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Thursday, March 17, 2022

Introducing the Soviet Scouts

The Soviet Scouts (a.k.a. Razvedchiki) were the reconnaissance troops of the Red Army. They were considered an elite unit, capable of probing and infiltrating enemy lines. Their main objective was to gather intelligence regarding enemy positions, troop strength, movements, or capturing enemy officers to bring back for interrogation. This was of course, very valuable information ahead of a Soviet attack, or simply to avoid being surprised by a local German offensive. As such, the scouts were not an independent service branch. Instead, each rifle division within the Red Army had a reconnaissance battalion attached to it. Scouts were sometimes also used for operations behind enemy lines, much like allied commando units might have operated, destroying enemy facilities and key pieces of infrastructure. A platoon of scouts usually had two nine-men squads. Given the nature of their missions, they would all be equipped with submachine guns such as the  PPSh-41 to maximize their firepower at close range, and for stealth purposes, they would also be very handy with a knife, such as the NR-40. Scouts usually wore the amoeba cammo suit when on missions, although underneath the cammo suit, they also wore the regular army uniform. Given their elite status, they usually received preferential treatment when it came to equipment, rations, supplies, and uniforms. In terms of plastic toy soldiers, there are not too many scouts out there, but we do have a few examples from a couple firms such as Engineer Bassevich and Plastic Platoon. And there's even one from Publius. Let's take a look.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Scouts
Engineer Bassevich Soviet Scouts
These four Red Army scouts came in a set from Engineer Bassevich that included eight other figures representing women in the Red Army. So it wasn't a set dedicated to scouts exclusively. I like the 3 figures on the left better than the man on the right. He reminds me of the old days sculpting which would favor flat figures for ease of casting and release. I wonder why they made him this way. In terms of uniforms, the head cover initially made me think that these guys were operating in the winter. Later I learned that these hoods were also used during other seasons, both for the cammo effect and also because they offered protection against mosquitoes which could be quite annoying around swampy areas. Notice how they are also equipped with sub machine guns and knives, something necessary given the nature of their missions.

Plastic Platoon Soviet Scouts
Plastic Platoon Soviet Scouts
If you are looking for a tough and daring raiding party look no more. Plastic Platoon's Soviet Scouts are full of grit and intensity. Are they engaged in a fighting retreat or are they springing up an ambush on an unsuspecting enemy? Whatever the case may be, these guys seem ready for it! These guys' outfits are relatively simple by Plastic Platoon's standards. All of them are wearing the typical Soviet cammo smock/suit, which should make them look quite interesting if you chose to paint them. In terms of weaponry, they are packing a good amount of heat. With the exception of the officer, they are all firing automatic weapons. From a German Maschinenpistole to the more ubiquitous PPSh-41 with its different ammo magazines, and then there's the guy firing off the hip what appears to be a 'conscripted' German MG34. Of this set, my favorite pose is the man throwing the hand grenade. Not only is his stance just right -which is not always the case for grenade throwers- but what about that mustache? I think that gives him bonus points. All in all a really nice set, representing a branch of service rarely depicted. 

Publius Battle of Berlin Soviet Scout
Publius Battle of Berlin Soviet Scout
This set from Publius contained figures from different branches of the Red Army. One of them appears to be a scout, or at least is wearing the amoeba cammo suit and is equipped with weapons fit for his mission. Given the relatively few scout figures available, this is a welcome addition to the unit. In terms of quality of the sculpting, detail, and dynamism of the figure, it is all there. High marks all around for this Publius scout!

Click here to check out move Soviet Troops


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Introducing the Soviet SMERSH

The Soviet SMERSH was the organization within the Soviet Union responsible for military counterintelligence. Their main objective was to prevent foreign spies from infiltrating the Red Army, although their role also included hunting anti-Soviet elements within the Red Army. As such, their motto was 'Death to Spies'. This responsibility was originally handled by the NKVD, but in April of 1943 the NKVD was reorganized and SMERSH was spun off into an independent organization. They existed as such until May 1946. Some of the duties of SMERSH resemble those of the NKVD, when it comes to clearing the liberated territories from collaborators and Nazi sympathizers and evaluating the loyalty of Soviet Partisans and Soviet Army men who had fallen behind enemy lines. They were also responsible for helping to coordinate the activities of partisans behind enemy lines. To fulfill its mission, SMERSH created a large network of spies and informants, up to 3.5 million by some estimates, many of them within the Red Army. SMERSH also turned many German agents and used them to feed misinformation into German operations. Perhaps the best way to think about SMERSH in contrast to the NKVD is that they were much more focused on foreign spies and the Red Army, whereas the NKVD was policing all of Soviet society, and was also operating the Gulags and POW camps. By all accounts, SMERSH was just as ruthless and quite effective. In terms of toy soldiers, this is another one of those topics that had not been covered until recently, when Hanomak released a set on this subject. Let's take a look.

