Saturday, December 29, 2018

Roco flat car, Part 4: military loads

The U.S. Army had transported military vehicles on railroad-owned flat cars for years, though at times the availability of suitable cars did strain logistics for the Army. This came to a head in the Korean War, especially in the early phase when tanks and other kinds of equipment were being frantically moved to ports of embarkation and off to Korea. This led the Department of Defense to build 800 flat cars, all from Magor, in 1953. Of these, 650 were 100-ton cars with Buckeye trucks, the prototype for the Roco model (usually sold by AHM, Associated Hobby Manufacturers, in the U.S.). Upgrading one of these cars was my previous thread (see the immediate prior post at: ).
     This post introduces the subject of military vehicle loads for these flat cars. Given the heavy-duty implication of the 100-ton flat car capacity, the vehicles that come to mind first are tanks. This in turn raises the question of what tank models were in service in 1953, the year I model, and how to model them.
     I recognize that this isn’t model railroading in the usual sense, but one can address it, because there does exist a considerable literature about armor and military equipment in general. I turned to those kinds of sources to find out what would be likely loads in my era. Let me hasten to say that I don’t wish to be, or even to appear to be, an armor modeler. I just want to get the broad outlines of prototype practice correct.
     The mainstay of American armor in World War II was the M4 Sherman tank. These were produced in huge numbers, and after the war, though a great many were scrapped, a substantial number were refurbished. They were assigned to occupation forces in Europe and Japan, were given or sold to a long list of Allied military forces, and were retained for training in the U.S. [There are numerous reference books about the Sherman, but the most useful one for me is Michael Green’s book, M4 Sherman (Motorbooks, Osceola, WI, 1993), because it contains extensive coverage of the post-war use of these tanks.] So the Sherman is one kind of armor load I can use.
     At the very end of World War II, American armor development had created two new tanks, both of which barely served in that war, but were mainstays of postwar armor fleets. One was the M24 Chaffee light tank, the other was the M26 Pershing medium tank. The M26 essentially used the existing Sherman engine and transmission design, both of which were less than ideal for a heavier tank, and postwar development provided better versions of both. When retrofitted, these tanks were reclassified as M46. The Korean war saw both old M26 and refitted M46 tanks in service, along with the M24.
     But the M46 was still underpowered and had a cramped turret, and during the Korean conflict, the Army mated a newly developed turret onto an improved M46 hull to form the M47 Patton tank. Though this tank never entered service before the end of the Korean war, it became the standard U.S. medium tank thereafter. [I relied on Steven J. Zaloga’s informative book, The M47 and M48 Patton Tanks (Osprey Publishing, London, 1980) for background, including the M26–M46 details.] So for my 1953 era, the M47 would be among the armor species that would be appropriate as railroad loads on my layout.
     There have been, over the years, an immense number of World War II and subsequent-period armor models produced in HO scale by Roco (more recently, under the Herpa name). Unfortunately, they have never done the M46, but they have done different Sherman versions as well as an M47.
     Recently, the Walthers “SceneMaster” line has included a World War II-era tank destroyer, the M36. This was essentially a Sherman chassis with a 90-mm gun that could readily take on any of the late-war German tanks, unlike the undergunned Shermans. It was used in Korea also, both as a tank destroyer and as mobile artillery. [A helpful reference on all the armor used in Korea is Simon Dunstan’s book, Armour of the Korean War 1950–1953 (Ospey Publishing, London, 1982), with considerable detail.] So this vehicle can be added to the possible armor loads for my Roco flat car.
     Shown below are two examples of models, the Roco Sherman (left) and the SceneMaster M36 (right). The open-top fighting compartment of the M36 is evident.

Though not identified as such on the model packaging, the Sherman appears to be the M3A4 variant, with the mostly welded hull and what looks like the retrofitted 76 mm main gun. (Neither gun has a muzzle brake, as most or all would have had by the 1950s.) I will comment on other HO scale armor models in a subsequent post.
     There are two important things to note about the models shown above. First, they are glossy (evidently as-molded styrene), and this would certainly be inappropriate for armor in combat situations, but armored vehicles in the U.S. often had glossy paint. So one can choose glossy or flat finishes.
     Second, they are completely unmarked and unlettered. I have seen extremely few tank photos, even for very muddy and grimy tanks on the battlefield, in which the vehicle does not exhibit some lettering. So these really call out to be lettered. As it happens, Microscale makes an HO-scale decal set for U.S. military vehicles, including armor, “Mini-cal” set MC-4279. This is not a great set, and does not readily do multiple vehicles, but is at least a starting point.
     Shown below is a restored Sherman (internet photo), not the same variant as the Roco model, but it does show a simplified 1940s paint scheme, and this was carried over in several cases into the Korean War and the 1950s. In combat, the large white stars were often overpainted or muddied, lest they provide a convenient aiming point for enemy anti-tank efforts, but in Stateside training or arsenal situations, the stars are usually prominent. The muzzle brake is very evident in this view.

The vehicle serial number is just visible at the left rear of the hull, with unit designations on the front lower hull. Any other lettering, unit insignia, or cartoons, though frequently seen on combat vehicles, was less likely in a training environment. This Sherman also has the wide track used in later years, while the Roco model has the original type of  narrow track.
     I plan to use something along the lines of the above photo as a basis to use the Microscale set, to letter these (and other) military vehicles. I will postpone that description, along with flat-car loading diagrams for these vehicles, to a future post.
Tony Thompson


  1. Excellent post Tony. Military modeling is of interest to many and military vehicles make such interesting loads in any era. You may already know this but near you is the Craneway Pavilion in Richomnd which was a depot for armor during WW2. Happy Holidays.

  2. Great series of posts, Tony. I have modified about 70 of these cars and assembled a train hauling M60 tanks and M88 recovery vehicles. I used some recent offerings from Microscale for the DODX decals, a few sets of the Mount Vernon Shops decals and a lot of letter sets from Microscale. (I began the project before Microscale offered DODX freight car sets.)

    I have prepared a powerpoint on the project and presented it a couple of proto meets, including the one I help organize in Connecticut each spring.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. For some reason my identity did not appear with the above post. Sorry.
      Dave Owens
      West Hartford, Conn.