Google Analytics

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Introducing the German Don Cossacks

The Cossacks are an ethnic and military order from the area of the Don river in what today is southern Russia / eastern Ukraine. They have been known for centuries, going back to the1400's and have developed a rich tradition and reputation as fierce and effective mounted troops. During WWII, starting in late 1942 and into summer of 1943, the Wehrmacht raised the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division, from captured Soviet Cossack units, deserters, as well as recruits from the occupied Don territories. In the summer of 1944, they were transferred into the Waffen SS and the 2nd Cossack Division was constituted and together with the 1st Division, they became the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps. It is arguable whether these troops were fighting for the Germans or against the Soviet regime which had oppressed them for almost 25 years. Most of these Cossack units saw action against partisan units in Croatia and Yugoslavia but they also fought as front line troops against the Soviets during the retreat from the eastern front. Outside of the battlefield, the Cossacks were also known for being unruly and ruthless, abusing the local population, sometimes as punishment, sometimes for amusement. Many of them were court-martialed by their German commanders, which is surprising given how brutal Germans themselves were against the locals. At the end of the war, they made their way west in order to surrender to the British, however they were later turned over to the Soviets who executed their leaders, and sent the rank and file to forced labor camps, where most of them perished. Only a few of them made it out alive when they were finally released after Stalin's death in 1953.


Mars German Don Cossacks
Extra points to Mars for addressing a set that had not received any attention (to my knowledge) before. The quality of the set is good overall. The figures come in decent action/fighting poses, with a nice degree of movement, and the sculpting keeps improving. Perhaps the one missing pose from  this set is a cavalry figure, maybe a mounted officer. The Cossacks in general, including the Don Cossacks, were renowned cavalry troops. I know that in WWII the role of mounted units in battle was negligible, however I suspect that in the role of the Don Cossacks, hunting down partisans, and chasing them around the woods and countryside, horses would have been useful. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Benbros - Toy Soldiers

Benbros was a British toy firm based out of Walthamstow. As the name suggests, it was founded by two siblings, Jack and Nathan Benenson. Even though the firm was founded in the late 40s, it did not adopt the Benbros name until 1951, and it continued to operate well into 1965. Benbros was not just a toy soldier manufacturer. They also made metal die cast models of cars and farm equipment which they released under several brand names such as Zebra Toys, Qualitoys, TV Series, and Mighty Midgets. In terms of toy soldiers, they made both lead toy soldiers and later on, plastic figures. Their range included cowboys and indians, Robin Hood and his merry men, British Grenadier Guards, and Modern British Infantry figures among others. Speaking of the British Modern Infantry set, at some point it appears that Timpo sold its plastic molds to Benbros which has lead to some confusion about who made what figures. The situation is more confusing because many of Timpo's figures are the same as Herald's and UNA's. I am not sure if they also purchased the same molds, or if they cloned each other's figures, but the result is that there are several makers of the same figures which sometimes makes it challenging to identify their origin. I only have a couple of Benbros figures in my collection. Let's check them out. 

Benbros Modern British Infantry
These are reproductions of the Timpo/Herald/UNA British Infantry. Their most notable characteristic is that they don't appear to come factory painted as the Timpo/Herald/UNA guys did. Other than that, they look much the same.

Introducing the Greek Infantry

The Greek Army during WWII was a relatively modest formation. At the start of the war, after mobilizing its reserves, it was able to field a force of 430,000 men. They were organized into 6 infantry divisions, 9 mountain divisions, 1 cavalry division, and 4 mountain brigades. By March of 1941, its army had grown to 540,000. Unfortunately, it did not have any mechanized units, other than a pseudo division of 2000 conscripted garage mechanics serving a 'force' of 24 light tanks/tankettes. Their Air Force was not much stronger, with only 44 fighters in its ranks. I suppose the Greek General Staff calculated that the mountainous terrain guarding the Greek borders made mechanized warfare impractical, and decided to focus its doctrine on mountain warfare. As we are about to see, this turned out to be correct against the Italians, but failed terribly against the Germans.  
The participation of the Greek Infantry during WWII can be divided into three phases. The first phase, starting on Oct 28, 1940, when they were fighting off the Italian invasion, which they did quite successfully. During this phase, the Greek Army switched from a defensive stance into the offensive. After just one week, they had already pushed the Italians back into Albania and for the next few months Italy was on the ropes until Germany came to its rescue. The second phase, started on April 6, 1941, when the Greek Army faced off against the German Army. This was entirely a defensive operation, fighting desperately on their own soil for their homeland. Unfortunately for them, the Greek and British Armies were no match for the German Blitzkrieg, which at the time was in high gear, wanting to get the campaign over as quickly as possible to avoid impacting the planned invasion of the Soviet Union that summer. The Greek Army surrendered just two weeks after the invasion began. Part of the Greek government and its Army escaped with the British into the Middle East, from which they were able to regroup and continue the fight. The third phase of the war was their contribution to the rest of the Allied war effort, fighting along them in North Africa and the Italian campaign. The invasion of Crete happened between May 20 and June 1st 1941, so even through the Greek Army was still defending its homeland at that point, Greece had already capitulated to Germany. So depending on how you want to account for this action, this could be part of the second or the third phase. All in all, even if the fighting spirit of the individual Greek soldier was high, the performance of the Greek Army as a whole was suboptimal. In terms of toy soldiers, we now have one set representing the Greek fighters. Let's take a look. 

