For the Germans Africa was something of a sideshow. After the conquest of France the next big project was the invasion of the Soviet Union, but after a direct appeal from Mussolini Hitler sent what became the Afrikakorps to assist the struggling Italians in North Africa. While they were ultimately defeated and expelled, the German campaign was controlled by an acknowledged master of warfare, Erwin Rommel, and the campaign had and indeed still has a fascination that is unique to the Second World War. For that reason many companies have made sets of this famous corps, with Italeri, who had previously reissued the old Esci set, now contributing one of their own.
Although not experienced in desert conditions the German army quickly adapted and the figures we have here show the resulting uniform worn for most of the campaign. Many wear the popular peaked field cap, although the majority still have the familiar steel helmet. All wear the standard blouse and in most cases ordinary trousers with ankle boots. Three of the poses have the high laced boots that were peculiar to the Afrikakorps, and the officer has chosen to retain his boots, as many did, along with his breeches. All this is fine, but there is a little too much uniformity here. Nothing is actually wrong, but we would have liked to have seen some figures in shirt sleeves, maybe one in a greatcoat, and perhaps even someone in shorts (which regulations did not permit on the front line but human nature being what it is…).
The kit each man is carrying is equally standard – a water bottle, bread bag and gas mask container are to be found on every man apart from the officer, who has binoculars (but no case), map/dispatch case and pistol holster. The men with machine guns have no bayonet but all those with rifles do, although it is considerably too short in almost all cases. All the riflemen and men with the MP40 have the correct ammunition pouches, although these have sometimes been moved round the body by the sculptor to make moulding easier, which we did not care for. Two men on the bottom row are carrying MG34 machine guns, and as gunners they should have the bulky accessory pouch and a pistol on their belts, but there is no evidence of either on either man. The third man in the bottom row could be part of the MG34 team as he carries an ammo box, but again if so then he lacks the spare barrel and other kit that would normally be part of his load.
Weaponry is the usual mix of rifles and sub machine guns, plus one man in the act of throwing a grenade. The mortar in the third row is the 8-cm sGrW 34, a much used weapon both in the desert and elsewhere.
The poses are an unconventional collection. Some of the basics that might normally be expected are missing, such as anyone firing his rifle. On the whole the poses are OK but there are some that require further comment. The last man in the second row has his arm at a very unnatural angle which was presumably done to make the life of the mould-maker easier. The third guy in the third row is kneeling and reaching out, but it is unclear why. Perhaps he is meant to be interacting with the mortar, or perhaps just pointing at something – we are not sure, but can think of more useful poses. The two figures carrying the MG34s are a real surprise. The first is clearly just moving the weapon, which is an unusual but perfectly acceptable pose. However he clearly has his finger on the trigger, which is quite odd. His neighbour is worse though. He gives the impression that he is firing the weapon ‘from the hip’. Obviously he is not, partly because this is not how you handle a 12kg machine gun, and partly because it has no ammunition. Why then does he look like he is firing it, and again has his finger on the trigger?
Italeri have lately rebuilt their reputation for good quality sculpting and we find more of the same here. Detail is everywhere clear and sharp, while clothing looks natural and human proportions are spot on. In a few places there is some excess plastic (e.g. between weapon and body), and some corners have been cut like the bipod for the MG34, which is in line with the barrel rather than at 90 degrees to it, but in general this is a good job. The mortar comes with the bipod stand separate, and this fits easily into the weapon to make a pretty good model. However while the trajectory of the barrel is fine the bipod is almost vertical, at least if it is to reach the ground. You have to assume the ground in front of the operator rises and fix the bipod at a steeper angle to get a realistic profile for the weapon. Finally there is no flash at all.
Making a set of Afrikakorps means competing with some excellent sets (listed below). Italeri are to be commended for taking on the challenge and in the main they have fared very well. Take out the two poses handling the MG34 and you remove many of our issues with accuracy and choice of pose. Clearly someone should have done more research into this weapon, but that shouldn’t spoil what is otherwise a very decent set of figures.