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Monday, October 17, 2011

Introducing the Chinese Infantry

When Japan invaded China in july of '37 the Chinese military was not ready for it. The Chinese army of the Second World War was primarily an infantry force without motorized and armored units. In the years leading up to the war China benefited from military advice from Germany.  This program had produced 8 divisions fully trained and equiped with German and European weapons, and another 12 divisions trained, but armed with inferior Chinese weapons. This was in addition to the regular Chinese divisions. These other divisions were a combination of the Nationalist Army and the Communist army which had agreed to a truce in 1937 to face the common enemy. The German-trained units, a precious resource, were quickly used up during the first year of the war, particularly during the defense of Shanghai in which 250,000 troops were killed. Another large battle during this early phase of the war was the one for Wuhan, which involved 1.1 million Chinese soldiers and cost them another 225,000 killed. Throughout the war there were 22 major battles involving more than 100,000 men on each side. And then there were also a large number of civilian deaths, as was the case during the aftermath of the fall of Nanking in which 300,000 civilians were killed. After '38 Germany withdrew its support in order to form its alliance with Japan. Shortly before that, the Soviet Union began to support China, and did so up to '41 when they signed a non-aggression pact with Japan. From mid '41 onwards the US and then the other allied nations began supporting China. When the Burma road was closed by the Japanese in '42 and with the naval ports occupied by Japan, the supplies getting into China were not adequate to mount major offensives. The Chinese also foud it convenient to adopt a defensive posture and wait for the allied nations to defeat Japan in the Pacific campaign. And they were also busy fighting each other again, after the truce between the Nationalists and the Communists collapsed in early '41. However the Japanese had also been bleeding profusely -about 450,000- over the course of the war, which prevented them from launching major offensives to bring an end to the war in China. The conflict in China cost the Chinese military about 1.5 million deaths in battle, the same from disease and another 750,000 missing soldiers. A great majority of them came from the Nationalist side, which left them in a weak position when the struggle against the Communists resumed in earnest. Lastly an additional 900,000 men served in a collaborationist army under the Japanese, but they were rarely used in battle as their performance was poor, and mainly served to control the local population. As far as Chinese plastic troops, we do not really have many available options, but luckily there are a couple... I think.

Charben Chinese Infantry
I couple of months ago I purchased these guys advertised as Chinese Infantry. Shortly after I bought them I saw them on the book 'Collecting Foreign Made Toy Soldiers' by O'Brien labeled as Japanese Infantry. I have not been able to establish what they really are, but since I already have many more Japanese figures I've chosen to accept them for now as Chinese Infantry. The figures are not the greatest but for a set made in the 60's/70s they are acceptable. The most interesting figure is probably the flamethrower guy, however painting a good looking flame is always tricky, so I am a bit concerned about how he might look when I get to paint him.  

Cherilea Chinese Infantry
These Cherilea figures are 60mm tall, most likely recent recasts of the originals. I've seen them advertised as WWII as well as Korean War soldiers. Even if they were the latter, they are close enough in time that it does not make much of a difference. I like the fact that they'll provide a mortar, a bazooka, a couple of MGs, and a flamethrower to the otherwise lightly armed Charben guys. The flamethrower guy is interesting because his fuel tank is round, like a slice of a cylinder. The detail is not the best, but considering that there are not many sets to pick from what are we going to do about it?

Cherilea Chinese Infantry - Vintage
Here are some original Chinese Infantry figures. It gives you an idea regarding the original paint color shcheme and the plastic that they were cast on. They definitely look nicer than the more recent recasts without any color on them. A good incentive to paint those recasts at some point. Plus I can then paint them in their actual uniform colors. 

21st Century Toys Chinese Infantry
Now, these are some nice figures. Among the best that 21C Toys produced. They are nationalist soldiers wearing British helmets with a light blue uniform. I guess this means the other Chinese troops will be painted to match these guys. Again, great job by 21C Toys. The sculpting, level of detail, paint work is all there. No wonder that they have become quite a bit pricy since they went out of business.

