Thursday, 1 April 2010


Tamiya 1:35 Wirbelwind, reference 35233


Panzers first felt the over-bearing might of Allied air superiority during the 1942 conflict in North Africa. This nascent jeopardy was to become a constant menace throughout all theatres of German military operations; later in the war the serious and widespread threat of low-flying fight-bomber aircraft became a critical issue for useful, tactical deployment of the Panzer. It was soon recognised by the German military command that if the ground-based armour was to be utilised to its optimum capacity it had to be protected, if not by dominance in the air by mobile, armoured effective anti-aircraft weapons; hence the development of the Flakpanzer.

Developed in 1944, the Wirbelwind (Whirlwind) was a 2cm FlaK 38-Vierling (4 x L/112.5) in an 18-faced specialised open-topped turret mounted on a recycled Panzer IV hull. The refurbished Panzer IV hulls used for this project were usually Ausf F, G and H, but there is evidence of at least one Ausf J hull being used for this anti-aircraft tank. Due to the amount of shell exhaust produced and the need for a clear overhead view the turret top had to be left open, despite the increased vulnerability of the crew. Protection of the turret roof was given by a proposed grenade screen (I have not seen any pictorial evidence of this) and a simple tarpaulin to shield the crew from the elements. At 16mm thick the turret panels gave protection only from small-arms fire and shrapnel; looking at the many original reference photographs of wrecked Wirbelwinds the turret seemed particularly susceptible to direct fire, often shearing open when hit by explosive ordnance.

The Wirbelwind had the official designation of SdKfz 161/4 and had a 5-man crew: a commander, 2 loaders, a radio operator and a driver. According to Spielberger the turret itself was meant to accommodate four men; the two loaders, the gunner and the ‘commander’. At the very least the turret would have been a very tight squeeze, not least because there are only three seats within!

Of all the references available I found Walter Spielberger’s to be the most ‘readably’ comprehensive, yet succinct. He states that the Wirbelwind was in fact an interim solution prior to production of the ideal Flakpanzer. The Wirbelwind was an upgrade of the excessively tall Möbelwagen, which initially mounted a Flakvierling 38 (the prototype), later a single 3.7cm FlaK 43 gun. The shortcomings of the Möbelwagen led to the inception of a ‘quick-fix’; the Wirbelwind, which was to be succeeded by a ‘3cm Double FlaK in U-Boat turret’ mounted on a Panzer IV chassis (later named Kugelblitz).

The specific requisites for the Flakpanzer on a Panzer IV chassis were to include these specifications:

* A rotating fully armoured turret with a 3 to 4 man crew.
* Effective engagement of targets within a range of 2000 metres.
* At least twin guns.
* A sufficient supply of ammunition.
* An overall height of under 3 metres.
* Full radio equipment.

To a certain degree, the Wirbelwind satisfied these criteria, but due to the desperate situation on the home front and the looming Fin-de-guerre the Flakpanzer programme was terminated, that said: the German concept of an AA-mounted tank was still influential after the war.

The technical specifications of the automotive capabilities are pretty much the same as the Panzer IV Ausf H with a weight of 22 tonnes, a maximum speed of 38 kmh and a range of 200 km on the road. In addition to the ammunition carried for the one MG34 and one MP40 the Flakpanzer carried 3200 2cm rounds for the Flakvierling including ninety 20-round magazines onboard.

If the turret is removed the only perceptible difference to the hull is that it mounts two spare barrel boxes aft on the port and starboard side of the engine deck, mounted above the rear fenders, each box carried two spare 2cm FlaK barrels, also the mounting brackets could accommodate spare 2 metre antennae for the radio.

By then end of the production run (July 1944 to March 1945) approximately 100 Wirbelwinds had been made (this number is disputed by various sources and could be as low as 70). If you take time to study the various photographic references of the Wirbelwind you can see that the hull examples don’t follow any particular hard and fast rules. There are a number of well documented examples of this AFV and each presents a confusing number of hull variances.


The items used for this project were:

* Tamiya Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind, ref 233
* Eduard Flakpanzer Wirbelwind, ref 35 516
* Eduard Zimmerit Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind, ref 35 451
* Model Kasten Panzer III/IV track (middle A-style), ref SK-18
* Model Kasten Panzer III/IV spare track (middle A-style), ref SK-29
* RB Models 2cm FlaK 38 barrel muzzles x 4 (ref RB35036)
* Grey styrene Dragon spares to replace the upper hull forward lifting hooks, air intake louver-plate screws, antenna, racked Jerry cans and spare track retention bars
* Tiger Model Designs resin hull lifting hooks

Apart from the Academy kit (which is an older Tamiya mould in any case) the ‘modern’ Tamiya kit is pretty much the only show in town for a 1:35 Wirbelwind, however, after completion of this project Dragon announced a forthcoming Smart Kit release of this model in 1:35. If built out of the box it leaves a lot to be desired, yet with a bit of photo-etch and a few aftermarket items you can build this kit up to be much more special. One of the crashing issues with the Tamiya kit is that is does not represent the Flakvierling mount correctly. The two lateral crossbars supporting the FlaK gun should be located in a static position within the hull, yet Tamiya attach them to the inferior aspect of the hull, which means the bars rotate with the turret, rather than being fixed. I am sure that Dragon will give this consideration prior to releasing this kit later in the year/next year.

