At the outbreak of war in 1914 Germany was a young and vigorous nation with ambitious plans for the future and a large, efficient army and navy to achieve those aims. In 1919, when that war finally ended, Germany was starving, desperate to avoid occupation and suffering from political turmoil and revolution. Yet the German army had come close to delivering victory at times, and displayed a talent for adapting to the realities of a war that was lost as much through politics and economics as defeat on the battlefield. The German soldier maintained a fine reputation amongst friend and foe even after defeat, and suffered dead and wounded that ran into millions.
Those familiar with the Great War will have observed some key characteristics of these figures which help to identify them more precisely. First, they all wear the Stahlhelm helmet which first appeared in numbers in 1916, and second, they all have the short boots and puttees that replaced the earlier long boots. They all carry gasmasks, and indeed four are actually wearing theirs, so this confirms the later-war timing. Many carry good numbers of grenades, cloth ammo bandoliers, and all have an assault order which includes no pack but the greatcoat covered by the tent section and rolled round the mess tin - a common arrangement by 1916. Finally the standard German infantryman's rifle was the excellent G98, but all these figures carry the shorter Karabiner 98 carbine, confirming finally that these are in fact stormtroopers.
Stormtroopers were a response to the failures of massed infantry rushes against entrenched positions, and basically involved small scale actions with well-armed parties storming a section of enemy trench. As well as the popular grenades one of the figures carries a trench mace while another has an entrenching tool in his hand which may well have been sharpened to become a useful close-quarters weapon. Apart from the reduced pack already described these men have gasmask containers and bread bags but strangely none has a water bottle. Also present is the entrenching tool, which in this set is often on the right hip rather than the left (which did happen but was not as common as suggested here). Indeed this tool was not always worn by this date and was often replaced by a full-sized spade by assault troops such as this, although no such spade is present here.
Two of the figures are particularly interesting as they wear the early type Sappenpanzer body armour. Many armies experimented with such armour, but all found that any protection was not worth the extra weight and difficulty of movement experienced by the wearer. Used mainly for those with static duties such as sentries, it may have been worn by assault parties during the initial advance towards the enemy but was quickly discarded once fighting broke out. Removing the armour was made very quick by there being no restraining straps - it stayed put merely by the weight on the shoulders, and these figures show this correctly, unlike the comparable figure in the Revell set that has it tied on.
The poses are quite an active bunch, with the emphasis on assault rather than trench defence. At least one crawling figure would have been highly appropriate for this subject, and as we have said the soldier using the mace would have been seriously hampered by his armour and should not have been given any. There is also a lack of any of the many other weapons these troops utilised, but Caesar may have been mindful that these have already been produced by others before them (see below). The figure festooned with grenades is a particularly good one and echoes many photographs of the time.
Caesar's high standards of sculpting are maintained here, with all the detail you could ask for and some very natural poses. One detail that is missing however is on the helmets. All such helmets had a pair of lugs on the side onto which an armour reinforcement could be mounted. Many of these figures display no such lugs, and those that do show only a faint bump which is not adequate. These lugs could be concealed by coverings on the helmet, which were worn on occasion, but from their profile it is clear none of these figures wear them. Small areas of excess plastic are to be found between weapons and bodies, and one figure suffers from some noticeable flash, but these are still very nicely done.
Our final thoughts are on the smallest of details. All the men appear to wear the M1915 'Bluse', but the front pockets should be slanted rather than straight as modelled here. Also we would have expected some of the men to have a knife on the belt but there seem to be none. Still these are figures that deliver some great assault troops and therefore are a significant addition to the several sets of later-war Germans already produced.