The offensive in the Ardennes in late 1944 was the last major attempt by the Germans to win the war on the Western front. By this time the long war had taken a heavy toll of the infantry, and their appearance had changed considerably as practicality increasingly dictated their uniform, particularly with the growth of camouflage. Since the Ardennes campaign took place in winter, participating troops would be expected to have warm clothing, and by this late stage some new weapons were appearing, so all these factors influence what we might expect from a set such as this.
Although there are only nine poses in this set, we were very surprised to find that all were dressed identically. Pictures of the troops show a wide variety of clothing based on available stocks and personal preference, so these are far too unvarying to be particularly believable. The uniform chosen is also something of a surprise. All wear their standard greatcoat and over this the normal army tunic. The box illustration shows this is intended to be in camouflage material, and certainly such garments were made, so there is nothing wrong in this, although it is again surprising that none have any breast pockets. What is more questionable is whether such a tunic was regularly worn over the greatcoat in this manner. Certainly the camouflage material would help to break up the outline of the greatcoat, and the greatcoat would add extra warmth, so the combination is understandable, but we could find no pictorial evidence that this was done. Of course that is not to say it was not done, but clearly it was at least not common, so this is not the best choice of uniform for these figures.
Apart from the missing pockets everything here is largely acceptable. The men have a mixture of long and short boots, and all the helmets look to be uncovered. The webbing is properly done and suitable for the weapon being carried, while the basic kit items are mostly present. As with the uniforms we would like to have seen much more variety here, with various extra items being carried and a generally much less parade-ground look, but nothing can be said to be actually inaccurate here.
Four of the men have the standard rifle, and one has the new StG44 assault rifle. The rest have the classic MP40 submachine gun, which has the stock extended in one case. This weapon was becoming more common by this late stage of the war, so its frequency here is reasonable.
All the poses are well done, with the walking figure and the man with the StG44 being our favourites, but while the quality of pose is OK it is the quantity that fails to impress. This is the start of a new series from Caesar, and it may be that a characteristic of the series is a reduced number of poses, but only nine poses for a general infantry set is not good, particularly for a subject with such a wide range of clothing and weapons. Now there are of course a great many sets of WWII German infantry suitable for the Ardennes campaign, some of which have been made by Caesar themselves, so we can hardly complain about a lack of figures overall, yet clearly nine poses compares unfavourably with many other sets which regularly deliver 12, 15 or even more, and with only 21 figures in a box you don't even get the traditional four of each pose which are generally on offer from other sets with fewer poses. A brief look at the web suggests this sells for the same price as the full Caesar sets, so value for money is an issue too.
The usual high Caesar standard of sculpting is repeated in this set, with multi-part moulds used to ensure the poses are lifelike and anything but flat, but have a minimal amount of excess plastic and virtually no flash. The figures are all nicely posed and have the requisite level of fine detail, although we thought a few of the greatcoats did not hang in the way a double-breasted garment should. Nevertheless these are as good a job of sculpting as anyone could want.
Our main gripe with this set is the choice of uniform and, much more importantly, the lack of variety of clothing. By this period any number of smocks, parkas and other items might be seen on these men as well as new weapons such as the Panzerfaust. We often complain about the very neat appearance of figures compared to the realities of war, and this seems like a good example, when men fought in wet, freezing conditions and rightly paid little attention to a neat appearance. These figures might be historically acceptable but can hardly be said to reflect the average appearance of Panzergrenadiers during this crucial battle, and it is this that is the biggest let-down of this set in our view.