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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Introducing the Finnish Infantry

Latest edit: Added Hanomak Lapland Army
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World War II for Finland represented three separate phases. First came the Winter War, fought against the Soviet Union between the end of November 1940 and March 1941. During this period, Finland stood alone against the Soviet Union which had some territorial ambitions particularly north of Leningrad in the area known as Karelia. Despite being outnumbered at least 3 to 1 -or worse in some sectors-, and having substantial deficiencies in materiel such as armor, planes and supplies, the Finns fought with distinction along the entire border with the USSR. However the Finns had a couple of substantial advantages. They were used to the harsh winter weather and the heavily forested and snow-covered terrain. This meant that as opposed to the Soviet Army which traveled mainly on roads, the Finns used skis and white clothing or the cover of the long, dark winter nights to move swiftly off-road around the Soviets and harass them with guerrilla tactics or even envelope them and destroy them in smaller groups. What the Soviets expected to be a 2 week effort turned into a tough 3 month campaign. Soviet military blunders certainly contributed, as the Soviet army was still hurting from Stalin's officer purges of 1937. It was not until the Soviets adjusted their combined arms tactics that they were able to break through the static defenses on the Southern front that the Finns defenders had to negotiate for peace at the expense of considerable territorial (11%) concessions.

This peace lasted until the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. Finland, allied with Germany, began its military operations which became known as the Continuation War. During this campaign, Finland was able to recover their lost territories and to its credit, halted at its original border, rendering this sector of the front relatively quiet, even while Germany pressed on the attack and lay siege to Leningrad for 28 months. Finnish actions were limited to repulsing the occasional Soviet attack, although the Soviets did attempt to wage an air bombing campaign against Helsinki, which had very limited impact. In the summer of '44, 3 days after the Normandy landings, The Soviet Union launched a major offensive along the Karelian Isthmus. In about a month, they pushed the Finnish back close to 100km, roughly to the border established at the end of the Winter War. It was thanks to German support in the form of men and materiel that the Finns were able to stop the Soviet advance. However, this made them determined to negotiate a separate peace, while they still had a 'stable' front and before Germany collapsed. A peace agreement was reached in September of '44, with Finland agreeing to pay 600M in reparations.

The last phase of the war became known as the Lapland War and consisted mainly of chasing the Germans out of Finland, as agreed to by the peace terms with the Soviet Union, even as the Finnish Army was being demobilized, also per the terms of the peace agreement. This campaign was relatively peaceful, as both sides did not want to fight each other, and consisted mainly of isolated rearguard actions as the Germans moved out of Finland into Norway. The Germans did leave behind considerable destruction in their wake as they burned out buildings which the pursuing Finns might be able to use for shelter, and they also destroyed bridges and mined roads, causing further casualties for years to come. Casualties from these campaigns totaled 26k dead or missing out of 340k during the Winter War,63k dead or missing out of 530k during the Continuation War, and a little over 1k out of 75k during the Lapland War. In terms of Toy Soldiers, this is a theater that has not really been covered by solider manufacturers and it wasn't until recently that one set became known to me. Let's take a look.

Engineer Bassevich Finnish Infantry
Engineer Bassevich Finnish Infantry - Part I
This is a nicely sculpted set from Engineer Bassevich, which is a Russian manufacturer and understandably has chosen to cover this theater. It contains a total of 10 Finn soldiers, although only 6 of them represent fighting poses. As usual with Bassevich's figures, they are well sculpted with a very nice level of detail. They also represent a good level of diversity on the uniforms being worn, however this might pose some challenges if you are trying to build up a sizeable unit of similarly clad men.

Engineer Bassevich Finnish Infantry
Engineer Bassevich Finnish Infantry - Part II
Of these, my favorite one is the man on the left, standing while firing the sub MG. He is wearing white cammo overalls and a German style helmet. Definitely a great fit for the Winter War scene once he is painted all in white. The officers in the middle are probably some known historic characters, as is the case in some of the other Bassevich sets, but I must say that I would have rather had a couple more action poses than this many officers.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Infantry - Winter War
Engineer Bassevich Soviet Infantry - Winter War
Not to leave the Finns without an opponent, this set also contains four Soviet soldiers, although that's hardly going to be enough to mount an offensive. Note also that the set contains two 'border' posts. One has the emblem of the USSR and the other the one from Finland. Again, a nice touch, but I would have preferred to have two more men if I had a choice. Also, if there are going to be only 4 men, why make two of them just stand around? One nice touch is the head gear on the figures. Two of them are wearing the pointed winter caps (I thought they were used by cavalry units) instead of helmets.

