In 1940 the USA had no mountain troops as such, and had never needed them. However reports from Europe – particularly from the Soviet-Finnish Winter War – led many to believe that the US should have such troops, and suitable training facilities were set up and recruits gathered by 1942. In the end there were two principal units that could call themselves ‘mountain troops’: the First Special Service Force (‘FSSF’) and the 10th Mountain Division. The FSSF began combat in Italy at the end of 1943, but the 10th had to wait until early 1945 before their chance came – again in Italy. Despite much specialised training and equally special clothing and equipment, neither formation actually did much of their fighting in mountain terrain, and by the time the 10th reached the war zone much of their kit was standard army issue. Nevertheless this is an interesting aspect of the fighting in World War II which up to now has only seen figures for German and Italian forces, so something from the Allied side was overdue.
A wide variety of winter clothing was developed for these troops, but all the figures here wear the same thing, which is the ski parka. This came in several forms, but this looks to be the third type, with fur trim on the hood but not the cuffs, and two slanted pockets on the chest. It has a drawstring at the hem and another at the waist (obscured by a belt on every pose here), and tabs on each cuff. The trousers could be one of several types and the men all wear what could be either M1944 shoepacs or simply jump boots – both are equally appropriate here. Many wear the standard M1 steel helmet, while others wear a peaked ski cap or have their hood up. A couple have mittens, and the rest could either have bare hands or gloves – impossible to tell at this scale. As can just be seen in our photo the fourth man in the top row wears snow shoes. These are oval in shape and are of the ‘bivouac’ or ‘bearpaw’ variety, which were used within camp but not for long distances or in the face of the enemy. All this clothing is well done and entirely authentic.
As might be expected when in action, many of the men wear standard webbing outside their parka. However in some cases this is lacking some of the pouches appropriate to their weapon, which is a strange omission. On the whole they are lightly equipped but several do have the canteen, entrenching tool and bayonet, and several of the non-combatant poses have the large rucksack (without a cover) that we would expect; all this kit looks good. The last figure in the top row, walking with his skis over his shoulder, has a pistol holster but is otherwise lacking any kit, which is a feature of several poses here. We would have expected at least the basics here, and especially some sort of weapon, usually the Garand slung across the back or even across the chest. The man abseiling in the second row and the mule handler should both be armed this way but are not.
For the most part mountain troops used much the same weaponry as any other infantry. Several here have rifles which look to be M1 Garands, which is as it should be, although they could also pass for 03 Springfields if required. The second kneeling figure is using a Thompson submachine gun, and the first figure in the second row is holding an M1918A2 BAR (‘Browning Automatic Rifle’) which is missing its carrying handle. All of these are nicely detailed and suitable, although as we have said every pose should really have such a weapon.
There are not a lot of poses here, and as with other sets of mountain troops there is much less emphasis on combat than in most infantry sets. All the poses are perfectly valid and worthwhile, although we were not thrilled by the man with the BAR, but perhaps the second man in the bottom row requires an explanation. He is abseiling down a cliff using a rope that he holds in both hands, and to make sense he would have rope continuing from both hands. This is a unique pose and quite appropriate, although wargamers will find little use for it and modellers will find it more of a challenge to display; an interesting little exercise!
Mules were the standard form of transportation for supplies and equipment, being able to access areas wheeled vehicles would find impossible. Although it occupies space on the sprue that could have accommodated two more poses, we were pleased to see a mule in this set, and it looks pretty good too. The proportions of the animal look fine, as does the tack, for while it lacks the breast collar which it should have, there are plenty of photographs showing that this was often left off. Instead the animal has a bag around its neck – probably containing its feed. However the M1924 Phillips pack saddle, which it must have, has been quite poorly done, and the assortment of generic packages that represent its burden look thoroughly unbalanced, which would cause a lot of problems in reality.
The sculpting is of the usual Waterloo 1815/Italeri standard of late, with crisp clear detail, good proportions and no flash. Unwanted plastic has been minimised partly by strategic placement of arms (the man with the Thompson holds it very close to the clip) and partly by making two of the more complex poses as two pieces. These are the first two in the second row, and both go together pretty well but require gluing.
Although this set does not deliver a lot of battle poses, it does nicely capture the feel of mountain troops, wrapped up against the cold and rain and having to deal with such things as mules and skis on top of the usual military duties. The third kneeling figure pictured above, which is very natural and our pick of the bunch, is holding a radio in his right hand, so is presumably an officer of sorts, and we also liked the man trying to pull the mule forward. Little details like the goggles on the man with skis were appreciated too, but the absence of weapons and pouches on some of the figures spoil an otherwise believable collection, and if there had been a few more poses then a bit more variety of clothing would have been an improvement too.