Early on in the history of flight people had put their minds to using the new technology to deliver soldiers behind enemy lines, although it was not until the 1930s that this became a practical proposition and the first trained paratroopers made their appearance. However there remained the problem of how to deliver the sort of fire support that they would need - smaller weapons like mortars could be parachuted in with the men, but what about artillery? The need was for a gun small enough to be dropped with Paras, yet capable of delivering significant fire-power, and when the British developed their own paratroops they turned to an American gun, the 75mm howitzer, which proved to be eminently suitable and was used in large numbers. Unlike the Americans, who usually parachuted the gun down, the British preferred to deliver it in gliders, but whatever the delivery method the howitzer (along with the 25 pounder gun) was an important addition to the armoury of the Paras.
By happy coincidence Waterloo 1815 had already produced the howitzer for their set of American 75mm Mountain Gun, so that same model appears here. It is correctly mounted on the M8 carriage, and is a really nicely done and well-detailed little model. Unfortunately it is not the easiest model to put together as our earlier review outlines, and the flawed instructions are just the same here, but when you do finish it off you have a very attractive little model.
Unlike the American set, which comes with a basic crew of four, you get rather more for your money here. Our top row begins with two gunners handling ammunition, and perfectly fine they are too, although neither is actually handling the gun. The last figure is an officer directing operations, so again he is not actually touching the gun. The third figure is particularly interesting, because he is operating a small radio - an essential part of most airborne operations, particularly if the troops are widely dispersed on landing. The radio is the well-chosen No.38, which was widely used, and here it is correctly seated in its web breast carrier. The operator is wearing the headphones under his helmet, and would have a throat-mike, but not surprisingly the long slender aerial is missing here. Less easy to forgive is the absence of the battery etc., which should have been in the manpack. Instead, this man has a well stuffed conventional pack like the rest of the men, which is at odds with his role. Nevertheless this is an unusual figure and a very welcome one.
That still leaves us with no one actually using the gun, which is a shame, particularly as the American set did have such a figure. However this set does include some particularly interesting accessories. First is a trolley used for moving ammunition for the howitzer, along with a para pulling it. The trolley is either the M9A2 or the M18 - these were identical apart from the former being made of steel and the latter of light aluminium. This makes it a perfect partner for the gun, and while it is a simple enough model it is accurately done and looks good. Note however that the body is one piece, so there is no option to have it open. The figure pulling it is very well posed, but unfortunately he does not grasp the handle at all - some trimming or filing of plastic is required to force it on the handle, which could quite easily have been done during sculpting.
The final accessory (apart from the extra shells of course) is a welbike - another first in this hobby. Welbikes were collapsible 98cc motorcycles that could be dropped, assembled and used very quickly. While not related to the gun this was a much used item in airborne forces and it is great to see it here. The only separate piece is the handlebars, but the rider’s arms are both separate to achieve a believable riding pose. It works well - really well, and makes a particular point of interest in an airborne diorama, even if the bike itself was less than ideal. Here however it has been very nicely done.
These men are for the later part of the War, so certainly suitable for D-Day and beyond (and therefore Arnhem of course). All wear the second-pattern Denison jacket with the half-zip, and all have the 'ape-tail' not between their legs but neatly clipped to the back of the jacket. Often this was left dangling after a jump, although it was irritating like this so would sometimes have been tucked out the way as here. Trousers could either be the standard battledress variety or the parachutist version – both had the large pocket on the left thigh (the differences being hard to detect at this scale). There is no sign of an external knife, so purists will have to see these as ordinary battledress trousers, which is fine. The boots are another example of the excellent level of delicate detail on these figures, when so many manufacturers and sculptors would have contented themselves with plain boots. The officer wears his prized beret – a surprisingly common choice of headgear even in the heat of battle - but the rest of the men wear the ordinary jump helmet with netting and pieces of scrim or camouflage. Smaller items like the short gaiters and the face veil worn around the neck are all present and well done, giving all these men the classic para look.
In terms of kit these men do well too. All are fairly fully kitted with the usual bulging pack, water bottle and entrenching tool. Webbing is complete, including the two standard ammunition pouches on the front, although in all cases these are bent and certainly do not look as if they are stuffed with ammunition clips as they should be. No one has a haversack, which is a pity, but some have what looks like the light-weight respirator pouch on the right hip. There is no sign of a bayonet on anyone either, although of course only the man on the motorcycle is actually a rifleman so perhaps they were not worn by gunners such as these. Equally no one has the toggle rope wrapped round them, which is a feature generally avoided in such sets but would still be nice to see. Lacking firearms we might have expected the gunners to have revolvers, but only the officer has one, although we could not ascertain whether they were normal issue.
As with all recent releases from Waterloo 1815 and Italeri, the sculpting is of a very high order, with a wealth of beautifully done detail and good overall proportions. There is only a moderate amount of flash and all the poses look lifelike and natural. The arms of the biker are not as smooth a fit as we would have liked, so along with the gun the perfectionist will take a little time putting this together. However the quality of production is on a par with the Italeri set of Anti-Tank Teams, which means it is better than any of the sets of British paras that came before it.
This is a terrific little set, which while still skipping a couple of items of kit, goes further than most to accurately portray these men. The gun is hard work but a lovely model, and the accessories (and radio man) will attract a lot of interest and certainly add to the feeling of value here. Not having anyone actually using the gun is about the only disappointment here, but otherwise we really liked this product.
Note It appears that some issues of this set, possibly the more recent ones, reflect the stated contents on the box, which says there are three of the gun but only two of the sprue with the figures, so be prepared for only two of each pose shown above.