Mars Finnish Infantry
Mars Finnish Infantry - Part I
Another interesting and unique set by Mars to complement Engineer Bassevich's Finnish troops. Particularly nice are the two figures with skis. The actually come attached to them with a small metal peg which allows them to rotate some. I just hope they don't come off. It would have been nice if a couple more had skis, not necessarily on, but maybe on their backs. This set, at 12 figures/8 poses, was also smaller than the typical Mars set of 15 figures/8 poses, I suppose because of the extra molds to make the skis.  

Mars Finnish Infantry
Mars Finnish Infantry Part II
Most of the figures in the set are in good action poses, except for the guy who seems to be just standing around. I have also read some comments complaining about how little facial detail is visible on him, and some folks have remarked that he is wearing a mark. Emil K. and Thomas H. have identified him as the famous Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä, also know as White Death, who indeed wore a white mask, and smock to blend in better with the background. With more than 500 confirmed sniper kills, it's a nice gesture to dedicate a figure to him, but imho, it would have been better to pose him in action. Good thing that Engineer Bassevich made a similar figure shooting. Anyhow, happy about having a few more Finns to go against the Soviets!

Hanomak Finnish Lapland Army
Hanomak Finnish Lapland Army
This is a very interesting and unique set from Hanomak. It represents the Finnish troops who fought the Germans after Finland stopped fighting the Soviets. The set is organized around a small anti-tank gun. The gun comes in multiple pieces and requires some assembly. I had to glue my together so that it would stay in place. The figures are all well posed and relevant to the situation. What is perhaps most interesting about them is the variety of uniforms. The man kneeling with the ammo is wearing a double-breasted jacket, the man firing the pistol seems to be wearing some kind of smock over his uniform, while the other three are wearing the more traditional Finnish uniform for enlisted men and officers. The set comes with an extra box of what appears to be armor-piercing ammo, as well as a few lose shells to place in the box and the guy's back.


Friday, July 21, 2023

Introducing the US Marines

Latest edit: Added Mars US Marines
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The war in the Pacific was a brutal business. Not only were men fighting each other, but they were also fighting against nature. The jungle, constant rain, mud, tropical diseases, jungle rot -dying of the skin and flesh-, even starvation -or at least having to eat half-rotten food-, when supplies could not reach them. The fighting was also a lot more primal. Tanks were hard to maneuver in the jungle, so infantry did the bulk of the fighting, often in close quarters fighting or hand-to-hand combat, which was made highly treacherous by the large amount of vegetation that allowed combatants to sneak upon each other. Every night the danger of enemy infiltration and being killed in your foxhole was a very real and nerve-racking possibility. The stiff resistance of the Japanese, often fighting to the last man, meant that sometimes they had to be burnt alive or sealed to die in their caves, and virtually no quarter was given by either side. The weather conditions also meant that the dead decomposed very quickly and the men often found themselves fighting next to or on top of rotting corpses filled with maggots, enduring a terrible stench and macabre conditions. This is the world that the leathernecks inhabited in this theater of operations. Yet, perhaps because relatively fewer men were involved in the Pacific campaigns, or perhaps because of its remoteness, or the fact that the fighting happened in places that westerners have difficulties locating on a map, the war on the Pacific has received less attention, and this is also the case in the manufacturing of figure sets representing US Marines. It was not until a few years back that the situation started to improve, as you will see from the pictures below. 

Atlantic US Marine Corps - Part I
This is one of my favorite sets from Atlantic. The figures are posed with enough movement in them and they are well proportioned. The kneeling guy's bazooka is a separate piece, so unless you glue it, you have to put it in place every time you handle him.

Atlantic US Marine Corps - Part II
Here are another 6 figures. If you are counting that makes 11, which is 1 more than the usual in the typical Atlantic set. The highlight of this batch are the flag-raising guys. Again, the flag comes separately and it requires a few tries to assemble the three pieces right, but the effort is well worth it. A mini tribute to the Iwo Jima flag-raising marines.

BMC US Marines - Part 1
BMC released these marines as part of their Iwo Jima set, along with Japanese figures. They were made aroud the time of the movie Flag of our Fathers, when some interest in the Pacific war started to take place. Personally, I find these figures to be very well made, and quite affordable. They are a bit on the larger side for 54mm, but they are very well made.

BMC US Marines - Part 2
As you can see, the men are depicted in nice action/fighting poses which look quite realistic. One thing to point out is that the left most man's bazooka can be removed and it requires a couple tries to set it back in place properly. Not a big deal, but something to be aware of.

BMC US Marines - Part 3
These guys are already primed as I will be painting them soon. Their original color is a light, creamy green. Also with this set you get a flag raising team modeled after the famous photograph, and also a Higgins boat coxswain. The flag raising team is made in a smaller scale as the rest of the figures, and the coxswain has an unusual base that makes him stand about 1 inch taller than the other guys, hence I am not including them in the figures I'll be painting.

