Until the later 19th century infantry of the advanced nations largely plied their trade with muskets or rifles, and any support would come from cavalry or artillery. With the industrialisation of war came an increasingly varied range of new weapons to offer the rifleman support in various situations, and by World War II such weapons were a vital part of any large-scale infantry action. Infantry figure sets for this period often have only a handful of such support weapons for fear of delivering too few basic riflemen, so separate sets such as this for the Italian Royal Army are a major boost to existing sets of riflemen. This one is no different, with a variety of weapons that any Italian soldier would expect to see close at hand.
There is a lot to say about this busy set, so we will consider the various weapons first, and will do so in the order pictured above. The first row begins with a soldier carrying what looks to be the later (simpler) version of the 9mm Beretta submachine gun, the model 1938/42, while his neighbour advances with the earlier M1938a model. This was a superb weapon and very well made, although on these figures the standard of production is not so impressive. Third in the row and racing forward is a man carrying a flamethrower, the common Lanciafiamme modello 35 or 40 (there being very little visible difference between these two, so this model could serve for either). Finally we have a radio operator, who seems to be equipped with the standard RF1 model radio with its large loop aerial.
Row two contains two more mobile soldiers. Both have the feather plumes on the side of the helmet (set much too low here) and are of course Bersaglieri, the famous light infantry that had been converted to bicycle troops after the Great War and had been issued motorcycles from 1936. The first man is firing his standard M1891 Mannlicher Carcano rifle while his bike leans against him, and the second fires what looks like the Bredo modello 30 that is attached to the handlebars of his motorcycle (a frequent arrangement). Our picture shows the man and bike as separate, but in fact he would be standing beside the bike as shown on the box illustration. The Bredo modello 30 was a very poor light machine gun, yet in the absence of anything else it saw plenty of service. This particular one is rendered even less effective by having no ammunition (which would have been in a rigid tray to one side).
The next row contains a heavier machine gun, either the Breda modello 1937 or the Fiat-Revelli Modelo 1935. This is mounted on a tripod and crewed by two prone figures. It seems to have a tiny belt of cartridges hanging to one side, which would suggest it is the Fiat-Revelli, but it is not being fed with any ammunition. The man to the immediate left of the Breda seems to hold a rather droopy ammunition tray up to the weapon, while the second man is actually firing it and clutching two more ammo trays on the ground in his left hand, an unwise move as both trays and gun were very sensitive to dirt. There seems to be much confusion here as the weapon is taking belt ammo while the crew hold small trays - something of a mess. The last figure is a kneeling officer, waving a pistol (probably the excellent Beretta automatic model 1934) and holding the almost obligatory pair of binoculars.
The final row contains another curious and very poor Italian weapon, the 45/5 modello 35 'Brixia' light mortar. Here the operative word is 'light', because the bombs this weapon fired were so small that they did little damage to the enemy, but again nothing better was available. This model is somewhat simplified, but still includes the padded back cushion that served as a seat or chest support for the operator when in action. In this set the operator is lying prone, which is fine, while a kneeling man is feeding the tiny bombs. Contrary to the impression given by the box illustration the model actually has an elevation barely above horizontal, which would have further reduced its effectiveness, although it seems that this wide-issued weapon was little used in action because of its enormous limitations. Beside the mortar crew there is a crawling general infantryman clutching another Beretta M1938a (again poorly detailed), followed by another man simply firing the ordinary M1891 rifle.
Many of these weapons were obsolete or sub-standard when Italy entered the war in 1940, yet Italian industry was unable to provide anything better before its end, so these weapons remained commonplace throughout the years of conflict.
Turning now to the uniform, the men are generally attired in an acceptable manner for the years 1940 to 1943, although not everyone wore breeches and puttees like these men. A tunic with four pockets covers a rather old-fashioned shirt and tie, which is neatly fixed in all cases. In a bizarre twist however the tunic, which looks fine from the front and is quite authentic, has been given a yoke across the shoulders at the back, giving it the look of the sahariana jacket issued to troops in North Africa. This is completely incorrect and a strange error, since existing sets such as that from Airfix show the tunic accurately.
One of the men, the Bersaglieri with the motorbike, seems to wear some sort of wind jacket or smock, which is fine although again it has been given a yoke across the back of the shoulders (which may be accurate). The man with the flamethrower would normally have worn a protective suit and a gasmask, but here he seems to have perfectly standard uniform instead.
Most of the men wear the modern M1933 steel helmet, which is well done, while the radio operator wears the popular bustina side cap, as indeed he must since he is wearing headphones. Officers in all armies tend to be a law unto themselves when it comes to dress, and the one in this set sports what seems to be the old-fashioned berretto peaked cap, although many caps of this popular design seem to have still been in circulation during the war.
Another old-fashioned characteristic of Italy’s infantry was the continued use of breeches with puttees on the lower leg, which most of these figures correctly wear. The kneeling officer wears plain boots, which is good, while the two Bersaglieri figures have leather gaiters as 'mounted' troops.
In general the sculpting is very good but it does let itself down in some places, particularly areas of fine detail such as weapons. There is also quite a lot of excess plastic in certain areas and the high level of flash is very unusual for a high calibre set such as this. We can have no complaints about the poses chosen apart from the cyclist, who must be behind some form of cover as he would otherwise be far too tempting a target if out in the open. The choice of weapons and equipment is also very good, but the technical aspects of the production of this set are not impressive.
Italian infantry outside the North Africa combat zone has received relatively little attention in this hobby to date, and this set delivers a good many important weapons that certainly expand on what is already available. Whether for the Balkans, the Russian front or elsewhere, this set is an essential new addition to the range of World War II Italians, but the generally good design is marred by some small but annoying errors and some sloppy production values.