Plastic Platoon Greek Infantry
When I heard that Plastic Platoon was coming out with Greek troops, I was very excited about it, as I expected them to do as great a job as they had done with their prior sets. I have to admit however that I was a little disappointed. It was great that they chose to make Greek troops, which until now, had not been paid attention to in the hobby. But it would have been good if they had made at least eight poses or so. Instead, PP chose to release three other figures representing Greek Partisans to round up the set. That essentially gave us too little of both. As far as the three Greek infantry figures go, they are well made and I do like that one of them conveys the emotion that must have overcome them as an army of Paratroopers suddenly dropped on them.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Guilbert - Toy Soldiers

I really don't know much about Guilbert. All I have been able to glean is that they were a French manufacturer. They apparently made a diverse range of figures such as Musketeers, Cowboys and Indians, Knights, and even some WWII-like figures. At least some of their figures date back to the 1960s. Many of them are stamped Guilbert on the bottom side of the base. If you do know more about them, please leave a comment.

Guilbert Modern Infantry

I came across this guy by chance and I only found out who made it thanks to the markings on the base. I initially had mistaken this figure for a WWII GI, but Brian, one of our readers, pointed out that they are actually French Modern Infantry figures, which at the time used weaponry very similar to that used during WWII. When I googled around to learn more about the set, I only found a couple more poses that look similar to him, however, according to the reference site provided by Brian in the comments below, the set contained 12 figures. In terms of the sculpting, I personally like the stance of this figure. He is walking but he definitely seems to be leaning into some action. 


Introducing the Imperial Japanese Paratroopers

The Japanese Imperial Paratroopers were a unit within the Japanese Air Force. In Japanese they were known as Teishin Shudan -Raiding Group-. Japanese paratroopers had been around since the 1930s, but given the success of the German Fallschirmjaeger in the early stages of WWII, the Japanese took notice and created a small division-size unit of Teishin Shudan with two regiments of troopers. they first saw action in February of 1942 at the Battle of Palembang. In 1943, they added gliders to their transport, which allowed them to fly in light tanks into battle with them. Given the expense of training these units, and their relatively high casualty rate when dropped behind enemy lines with little support, these troops were used sparingly by the Japanese, and their role was primarily that of elite infantry. In terms fo equipment, They initially wore a padded leather helmet, but later that was replaced by a steel helmet, and in fact, there are photographs of Japanese Paratroopers wearing the German Para helmet. Their headgear had a distinctive yellow star on it. As far as toy soldiers, nobody had depicted Imperial Japanese Paratroopers in 1/32 plastic until now. Luckily for us, Mars released a set recently. Let's take a look!

Mars Imperial Japanese Paratroopers
Now, here's a set that is new and unique. And you can tell that these guys truly are imperial paratroopers because of its distinctive headgear which has wide straps to secure the helmet in place during the drop. Plus a few of them are still wearing their jump suit/smock. This is one probably my favorite set from Mars. The poses show some action, they are engaged in combat, the range of weapons includes a mortar, flame thrower, a sub mg, a pistol, plus several carbines... All in all a good mix to drop behind enemy lines!

Introducing the German Luftwaffe Field Division

The Luftwaffe Field Divisions were units of the German military that were assembled from surplus Luftwaffe personnel, mostly ground crews, and used as regular infantry troops primarily on the Eastern Front. The first Luftwaffe Field Divisions were raised in late 1942. Rather than incorporating these units into the German Army, Hermann Göring insisted in keeping them under the command of the Luftwaffe. All together about 20 divisions were put together, totalling almost a quarter million men. The performance of these units in the battlefield was poor, given their limited training as infantry. So much so that the Soviets sometimes targetted them in their attacks, recognizing them as the weakest link. This was made easier by the fact that the Luftwaffe Field divisions wore a distinctive field blue uniform. About a year later, command and control of these divisions passed to the Heer, and Army officers were incorporated into their ranks. Many of these divisions were decimated so badly that they ended up being dissolved and the surviving troops were absorbed by other units. In terms of plastic toy soldiers, they had not been represented until Mars recently released a set. Let's take a look. 