Glencoe / Marx US Marines - Part 1
The Marx Marines were released in the 60s I believe, and for many years, they were the only figures of their kind that you could find. They produced 12 poses, and they seem to be meant for a beach landing scene. There are a couple poses in the set that seem a bit awkward, but they are actually a very nice set if you compare them to other figures released at the time.

Glencoe / Marx US Marines - Part 2
I painted these guys about 10 years back, before I had any of the more recent sets. Going back to the point about the poses, the two guys on the right are slightly odd. Maybe it's the way they are leaning, or maybe how the flamethrower guy is bending his knees. On the other hand, the two guys on the left seem just right.

Glencoe / Marx US Marines - Part 3
Remember what I was saying about a beach landing? The running poses and the Mae West would be well suited for it. Even the prone guy trying to determine the best route to get off the beach. Although I really wonder how many Marines actually wore life jackets during landing operations. Maybe this is a rear echelon officer coming ashore once the beach has been secured?

TSSD US Marines - Part 1
Another recent set courtesy of Toy Soldiers of San Diego. These guys are also a nice dynamic bunch which captures well the nature of the fighting in the Pacific. Close quarters combat with bayonets, the wounded having to defend themselves. Their original color is very similar to the BMC guys, so even unpainted they blend well together.

TSSD US Marines - Part 2
Some more nice poses by Toy Soldiers of San Diego. The guy fighting with the shovel is quite dramatic. The other men showing a representative variety of weapons: sub machine gun, Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) & Garand rifle.

Classic Toy Soldiers US Infantry (as Marines) - Part 1
Classic Toy Soldiers US Infantry (as Marines) - Part 1
These guys are not really Marines. They are recently released US Infantry troops by CTS, but I thought I would add them to the Marines to get a few more poses, plus the fact that they come with a flamethrower guy and a guy having to fight with both hands, makes them good candidates to fight on places like Peleliu or Iwo Jima.

Classic Toy Soldiers US Infantry (as Marines) - Part 2
 Classic Toy Soldiers US Infantry (as Marines) - Part 2
I like the guy standing with the bazooka. Most of the times they are depicted kneeling. The BAR guy could be firing through the dense jungle foliage at some unseen enemy in the distance while on patrol. 

TSSD US Infantry (as Marine)
TSSD US Infantry (as Marine)
This guy is also a regular Army guy, but since the Marines don't have any heavy MGs of their own (OK, the Marx/Glencoe guys have one guy running carrying a MG, but it is not mounted) I've decided to reinforce them with this TSSD guy. He could be gunny Sergeant Basilone fighting on Guadalcanal, earning his Congressional Medal of Honor.

Austin Miniatures Marines
Austin Miniatures Marines
This is a fairly recent release from a new US firm. They are made in the style and size of CTS and Conte figures. A nice level of detail and good sculpting. The poses also depict a good degree of action and intensity. And they are all good basic fighting poses. They will certainly blend in well with the rest of the unit. And if you want you can probably paint them as regular GIs, and they will fit right in as well. 

Plastic Platoon US Marines
Plastic Platoon US Marines
The perfect complement to PP's Japanese Infantry set. These guys remind me a bit of Austin Miniatures' marines in the shape of the bodies and heads, slim and tall figures, but with nicer sculpting and detailing. The six poses are good fighting poses, and they cover a nice range of headgear (covered helmet, with netting, plain), clothing styles (tucked vs loose pant bottoms, rolled up sleeves, shirtless, ripped pants, etc.), weapons (Thompson sub mgs, BAR, rifle/bayonet, shotgun w/bayonet(!) and my favorite, the flamethrower) and equipment (backpack, pouches, bandoliers, etc.) I also enjoyed the facial expressions. I am not surprised anymore by the fury and intensity displayed by a couple of them. This time I was more impressed by how the BAR gunner seems so concentrated. Is he aiming at something in the distance, or is he simply laying down covering fire with determination? You'll need to figure that one out yourself when you setup your scene :-) 

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, 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.  

Plastic Platoon US Marines Heavy Weapons
Plastic Platoon US Marines Heavy Weapons
This is a very nice set. It contains a crew for a Browning Heavy MG, a bazooka team, a BAR man, and an officer coordinating the action through a radio. The center piece of this set is the heavy machine gun itself, and not just the gun, but the base. I know that some folks prefer plain/neutral bases so that they can be placed in a variety of settings, but in the case of these marines, I do think that the heavily detailed base adds to the set. The other figures are nicely sculpted, as usual, with a high degree of action in them. A couple of them show bullet dents in the helmet, which is a nice bit of detail. The other creative touch is the trophy sword tucked away in the backpack of the BAR man. Lastly, the expression on the officer captures very well the intensity of battle without overdoing it as was the case with some of the prior German sets. Overall a great addition to the WWII range, and a great support unit for the other Marines.