OWN Chinese Infantry - Part I
These figures are actually fairly nice. They represent the early divisions which were equipped with German equipment and were overall better trained and more effective. The sculpting is fairly good both in terms of the poses and the level of detail. There are only two things that I did not like that much. First was the price. At $2.25 a piece they are above the average for new production plastic figures. The second was that they come in multiple sections and you have to spend a good amount of time putting them together and finding the right glue for the job. 

OWN Chinese Infantry - Part II
The advantage however of how they were manufactured is that you can avoid the solid blocks of plastic that other figures would otherwise have in between their arms when holding a weapon across the chest. So I suppose that also justifies a bit the higher price. They actually come in two sets. The firs set contains the 8 poses above, and you get 16 figures. 

OWN Chinese Infantry - Part III
This are the poses in the second set. You also get 16 figures, which means that you end up with 4 poses of each, whether you need that many or not. So setting aside the packaging, I still think that the OWN figures do add a badly needed variety to the Chinese Infantry units. And BTW, looking at their uniforms, made me realize that I can use some AIP WWI Germans to reinforce them as the heltmet shape and the use of puttees give them a strong resemblance. In terms of having a uniform Chinese Army, the only problem is that these troops with the German helmet wore a kahki uniform, so they would not match the 21C guys. 

OWN Chinese Infantry - Part IV
Another thing which was a bit of a pain was how much flashing and extra bits of plastic came attached to the figures. Even before you got to the part about gluing them together you had to spend a good chunk of time just trimming off all these extra bits of plastic left over from the injection process.

OWN Chinese Infantry - Part V
Here are a couple more shots of how they come preassembly. 

OWN Chinese Infantry - Part VI 

 OWN Chinese Infantry - Part VII
Here is add-on set. It contains three nice artillery crewmen plus four of the infantry poses already released in the previous set - actually it contains 6/8 of each for a total of 14 figures in the set. In reality, I would have preferred to be able to buy just the artillery guys. Again, the figures require assembly, but with the right glue, that's not much problem and the result is well worth the effort. Here I have displayed them with a German PAK 36, which the early Chinese army might have had, given the close relationship that they had with Germany at the onset of WW2.

DGN Chinese Infantry
This was a huge disappointment. I really felt cheated when I received these figures. All they are is a neon green version of the DGN Soviet figures. What made them believe that they would pass as Chinese? Not worth of reviewing at any closer level of detail. 

Classic Toy Soldiers Korean War Chinese - Part I
I got these guys thinking that I will use them as WWII Soviet Winter troops. The level of detail is so good that their faces actually betray them as Chinese. I might still be able to use them as Soviets, if we assume that they came from the Central Asian Soviet Republics. The uniforms and weapons all would pass as Soviet gear. In terms of the sculpting and poses, I am quite happy with this set. All poses are combat poses, which is the way I like them. 

Classic Toy Soldiers Korean War Chinese - Part II
The man on the right is actually my favorite pose. You don't often see figures reloading their weapons, and he is doing it on the run. Another interesting detail of these figures is that the base is covered in snow and you actually see the footprints of the men on it. A nice touch of realism, which actually highlights the fact that I should have taken these pictures with a different background :-)
 The only thing that some might criticize is that the sets come with 16 figures, but you don't get two of each pose. Three of them come in 3s and 3 of them as singles. Having 2 of each is useful if you plan on painting one set of poses and leaving the other 8 unpainted. On the other hand, if you want to use all 16 together, then, having one officer makes more sense than having two. All in all a nice and unique set from CTS, so I might not even mind buying a second one, perhaps to use as true Chinese.

Atlantic Mao Chinese Revolution - Part I
This is another of those hard to find sets. And as you can see, I did not manage to get the complete set. Luckily, I did get the main figure, Mao, who stands in the middle of the picture. The rest of the set are a mix of fighters and common folk. The man on the right is missing his boat. 

Atlantic Mao Chinese Revolution - Part II
These are two of the fighting poses. There's also a man with a sub mg, another one aiming/firing his rifle, and another standing guard with the rifle at his shoulder.