Mars German Luftwaffe Field Division
Not much to tell them apart from regular infantry or, even trickier, from Waffen SS. When I have seen them in pictures, they are usually wearing cammo smock or the tent quarters, which is what several of these guys are wearing. In general, a set with a good degree of action and combat poses. Given the terrible casualty rates that they suffered, I suppose it is fitting that they included a figure getting hit.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Introducing the German Naval Infantry

The German Naval Infantry were mostly late-stage war units assembled from Navy personnel. At that stage of the war -February/March 1945-, the surface boats of the German Navy could no longer venture out to sea, and German ground forces needed additional man power desperately, so many sailors were incorporated into the Wehrmacht. Two divisions were constituted that I am aware of, the 1st and 2nd Naval Infantry Divisions. A third one -the 11th- was in the process of being formed, but never fully materialized and it was disbanded before the war was over. The Naval Infantry troops fought in Northern Germany, as might be expected given the fact that these units were formed close to ports, and that at that time, all fighting took place within German territory. The performance of the German Naval Divisions was generally poor, given their lack of proper training in infantry tactics. Naval Infantry units were more effective under fortified conditions as was the case in the defense of the fortified port of Swinemünde by an adhoc force of sailors and Army personnel. One unit of German Naval Infantry troops which was properly trained for ground assaults and was effective in its role was the Marinestosstruppkompanie, a group of 230 men which was used in raids such as the attack on Westerplatte, the occupation of Gdynia, and the battle of the Hel Peninsula.

Mars German Naval Infantry
Another set that I have not seen manufactured before. Not sure if these guys are meant to represent the Marinestosstruppkompanie, or whether they were surplus sailors which had been repurposed as ground infantry, as was the case with the Luftwaffe Field Division. In any case, it is an interesting and unique set. In terms of the sculpting, this set is pretty decent, although the poses could be a bit more dynamic. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Introducing the German Panzergrenadiers

The German Panzergrenadiers or PzG, were a the mechanized infantry branch of the German armed forces during WWII. They did not exist at the beginning of the war, at least not with that designation. Many of these units evolved from regular infantry, to mechanized infantry, and then in 1942, they were designated as Panzergrenadiers. The reason to do so, was to afford them greater status within the armed forces, as historically, particualrly during the times of Frederick the Great, grenadiers were regarded as the strongest and largest men, because of their role as assault troops. Pansergrenadier units existed within the German Army (Heer), the Waffen SS, and even the Luftwaffe. Some of these units were fully mechanized, and transported in halftracks (Sd Kfz 251) into battle, but that was only 11% of them. The rest were transported in trucks. Theoretically, a PzG division was supposed to have a battalion of tanks and six battalions of mechanized infantry, however in practice, given the shortage of tanks, many of them were equipped with mechanized anti-tank guns. Some famous PzG divisions were the Grossdeutschland (Heer), Brandenburg (Heer), Liebstandarte (SS), Totenkopf (SS), and the Herman Goring (Paratroopers). Several volunteer divisions of foreing troops were also raised to be PzG units, like the Wallonien and Nederland divisions. 

Mars German Panzergrenadiers
If not because of the name, it is hard to tell that these guys were mechanized infantry. But they are still a nice set that could be used to augment your regular German infantry, or Waffen SS. The best pose is clearly the mg gunner resting his weapon on his mate's shoulder. Unfortunately, it is pretty hard to line up the figures. At best, the muzzle is right behind the front man's ear, which would have been terrible in real life. Also, this set does have a man 'running' which is better than some of the other sets in which everyone is standing, however the running pose could have been sculpted leaning forward a bit more in my opinion. Still a good set overall. 

Introducing the Panzer II

The Panzer II was a light tank of the German army. Designed and built during the mid to late 1930s, it was a version derived from the Panzer I, with a larger turret and main gun, conceived as a stop-gap measure while the Panzer III and Panzer IV designs made it into production. Nonetheless, it was built in large enough numbers (1856 in total) and was the main battle tank of the German army in the early years of the war, seeing action all the way to North Africa. It was armed with a 20mm main gun, and a 7.9mm MG34. Its crew consisted of three men. A driver on the left side, a radio operator/loader sitting behind him, and a commander sitting in the turrer, who also aimed and fired the two guns. The front armor was initially 14-15mm, but later models Ausf D/E and F had 30mm and 35mm of front armor respectively. Even then, that was not sufficient to survive against contemporary anti-tank guns with armor-piercing shells. The tank was powered by a 138hp engine, which gave it a maximum speed of 25mph. Its range on-road was 120 miles, and off-road it was 78 miles. It was initially phased out by the Panzer 38(t) and later by the Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks which had more powerful main guns, and thicker armor. Its chassis lived on as part of tank destroyers like the Marder II and the Wespe. 