Mars US Marines
Mars US Marines
It's nice to see Mars cover this service branch. Not that it had been neglected by previous manufacturers, but for the sake of Mars collectors having a more complete range, it is good to see this set hit the market. Overall it is a good set, with nice action poses, and a good variety of weapons, including a flamethrower and two heavy machine guns. The larger one is a Browning M1917, and the smaller one is a Browning M1919. Unfortunately, this set suffers more noticeably from what I've been referring to as the tucked arm issue. I know that it has to do with the challenges imposed by two-part molds, but it still makes this set have several figures with right arms that are in very unnatural positions. Other than that, the sculpting is pretty good, so if you look at the figures from the right angle, you can avoid seeing the tucked arms. But all in all a good set.

Click here if you want to see a really cool post of the Marines in action.
Click here to see a description of Japanese Infantry figures.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Introducing the German Don Cossacks

Latest edit: Added Hanomak Cossack horse rider
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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
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. 

Hanomak German Cossack
Hanomak German Cossack
This is a figure that may not be too exciting for some collectors given that it is not much of an action pose. The appeal for me came from the fact that it is a mounted Cossack. The only other German Cossacks that I am aware of are the ones released by Mars a year or two back, but all of them are on foot. So this guy is great at representing their origins riding horses in the steppes of eastern Europe, and it will also make a good commander. In terms of the sculpting the figure is reasonably well done. It has some nice touches like the luger, the hat with the German insignia, and the pelt cover under the saddle, even if the detail is not the sharpest. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Introducing the Soviet NKVD

Latest edit: Added Mars Border Guards
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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.

Ratnik Soviet Border Guards
Ratnik 1941 Soviet Border Guards
This is a good set to complement the Hanomak NKVD Soviet Guards. The sculpting is average -a couple of the poses feel a bit stiff, like the man throwing the grenade or the man to his right- but the diversity of poses compensates for that. For example, you get a radio man with it which is something handy in any unit and several of the poses are useful in fighting scenes. As was the case with Hanomak, you also get a guard dog, which seems quite appropriate for this unit. The one pose I don't care much for is the officer walking with the gun in his hand. He seems to be of limited use in the type of scenes I like to setup. Lastly, this set also comes with a border post. I guess to help setup the scene at the border. Given how shortly the war was fought at the border where these posts might have been, I would have preferred if they had given us an extra pose instead. But all in all, a decent set to add to the collection. 

Mars Soviet Border Guards
Mars Soviet Border Guards
Normally you don't think of the Soviet border guards as the most exciting topic, but this set makes it look quite intense, and other than the guy who is observing the action with his dog, all the other guys are engaged in the fighting. But I know the dog is a key element of the Soviet guards, so it had to be fit in somehow with its handler. My favorite poses are probably the guy who is running and the officer. The officer was a bit tricky to get to stand straight, but nothing that the good old hot/cold water treatment couldn't fix. The other figure that is interesting is the crawling guy wearing the cammo suit. That guy is going to play double duty with my unit of Soviet scouts. This set certainly exceeded my expectations! 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Introducing the Partisans

Latest edit: Added Hanomak Soviet Partisan horse rider
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The term Partisan applies to those units which operated behind enemy lines in order to disrupt the German war effort. Their operations primarily targeted the infrastructure supporting the German front units, such as railways, rail stock, supply depots, bridges, communication centers, etc. and even though their main goal was not to fight the Germans head-on, they did kill a good share of rearguard troops and collaborationist units. Initially the partisan units originated from regular Soviet troops left behind by the rapidly advancing front, and operated in an independent manner. Gradually, the German occupation and the brutal treatment of the local population -deportations, use as slave labor, confiscation of food in the middle of winter, etc.- turned many civilians, towards the partisan ranks. The German reprisals against this movement did not only target the partisans themselves -who were regularly executed-, but often included the execution of civilians, sometimes as many as 100 for each German death. The partisans responded in kind, by not just killing Germans, but sometimes mutilating them in horrible ways. As of mid 1942, the Soviet Central command started to play a role in coordinating and supplying the partisan units. The supplies not only consisted of weapons and material -including badly needed communications equipment-, but also included specially selected and trained troops as well as NKVD members to lead and reinforce the partisans. Many of these were air dropped behind enemy lines, but many also flowed through a 40km wide land corridor known as the Vitsyebsk Gate which was open for a good portion of 1942. Partisan operations gradually became more than local harassments and by 1943, they were well coordinated and timed operations. For instance, during the Kursk offensive, the supply difficulties created by the operations in the German rear played a very important role in halting the summer offensive. Over 100,000 partisans participated in the raids at this time. Another measure of the partisans success is the fact that as the Soviet Army advanced many partisan units were ordered to continue to move west so that they could remain in occupied territory and continue to operate. This was important not just because of the direct impact on the infrastructure, but also because of the large number of German troops which were required to guard the supply lines and to hunt the partisans. Most of those partisans which were liberated by the advancing Soviets joined the regular army and kept fighting on. At the height of the war, over 500,000 partisans were active across the whole length of the front. After the war ended, partisans were treated not much better than Soviet soldiers who had allowed themselves to be taken prisoners, and underwent interrogations by the NKVD, with many of them being sent to labor camps. This is not surprising as experienced guerrilla forces would have been a danger to Stalin's regime. In terms of toy soldiers, there are now several sets out which collectively, do a nice job at depicting the variety of backgrounds in the Partisan ranks. Let's take a look.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans
Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans - Part I
A unique set by Engineer Bassevich. The depiction of these partisans strikes a nice balance between showing them as civilians and soldiers. For example, the guys above might have just joined the partisan unit and are still wearing some of their original clothes and their weaponry is lacking automatic firing. 

