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Forget the Math, Do the Size Comparisons

Author's note:This article was originally written in August 2000 in response to a discussion in my local game group. One of the guys had "done the math" and come to the conclusion that 1/72 scale plastic model tanks were the "correct" ones to use with 25mm wargaming miniatures.

Since then, a number of manufacturers have come out with some excellent metal and resin wargaming vehicles in various scales ranging from 1/48 to 1/65, and a few years ago Tamiya launched a new line of outstanding 1/48 scale vehicles and infantry. Plus, there are now a lot more diecast vehicles in the 1/48-to-1/65 scale range than there were when I wrote this article. With all that in mind, much of this article is out of date.

Nonetheless, I still think the basic points of the article are sound: "doing the math" won't do you a lot of good because people can't agree on what starting assumptions that math is based upon, and that physically eye-balling the miniatures side-by-side to do a comparison is the only sure way of telling what is compatible and what's not.

I also noticed that the debate over whether figures should be measured bottom-of-foot to eye level, or bottom-of-foot to top-of-head, or bottom-of-base to top-of-headgear, continues to rage with no end in sight. Some things never change.

About once a month somebody on one of the online discussion groups asks this question, or a variation thereof:

What scale of plastic model tanks should I use for 25mm wargaming?

A short debate usually ensues over which scale would be best. Much of the time these discussions center around the mathematics of calculating what size vehicles should be used, along with which assumptions should be made to fill out the formula: How tall is the "average" figure? Do you measure from the bottom of the feet to the eyes, or to the top of the head? Do you include the base? "Do the math!"

Rather than argue the math, my opinion is that it's more practical to just line up some actual plastic models of the various available scales and compare them to some actual 25mm wargaming figures. For this exercise I pulled several models out of my attic in the "common" scales for model tanks and compared them to a 25mm metal wargaming tank miniature. These are all models of the M4A3E8 "Easy 8" 76mm HVSS Sherman, except for the Battle Honors miniature which is an M4A3 76mm VVSS Sherman.

Plastic model tanks are available in quantity in only a few scales: 1/32 and 1/35 (frequently grouped together, often known as 54mm to wargamers), 1/48 (hard to find), and 1/72 and 1/76 (frequently grouped together, known as 20mm to many wargamers). There are also limited ranges of 1/40 kits (mostly US vehicles, mostly old and rare kits), plus the pre-assembled 1/87 vehicles from Roco. Depending on your assumptions (whether you measure the figure from bottom-of-the-feet-to-eye-level or bottom-of-feet-to-top-of-head or bottom-of-base-to-top-of-headgear, whether you assume an "average" person is five feet four inches or six feet tall), 25mm calculates out to be around 1/60, but there are not any 1/60 scale plastic model tank kits and to the best of my knowledge there never have been.

The main trouble is that if you "do the math" and figure out how tall you think the figures should be, you'll probably find that the miniatures that are actually available on the market don't match your results. Wargaming models and figures tend to be more stylistic than scale model kits, so you have to try to find whatever you think looks like the best match out of what's available. The best way to do this is to hold some of the different figures and models next to each other and eyeball them yourself.

I think the photos put the matter to rest, but I'll let you decide for yourself.

Hint: the correct answer is "1/48 scale"

Side-by-side comparisons. In the photo above, from left to right: 1/72 scale Hasegawa plastic kit, 25mm Battle Honors metal wargaming miniature, 1/48 scale Aurora plastic kit, 1/48 scale Bandai plastic kit, 1/35 scale Tamiya plastic kit. The blurry light-colored strip in front is a 12-inch (about 30 centimeters) ruler. (Note to self: models primed in grey do not photograph well.)
(NOTE: The Hasegawa Sherman, on the far left of this photo, is billed as being 1/72 scale, but actually measures out to be closer to 1/68 scale.)

Yes, I hand-painted the eyes and teeth on the Aurora Sherman.

The commander's hatch is almost exactly the same size on the 25mm Battle Honors, 1/48 Aurora, and 1/48 Bandai Shermans. The loader's hatch is almost exactly the same size on the Battle Honors and Bandai turrets (the Aurora turret has the later style, smaller loader's hatch). Note that there are slight differences in the dimensions of the Aurora and Bandai kits, even though both purport to be 1/48 scale.

Turret comparison. In the photo above, from left to right: 1/35 Tamiya plastic kit, 1/48 Bandai plastic kit, 25mm Battle Honors metal miniature, 1/48 Aurora plastic kit, 1/72 Hasegawa plastic kit. In the commander's hatch of each turret is a 25mm Battle Honors WWII British tank crewman (unpainted, sorry).

In these two photos we have the 25mm Battle Honors Sherman metal turret on the hull of the 1/48 Bandai Sherman plastic model (hmmmm, perfect fit!) next to the 1/72 (well, actually 1/68) Hasegawa Sherman plastic model. On the ground to the far left is a 25mm Battle Honors British paratrooper (painted as an Irvanian Commando, don't ask) standing next to a 1/72 scale soft plastic ESCI German infantryman.

This pretty much sums it all up. From left to right: 1/72 scale ESCI German tank crewman, 25mm Battle Honors British crewman torso, 1/48 scale Bandai British crewman, 1/35 scale Tamiya US crewman

Irvania.com webmaster: Dave Ferris
The content on this page was written in August 2000
Last updated: June 11, 2016