Hanomak Soviet SMERSH - Liquidation Set
Hanomak Soviet SMERSH - Liquidation Set
Another niche topic SMERSH was the military intelligence unit of the Soviet Army. In this set they are supposed to be hunting German sympathizers in liberated territories. Given that the three sympathizers are shown in more active fighting poses, I think it would have made sense to have the SMERSH guys display a little more intensity. The officer firing two pistols is OK, but the other two seem too relaxed. I am actually planning to fold the three civilian figures into my unit of partisans, and maybe use the SMERSH guys to enhance the ranks of my Soviet Infantry. I would not have enough of them to create a meaningful unit of SMERSH men. The three civilians are much more interesting. These guys may actually be former Soviet soldiers who aligned themselves with the Germans (notice the uniform under the coat, or the padded jacket and hat, and the German sub machine gun), or they could also be  Germans who ended up behind enemy lines (notice the boots and the field cap). All nicely detailed and sculpted. And nothing to glue with this set.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Introducing the Soviet NKVD

The Soviet NKVD was the organization within the Soviet Union responsible for protecting the state and its political ideology from internal threats. It was a mix of an intelligence agency and secret police. They were also in charge of guarding the borders as well as the prison camps. Its origins go back to the Revolution of 1917. In the years preceding WW2, they conducted a series of ruthless campaigns and purges against the Soviet people. Some of them politically motivated, but sometimes also ethnically-driven. And sometimes simply quota-driven against a certain region or occupational group, such as the clergy or army officers, as was the case during the great purge of 1937. Many others were arrested and sent to prison camps or gulags where they languished or were executed. Most of these arrests and trials were performed with minimum evidence, often just the word of someone who declared someone else an 'enemy of the people', and confessions were obtained through brutal methods. They were also responsible for the execution of 22,000 captured Polish officers in what became known as the Katyn massacre when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and split Poland at the start of the war. The actual NKVD was formed shortly after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Their role expanded to ensure that the Soviet Army fought as expected and in order to 'increase morale', NKVD units often shot at Soviet troops attempting to retreat. If you have not watched the movie Enemy at the Gates, this is well illustrated in this film, when the NKVD men unleash a storm of machine gun fire at some retreating Soviet conscripts who have no chance of succeeding in a frontal attack at Stalingrad. The NKVD formed multiple divisions during the war, and while most were used for the stated purposes, a few of them were also used as frontline troops as was the case in Stalingrad and Crimea. As the tides of war changed, the NKVD was either involved in sabotage activities behind German lines, or was busy clearing the liberated territories from collaborators and Nazi sympathizers. By the end of the war, the NKVD ranks numbered over 1.5 million men. The Soviet Union created a similar organization, which actually splintered off the NKVD, to guard against foreign spies and bad influences within the Red Army. That organization was called SMERSH. It is so similar in nature that one could easily confuse them. Anyhow, the NKVD was definitely a controversial organization. Perhaps it is due to this, or to its limited combat role, that NKVD troops had not been represented in the Plastic Toy Soldier hobby until recently, when Hanomak introduced its set. Let's take a look.  

Hanomak Soviet NKVD - Border Guards
Hanomak Soviet NKVD - Border Guards
At first glance these figures could be thought of as regular Soviet Infantry. Upon further inspection, I there are a few clues that confirm the name of the set. The first one is that they are all wearing a cap with a visor. I don't know if this is because all member of the NKVD force were officers, but it seems that when I see pictures of them, they are all wearing such cap. Then you have the guy with the dog, and also the machine gunner. If you watched enemy at the gates, those machine gunners are hard to forget. And then there are also the two guys standing around, likely detaining or interrogating someone. Two of the poses do seem to represent the political officers who were attached to front line units, to influence and monitor them ideologically. These officers would also fight alongside them and one can only imagine that either to demonstrate the strength of their political convictions or due to them, they would have led by example and tried to inspire their men, as the man with the flag is doing. In terms of the sculpting, no complaints. Nicely detailed, well proportioned, good poses. Similar rubbery material as the other sets, but in this case you only have to glue the shield to the machine gun.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Introducing the Japanese Fukuryu Divers