UPDATE: I had the good fortune of getting some input from Alex, the man behind Engineer Bassevich's figures and he supplied me with a description for some of the figures. For instance, these guys could be used as members of the factory workers Fighter Battalion at Stalingrad during the summer of 1942. If you take out the guy throwing the grenade, who is holding the automatic weapon, they could also be used as members of the People's Militia Division, during the summer of 1941. Automatic weapons were not available outside of the professional army during the earlier part of the war.

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans
Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans - Part II
These guys however are more rugged. they could be regular army troops who got left behind the enemy lines and joined the partisans, giving them some badly needed training and leadership. As far as the quality of the figures go, I am quite pleased with this set. They don't have any flashing, and the plastic used to make them feels more dense, making them feel a bit more robust. The level of detail in the sculpting as you can see, is really great.

UPDATE: Thanks to Engineer Bassevich we now know a bit more about the source of inspiration for these figures. The man in the middle is the legendary Sydir Kovpak, leader of the partisan units in the greater Ukraine-Belarus area -see picture below-. He was officially recognized by the Soviet military command and awarded the rank of Major General. The man on the right represents Pyotr Vershigora, who was Kovpak's second in command and eventually also rose to the rank of Major General. 

Here is a picture of Major General Sydir Kovpak, partisan leader in the greater Ukraine-Belarus area

Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans
Engineer Bassevich Soviet Partisans - Part III
These guys are probably a mix of civilians and ex-soldiers, but have been in the Partisan ranks long enough to have more sophisticated clothes and equipment. A very interesting touch is the kid in the middle, holding a captured German sub-machine gun. I actually saw a picture of such a kid, dressed very much the same way, which was surely the inspiration for the pose. 

UPDATE from Engineer Bassevich: The guy on the right, would have belonged to the division of the People's Militia. Maybe a former teacher. He can be used in the Battle of Moscow, along with soldiers from set number 1. The man on the left could have been a regular army officer left behind the enemy lines after his unit was encircled and then he joined the partisans.

Engineer Bassevich Yugoslav Partisans
Engineer Bassevich Yugoslav Partisans - Part I
Another set of partisans. These are supposed to be Tito's partisans from Yugoslavia, but I think they could pass as partisans from any occupied country. Note that many of them feature long beards though, so if you are strict about cultural matters, maybe that restricts your options. I am actually planning to mix them with the Soviet partisans and have a larger unit of unregulated militia guys.

Engineer Bassevich Yugoslav Partisans
Engineer Bassevich Yugoslav Partisans - Part II
One thing I like about this set from Engineer Bassevich is that most of the poses are fighting poses and we got a lot fewer guys standing around. 

Engineer Bassevich Yugoslav Partisans
Engineer Bassevich Yugoslav Partisans - Part III
I am OK with a commander standing around, observing the action. The only guy I don't really have much use for is the 'guard' next to the commanding officer.

Plastic Platoon Greek Partisans
Plastic Platoon Greek Partisans
This is the second half of the set representing the Greek combatants. Along with them, on the right, is 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 influence their level of resolve.

Hanomak Soviet Partisans
Hanomak Soviet Partisans
This depicts the wide range of folks who took arms against the German invaders behind enemy lines. You can see fighting age men in Soviet army attire who are likely men who got encircled and left behind the German advance. There are older men fighting with farming gear, there are women who may have been civilians or maybe also Soviet army regulars, and there's even a teenager who is cursing and ready to throw a rock. And there's also the guy operating the radio which allowed them to coordinate their operations with the main Soviet forces. A good set from Hanomak which will complement well the other partisan sets that came before. 

