In the mid 1960s the US military introduced the M102 105mm howitzer into service, and an excellent weapon it proved to be. So good in fact that it lasted for about four decades, and has only been replaced by the M119 series howitzer in the last few years. Since it is not in service today with the US military (apart from some National Guard units and on some ceremonial occasions), it is a strange choice for what looks like a ‘modern’ set of figures. However as usual we shall pay little attention to the gun itself and concentrate on the five crew figures that come with it.
We were a bit surprised by the general appearance of these figures. Serving a gun is hard work, yet all these men wear full uniform and body armour. This is not actually wrong, but since they are also likely to be some distance from any enemy we thought they would have been more realistic if much more lightly clothed, and photos of artillery crews from recent years seem to confirm that ease of movement and comfort generally override any fear of enemy fire. The wearing of helmets would be usual, however, even well behind the front line, as would the wearing of a vest, if only to guard against enemy sniper fire. We were also a bit disappointed with the body armour here, and particularly with the groin protectors, which in addition to being out of place in such an environment are not well shaped. It is not easy to positively identify anything, but perhaps they are wearing old IBAS or OTV vests. The jacket seems rather short, and the trousers are not as lose and baggy as they should be. In addition they seem to be BDU trousers rather than the modern ACU uniform, for each leg has a cargo pocket, but this is square (not sloped at the top), much too far down the leg and much too small. Add to that the absence of a lower leg pocket, and these do not work as ACU, so perhaps the figures represent soldiers from a few years ago, when this gun was still widely used (the box contains no clues as to dating anyway). However the jackets have upper arm pockets, so do look like ACUs, which were never worn with BDU trousers. Its a bit of a mess, and the same goes for the helmets. They are not quite as bulky as they should be, but all have the Night Vision Goggles bracket attached, which makes them likely to be ACH helmets. Were they the older PASGT helmet then this mounting would be on a removable strap, which is not evident here, and in any case why would artillery men this far back make a point of wearing optional mountings for night vision goggles - an item they would certainly not use while serving their gun. Like the sister set of US Soldiers, these helmets have a strange unidentified feature in the centre of the back, as well as little or no straps, particularly missing round the chin. Some of these men lack eye protection, which would be strange for those in the front line but reasonable for such men as these well behind it. The men have a lot of pouches, which again is more of a surprise for such rear troops, although the pouches may well be empty as they would hardly expect to have to engage an enemy with small arms.
The poses are something of a mixed bag. Much the best is the central figure, who is handling one of the separate shells also included in the kit, and a nice believable pose. The man covering his ears makes some sense too, although ear plugs had been issued and were mandatory since the late 1970s. However we could not decide what the first and forth men are doing, and they seem to fall in the category of 'nothing in particular' poses. The fifth holds one hand to his ear, and is perhaps listening to a radio, although this far back from the line it is far more likely to be vehicle-mounted than contained in the backpack he has, and in any case commands and data were generally not passed down in this way. We could not identify the tool held by the fourth man. Logic suggests it is for pushing the round into the barrel, although this does not require a tool on this weapon, yet it is much too short to be any of the tools needed to go down the barrel for maintenance or cleaning. Still the figures don't look too bad when deployed around their gun as illustrated by this image taken by Toxso themselves.
The style of sculpting here is exactly the same as the previous US Soldiers set mentioned above. Generally the detail is good but not always particularly clear. A couple of the figures have separate arms that need to be glued on, which is an imprecise fit but the quite soft plastic makes a very secure bond using ordinary poly cement, which is great. There is no flash, and no extra plastic thanks in part to the separate pieces. They aren’t the best animated figures ever made but neither are they too bad.
Of the gun itself we would say that it looks to be a good representation of the real thing. The kit itself is made in the standard hard plastic with very well engineered parts, and plenty of them, making this a highly detailed model that is still a pleasure to put together. The instructions are nice and clear too, and from our photo you may be able to see that the springs are real springs, while the barrel can be elevated just like the real thing. There are a few options for transport or combat mode, and the airdrop ring is optional too, so this is a very nice kit.
The poses of these figures are not the best, and we did not like the large amounts of body armour that you would associate with front-line infantry rather than gunners further back. The slightly vague sculpting has an appeal but can make things a bit unclear, so these are good but not great figures. The armour appears to be quite modern, and they have the MOLLE system and the ACU jacket, so with items such as the camelbak these figures seem to date from perhaps 2005 or a bit later, while the gun was being phased out by this date, so the figures don't quite tie in with the dates for the gun, or at best only just overlap. However converters could perhaps use them as a basis for troops of other periods over the past thirty years or more. There is little else like this at present, and most will find the figures perfectly usable, so if not very exciting this set is at least a worthwhile addition to the range of modernish-era fighting miniatures.