Atlantic Mao Chinese Revolution - Part III
This is supposed to have a man pulling the rickshaw. And I suppose the woman riding is meant to represent the upper class oppressing the working class. There are a total of 11 poses. The other guy who is missing is some type of civilian or political officer. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Introducing the German Mountain Troops

The German Gebirgsjäger were light infantry troops specialized in mountaineering and fighting under winter conditions. Many of them hailed from the Bavarian Alps or Austria's Tirol region. While in the mountains they moved primarily by foot and relied on mules to carry their supplies and equipment. Their coat of arms is the Edelweiss, a white flower that grows at high altitudes. Mountain troop divisions were raised both within the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS. Many fought in the northern front, in Finland and the adjacent Soviet territory, trying to capture the port of Murmansk which was an important source of lend-lease supplies for the Soviets. Others fought in the Caucasus, one unit becoming famous for raising their flag on top of Mount Elbrus, the highest point in that mountain range. They also took part in combat operations in the Balkans, some taking part in the failed attempt to capture the partisan leader Tito in Yugoslavia. Other units fought in the Italian ranges around the Gothic Line and some more on the French Vosges mountains. As the war progressed, they were increasingly used as traditional infantry, some seeing combat side by side with traditional infantry divisions on the eastern front. The book Black Edelweiss by Johann Voss provides a good narrative of the experiences that the 6th SS Mountain Division went through in the Arctic Front and the grueling 1600km march that they undertook by foot through Finland and Norway when Finland and the Soviets signed a peace treaty in september '44. Another book, Seven Days in January by Wolf Zoepf narrates in great detail what this same division went through during Operation Norwind, fighting in the Vosges, and conducting night marches through the mountains during the last major offensive that Germany launched during the war. As far as availability of figures we are pretty much constrained to just one set from Airfix, however there are several other sets such as the Airfix Afrika Korps, or some Revell Engineers who wear similar headgear and can be painted as mountain troops to complement them.

Airfix Mountain Troops - Part 1
This whole set is very diverse and has some very unique figures. Unfortunately many of them can't really be considered fighting poses, but that's still OK given their uniqueness. The guy on the left is one of my favorites, however you will need to deploy him with a few more of his kind, perhaps on a long range patrol. His feet/skis are detachable, so you will need to find a good glue to attach them or put them on every time you send him into action.

Airfix Mountain Troops - Part 2
Mountain troops compensated for their fewer number of submachine guns and semiautomatic weapons by having a slightly larger number of MG42s, as the team on the left shows.

Airfix Mountain Troops - Part 3
A few more climbing guys, a signals man -who would have to rely heavily on good weather, and two more fighting poses. Overall almost twice as many poses as in most Airfix sets. Perhaps one of the reasons why it has become a very popular set amongst collectors.

Click here to see pictures of German Combat Engineers, a possible complement to these figures.
Here are some pictures of the Airfix Africa Corps. If painted grey, they can also be used as Mountain Troops.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Introducing the Italian Infantry

The Italian Army has received much criticism regarding its performance during WWII, mainly because Germany had to come to their rescue in the Balkans and North Africa. Their collapse outside Stalingrad did not helpt thier reputation either. But when you consider Italy's availability of raw materials, industrial output, technological development, and overall military strength at the outset of the war, you realize that they were utterly underprepared to fight in WWII, and the soldiers' morale reflected that. It is also hard to believe that under such conditions the Italian leadership committed them to fight on so many fronts: Southern France, West Africa, East Africa, the Balkans, and later on Russia. They were certainly courting disaster. Of course, there were many displays of courage at the individual and small unit level, and even at the divisional level as was the case of the Folgore Division, an elite paratroop unit which fought in North Africa for 2 years, and that during the Second Battle of el Alamein, held up against the combined attacks of 4 Commonwealth Divisions. After the armistice of september 1943, the italian military was divided in two. Those continuing to fight on the side of the Axis, and those fighting with the Allies, inlcuding those fighting guerrilla operations on the northern part of Italy, still controlled by the Germans. During the war 4 million men served in the Italian Army, of which half a million died, so in terms of human cost, they certainly paid their fair share. As far as figure availability goes, we have a few sets available, most of them produced in the last few years.

Airfix Italian Infantry
For the last 3 decades these had been among the very few Italian Infantry figures. The only other ones that I am aware of from that time are the Atlantic guys. A fairly decent set. Not the most active poses, but with nice, detailed sculpting. I bought these second hand, so the paint job is not what I would like it to be. I think that once they are repainted they will look quite a bit better.