Hanomak Soviet Partisan
Hanomak Soviet Partisan
I had similar feelings about this figure as I did regarding the German Cossack in the sense that it is not much of an action pose, but at least this guy is aiming his subMG, even if the horse is way too relaxed. But if you want to give your partisans some variety so that not all of them are on foot, this is a decent figure to add to your collection. I wonder however how often partisans relied on horses as they seem like they would be much easier to track down. In terms of the sculpting, the figure is fairly average with a few interesting details like the bags on the horse or the rider's googles and mustache.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Mars - Toy Soldiers

Latest Update: US Marines and Soviet Border Guards
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Mars is a manufacturer 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 a few 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 recent years 2018-2022, 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 several more that should be quite exciting, but I won't ruin the surprise for you :-) Take a look and judge for yourself!

Mars German Elite Division (Waffen SS)
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 infantry if you also wanted to avoid depicting Waffen SS troops.  

Mars German Luftwaffe Field Division
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 air force duties to frontline infantry. Maybe that's why they felt compelled to include a figure getting hit.

Mars German Naval Infantry
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
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
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 sculpting 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
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
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)
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. Fortunately, the size of these 1/32 figures is not too big, so they will all blend well. 

Mars Finnish Infantry
Mars Finnish Infantry - Part I
Another interesting and unique set by Mars to complement Engineer Bassevich's Finnish troops. Particularly nice are the two figures with skis. The actually come attached to them with a small metal peg which allows them to rotate some. I just hope they don't come off. It would have been nice if a couple more had skis, not necessarily on, but maybe on their backs. This set, at 12 figures/8 poses, was also smaller than the typical Mars set of 15 figures/8 poses, I suppose because of the extra molds to make the skis.  

Mars Finnish Infantry
Mars Finnish Infantry Part II
Most of the figures in the set are in good action poses, except for the guy who seems to be just standing around. I have also read some comments complaining about how little facial detail is visible on him, and some folks have remarked that he is wearing a mark. Emil K. and Thomas H. have identified him as the famous Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä, also know as White Death, who indeed wore a white mask, and smock to blend in better with the background. With more than 500 confirmed sniper kills, it's a nice gesture to dedicate a figure to him, but imho, it would have been better to pose him in action. Anyhow, happy about having a few more Finns to go against the Soviets!

Mars Soviet Infantry
Mars Soviet Infantry
Not a set for which there is a shortage of poses from prior manufacturers, but it is understandable that a Ukranian firm would manufacture such a set around the 75th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War. No concerns from my end about the selection of poses. All are good, dynamic fighting poses. What's also nice about some of them are the rain capes (Plash-Palatkas). Not very common in sets from prior manufacturers. My only criticism about the set is that some of them show some flashing and/or mold misalignment down the middle line of the figure.

Mars Soviet Assault Engineers
Mars Soviet Assault Engineers
The Mars sets keep getting better! Lots to like about these guys. All of them useful combat poses, nice sculpting, good detail, great variety of weapons, including a flamethrower, a light and heavy MG, a captured panzerfaust, and of course, the fact that a different Soviet service branch is being represented. It is also good that not all poses are standing or charging. While I do like fighting poses, I think there's also a need for poses that are operating behind cover, which is easier to achieve if you have a lower body profile. What makes the Soviet Assault Troops special is that they wear these steel plates as body armor. I am not sure how effective they were against different bullet calibers, and different ranges, but some photographs do show Soviet men with dents on their body armor, which suggests that they did work sometimes. 

Mars German Volkssturm
Mars German Volkssturm
This is another unique set recently released by Mars. Not seen before in 1/32 as far as I know. They will be useful for any late war battle scenes for which you need a few civilians as reinforcements to defend the German Fatherland. The mix of poses is good. I also like how they are generous in the issuance of panzerfausts, as was the case at that stage of the war. The set contains a couple of smaller figures representing a teenage boy and girl, likely from the Hitler Youth. The only thing I did not like was the number of poses that I got in my set. Three of the poses were present 3 times, and 3 only once. Unfortunately, the poses that were over represented were the ones that look less like civilians, and more like regular army men. But still, happy to have this set. Will definitely come in handy in one of my upcoming projects!

Mars German Night Hunters
Mars German Night Hunters
This is a very unique set. First of its kind as far as I am aware of. Before Mars made it, I wasn't even aware that the German military had fielded such 'Nachtjäger' units. What makes them special is that they were equipped with infrared lights that enabled them to 'see' the enemy in the dark. A huge advantage at the time. The equipment was a bit bulky due to the batteries that it required and had to be carried as a backpack. Not all the figures are equipped this way, which allows you to mix some of these guys with other regular 'daylight fighting' units. My only criticism about this set is that some figures have their arms tucked in so closely to their bodies that it distorts their size. I understand that the sculptor is trying to account for the challenges involved in manufacturing, by trying to eliminate the empty space between the arms and the body so that the figures can be released from the mold, but in some cases it really impacts the pose, like the guy in the middle of the picture. Even so, another nice and special set from Mars. Keep them coming!