The Japanese Suicide Divers (a.k.a Fukuryu in Japanese or Kamikaze frogmen in western works) were a unit within the Japanese Special Attack Units charged with the defense of the Japanese homeland in the case of an Allied invasion. The term Fukuryu means crouching dragon, which will make more sense as we describe their mode of operation. The idea was to have these men defend the landing beaches, by hiding in waiting for up to 10 hours under water at a depth of about 20 feet. They were aided by 20 lb of lead which would keep them submerged, and they were also supplied with liquid food to keep their energy levels up. They were equipped with a 16-foot bamboo pole, which had a 33 lb mine attached to it. The men were expected to jam the mine against the bottom of passing landing craft, with the understanding that the resulting explosion would kill them. An interesting tactical doctrine was developed. The divers were supposed to be deployed in a stagged formation, 20 meters apart. Additionally, in order to have protection against countermeasures, special concrete bunkers were going to be sunk into the beaches so that 6 to 18 divers could enjoy some protection while waiting. The divers were actually the middle ring of  a 3-layer system of defenses. The outer-most ring was a set of mines release by trip wires as the landing craft passed through. The inner-most ring was a more conventional set of mines closer to the beach. The divers however provided a better aimed alternative. The plan was to outfit and deploy 6000 divers, however by the time of Japan surrendered, only 1200 were ready. It will never be known how effective they would have been. My feeling is after some initial successes, the marines on the landing craft would have simply sprayed the water ahead of them with MG fire or some other countermeasure and they would have neutralized the divers. I also wonder about the visibility under water, perhaps without full daylight to help outline the silhouette the ships above them, and with a potentially fogged up helmet. And then of course, the required courage to carry out the mission when nobody else is watching underwater. Anyhow, this is such a little-known topic that until Plastic Platoon did it, nobody had ever made such a Toy Soldier, and I wonder if it will happen again any time soon. Let's take a look.

Plastic Platoon Japanese Fukuryu Diver
Plastic Platoon Japanese Fukuryu Diver
This figure was released at the same time as the Japanese Naval Infantry set. I am not sure if it was meant to be part of the set or it it was just similar timing. I got him separately due to a shipping mix up. He is definitely a 'character' figure. Not the kind of which we will be trying to build a whole unit.  The challenge is also to find the right setting to pose him. The best scene would be to place him under water poking a passing landing craft, or approaching the hull of a ship in a harbor. But that's a tricky scene to setup. Anyhow, the amount of equipment and detail on this diver is really intricate. Lots of hoses and straps, which make him a figure worth studying and taking a look at every now and then just to enjoy the detail. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Introducing the US Paramarines

The US Paramarines (a.k.a. Marine Paratroopers) were a unit within the US Marine Corps that existed between 1940 and 1944. The idea, as with other airborne troops, was to use them for raids behind enemy lines. Three battalions were formed, and while they did see combat, none of them was ever used for an airborne operation. Nonetheless, they were still an elite unit, in the sense that it was a volunteer-only force, made up exclusively of single (unmarred) men, which was granted extra pay, and the training was hard enough that only 60% of them completed it. Initially each of the 3 battalions were attached to separate Marine Divisions, and they participated as regular amphibious/ground troops in the campaigns of Guadalcanal and Bougainville in 1942 and 1943 respectively. Eventually they were combined into the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment. Unfortunately, the lack of sufficient air transport made airborne operations within the Marine Corps a challenge and by February of 1944, the unit was disbanded. The remaining Paramarines who were in training were incorporated into the 5th Marine Division which fought at Iwo Jima, and several of the former Paramarines participated in the raising of the flag on top of Mount Suribachi. Four former Paramarines went on to earn a Medal of Honor for their actions at Iwo Jima. The number and role of the Paramarines was so minor that this was a subject that not been covered in the Plastic Toy Soldier hobby. However it was recently addressed by Plastic Platoon. Let's take a look. 

Plastic Platoon US Paramarines
Plastic Platoon US Paramarines
These guys are a nice complement to the first set of Marines. Initially I thought that other than the fact that there's a 7th man with them who clearly is a pilot -maybe he crashed or had to bail out on the same mission that dropped the Paramarines- there wasn't much to indicate that these guys were paratroopers, but then it hit me that they are clearly wearing jump boots. I wonder if after the jump that was still a good type of footwear for tropical islands. Maybe it was better at keeping the sand out, but if it did get in, I would have hated having to undo the shoe laces every so often to empty the sand. Anyhow, great poses as usual -love the guy firing the MG off the hip-, with good variety of weaponry. The machete guy is a nice touch. And in terms of detail, look at the ding on the helmet of the second guy from the left. Looks like he literally dodged a bullet! The pilot is one guy that I probably won't have a lot of use for. I might have preferred another Paramarine, but I won't complain. Another great set by Plastic Platoon.