Despite being able to evacuate large numbers of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, the defeat of Britain’s armed forces in Western Europe in 1940 was a stunning blow to the fading imperial power, and the task was now one of defending against a possible invasion across the Channel. The entry of the Soviet Union and the USA into the war in 1941 was of course pivotal in the struggle with Germany, and by mid 1944 the British Army, reequipped, trained and greatly enlarged, played a major role in the invasion of Normandy and the ultimate liberation of the West. Although only one of several theatres of operation during the war, it is this conflict in North-West Europe that is the setting for this collection of figures from Caesar.
Britain’s soldiers had started the war with a relatively modern and practical costume: the 1937 pattern battledress. While not without faults it was nevertheless allegedly comfortable and easy to maintain, and though it was not yet fully issued by the outbreak of war, it would soon become standard for all lower ranks. All the figures here, including the officer, wear what looks like the Mk II version (almost identical to the Mk I), with all the correct pockets and flaps. Anklets cover the gap between trousers and the short boots, while each man has the classic Mk II steel helmet on his head. Most of the poses have netting covering this, to which has been added some scrim as camouflage, while the officer is wearing a tom o’shanter (officially the ‘Balmoral bonnet’), and must therefore belong to a Scottish regiment. Should you want a non-Scottish officer then you could trim off the tourie (bobble) and be left with a passable model of the widely disliked but oft-worn General Service cap. The webbing too is accurate here, being the 1937 pattern but with the ’37 pattern’ entrenching tool which, despite the name, only appeared in late 1941. There is some variety in the webbing, with some figures wearing packs and others not, and that of the officer is also properly done.
Any World War II infantry set naturally requires a discussion of the weapons on offer apart from the usual rifles. Here we have three poses using the cheap but effective Sten submachine gun, a widely used weapon after its introduction in mid 1941, although in all cases the Stens here seem to be the Mk II, with the less common but still correct rod stock rather than the usual frame version. This model dates from late 1942, and therefore so must these three figures. Also for later in the war is the anti-tank weapon on the bottom row, the ‘Projector, Infantry, Antitank’, or PIAT, which first saw service late in 1942. The prone machine gunner is using the classic Bren gun which has been modelled in this hobby so many times before yet still deserves to be represented here. This was in use throughout the war, and for many years afterward, which speaks volumes for the high regard with which it was held by all. Finally the first man in the second row is using the British version of a flame-thrower, commonly known as the ‘Lifebuoy’. This looks like the Mk II, which appeared just in time for D-Day, but it was not a popular weapon and few were used, making it somewhat over-represented in this set with four copies of the figure.
All the poses are very practical although none particularly stand out. The inclusion of the figure standing straight and the marching pose are a good idea as such non-battle poses are not common enough in figure sets of this era in our view. The only error in pose is with the Bren gunner, who is supporting the stock of the weapon from underneath whereas he should be holding it down and steadying it from on top.
As always the sculpting is very good, with all the right detail and excellent proportions. One fly in the ointment is the second figure in the second row, who has both the standard entrenching tool parts and a spade thrust under his pack. Well actually this is thrust through his pack, which looks odd but is hardly a major spoiler. There is no assembly required, and it seems there has been none of the usual multi-part moulds that Caesar often use, so in a few places there is some excess plastic. Also unusually for this manufacturer there is some flash, although this is only in a handful of areas rather than widespread.
The box artwork seems to promise a figure wearing a jerkin, but there are none to be found. This is not a disaster but we would have liked to have one such, particularly since the set is very much focused on the later war period. That this set has chosen to be for the later war years is not surprising, given the number of interesting weapons that appeared by this time, although it means the figures are not suitable for the battles of 1940. Equally the lack of the Mk III Helmet should be noted, although the Mk II was widely worn until the end of hostilities in Europe. This then is a thoroughly serviceable set, and while it does not offer anything that has not been done before, what it does offer is done well and will be very useful for all those battles of 1944 and ‘45.