Eagle Design 1/30 Panzer II Ausf F
I am not aware of any Panzer IIs from 21C or FOV, so it was a nice surprise when I ran into this model from Eagle Design. The scale is supposed to be 1/30, but it fits really well with 1/32, I guess because the tank itself was relatively small in reality. Eagle Design, built it quite sturdily, and it feels like it is all made out of metal. Even the tracks -although that also means that the tracks do not move. All else, the turrent, guns, antenna, hatch, have nice degrees of movement. The price was a bit steep though, so I won't be trying to assemble a platoon of them any time soon. 

Introducing the Panzer 38

The Panzer 38 (t) was a light tank designed by the Czech company ČKD in the 1930s After the German annexation of the Sudentenland (in 1938) and subsequently, the rest of  Czechoslovakia, the German army incorporated this tank into their arsenal under the designation Panzerkampfwagen 38 (t), the letter t being the first letter in tschechisch, the German word for Czech. The Panzer 38 was considered superior to the Panzer I and Panzer II which made up most of the armored ranks of the German army at the time. About 1400 of them were produced up to 1942, when they were no longer deemed a match for the medium Soviet tanks like the T34. In the meantime, they saw action during the invasion of Poland and France, and the early years of the war on the eastern front. The Panzer 38 was armed with a 37mm gun, and two 7.9mm machine guns. It was operated by a crew of 4: commander & loader in the turret, and driver (on the right) and radio operator/machine gunner (on the left). The commander was also the one who aimed and fired the main gun. The maximum thinkness of the armor (in the front) was 25-30mm in the earlier models (Ausf A-D), and it was increased to 50mm for the Ausf E model (and G as well). Its 123.3 hp engine provided it with a maximum speed of 9 mph off-road, and 26 mph on-road. The Panzer 38 had a good reputation for reliability and ease of maintenance. After production stopped, its chassis was still used for other vehicles, such as the Marder, the Jagdpanzer 38, a Flakpanzer 38, and even a recconnaissance vehicle,  the Aufklärungspanzer 38.

21st Century Toys Panzer 38 (t)
The 21C Panzer 38, does not only represent a light tank, but it is also literally, a light tank. Made up entirely of plastic, it feels quite underweight in your hand. As is the case with other 21C tanks, the tracks move, as does the turet, although this one catches a bit the tools on the side. Also the machine gun in the turret moves along the vertical axis, but the one next to the driver is fixed. This Panzer 38 came with the antenna a bit bent, but other models have it straight. I did not bother to straighten it out as I feel it gives it character, and I did not want to risk it breaking off. All in all, this is not a very common model to run into, so I was happy to be able to add it to the ranks of my German army.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Introducing the PAK 36

The PAK 36 was a 3.7 cm caliber weapon. It was the main anti-tank gun in the German Army until mid 1941, when given its inability to deal with the soviet medium tanks like the T34, it was replaced by the PAK 38 which fired a 5cm shell. The PAK 36 was initially issued in 1928 and first saw combat in 1936 during the Spanish civil war. It was also used by the Chinese against the Japanese where it was a lot more effective neutralizing the lightly armored Chi-Ha tanks.

Forces of Valor PAK 36 (with CTS crew) - Part 1
This PAK came with the kfz 70 truck which was used to tow it.

 
Forces of Valor PAK 36 (with Italeri crew) - Part 2
Here's a better picture of the gun. The CTS gunners were holding ammo that was too big for it. These Italeri crew guys are better fitted for this smaller gun, and the picture does show a bit more detail.

Forces of Valor Sd Kfz 70 as Artillery Tractor - Part I
The same chassis as a regular kfz 70, but this time a different configuration on the back, adapted to carry a bunch of ammo boxes for the PAK 36 which it is towing behind. I did not show it in this picture, but it is also possible to load the PAK on to the back of the truck, with the wheels resting on the middle seat and the tip of the gun pointing back. In such case, you can't have the men sitting there. 

Forces of Valor Sd Kfz 70 as Artillery Tractor - Part II
Here is a shot with the PAK deployed. This is BTW, the only PAK 36 that I have come across, so it was a nice extra that came with the truck. Unfortunately it does not come with an artillery crew.



Introducing the German 7.5 cm IG 18 cannon

In German this is called the 7,5 leichtes Infanteriegeschütz 18, or 75mm light infantry howitzer. It was designed in 1927, so I am not sure where the designation of 18 comes from. In addition to the version used by the regular infantry, a couple other variations were made for Mountain Troops and Paratroopers, both of which could be disassembled into multiple pieces that could be carried/dropped into battle to be reassembled on the spot. The version made for the Paratroopers did not have a shield. I can imagine that the aerodynamics of dropping that from an airplane and having it land predictably had something to do with that decision. Weighing close to 400kg, it could be dragged/pulled into position by 3or 4 men. It could fire a 6 kg shell, up to 3.5 km away.


21st Century Toys 7.5cm IG 18 cannon and crew
 This particular set from 21C toys is a nice addition to the collection, although the gun feels a bit brittle. The range of movement is not great and it feels like you might break it if you press too hard. The figures are versatile enough that they could be reassigned to operate other German guns. It also comes with a base of cobblestone surrounded by rubble that gives it an added dose of realism.

