French commanders did not, on the whole, emerge from the war of 1940 with much credit, and have often been blamed for the disaster that befell their army and their country after the German invasion. France was politically very divided, making it difficult to institute the very necessary reforms that the army needed to modernise itself, and with a determination to avoid the bloodbath of 1914-18, a vast amount of the military budget had been spent on static defences - the famous Maginot Line - which the Germans simply went around when the time came. However much of the blame for the defeat can indeed be attributed to poor and out-dated tactics, which seriously hampered the French in the face of the dynamic and innovative tactics of their German foes.
France’s armed forces of this early stage of the War have not been well represented up to now, and this is the first set dedicated solely to the senior officers and the staff. Naturally such men were concerned with commanding large units rather than personally leading their men into battle, so it is no surprise that the generous 13 officer poses include no one that would seem to be in the face of the enemy. One man has drawn his revolver, but otherwise we find a selection of men apparently watching, discussing or otherwise going about their command or administration business. This means they work very well together, grouped for meetings etc., although the man holding a beer mug is clearly in a rather less formal environment. A couple hold maps or documents, and there is inevitably one holding binoculars, but all the poses are reasonable, although we struggled to imagine many uses for the man with outstretched arms in the third row, who is reminiscent of the giant de Gaulle figure this company made some years ago.
All wear the vareuse or jacket, with two styles on show. Five of the figures wear the recent 1938 pattern with the open collar revealing a shirt and tie, but the rest wear the older version which was closed at the neck. The exact model could be the 'Saxe', 'demi-Saxe' or one of the later types as the differences are impossible to see at this scale, so these men are well suited for any period after the Great War. In 1940 both styles were common, so the jackets are fine, and naturally everyone wears service dress - full dress having been prohibited shortly after the war started. Most of the men wear breeches, which is correct, but one instead wears trousers, which is also fine as in this and many other aspects of dress there was much leeway. Footwear is a mixture of long boots and short boots with leather gaiters - again all perfectly correct for the period. The most distinguishing article is of course the képi, the famous French cap which was available to all staff and widely worn. Here it has been left unadorned, which is fine for the service version, but it could be painted for the dress version also. For the sake of variety we would have liked to have seen some men in the sidecap (not available for generals) or the helmet, but this is a minor point as the kepi remained hugely popular. Again in the name of variety, one or more could have been given a coat instead.
Everyone here is very lightly equipped. A few have a revolver, but most are unarmed. Some Sam Browne belts are to be seen, but most have no particular equipment, which is reasonable, although one or two having a little more kit would have been welcome. One man carries a cane, one of the marks of his rank.
The last figure in the bottom row is very different. He seems to wear a one-piece suit and a flying helmet, has goggles on his head and something on his back attached by an extensive harness. Our guess is this man is a pilot, although we were far from convinced about the supposed parachute on his back, and we have no idea why he has randomly been included in this set. Some suggestions include that he is a reconnaissance pilot reporting to one of the officers, or even that he is de Gaulle being flown out to Britain after France's defeat in 1940.
The airman, like all the figures in this set, is a very ugly representation of the human species. The figures are a shade thin compared to many on the market, especially when you might imagine some more elderly French generals being rather better fed than they should be, but in places the proportions go awry with some crude hands and very badly-shaped heads in particular. The level of detail is adequate for the subject, and no one has any rank insignia on cap or sleeve, which was probably beyond the sculptor but is a good thing anyway as it leaves the customer to decide their use. The figure with his hands on his hips has a strap across his back, but it disappears at the front, so the attention to detail is not good. Also the figures are riddled with flash, with most seams requiring a lot of cleaning up, and there is considerable evidence of a poorly aligned mould as halves of figures fail to meet properly and leave some very ugly ridges. Finally in one or two places like the officer’s cane the plastic has not properly filled the mould. Some of this can be rectified with a sharp blade and a lot of patience, but the lapses in basic human anatomy will be a challenge most will probably want to avoid.
These are not good figures to look at, which is a pity because the accuracy is good and the poses very useful. A slightly wider array of clothing might have been nice, but there is nothing wrong with what is on offer, and it is hard to complain about 13 poses for such a small subject. The random air crewman is a mystery, but under the circumstances does not deprive anyone of a figure that is obviously missing from the main subject. However Ykreol need to do a lot of work on the sculpting and the quality of the mould production before they can produce a respectable standard of figure, let alone one that might compete with the best on offer these days.