Classic Toy Soldiers Italian Infantry
CTS released this about 5 years back. They display a bit more intensity than the Airfix guys, however the sculpting is a bit less detailed. Still a welcome addition after so many years of waiting. These guys could be fighting in the Balkans or in the Soviet Union.

Waterloo 1815 El Alamein Division
Waterloo 1815, mainly a producer of 1/72 figures came up with this set around the same time as CTS. There were multiple Italian Divisions -Pavia, Trieste, Trento, Ariete, Brescia, Littorio, Bologna-, which fought during the First and Second battles at El Alamein, and the fighting in between. One of these guys appears to wear a Bersaglieri helmet, but there were Bersaglieri units attached to several divisions, so it does not really help to narrow down which one they belong to. In any case, they are good troops to have next to the DAK to fight the British 8th Army.

Waterloo 1815 Folgore Division
Anothet good set for the West Desert campaign. They could fight side by side with the guys above. I like how they reflect the relaxed dress code that existed in the North African desert. The only thing I don't quite like about these guys are their bases, which make them a bit wobbly.

21st Century Toys Italian Infantry
A very nice set from 21C toys. The poses, the detail, even the paint job. Very nice. Their uniforms seem a bit darker than the real ones though. I'll probably struggle deciding whether to paint the other guys trying to match these or trying to reflect the original colors.

DGN Italian Infantry - Part I
This is a welcome addition to the scarce WWII Italian figures available up to date. The prone guy has a strong resemblance with the Airfix guy. The others seem to be originals. The mortar guy is a bit hard to stand as it keeps falling over. 

DGN Italian Infantry - Part II
The officer in this set clearly resembles the Airfix officer. The other guys also appear to be originals. The head dress that they wear matches that of the Waterloo 1815 El Alamein Division. The weakest figure here is the prone machine gunner. His left arm is too short and he does not rest on the ground entirely.

DGN Italian Infantry - Part III
The rest of the set. Not much to criticize here. These guys appear to be Bersaglieri, based on the plume that they have on the left side of their helmets.

Atlantic Italian Infantry
These are Italian assault infantry troops I had to admit that I had to think twice about buying them. Some of the poses are a bit unreal -like the guy on the left- and I am not all that excited about them, but in the interest of having a complete collection I went ahead and got them. The best figure in the lot is probably the guy kneeling with the binoculars. Note also that the 10 figure set only has 6 unique poses. 

Atlantic Italian Bersaglieri - Part 1
These are 60 mm figures. A very nice set from Atlantic. Good, dynamic poses, and a good variety of weapons. I doubt they came painted out of the factory. In any case, they seem to be ready for a second coat.

Atlantic Italian Bersaglieri - Part 2
A mortar man and a motorcycle. Definitely a very nice set. These guys seem a bit overdressed for the desert, so most likely I'll have to use them in European scenes. By the way, there is also a 54mm set of traditional Italian Infantry made by Atlantic which I am not showing here, but I hope to get at some point.

Dulcop WWI Italian Troops
Dulcop really gave us a sampler of troops here. We are looking at two Bersaglieri (second and the sixth from the left), two Arditii, a specialty of italian Army which assaulted the trenches with hand grenades and long knives (first and fifth) and two Alpini (the two in the middle). While these guys are technically WWI troops, considering that Italy did not modernize their military that much during the interwar period, I think that their uniforms and weaponry could pass as WWII equipment. A nice, dynamic set by Dulcop, even if some of the poses seem a bit off balance. The officer's heard is also a bit too small. However the head gear and the facial hair in some of the figures are quite unique. A good addition to the collection.

Waterloo 1815 WWI Italian Infantry - Part I
From the bushy set of feathers on their helmet, this is a set of what appear to be Bersaglieri troops. While they are also WWI figures, as we've pointed out already, the Italian uniform and equipment did not change much in the inter-war years, so I think these guys will blend in well with their WWII peers. In terms of the set itself, I like the poses and detail on most of the figures. The only one that is a bit odd is the man throwing the grenade. It's not very apparent on this picture, but his front leg is too close to his back leg; not quite the way one would throw an object.