Warhansa - Toy Soldiers

Warhansa is a toy soldier firm based out of Russia that sells resin figures in 28mm and 54mm. Somewhere I read that they are more like a consortium of sculptors that bring their figures to market through this firm. That could explain the eclectic mix of periods and scultping styles in their range of figures. They go all the way from fantasy/sci-fi to historical sets, and their periods cover ancients, knights, western/indians, all the way to WWII. Unfortunately their selection of WWII figures is very limited. They have only released Soviet Infantry and German Paras, of which I only have the latter. Let's check them out. 

Warhansa German Paratroops
This set is OK, but in the context of Plastic Platoon's recent German Paratroopers releases, it has a high bar to match. The poses are a bit static, the figures feel slightly chubby, maybe because the oversized weapons required bigger and thicker hands. And the material is a bit too shiny for my taste, although that's something that will be taken care of once they are painted. Anyhow, I am glad that Warhansa has added some more figures to the range. And on a positive note, I do like the expression of the officer quite a bit. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Plastic Platoon - Toy Soldiers

Plastic Platoon is a relatively recent entrant into the 1/32 Plastic Toy Soldier world. Founded by Mikhail Glikin, a fellow toy soldier collector and enthusiast, they are based out of St Petersburg in Russia. Their first sets came out around late 2017/early 2018, and were focused on the Vietnam War. This year -2019, to my good fortune, they have switched to WWII. From the beginning they came out swinging, setting a new standard for realism and creativity in their sculpting. When I first saw their figures I experienced the same level of excitement and enthusiasm as when I first held my first Conte soldiers, and more recently my first Publius figures. They are truly detailed and historically accurate. The only thing not to like about their figures is that they are pricey, at about $50 a set. Apparently that's because their molds can only produce 25 sets before they have to be replaced in order to maintain the level of detail and quality, which is also why they only release limited runs of about 300 sets. I just wish my budget would allow me to get more of them, or that they could get their molds to last longer so that they could lower the price point. Even so, I am very happy that they have joined the hobby and I truly look forward to all the amazing sets that they have yet to conceive of and produce. Without further ado, let's take a look at what they have produced so far regarding WWII!

Plastic Platoon German Paratroops Set 1
Plastic Platoon brings sculpting and action poses to a new level. Their German Paras are supposed to represent the early war troops which were dropped on Crete, and are for sure my favorite German Paras. You can tell that they were just dropped on the island because most of them are still wearing their knee pads, and at least one of them is still wearing his harness. Can't say enough about the level of realism of these figures. 

Plastic Platoon German Paratroops Set 2
Here are another six poses released as part of a second set, also representing the Paras involved in Operation Mercury, the invasion of Crete. What's most interesting for me is that several of them are wearing same life jacket worn by the Luftwaffe pilots. It took me a bit of research to figure out what I was looking at, but you can actually find photographs depicting men in this outfit. It makes sense when you think about the fact that they were flown to jump into an island, so if the plane was shot down or, if they were blown out to see during the landing, a Schwimmweste would have come in handy. 

Plastic Platoon German Paratroops Set 3
This third set was a bit unusual. We got two more Paratroopers, three drop containers, and one Greek Partisan. I suppose this is useful and original, but if you ask me, I would have preferred if it had come with more German figures and the containers were extras or coule be purchased separately. Also, I am not a big fan of figures that are so coupled together that you can't deploy one of them in a separate situation. What's interesting about this set is that one of the figures can grasp the handle of one of the containers so that it looks like he is pulling it. Also the level of detail, even on the containers is very nice. Each container is labeled with a different letter or symbol, and the contents are rich and diverse.

Plastic Platoon British Infantry
This set is meant to represent the British defenders of Crete who fought against the German Paras. Again, characteristically well made, with lots of action and intensity. You can tell that these guys were involved in close quarters fighting. Worth highlighting is who I think might the the Sarge, holding a pistol on one hand, and brass knuckles on the other. A feisty bunch to come up against, although as we know, they were eventually subdued, although at no small cost, which is one of the reasons why German Fallschirmjaegger were no longer used in drops after that. 

Plastic Platoon Greek Infantry
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with this set. It was great that they chose to make Greek troops, which until now, had not been paid attention to in the hobby. But it would have been good if they had made at least eight poses or so. Instead, PP chose to release three other figures representing Greek Partisans to round up the set. That essentially gave us too little of both. As far as the three Greek infantry figures go, they are well made and I do like that one of them conveys the emotion that must have overcome them as an army of Paratroopers suddenly dropped on them.

