After the evacuation at Dunkirk Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany with an army ill prepared to defend the homeland, and far from able to contemplate offensive action on the continent. The Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged the formation of small highly trained units of soldiers who could raid the coastline of Europe and at least score some tiny successes while the army at large recovered, and thus appeared the Commandos. The raids met with mixed results, but the successes brought some welcome good news and helped keep spirits up at home. With the entry of the USA into the war in late 1941 American troops joined those from the Dominions in a build up in Britain, shifting the emphasis of the war from raiding to a full-scale invasion of France, and with it the Commandos changed from specialists in small operations to elite assault infantry spearheading large conventional offensives.
Several companies have already made sets of Commandos, and all have focused on the early raiding days by the style of clothing, particularly the universal wearing of the ‘cap, comforter’. This set from Caesar is different in that the men wear a mixture of clothing which is both more realistic and suggests a different stage in the history of the Commandos. Many wear the Denison smock, which was adopted from the Airborne forces later in 1944, while a couple wear the leather jerkin. One man has a hooded anorak while the rest are in ordinary battledress. These makes for a very satisfying mix of clothing, and therefore much more realistic, but the Denison in particular points to a date after the Normandy landings.
The late date is partly confirmed by the fact that several men wear berets. In the early days Commandos had worn insignia and clothing from their original unit, so berets would not have been unknown, but a green beret was officially adopted in late 1942, at which point many Commandos wore it with evident pride. A number of poses are wearing the familiar ‘cap, comforter’, while a couple are bare-headed. No one is wearing the steel helmet, yet this was frequently worn in action, even if sometimes reluctantly and only when the practical protection it provided outweighed other considerations. Naturally Commandos with steel helmets look little different from regular infantry, so perhaps Caesar have avoided them to keep these figures distinct.
As with previous sets of Commandos we felt these men were too lightly equipped. Short raids did not require the bringing of rations, changes of clothes etc., but Commandos still had to carry ammunition, ropes, various specialist kit and any other weapons that they might wish to have, in particular knives such as the ‘Roman Sword’ or the Fairbairn-Sykes knife. Some have quite small knives, and some have acquired pistols (including the Bren carrier, which is good), but the only man with any amount of kit is the walking figure in the top row. He is great, with a Bergen rucksack on his back as well as other items. As heavy and bulky items such rucksacks would have been laid aside during action, but it is good to see one included here. Most of the men have the standard ammunition pouches on their webbing, but these are very flat and not at all convincing.
Apart from the Bren already mentioned the weapons include the popular Thompson submachine gun, the less popular but useful Sten and a couple of rifles. The last figure in the second row might perhaps be holding a De Lisle carbine, which was a silenced weapon perfect for picking off sentries without raising an alarm. However only a few dozen of these were ever made, and were extremely rare in Europe particularly. One particularly nice figure in the top row seems to be handling explosives, which was a feature of many raids as well as specialist functions in later engagements.
The poses are for the most part fairly standard for World War II sets, with only the explosives man and the man with the knife having a real feel of Commando about them. However the Commandos were essentially just infantry, but highly trained and hand-picked for their initiative, fitness and general excellence, so such poses are quite suitable.
Sculpting is the usual high quality Caesar standard, with good detail and very natural folds in the clothing. The weapons and faces are nicely done, and the overall proportions are spot on. Some of the figures, particularly those kneeling, have benefited considerably from the usual Caesar multipart mould, which makes some great poses without the need for any putting together. Flash as always is non-existent.
The one complaint that is heard about this set is it only contains 27 figures. Why this might be we cannot guess, but it does seem unnecessary when most Caesar sets contain 35 or more figures. Note also that Caesar have an inexplicable policy of varying the proportions of some poses in their sets, so our numbers above may not entirely reflect what is inside every box. However what you do get are pretty good, and while they are still missing ropes, knives and other smaller items they are about the best Commando set yet made.