After having been thoroughly bewildered by the various references I chose to follow Tamiya’s lead, but borrow heavily from the Eduard suggestions with their photo-etch sets to include photo-etch Zimmerit, which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I rather like using it. The suggestions that Eduard make with their Panzer configuration is slightly contradictory at times, but I felt that this was more important as a build experience, rather than a reference model, which was quite relaxing as I did not worry about missing items or putting in the wrong part.

Using photo-etch Zimmerit is quite uncomplicated just as long as you handle the metal sheet delicately and make sure that when you are sanding off any proud edges you do so only in one direction; towards the metal, or else you run the risk of prising the appliqué sheets off and bending the piece, which will never really fit properly afterwards (it is essential that the sprues are kept as flat as possible, as once the pieces are kinked, or even slightly curved adhesion can be very tricky). I find that flat surfaces do not need annealing, yet any complex surfaces will need this to improve the moulding over the styrene part beneath. For annealing of photo-etch I use a disposable cigarette lighter, which is convenient and usually avoids leaving smoke residue. In order to attach the photo-etch Zimmerit I will use extra thin styrene cement to create a seal, which you find can be manipulated into place easily for a time, but for a permanent bond the Zimmerit has to be cemented (later) with small amounts of extra thin CA glue to the edges, which is then sucked into the join by capillary action.

A reasonable proportion of this build was the two 99-track runs, as I used Model Kasten aftermarket tracks for this project (SK-18), which leave very few to spare, so were supplemented by the spare track set (SK-29). The two sets were about £40.00 in all, but if you are prepared to pay the price and put the work in the outcome is far superior to any other tracks available; the casting is fine, the detailing is splendid and the overall impression is very realistic. Each track link comes in four parts; the track shoe, the hollow guide-horn and an inner and an outer track-pin. For assembly I avoided using the jig provided as these only accommodate about 8 tracks and are made from styrene, which could bond to your mini-track run if there is any overspill of cement, instead I used a length of Tamiya 10mm masking tape as a guide. The track runs were marked out left and right, then each track shoe was placed one after the other until I and placed 99 on the length of tape. After this I located the track pins then cemented these in situ with a lick of extra thin styrene cement one side at a time. When both runs of track pins were cemented and dry I added the guide horns, which were bonded by dipping the locating pins in a puddle of regular styrene cement, then placing them in the correct position (I found extra thin cement was too thin for this purpose and usually caused the guide horns to fall over). When the track pins and the guide horns were cemented, cured and dry the attachment sprue was removed by gentle rolling and folding. Once removed from the masking tape the track run is fully articulated, highly impressive, but sadly delicate; so beware!

Once the hull was complete with super-detailing I felt that the turret let the show down a bit, so I had to put my thinking cap on. I was concerned that the Tamiya Flakvierling was a little poor, but was keen to press on nevertheless. With the aid of reference pictures in the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ publication I was able to identify some issues and tried to replicate the detail after working the FlaK gun up with the Eduard photo-etch. I felt that the turret interior was a little weak, but these concerns were ameliorated by the cramped space and evidence of photo-etch detailing once complete. In order to reduce the toy-model feel to the turret I cut out and sanded over the locating guide pins in the corners (five in all) which was helped by filling with Tipp-Ex and filing with a round needle file. The exterior detailing of the turret includes camouflage loops (kept from a Dragon Smart Kit Panther Ausf G) and two grab handles for turret access. Finally, to set the turret off I created weld seams with fine strip styrene, which was glued into place, then softened with liberal applications of Tamiya Extra Thin Cement, then scored many times with a Swann Morton number 15 scalpel blade to replicate the ridging effect in a weld seam, then to soften the edges the weld seams were given another coat of styrene cement, which ‘blurs’ the sharp detailing.


The AFV is painted in a soft-edged tritonal late war scheme; the basecoat is RAL 7028 Dunkelgelb with the two secondary camouflage colours (RAL 6003 Olivgrün and RAL 8017 Rotbraun/Schokoladen Braun) airbrush painted in a soft-edged irregular style. This is typical of a 1944 model German AFV.


There were times during the build I felt like it would never end, however, when I got to the completion of the hull I knew the project was on the right track. The turret took four days to complete, a fraction of the work put into the hull, paradoxically the turret really complements the AFV; one of the striking things about the ‘naked’ AFV are the home-made weld seams – the white piping looks quite fetching, sadly soon to be buried under layers of painting and weathering.

I strongly believe that this kit represents the fact that a distinctive outcome can still be achieved with one of Tamiya’s ‘shake-and-bake’ kits, dedicated photo-etch and a bit of grass-roots modelling.

Bill Hazard
Build completed in June 2009


  1. Really impressive build and finish Bill.
    Love the before and after pics. Really shows off the amount of detail that went into this one.


  2. Looking good dude and welcome to the world of blogging. I'll get you over to Normandy again one day!

  3. I must say that this Wirbie was an itch I had to scratch. Since I completed this Dragon have released their Wirbelwind, as have Trumpeter AND Voyager have released not only a comprehensive PE set for the Wirbelwind, but also a set of FOUR 2cm FlaK barrels for such a build. Cheap too!

    Gawsh! That'll mean I have to repeat the process later on.


    He he...

    BTW thanks to both Jurgington AND Stuie on this blog thingumy - without your help I wouldn't be 'out there'.