Plastic Platoon Greek Partisans
This is the second half of the set. Plus the partisan figure of set 3 of the German Paras. I just put him next to his comrades in the picture so that you can see how it fits with them. What's nice about these figures is to see the men in their local garb. I don't know if that's what they would have worn going to battle, but it certainly makes them look more authentic. There's also a partisan woman. She is dressed in more 'modern' clothes of that time. Interesting to see that these guys seem more determined to fight than the Greek infantry figures, although it stands to reason that these guys lived on the island and the Greek troops were most likely sent there from other parts of Greece to defend it. That would certainly influnce their level of resolve.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Mars - Toy Soldiers

Mars is a manufacturer, apparently based out of Ukraine, which has been on the 1/72 scene for a while, at least back to 2007 which is when their website is copyrighted. They entered the 1/32 market about 2-3 years ago, in 2016 or so, with some non-WWII sets, with an emphasis on Vietnam and some Afghanistan sets. It has been during the last year 2018-2019, that they have made a strong push into 1/32 WWII. Mostly by upscaling their 1/72 sets, which is in part why they have been able to issue so many sets in quick succession. The best part about Mars throwing its hat into ring, is that they are coming up with sets that had not received much attention in the past. Besides the sets that are listed on this post, they already announced a couple more that should be exciting, but I won't ruin the surprise for you :-) Take a look and judge for yourself!

Mars German Elite Division (Waffen SS)
 As far as this 'Elite Infantry' set, I have to say that it is just OK. For some reason the way the clothes look on the legs of these figures seems a bit artificial. Either too baggy, or the men's legs are too skinny to fill them... not sure what's going on. I also found it amusing that they preferred to avoid calling the set Waffen SS and went with 'Elite Division'. Anyhow, the poses are dynamic enough for my taste, and they could easily be used as regular infnatry if you also wanted to avoid depicting Waffen SS troops.  

Mars German Luftwaffe Field Division
This is one of those sets that had not been represented before, as far as I know. Not much to tell them apart from regular infantry or, even trickier, from Waffen SS. When I have seen them in pictures, they are usually wearing cammo smock or the tent quarters, which is what several of these guys are wearing. From what I read, these units suffered terrible casualty rates, given the fact that they had very limited training in ground combat tactics, as they had been hastily repurposed from airforce duties to frontline infantry. Maybe that's why they felt compelled to include a figure getting hit.

Mars German Naval Infantry
Another set that I have not seen manufactured before. Not sure if these guys are meant to represent the Marinestosstruppkompanie, the landing parties that a Naval Force would usually carry with them, or whether they were surplus sailors which had been repurposed as ground infantry, as was the case with the Luftwaffe Field Division. In any case, it is an interesting and unique set. In terms of the sculpting, this set is pretty decent, although the poses could be a bit more dynamic. 

Mars German Panzergrenadiers
If not because of the name, it is hard to tell that these guys were mechanized infantry. But they are still a nice set that could be used to augment your regular German infantry, or Waffen SS. The best pose is clearly the mg gunner resting his weapon on his mate's shoulder. Unfortunately, it is pretty hard to line up the figures. At best, the muzzle is right behind the front man's ear, which would have been terrible in real life. Also, this set does have a man 'running' which is better than some of the other sets in which everyone is standing, however the running pose could have been sculpted leaning forward a bit more in my opinion. Still a good set overall. 

Mars Imperial Japanese Infantry
This is a a set that has been made before plenty of times. But at least you can tell that the Mars scupting team is getting more adventurous in terms of adding dynamism to its poses, and they have given us two charging men. That is offset however, by the man who is throwing (or holding?) a grenade. If he is meant to throw it, I hope his squad has time to hit the ground because that's going to land a bit short! Other than that, this set is not that remarkable, considering that there's already a good variety of Japanese Infantry poses in the market from prior manufacturers. 

Mars Imperial Japanese Paratroopers
Now, here's a set that is new and unique as far as I know. And you can tell that these guys truly are imperial paratroopers because of its distinctive headgear which has wide straps to secure the helmet in place during the drop. Plus a few of them are still wearing their jump suit/smock. This is one probably my favorite set from Mars. The poses show some action, they are engaged in combat, the range of weapons includes a mortar, flame thrower, a sub mg, a pistol, plus several carbines... All in all a good mix to drop behind enemy lines!

Mars German Don Cossacks
Extra points to Mars for addressing a set that had not received any attention (to my knowledge) before. The quality of the set is good overall. The figures come in decent action/fighting poses, with a nice degree of movement, and the sculpting keeps improving. Perhaps the one missing pose from  this set is a cavalry figure, maybe a mounted officer. The Cossacks in general, including the Don Cossacks, were renowned cavalry troops. I know that in WWII the role of mounted units in battle was negligible, however I suspect that in the role of the Don Cossacks, hunting down partisans, and chasing them around the woods and countryside, horses would have been useful. 