Waterloo 1815 WWI Italian Infantry - Part II
A nice set of poses here. I like the man on the left, crouching, but not quite kneeling. There is not much to criticize. Perhaps the only other thing to point out is that they are made out of this very light but hard plastic, which makes it a bit annoying to take off the spruce. You need a sharp knife, and you need to apply a good bit of pressure too, so if you slip a bit you might be slicing off your finger. One good thing is that Waterloo chose to give them a regular base. An improvement over those funny bases in their WWII sets.  

Atlantic Italian Alpine Troops - Part I
This is another set that is a bit hard to come by. What makes it special is that it has quite a few unique items in it. For instance, on the left you can see that it has what looks like a snowmobile. I don't really know if these were around at the time of WWII, so perhaps these guys represent post WWII figures. As you can see, it also comes with a small howitzer, but there don't seem to be any figures to operate it. And then there is the skier. This is perhaps my favorite pose in the set.

Atlantic Italian Alpine Troops - Part II
Here is a view from behind of the same three items. As you can see, there is a second man sitting on the snowmobile firing on the move. The tricky thing though is that he does not like to stay on his seat and there is nothing to keep him there, so if you move the snowmobile, you constantly need to reposition him.

Atlantic Italian Alpine Troops - Part III
These are the rest of the figures. The man on the right is the only 'traditional' pose. The other two are again, quite specific to the Alpine genre. There is the man sitting on the sled, which is a bit too relaxed, if you ask me, and then there is the man leading the pack mule. So all in all a nice set, but I feel that you need to combine them with some other figures to have a real fighting unit. Even combining them with more Atlantic Alpine Troop sets would not be good enough, as you need to have a few more of the traditional poses.

 Atlantic Italian Heavy Weapons Team - Part I
This set might actually be representing post WWII figures, but I think they can still pass for WWII guys. As you can see, there are 4 figures. The three kneeling guys are the mortar crew. The prone guy is supposed to be manning a heavy machine gun, but it was missing from the set when I got it. As it's the case with all other Atlantic figures, they come unpainted. These were painted by their previous owner, who actually did quite a nice job. All in all a good set.

 Atlantic Italian Heavy Weapons Team - Part II
So I managed to find the machine gun that goes with the prone guy. And one more kneeling guy, which looks like he might be suporting the machine gunner, or at least that's how I plan to use him. In terms of the machine gun, I think they took the 'heavy weapons' thing quite seriously as this looks more like an anti-tank gun based on size.

BUM Infantry - Part I
This is machine gun team is sold as American by BUM. The art on the box shows them wearing GI uniforms, however when you look at the actual figures I don't really recognize the features of the American uniforms. So I actually plan on using them as Italian Infantry, since they could use a bit of help when it comes to heavy weapons and the helmets and uniforms are more similar to the Italian one. The poses are actually OK, but the level of detail on the figures, is not so great. For instance, the face of the man on the left is pretty plain.

BUM Infantry - Part II
Another heavy weapons team from BUM. Also allegedly American, but note really. This set also comes with the barbed wire, but I did not include it in the picture to get a better shot. Note also that the figures seem to be clones. You can tell not only because the level of detail is a bit faded, but also because the original oval bases are now encased in larger rectagular bases. 



Friday, October 14, 2011

Introducing the British Commandos

The British Commandos were an elite formation within the British armed forces. Their rigorous training program with a high drop out rate made them highly selective. Their training emphasized the development of immediate, instinctive reactions. To achieve that they conducted drills under very real combat-like conditions repeatedly until the desired behavior became second nature. The book 'Up Close and Personal' by David Lee has a very detailed descripion of their training, history and some of their main operations. He indicates that about a third of the training focused on weapons (including their famous Sykes knife and even foreign weaponry), another third on fieldcraft (the art of moving stealthily), unarmed combat and ropework, and the other third was spent on boating, map reading, marches, night training, demolition and drill. Each Commando unit consisted of approximately 450 men, all of them volunteers. The Commandos took part in many operations throughout the war. Many were small raids, but they were also deployed in larger scales, as was the case during the Normandy landings. One of their most famous raids was the one on Dieppe. Even though the operation was a disaster for the Canadian infantry involved, No. 4 Commando performed exceptionally well neutralizing a coastal battery in advance of the main landing. As far as plastic troops go, there are a few options out there. Let's take a look.
Airfix Brisith Commandos
Not the most exciting set from Airfix. Except for the man throwing the grenade, the other guys seem rather static. The guy who is kneeling is also missing a base, so he's easy to knock over. My favorite guy in this set is the prone guy. There had to be at least one of them displaying their famous knife. Note that they are also wearing a woolen cap instead of the steel helmet worn by traditional infantry units.

