to replace the barrel with the turned aluminium and brass barrel from RB Model in Poland.
Although the Italeri kit is far from perfect it does have a much nicer cast texture on the mantlet than this kit, although this isn't a major challenge for most modellers to resolve. However, one area that this kit beats all the others is that the main gun can move horizontally as well as vertically, giving modellers greater opportunities at posing the model realistically in dioramas.
Detail on the hull rear is on a par with the other kits and is perfectly acceptable for all but the most fussy of builders who may want to use etch parts designed for the PST kit to replace grills and other components.
My favourite part of the whole kit has to be the beautiful little DShK machine gun for mounting on the turret roof. So good is this part that, considering the low cost of the kit, I am seriously considering buying more of them just to use the 'Dushka' on other kits.
The biggest drawback with this kit compared to others is that none of the hatches can be opened - something that the Italeri kit for example does not suffer from.
The tracks are well detailed and are the correct type for an early production ISU-152, but are not suitable for later production versions or post-war ISU-152s. All parts are made from hard injection plastic - not too brittle so most parts come off sprues without incident, however it proved impossible to remove the two tow ropes, beautiful moulded to fit over the back of the vehicle, without snapping the delicate parts - and both parts snapped, one twice, as I tried to remove them.
But, apart from repairing broken parts, did I need to reach for the liquid poly while building this kit? In most cases everything just clicked and snapped together with ease - the kit literally fell together. Parts that looked like they would be problematic (tiny detail parts for example) locked in place confidently, and for a while I thought I would be able to complete the kit entirely without recourse to glue.
However, things didn't quite go to plan all the time. The fuel drums (which are made from three parts that snap together very easily) didn't want to stay attached to the hull so these had to be glued in place - not a big deal.
The bigger deal was with the suspension. Now, firstly, I must give a warning. If you have started assembling this kit and ignored the 'snap together' rules and glued everything, you will hit a problem when installing the tracks because it's almost essential that the drive sprocket is able to spin for you to fit the tracks properly. Luckily this was a part that dry fitted without any issue, but if you decide to build this kit yourself please be aware of this before you start gluing everything down.
The tracks caused me some minor irritation and in the end I was unable to complete them without using glue. This is a pity because several years ago I built the first of Zvezda's 'snap-together' kits, the T-34/76, and the easy track assembly on that kit was the highlight of a very pleasant build.
As I have mentioned the tracks are a single piece and have to be bent round the drive sprocket and idler. There are three lugs with holes that are designed to lock behind the three return rollers. The return rollers are in two pieces, a partial disc for the rear wheel which is locked in place behind the lug, and a front wheel with a spoke that is used both to attach the return roller in place and to keep the track in place through the hole in the lug. However, my attempts to align all of these pieces correctly and fit the tracks nearly ended in disaster, and it proved impossible to install without gluing the rear return roller discs to the lugs first.
To fit the tracks you have to push them in from behind the drive sprocket - assuming you have followed the instructions to the letter, allowing the drive sprocket to rotate at the same time.
It is very, very easy to strip the teeth off the drive sprocket if you're not careful, and I lost two or three during the process - fortunately I was able to hide this by rotating the sprocket. To finish the installation of the tracks you bend the tracks around in a loop so the two lugs at the end align and you can lock the tracks in place with the middle return roller. As you can imagine these two lugs don't seem to naturally want to align perfectly without some aggravation. I found it was best to fit the other two return rollers first and then the central.
I was disappointed to find that after installing these tracks there was no leeway for any track sag, something that is very noticeable in most wartime photos of the vehicle. One tiny positive side effect of this system of track installation is that because the distance between the three return rollers is not exactly the same it makes it impossible to install the tracks the wrong way round!
Finally, there are some smaller details such as lifting hooks and handrails that require glue to affix - these are listed as optional extras in the instructions. The handrails unfortunately have the sprue attachment point on the middle of the rail which makes them very difficult to clean up - it would be better in most cases to replace these with wire.
There is no doubting that Zvezda have a unique skill in producing accurate snap-together 1:72 kits, and this is the most accurate representation of this tank overall in 1:72. The snap-together procedure works well most of the time and it's a joy to be able to put together a kit without inhaling a lung-full of MEK fumes for once.
Their snap-fix solution for the suspension doesn't quite work out as easy as one would hope, but at least the designers have not attempted to sacrifice accuracy for simplicity and it is a world beyond any of the 'quick build' ISU's in terms of quality. Should you want to invest nearly double the cost of the base kit in aftermarket parts you could replace the tracks and wheels with OKB Grigorov add-on parts (they also offer the late-war 650mm ISU tracks and post-war 720mm tracks should you need these), although with third-party tracks you might have some adjusting to do with the parts for the return rollers which are designed to fit around the lugs on the kit tracks.
It is not a perfect kit, and there are a few things that could be improved, but overall considering the low cost of this kit it is tremendously good value for money and can be made into a very respectable display model with a little effort.