Mars German Elite Infantry (Winter Dress)
This is another good set. A nice set of poses, with authentic looking winter gear. Maybe one less kneeling pose, in exchange for a prone guy would have been a good call, but still a nice set for which there were not many options previously. The only other figures that I recall, which would go well with these are the four 1/35 Dragon Can.Do German winter combat troops and another four  miscellaneous German winter troops which came with some of the FOV vehicles. So these will augment that squad nicely. Fortunatley, the size of these 1/32 figures is not too big, so they will all blend well. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A battle in the Pacific - the taking of an Island

It was a quiet and peaceful morning as the sun began to rise over this far away island in the Pacific.

 The Japanese garrison was slowly going about its morning routine.

Suddenly, out to sea, the Japanese lookouts spotted a sight they had been fearing since the fall of Guadalcanal. A sight that just a couple years earlier would have been unimaginable: an American invasion fleet approaching.

All across the island, the alarms went off...

The Japanese commander readied his men for battle. Instead of bombing and softening the Japanese defenses in the days leading up to the invasion, the US command had opted for the element of surprise, but the unpredictable weather in the Pacific had pushed them a couple hours behind schedule, and now they were about to attempt an amphibious assault without the cover of darkness.


On the beaches, in the jungle, on the high ground, the men manned the defensive positions they had been preparing for the past two years. It was going to be a hard struggle.

Machine gun nests dug into caves...

Snipers overlooking the island...

Jungle fighters heading into the thickness of the rainforest to spring deadly ambushes...

It was into this mutual death trap that the Marines launched their landing craft. With the coast guard coxswains laying covering fire, and the guns from the destroyers shelling the beach, the Higgins boats made their way to the beach.

The tension was palpable as the Japanese bullets struck the steel ramps of the crafts or whizzed dangerously close overhead. The enemy shells barely missing their boats.

As they approached the beach, the men were eager for the ramp to drop so that they could exit, and simultaneously, they dreaded that precise moment. For most of them this was when they would discover if they could live up to their bravado, and their ideals. For the few 
veterans, this was a far simpler moment. Just one that they were hoping to live through.

And just like that, the wait was over. The ramp dropped and the men poured out of their crafts. To their surprise, what had seemed like a small bluff on the beach from a distance, was in fact a defensive  wall, designed to prevent men and vehicles from moving inland, and to 
provide very good cover for the defenders. Air reconnaissance had totally missed it.

The Marines summoned all their valor and tried to disembark under a hail of bullets from the well protected defenders.
Despite the instinct to freeze, the Marine's training took over. Firing and moving, the Marines stormed up the beach.

The scene was the same all along the shoreline.

Individual acts of valor and leadership kept the men moving forward.

Those men not yet on the ground did their part providing covering fire for their buddies.

The same was true for the Coast Guard men, who stayed on those beaches instead of turning their boats around.

One problem to get off the beach was the barbed wire blocking the only path inland. 

Going directly over the sea wall was going to be close to impossible as long as the defenders were still manning their positions. That seemed unlikely to change, as Japanese reinforcements kept crawling forward to replace those who had fallen.

For a moment it seemed that the attack was losing steam as both sides were locked in an exchange of deadly fire. The Japanese protected by the sea wall, and the Marines, supported by their landing craft. Neither side willing to use artillery anymore that close to their own troops.

The next wave of landing craft arrived, but still, the men could not move off the beach. 

It was then that the Amtracs showed up.

With blazing 50 cal machine guns, armored all around, and the ability to move across rough terrain, they could shift the tide of the battle.

But could they get over that sea wall without exposing their soft underbelly?

As the men saw the Amtracs approach a renewed wave of courage, anger, and hope engulfed them, and they surged forward.

The lead Marines were getting dangerously close to overcoming the barbed wire blocking the exit from the beach.

The Japanese, realizing the criticality of the situation, decided to call in a highly dangerous mortar strike at the edge of their own sea wall positions.

On the left flank and on the right flank, Japanese mortars opened up. Amtracs, being open vehicles, were particularly vulnerable to this counter measure.

The Japanese defenders at the sea wall, sensing that this was the the defining moment disregarded the mortar shells falling all around them and poured more lead onto the Marines which were temporarily in disarray.

The Marines knew they could not stay there any longer. Prior to the mortars, many had taken shelter against the sea wall, but now that was not an option. 

Men were firing at each other from just a few feet apart, and even so, many could not figure out where they were being shot from.

Gradually, the Marines started to overcome the sea wall defenders.

One fox hole at a time.

But the crossfire was still pretty brutal.

And yet, it looked like the most recent wave of Marines was starting to break the stalemate.

Some of the men who had made it to the sea wall were able to sneak up and spring a trap on the unsuspecting Japanese.

In the meantime, the Japanese commander, who wanted to keep the Amtracs from breaking through, dispatched his treasured, few tanks and supporting infantry towards the beach. 