Mars German Paratroops Tropical Uniform
Mars German Paratroops Tropical Uniform
Another good set from Mars. This one is aimed at depicting the German Paratroops that might have fought in theaters like the battle of Monte Cassino. On the box they show them painted in cammo smocks and beige pants. As you can see the poses are all useful in combat scenarios, and with the customary 8 poses from Mars, that also makes the set more interesting. For instance, we also get a prone figure, which is often missing in smaller sets. The variety in the uniforms and equipment is also good. Some of them have their smocks buttoned up, and some lose. Some have helmets with webbing, some without, and there's even one guy with a field cap. Good mix of weapons as well, including the multi-potato masher being thrown by the guy on the left. My only negative criticism about this set is the size  of the hands in some of the figures. Some of them still seem a bit undersized in my opinion. 

Mars US Paratroops
Mars US Paratroops
D-Day is a pivotal event in WWII, and the saga of D-Day would be incomplete without the US Paras. Mars has more than checked that box with this set. Great action poses, which can be used both for offensive and defensive situations (holding the Eindhoven bridge?). And very nicely sculpted for the most part. I add that caveat only because of the guy in the middle of the picture who is running with his sub machine gun and his right arm is unnaturally tucked into his chest, but that's easy to overlook, when the rest of the set is so well done. The bazooka team is also a nice touch for a Para set. Something that should be noted about this set is that it fits really well next to the Airfix and ESCI Paratroops. Conte Paras are a bit larger, but if you are not too picky about scale, they can blend with them as well. 

Mars German Winter Paratroops
Mars German Winter Paratroops
 And yet another nice set from Mars. This set gets extra points for depicting the German Paras in winter gear, which is something that had not been done to date. Six of them are wearing padded/quilted suits, another one is wearing a white cammo suit, and the last one is still wearing the regular para smock with some other layers underneath. In addition to the unique outfits, the sculpting in this set is probably the best I've seen from Mars. The detail and dynamism in the poses is excellent. And the choice of poses is great as well. All of them useful in combat situations with a nice range of diverse weapons. The radio man is also a nice touch. My only criticism of this set is that all of them are standing poses. A couple crouching or prone poses would have been useful. But hey, maybe that means that eventually we get another set of winter paras with such poses, right?  

Mars German Panzer Crew
Mars German Panzer Crew
This is an original set. Typically when you see tank crew men, they are mounted in their vehicles, but when you think about it, they must have had to abandon their tanks quite often due to battle damage or mechanical failure, and when doing so, it seems reasonable to expect that they had to engage in small arms combat. The set provides a nice variety of action poses depicting the urgency of the situation. What's also good about this set is that if you are into painting your figures, this uniform with a short, double-breasted jacket can be painted in a variety of color schemes, including cammo pattern and various tones of grey, as it was worn not only by panzer crews -in black-, but also self-propelled gun crews, and panzer grenadiers. What's not so great about this set is that one figure in particular -standing in the middle of the picture- has a serious manufacturing issue, with a lot of extra plastic down the middle of his face. This is not just my set, as it has been reported by other collectors. I may try to shave it off a bit or simply replace the head.

Mars US Rangers
Mars US Rangers
Another unique and interesting set by Mars. What sets these guys apart and the reason why you can tell them apart from regular US Infantry is that they are wearing the Ranger assault vest. Aside from that, a few of them are carrying weapons that would have come in handy at Omaha Beach on D-Day, like the Bangalore torpedo, or the mine detector. The guy firing the BAR upwards, could also be firing up the Pointe du Hoc cliffs. The other poses are useful combat poses. So good ratings on the subject matter. What continues to bother me about the Mars figures is the sculpting of the arms. They are always closely tucked into the bodies. I know it is done for ease of release from the molds, but it makes them look unnatural, and sometimes it affects the body proportions. In this set, the sculpting of the sniper's legs also makes it look a bit odd, as the the front leg is bent right against its own thigh. Anyhow, happy about the set in general, but a bit disappointed about some of its details. 

Mars German Paratroops w 10.5 cm LG 42 Tropical Uniform
Mars German Paratroops w 10.5 cm LG 42 Tropical Uniform
This is a nice and original addition to the existing German Para units produced by other manufacturers which so far have lacked any heavy weapons support. The set includes two guns, each with its respective crew. They are meant to be painted in the tropical uniform. I actually purchased two sets, and plan to paint one crew in the early war (Crete) colors and the other one in the cammo scheme. The recoilless gun is interesting. The wheels are meant to be off the ground when it's deployed, but the plastic is a bit hard to straighten so that it looks even. I may actually use these crews with 21C Pak 40s. As far as the figures go, the poses are all good, but I do feel that the sculpting detail could be sharper. 

