Mussolini famously said that he needed at least a thousand Italian dead before he could sit at the conference table, but in the event he got many, many more than that. Italy’s adventures in North Africa in the 1930s had done little to prepare her for a major war with European opposition, and while her soldiers were brave they were badly let down by poor leadership, administration and, perhaps above all, obsolete equipment which was in any case in short supply. The disasters of the African campaigns saw the end of Mussolini’s dream of the Mediterranean as “Mare Nostrum” (“Our Sea”), and from then on the issue was one of defending the homeland itself against the expected Allied invasion.
Although the title makes no mention of the theatre of operations, our introduction will have told you that these figures are for the African campaigns. More specifically these figures are all of the famous Bersaglieri – one of the best and most famous units in the Italian Army. Five of the figures wear the tropical helmet, five the steel helmet, and the last two have the fez which was worn by both Bersaglieri and the MVSN (‘Blackshirts’). However since neither of these two figures has a dagger at their belt they are likely to be Bersaglieri rather than Blackshirts. All the figures seem to have the tropical weight version of the standard army tunic, or else the camiciotto Sahariano, both of which are fine for this period and location, although some wearing the popular Sahariano with the yoke would have been nice. A couple of men wear shorts, but the rest seem to have the usual breeches and either short boots with puttees or leggings, or long boots (Bersaglieri were widely provided with leggings, but some in puttees seems reasonable). As Bersaglieri, all are identifiable by the cockerel feathers on the side of the helmet, which all here do have, so everything is fine, particularly since actual uniform varied greatly as supply was so difficult.
Troops in Africa wore the same kit as those in Europe, and used the same weapons. The characteristic pair of ammunition pouches at the waist are to be found on many of the poses here, although curiously not all, and the kneeling firing figure has three such pouches (or at least two and a half). All the belts and straps look fine, but these men are very lighted kitted, with most have nothing more than the standard canteen. The last figure in the top row carries a full pack, however, but like all but one of his colleagues he has no scabbard for a bayonet, even though he has one fixed to his rifle. One man has a haversack, but while the canteen was naturally a vital part of any soldiers kit in the desert we would have expected a little more in terms of bags and impedimenta.
Regarding weapons everything is in order in this set. Two thirds of the poses carry the standard Italian rifle – the Mannlicher Carcano. Two have the longer earlier version with a barrel 11 mm in length, while the rest have the much shorter M1938 carbine version with a barrel of 8 mm (576 mm), both of which are properly sized here. Two figures are handling submachine guns, which are indistinct but probably represent the common Beretta M1938, while the light machine gun in the bottom row looks to be the Breda M1930, also common despite its faults.
There is nothing wrong with any of the poses, all of which look natural, lively and nicely done. Given the wide open spaces of much of the desert we would have liked more prone figures, but some will undoubtedly disagree with that.
The sculpting is generally very good with nice clear detail and plenty of it. One feature however does disappoint, and that is the cockerel feathers on the helmets. These were an impressive spray of feathers which helped identify the wearer even at some distance, but all those here are no more than a rather pathetic splat clinging determinedly to the helmet and barely standing out from it. We realise this is a difficult thing to sculpt in this scale, but Bersaglieri have been modelled many times before (just search for ‘Bersaglieri’ in our text search) and always with a much better plume than those in this set, so there is really no excuse. The only other problem we could find is with the Breda M1930 machine gun, which is noticeably too short here. Flash as always is non-existent and for the most part the mould line is undetectable, although there are small amounts of plastic between certain arms which, in the past, Caesar have avoided with more sophisticated moulds.
Apart from the quite silly ‘plume’ these are really nice figures in useful poses and with no significant accuracy problems. They also represent a subject which has rarely been done before, although having them all as Bersaglieri is not quite what you might expect from the bland set title. This then is a useful addition to the Desert War, which is all too often wrongly perceived as simply a British/German confrontation.