Out of the jungle and mixing in with the din of battle coming from the beach, came the rumbling sound of tank engines and Japanese battle cries.

But could these light battle tanks push the Marines back into the ocean? 

It was right about that time when the first Amtrac reached the gap in the sea wall and broke through the barbed wire defenses.

As the Amtrac climbed up the bluff, it came face to face with the pill box guarding the exit.

However the Marines riding on the Amtrac were able to silence it with a few well placed grenade throws and a good dose of suppressing fire.

This opened up the beach access for several Marine squads to follow up on its tracks.

Just as tthe muzzle of a gun can not hold back its deadly load when the gun powder in the shell's chamber explodes, the Marines who had been crammed and punished along the sea wall burst up the bluff with all guns blazing away.

The Japanese however had another layer of defenders in place ready to meet them. Many of them in prepared positions...

Many others taking shelter in the craters created by US Navy's heavy guns.

Every fold in the terrain was used to the fullest advantage.

But the Marine's pent up fury was hard to contain.

Unfortunately for the Marines, the surviving Japanese at the sea wall were now picking up the Marines from the flank.

But not for long. The Marines following up behind were able to pay them in kind.

The charge up the bluff continued to sweep the defenders. The Marines would need to assume defensive positions very quickly, as the tanks were now dangerously close.

Not to mention a couple of Japanese machine guns which were getting ready to open up on the charging Learthernecks.

The defenders were far from beaten and they continued to throw everything they had at the surging invasion force.

The approaching armor provided extra incentive for the Marines to try to take over some of the prepared positions.

The Japanese men readied themselves for the upcoming hand to hand struggle.

The encounters were swift and decisive. The momentum was on the side of the attackers.

By the time the Japanese tanks and their supporting infantry reached the beach, the Marines had a few well-placed heavy weapons to meet them.

The passionate Japanese men charged fiercely into the withering machine gun fire and were quickly dispatched.

Once the tanks were without infantry cover, they were also easy prey for hidden bazooka men.

Meanwhile, at the beach, the stragglers were following up the bluff, although there were a few who were too battle shocked to let go of the perceived safety of the sea wall.

The human traffic jam was beginning to clear up, albeit not without leaving behind a heavy toll.

As the Marines enveloped and outflanked the sea wall, they also came into vicious hand to hand combat with the last few survivors who refused to fall back to the second line of defense and would rather fight to the bitter end.

Some of the Marines who took over those foxholes also found themselves at the short end of the stick as the Japanese fought back to recapture them.

All across the beach, similar dramatic scenes were unfolding, with some positions changing hands multiple times.

The battle raged on. The last fortification on the beach was within sight of the attacking Marines.

The phone lines had been cut so a runner was dispatched to notify the commander of the situation.

The Japanese commander committed his reserve company to the battle. He knew that unless they held the beach, American reinforcements would continue to pour into the island and it was only a matter of time before they were defeated.

Slowly, the Japanese men moved through the jungle towards the battle. As they advanced, they knew this was most likely a one way mission.

At their commanding officer's order, the men rushed forward in a frenzied banzai charge. A last ditch attempt to take back the beach.

The jarheads were ready and from the protection of the Japanese defensive positions, they annhilated the Emperor's faithful followers.

But while this meant that the battle was lost, it was not over yet. The Japanese knew that without reinforcements, they would not be able to prevent the Americans from capturing the island. But they were determined to exact the highest possible price for the remaining real estate. What the Marines could not see was that within the jungle, at every turn there were many hidden defenders waiting in ambush.

They were carefully spread out, to make the advance painfully bloody and slow.

And let's not forget those hidden pillboxes and caves that had yet to be dealt with.

The Marines had to move very carefully through the jungle. It was within this confined space full of combustible organic matter that the flamethrower became many Marines' best friend.

For the Japanese in the caves, with nowhere to go, this was a dreadful way to meet their end. Some chose to blow themselves up with their last grenades, others charged out to be mowed down by the expecting Marines. Many still discovered how quickly,  thoroughly, and 
painfully, a human body can burn.

For the Marines, it was a hard slug up the island. Its high ground rose several hundred feet above the sea level, and the Japanese retained a commanding view of the approach routes.

Sniper teams made the advance very treacherous, particularly for the junior officers who would regularly be killed to disrupt the command and control of the advancing units.

But the Amtracs, having found their way inland, helped clear those last pockets of resistance.

At last, the Marines reached the main Japanese base camp. Very few men remained. Built mostly out of bamboo, the camp did not offer much protection. Once the commander was killed, the firing ceased.

Without any other Japanese men to witness their shameful surrender, the last two defenders put down their weapons and chose to live. The Marines were tempted to kill them, but were too exhausted, physically and mentally, to do so.

A day later, upon reaching the highest point in the island, the men improvised a flagstaff and Old Glory was raised. The battle for this forsaken piece of land in the middle of nowhere was officially over.