1943 was to be a turning point for the German army. By the new year the drive into the Soviet Union had already been halted, and huge amounts of men and equipment had been lost - losses that could not be made good easily. The disastrous surrender at Stalingrad in February had lost the Germans the initiative, and the offensive around Kharkov that followed was an attempt to regain it. The offensive was a success, but it could not reverse the slowly turning tide of war, which would see further defeats such as at Kursk and the long march by the Red Army towards Berlin.
The first winter in Russia had found the German invaders ill-prepared, despite the lessons of so many who had gone before them. However by the winter of 1942/43 things were getting better, and as the war progressed an increasingly range of coats, parkas, snow-suits and other camouflage and specialist clothing became available. The styles of these garments varied a good deal, but these figures are all wearing one particular item, which is an almost knee-length fur-lined smock with an enormous hood that looks like it could accommodate a man all by itself (and is large so as to cover any helmet). The garment has two breast pockets and neat lapels in the same style as the normal tunic, and was issued in 1943, but only to the Waffen-SS, where it was worn at Kharkov. Due to the expense of manufacture this item was replaced by more standard winter camouflage clothing by the following winter, so had only a fairly short lifespan and a limited issue. However it is accurately represented here.
The smock covers most of the figure, but they do wear loose trousers that might well be covering regular army trousers underneath. Our favourite figure has no helmet, but instead has a toque covering his otherwise bare head. This sort of more shabby appearance was very common in battle, yet is rarely depicted in figures. The belts and pouches are quite standard, and the men are mostly carrying the usual bread bag, cook pot and canteen, while a few still have their gasmask tins.
The habitual highly sophisticated moulds that Caesar use make these figures extremely well posed and lacking nothing in the way of detail. The nicely rounded poses are all natural, and include one man doing something that is all too rare in this hobby - keeping his head down. World War II battlefields were exceptionally dangerous places, and the sheer number of figures showing soldiers with straight backs walking around with little apparent urgency hardly reflects the realities of battle. In this set we have a mixture of rifles and MP40s, plus a prone MG34/MG42 machine gun which is magazine-fed. Apart from the usual annoying tendency for Caesar figures to have their weapons bend, all these weapons are fine.
With so many possibilities for a really gritty, shabby and realistic set of figures suffering from the Russian winter as much as at the hands of the Red Army, this small set is something of an opportunity missed. Exactly why Caesar failed to name this set as Waffen-SS when that is what it is we do not know, but it provides figures with a type of uniform not previously seen in this hobby, and that is always a good thing. Apart from the relatively neat appearance of most of the figures this is a small but interesting set that has been well executed.