The Crusader was an obsolete mid-war tank design that was still kicking around in the late war as an SP AA vehicle. I got one of the Rubicon Crusader kits for my late war Polish army.

The Crusader Tank

The original Crusader in North Africa with the dubious 2pdr gun

Originally seeing action in North Africa as a cruiser tank armed with the infamous 2pdr gun, the Crusader was a real step up from the dodgy Cruiser Mk IV (A13) and the even dodgier Covenanter. It was later upgraded with a new turret packing the excellent 6pdr gun, but had thin armour and was rapidly declared obsolete. When the Eighth Army wrapped up the show in the desert and moved on to Sicily and Italy all the British cruisers were ditched in favour of American Shermans and Stuarts.

Like many former front line tanks the surviving Crusader chassis were kept around as gun tractors and ARVs, and many morphed into SPAAGs for point air defence of armoured units. The original design (Crusader AA Mk I) mounted the chunky 40mm Bofors gun in an open turret. The next version (Crusader AA Mk II) had a better protected turret and packed a pair of Oerlikon 20mm autocannons. This is the one I’ve built.

By the time they went into action in June 1945 the Luftwaffe wasn’t much of a threat, and most of the Crusader AA tanks never fired a shot at an aircraft. Polish 1st Armoured are noted in the history books for their readiness to bring up these autocannon  tanks to batter German infantry, a job at which they proved lethal. I expect other Allied units did the same, rather than have the AA crews sit around twiddling their thumbs until VE day.

Polish tankers sheltering under their Crusader AA. One has an MP40. Can you blame him when they issued him a Sten?

The Crusader AA in Chain of Command

In Chain of Command it sits on List 5 with the following profile:

Name Armour AP HE Secondary Armament Speed Notes Support List
Crusader AA Mk II 4 4 8 Co-ax MG Fast  20mm autocannon 5

 

The armour value of four shows why this wasn’t taken seriously as a battle tank by ’44. But since the Germans were able to kill the heavier Shermans with ease, is that such a big handicap? For a relatively modest chunk of your support points you get an AFV that can chuck out eight dice of hurt and reduces cover. Being a 20mm you still roll against troop quality, so if you stay at effective range (over 24″) you’ll actually need 5+ to hit regulars. Best to get it into close range; but keep it out of panzerfaust reach or it’ll be burning scrap pretty rapidly. It goes without saying that AT guns will eat it for breakfast from all the way across the table.

Bottom line is that it’s a good cheap fire support tank. Just watch out for the tinfoil armour.

The Rubicon kit

I’ve reviewed several Rubicon kits on here and the common theme that runs through them is ease of build, good quality and loads of options. This kit is no exception, and the number of different ways to build this single kit is pretty mental.

Rear detail, showing Polish markings and the optional fuel tank and spare road wheel

The basic hull is the same for all variants, although you do have options for different side skirts, to keep or delete the little auxiliary MG turret on the front, or for the fuel tank on the rear. You get no fewer than three turrets: the early model turret with 2pdr or 3in howitzer, the Mk III turret with either 6pdr or 3in howitzer, and the AA turret with the 20mm guns. About the only thing missing is the option to build the 40mm Bofors tank, but you can’t really complain about getting five different options in one kit.

It would in fact be totally possible on the Mk I and II variants to magnetise the 2pdr gun and 3in howitzer, as each gets their own mantlet. With a bit more fiddling it would be possible to also to so with the Mk III turret and its two gun options. So you could easily get two tanks out of each turret, and given that the differences between the Mk I/II and Mk III hulls are small you could find yourself with a kit for North Africa  that could be fielded four different ways by swapping turrets and guns

The business end of a Crusader. The headlights are the single-piece plastic mouldings, you can bend your own guards out of wire if you prefer

Assembly was quick, and helped by the normal excellent instructions. The only thing I did differently from the instructions is that it tells you to glue the track and roadwheel assemblies to some side plates, and then glue all of that to the hull. It’s easier to paint them if you glue the side plates (parts A15 and A16 in the kit) to the hull, then just attach the pre-formed tracks later once you’ve painted them. As is standard for Rubicon kits these tracks require no assembly, although this kit does ask you to glue the inner halves of all the road wheels to the tracks.

One optional extra for confident modellers is the front headlights. Instead of a single piece headlight with its guard the kit does supply just the headlight and a tool so you can make the guards by bending up some 0.5mm copper wire. Lacking the wire and a certain amount of care factor I just used the plastic ones (they’ll probably be sturdier anyway).

You can just see the Perry metal tank crewman inside

All up, it was a quick build, although I did find I had to leave the AA turret unglued during painting, as it’s partly open at the top, so you need to get inside and paint the interior a bit. This is a bit fiddly with the way the various parts of the turret assemble.

About the one alteration I’ve made is to include a Perry tank crew figure inside the turret. You get no crew with this kit, which for a tank with the bloody great hole in the turret roof is a bit of an oversight. From the pics I’ve seen the commander actually had his head out when firing at aerial targets, although he does have a cutout in the armour to his front that would allow him to sit lower and be better protected when firing at ground targets.

One slight niggle I have with the kit was the transfers. They seem very thin, and so are a bit of a fiddle to work with. The upside of that flimsiness is that when you damp them down with Microsol they do achieve that “painted on” look very easily.

The Allied star on the roof is a multi-part transfer, and bloody fiddly if I’m honest

This is particularly important if you’re going to take a crack at the slightly bonkers air recognition star on the roof of the AA turret. This is a five piece decal that goes onto a strangely shaped surface (include a part that moves!) and you have to get it all lined up perfectly. I took a crack at it and was a bit surprised when it came out ok, but my advice is to go slow and have some small tools and old brushes for jiggling the parts about. Definitely not one to rush!

As I wanted this for fighting in NW Europe I’ve marked it up for Polish 1st Armoured and will be using it for hammering German infantry in the drive out of France into the Low Countries. More on that sort of thing in the next few months…

The verdict?

If you’ve got a 28mm British force for North Africa you’d be a bit mad not to get one of these kits. Alternatively, if you’re doing late war NW Europe then it’s an interesting an unusual vehicle. The kit is easy to build, easy to paint and has tons of options. The cheapest I’ve seen it is £18 from Firestorm.