Mars German Paratroops Mortar Team Tropical Uniform
Mars German Paratroops Mortar Team Tropical Uniform
Here's another useful addition to the German Para units. Again, the set comes with two mortars and two crews. When it comes to toy soldiers, I don't feel that you need a 5-man crew for a mortar. I know that in real life you might require such man power to carry the ammo plus the different pieces when it is disassembled, but I would have preferred to get maybe 3 mortars each with a 3-man crew or simply some other additional supporting poses with other unique weapons. In terms of the detail, these guys seem crisper than the gun crew. One interesting pose that took me a bit of time to figure out its purpose is the man at the front of the mortar holding the bipod. Looks like he is trying stabilize it. 

Mars US Infantry Winter Uniform
Mars US Infantry Winter Uniform
Another good set from Mars, addressing a topic that is not covered very often. You get a decent set of weapons represented, including a rifle grenade, a sitting sniper, a radio man, plus some of the other more usual infantry poses, including a left-handed man firing from the standing position. There are however two things that I really don't like about this set. The first one is the posing of the grenade thrower. There is something strange about his stance. Maybe he needs to bend the knees a bit more, or maybe the fact that the head is aligned with the standing leg, just makes it look unnatural. The other thing that's not right is the manufacturing of the fourth man from the left. The two halves of his face are horribly misaligned. This is not the first time this happens with Mars figures. I really wish they paid more attention to such details. 

Mars British Commonwealth or Canadian Troops
Mars British Commonwealth Troops
This release from Mars portrays British Commonwealth Troops, which I guess means that you could use them as any number of nationalities. I know many collectors would like to use them as Canadian. What's nice about them is that a couple of them are wearing a leather vest, which I gather is called a jerkin. Another nice touch is that among their poses they have a prone piat firing team. As far as I recall, only 21C had made a prone piat firing paratrooper, but it did not have a loader. The set is pretty good overall, with almost all figures in good action, fighting poses. My only disappointment is the figure on the left, which I find very poorly sculpted. Like several other Mars figures, his arms are tucked next to his body as if he were trying to hold something with his arm pits. He actually looks worse when you look at him directly from the front. I really wish by now Mars had figured out how to properly sculpt arms in more natural positions. 

Mars US MG teams
Mars US MG Teams
This set consists of two machine gun teams in firing position, and a few other supporting figures. As far as I can tell, the two prone guys are operating a Browning 30 cal. MG. The two other guys are firing a water-cooled version of the same MG. The running and standing men are carrying additional MGs, tripods, and ammo. The set comes with 12 figures in total. The other 4 men are repeats of the running/standing men. In general, an OK set. I would not say it is a must have, as there are already other MG teams around from other manufacturers. And the sculpting has the same style of tucked arms as other previous Mars sets. But if you care about having a complete collection, it is still worth getting one set of these guys. 

Mars German Tank Hunters
This is a highly specialized set focused on infantry anti-tank tactics. It comes with a nice variety of weapons, including land mines, panzerschrecks (with and without shield), a panzerpfaust, a panzerknacker (hollow charge), and even an improvised bundle of potato mashers. The one weapon that is missing is the anti-tank rifle (panzerbüchse), probably because it fell out of favor by mid-war as armor thickness increased. But still it might have been a good thing to have one instead of three panzerschrecks. I actually don't know if these guys would have been deployed as an independent unit or if they are simply a set meant to represent the range of options used for this purpose. I think I will sprinkle them across my other German infantry units rather than have them all as one.

Mars Soviet Border Guards
Mars Soviet Border Guards
Normally you don't think of the Soviet border guards as the most exciting topic, but this set makes it look quite intense, and other than the guy who is observing the action with his dog, all the other guys are engaged in the fighting. But I know the dog is a key element of the Soviet guards, so it had to be fit in somehow with its handler. My favorite poses are probably the guy who is running and the officer. The officer was a bit tricky to get to stand straight, but nothing that the good old hot/cold water treatment couldn't fix. The other figure that is interesting is the crawling guy wearing the cammo suit. That guy is going to play double duty with my unit of Soviet scouts. This set certainly exceeded my expectations! 

Mars US Marines
Mars US Marines
It's nice to see Mars cover this service branch. Not that it had been neglected by previous manufacturers, but for the sake of Mars collectors having a more complete range, it is good to see this set hit the market. Overall it is a good set, with nice action poses, and a good variety of weapons, including a flamethrower and two heavy machine guns. The larger one is a Browning M1917, and the smaller one is a Browning M1919. Unfortunately, this set suffers more noticeably from what I've been referring to as the tucked arm issue. I know that it has to do with the challenges imposed by two-part molds, but it still makes this set have several figures with right arms that are in very unnatural positions. Other than that, the sculpting is pretty good, so if you look at the figures from the right angle, you can avoid seeing the tucked arms. But all in all a good set.