Atlantic British Commandos - Part 1
These guys are wearing their distinctive green beret. I find this set one of the best ones from Atlantic. The sculpting and the poses are well proportioned and dynamic. The weapons are diverse. They have even provided them witha bazooka man.

Atlantic British Commandos - Part 2
A few more good poses. The only thing I find a bit funny is the mae west on some of these guys. I wonder if they really wore those going into action. BTW, it was recently brought to my attention that these guys were also released as Italian Naval Infantry by Atlantic. The set was called 'Battaglione San Marco'. In an interesting twist of fate, the San Marco unit fought against British Commandos at Tobruk on the night of September 13 1942. That would be an interesting scene to recreate with these figures.

Crescent British Commandos
These are 60 mm figures from the 60's I believe. I actually don't know for sure if they are Commandos or Paratroops -I've seen them labeled either way- but I plan to use them as both. Once they are painted I think they will fit in well, and having a mortar guy on the unit and another bazooka man can't hurt.

Matchbox British Commandos - Part 1
I think this is one of those sets in which Matchbox outdid Airfix. They also have a very good variety of poses and weaponry. The only thing missing is some heavy weapons.

Matchbox British Commandos - Part 2
The guy with the ladder is a nice touch, but I have to admit that I don't have much use for him in most battles. They do offer a good selection of prone guys. The guy in the middle is very similar to the Airfix guy. I wonder which one came out first. The kneeling guy is going to be my overall commander once I have them all painted.

Airfix & Matchbox British Commandos
Here is a nice combo. The boat and rower are Matchbox figures. The bren gunner is an Airfix guy providing support. I guess there is some advantage to him not having a base after all. Like the ladder guy, this one also requires a very specific scene.

Crescent 'Movables' British Commandos
These guys are analogous to the Britians Swoppets. You can remove their weapons and body parts to combine them into different poses/figures. In my opinion, the level of detail and realism is not quite there, however due to their uniqueness, they deserve a spot in the collection. I think they came in sets of 7, so there is one missing from this picture.

Timpo Swoppets British Commandos
I am a bit confused here. I have seen British Commandos wearing green berets mostly, and very dark ones which could be black occasionally. Troops from armored units, also wore black berets, like the guys on the Bren gun carrier in the previous picture. But I am inclined to think that these figures were meant to represent commandos. In terms of the figures, they come with the typical webbing used by British Army units as well as a backpack. The poses as obviously influenced by how you combine the torsos with the legs, but I should say that some of the leg stances are not the best. 

Multiple Toymakers British Commandos - Part I
These guys were an odd find. I did not evenknow that this manufacturer existed. The figures are a bit skinny for my taste, but in general, they are well sculpted. A good set of poses, with an acceptable degree of movement and action in them. I do have to say that when I first looked at them, I thought there might be some repeated poses, as some of them are similar, but upon closer inspection, they are all different.  

Multiple Toymakers British Commandos - Part II
Here are the rest of the guys. Another funny thing are the faces. They are all the same, so it feels like it is an army of clones. The most interesting guy in this second batch is the flamethrower. The seconf guy from the right. Not easy to see, but the whole weapon can come off his hands and hang from the tanks attached to the back. It is a bit tricky to put it all back into place and make it stay there. 

Unknown British Commando
This is a guy who came in a mixed set of figures. He is some type of swoppet hybrid, with removable head, but fixed body. He seems to be running with a mortar and its shells. In terms oof size, it is closer to 60mm than it is to 54mm, but not quite 60mm, I think. Unfortunately, it does not have any markings to help identify the manufacturer, so if you know who made it, please leave a comment.