Italy had had paratroops since 1938, when the first units were set up in their Libyan possession. The ‘Infantry of the Air’ grew steadily and received the best training, making them an elite in the Royal Army just as paratroops were elsewhere. However most were destined never to use their specialist skills, and were instead deployed as elite infantry, never making a jump into action. A few did jump as part of tiny raids on targets behind enemy lines, but the intended major action for the paratroops, the assault on Malta, was cancelled. Some jumped to occupy Cefalonia in April 1941, but they met no resistance, and a few jumped in Operation Herring 1 in 1945, using American aircraft and with partly British equipment. Nevertheless as ground troops Italy’s paratroops made a great name for themselves.
When first set up there was no particular paratroop uniform, and the early volunteers wore the uniform of their original unit, be it Army, Air Force or Navy. It was not until 1941 that uniform regulations were laid down, and difficulties of supply were exacerbated from September 1943 when Italy surrendered, after which some paratroops fought for the King and the Allies whilst others fought for Mussolini and the Germans. As a result troops on both sides began adopting uniform and equipment from their allies where necessary. The figures in this set seem to concentrate on the pre-Armistice era, when clothing and uniform was all Italian, and depict several forms of uniform, although to a great extent they could also be used for post-Armistice paratroops fighting for the R.S.I. up to 1945.
First there are the men in the jackets and berets, which are seven of the 13 poses. The jackets all look to be of the distinctive paratroop type, which had neither lapels nor collar, although the badges are correctly shown, as is the common practice of having the shirt collars outside the jacket. The berets are also correct for these men, although other units too had such berets, particular parts of the Air Force and the San Marco naval units, which is as well as the paratroop beret was only introduced in 1942. These men all wear long trousers (that is, not breeches and puttees) and short boots, which is fine, and they have the classic Italian twin belly-pouches or magazine pouches depending on the weapon they are holding. All that is good, but no one has any other piece of equipment. Not a canteen, bayonet, grenade or any other item is to be seen anywhere, which seems quite incongruous for a man in battle. Another quite common item, a dagger worn on the left kidney, is also missing apart from on the radio man.
Another four poses are wearing jump smocks (first introduced in 1942), which were the first camouflage items issued in the Italian Army. All these men also wear a helmet, which gives them a serious appearance as soldiers compared to the neat turnout of their beret comrades. One of these helmets has the characteristic pad on the forehead, which makes it a model 1942, but the others are not clear and could easily have either the first or second pattern helmet, although the basic shape is well done either way. That these men mean business is enhanced by the fact that they all wear various versions of the ‘Samurai’ waistcoat, with a number of pouches on front and sometimes the back for ammunition clips and grenades, which is an item unique to such men. Again all but one of these men are without canteens, sidearms, bags etc., although such items could be underneath the smock. It would seem that men often wore the classic dagger with this uniform too (remember they have not jumped like this), but again this is absent. What is present is on the standing relaxed soldier, who carries an extra bag of some sort and has tucked a grenade in his pocket – we like to see more of this sort of casual kit on soldiers of this era and beyond.
That leaves us with two figures to discuss. The first, the second figure in the top row, wears a one-piece suit that is perfectly authentic and includes the fastening all down the front. He at least has a haversack as well as a pouch for his ammunition. The other figure, the first in our second row, wears a smock and helmet like some of the others, but also has a parachute harness and padding on his knees. Since the parachute itself is missing, this looks like a figure which has recently jumped, so he is one of the fortunate ones (and he has his dagger on show too). Given the way these men were deployed, only having one such figure in this set seems proportionate.
Leaving aside the dagger, which was more a status symbol than a weapon (although doubtless fearsome enough if used in anger), many of the men carry the model 38A Beretta submachine gun, an excellent weapon but not made in enough numbers, although elites such as these would generally be first in the queue. For the rest the detail on the weapons is not particularly clear, but all could pass for what we would expect these men to carry, which is the 91/38 (“Modello 38”) rifle. Paratroop officers generally carried the Modello 1934 Beretta pistol, but the weapon in this officer’s hand does not look to be this, but more likely the P38, which was issued from 1942, particularly by the R.S.I. In any case some officers pleased themselves in matters of weaponry, so we have no problem with this.
The sculpting is very nice, with Caesar’s always excellent proportions and thoroughly three-dimensional poses, aided as usual by some multi-part moulds. We thought the man standing firing his rifle was rather stiff and lifeless, but that apart the poses are entirely admirable. Detail generally is very good, although as we have said the weapons, always a critical area when looking at fine detail, do not always deliver all that they could. There is no flash however so this is still a very nicely produced product.
Pictures of the time suggest these men suffered from something many soldiers would recognise, a less than intense effort to provide them with clothes that fit really well. When we first saw these figures we felt the smocks were too short and much too tight, barely reaching below the crotch as they do, and certainly something much baggier and closer to knee length was the norm. However there are photos showing them this short, so perhaps this is more to do with the relative stature of each individual, although having them so short on all the figures is a mistake in our view. We were disappointed the helmets were not more clearly of one type or the other, but the ‘Samurai’ waistcoats have been particularly well done. Finally, the radio on the kneeling man has an aerial that marks it out for the later part of the war, again suggesting a strong link to the R.S.I.
Subjects like the frequency of the dagger can be a matter for debate, and our opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s, but we applaud Caeser’s attempt to cover a wide array of uniforms for this type of soldier. Regular visitors will know that we are fans of the Caesar style, and even though there are a couple of small hiccups and the weapons detail is not quite so clear on these figures, they are still very fine miniatures for a subject previously neglected in the hobby.