When France declared war in September 1939 she felt she was militarily in a strong position, and in many ways she was. However French policy was to contain any war and keep it from French soil until the Allies could match Germany in men and equipment, which gave their traditional enemy the initiative. In May 1940 the Germans took it, and invaded France and the Low Countries using the Blitzkrieg tactics which quickly split the Allied armies and left the best French troops cut off from Paris and the South. The French fought stubbornly, particularly after the British had evacuated, but the capital fell and from then on France was an occupied land which could take little significant part in the remainder of the war.
One of the problems faced by the French army in 1939 was that a huge amount of military spending over the years had been devoted to constructing the impressive Maginot Line, leaving other areas poorly developed. Indeed the French soldier looked remarkably similar to that of a generation earlier in 1918, still wearing the capote greatcoat which was far from ideal for the nature of this new war. Half the poses in this set (but much less than half the actual figures) are wearing the capote, which in all cases is the single-breasted M1938 version which was certainly widely worn by 1940, although the older double-breasted M1920/35 model was still the more common by the armistice and should have been represented here. The remaining six poses wear the vareuse tunic, which again was part of the uniform in 1940 but from photographs and film seems to have been much less common than the capote and therefore in our view it should not have been so widely depicted in this set of figures. For those that like to count buttons the vareuse seems to have five, making it the 1938 style. All the men wear puttees and boots, which is fine (none of the trousers seem to be of the lose 'golf' type), and everyone wears the instantly recognisable French steel helmet.
Despite their apparently very modern clothing the men are all equipped with old ammunition pouches which date back to 1916 (about a third of the infantry had received the M1935 leather equipment by June 1940, but no one here has this). All have the M1935 water bottle and the marching figure in the bottom row also carries an M1935 knapsack and haversack, but all his companions have neither and instead carry the ANP31 gasmask bag. These then are a rather odd mixture of new clothing and old kit, and we would have been more comfortable seeing some examples of older clothing and newer kit, since such was the mix to be seen at the time. However none of the figures here are actually incorrect – well none except the last man. This chap is clearly intended to be an officer: he holds a pistol, has binoculars round his neck and wears full boots. All that is fine, but he is also wearing a capote like his men. Officers of the day wore the tunic or the manteau, and while the later was a greatcoat similar to the capote it did not have the skirts buttoned back as here. Ironically then one of the precious capote men would have been much better wearing a vareuse!
French infantry used several types of rifle, but those in this set look OK. The prone machine gunner is packing a pistol, which was not official but seems to have been fairly common. Apart from rifles and the officer's pistol there are only two other weapons on show. In the middle row the prone man is firing the excellent Chatellerault M24/29 light machine gun, while one man in the top row has a sub-machine gun. This looks like it is the MAS 38, another excellent weapon but hard to manufacture and therefore quite uncommon even after nine months of 'phoney war'. Some American Thompsons were also imported, but sub-machine guns were so few in 1940 that having only one in this set seems appropriate.
We can't have any complaints about the poses in this set as they are all very good. All the usual favourites are here, along with some less common but still useful examples like the standing figures and the really nice marching figure. The kneeling man with binoculars may be a bit less popular, but there are no throw-away poses here. Equally the standard of sculpting provokes no particular criticism as it is uniformly very good. Clothing is believable and such detail as is required is all present, while the proportions of the figures are, as always with Caesar sculpting, flawless. There is a little flash in places, but this is very minor, and there is no noticeable extra plastic, so always tricky figures like the prone machine gunner have been done with complex moulds to avoid any 'blind' areas.
Amazingly this is the first time that this subject has been seriously depicted in this scale and material (since the old Esci set is clearly not early war). It therefore fills a very obvious hole in a very popular campaign, and in fact fills it very efficiently. Despite our minor misgivings this is a worthwhile set that should prove very well-liked amongst fans of the period.