Although the Soviet Union possessed vast armoured forces in 1941 many vehicles were old designs and in a very poor state of repair, and within months of the German invasion most of these had either been destroyed or simply abandoned as unusable. Newer, better designs were on the way however, and after recovering from the initial shock production of tanks grew dramatically until by the war’s end the Soviets were once again in possession of the largest armoured army in the world, but this time the vehicles were better, well maintained and crewed by experienced battle-hardened men.
Tank crewmen always present something of a problem as when they are in combat they are hidden in their machines, and don’t look particularly dramatic or interesting even if you could see them. However there is much scope for having figures milling around stationary tanks, perhaps parked up, being maintained or even abandoned on the battlefield. LW have previously done a set on the same subject, which were quite accurate but pretty ugly to look at, so the hope was that Orion would produce something better, and they have not disappointed.
10 of the 13 poses in this set wear the overalls that were the main form of uniform for Soviet tank crew when in action. Several styles of these were worn at the time, including some made overseas, but all these wear the same style, with a single breast pocket on the left and a lap pocket on the right. From photographs this seems to be about the most common style so is a good choice and accurately done here. Of the rest, two wear jacket and trousers that may well be the leather items issued to these men, while the last has removed his overalls to reveal the standard gymnastiorka and breeches which were worn underneath. The gymnastiorka, along with some of the overalls and jackets, have shoulder boards, which is why the set is labelled as dating from 1943, when these were introduced. All the men without exception wear the Soviet tank helmet with the distinctive three bands running to the back of the head and the fittings for headphones. Our single, and very minor, concern about accuracy is that all these have been depicted with a stiff 'peak' at the back when in fact this was a fabric flap that could be worn fastened up or left down, but not projecting out at ninety degrees like this. Happily some swift work with a knife will remove this blemish. Most wear long boots, but some have short boots (or wear their overalls outside the boots), so everything here is accurate once that peak is removed!
The first two poses are clearly meant to be sitting on a tank, while the third must be standing in the turret, and the fourth is nonchalantly leaning against one (or anything else come to that). The rest of the figures are more stand-alone, and show men engaged in battle (perhaps taking on the enemy after their tank has been put out of action), observing, carrying out maintenance tasks or, in the case of the last figure, holding up a bunch of flowers, presumably celebrating victory somewhere. This pretty much covers all the likely scenarios so we liked the range of poses, and individually most are pretty good. The one weed in the bed of roses is the penultimate figure, apparently running with a can but in a ludicrous position whereby his left arm is practically dislocated to achieve that height. Surely the sculptor must have seen how unnatural this looks, and the running man behind him is little better, as both have arms contrary to the natural swing of a human while running.
If the sculptor had a bad day when he created that running figure then he can be excused because his work overall is very good. The figures are nicely proportioned and the simple uniforms well done, with suitably understated but fine detail where necessary and realistic folds in clothing. There is some flash, and a number of faces are somewhat scarred by mould lines running down them, but plenty of sets have fared worse.
This is certainly an improvement on the dwarfish Evolution set, and better yet it is a very decent set of figures from all perspectives. Crews of self-propelled artillery wore the same uniform (with the addition of steel helmets if the vehicle was open), so these figures could equally well serve that role. With this product a numerous and influential part of the soldiers of World War II finally get a set to do them justice, and not before time.