Like many nations, Japan did little with the idea of paratroops during the 1930s, despite being engaged in a long and bitter war with China. Following the perceived successes of Germany’s paratroops in 1940, however, Japan took this new form of warrior more seriously, with both the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) developing their own units. The first of these were ready around the end of 1941, but by then the war had taken a radically different turn as the attack on Pearl Harbour had brought the Western Allies – the USA, Great Britain (and empire) and the Netherlands – into the conflict. Early successes in the Pacific War were soon followed by a much more defensive conflict as Japan attempted to hold her conquests, and this gave less opportunity for airborne troops. In the end there were just four Japanese parachute operations in the entire war, but like paratroops elsewhere the men were highly trained and well-motivated, and were mainly used as elite infantry while staying firmly on the ground.
Although some elements were shared, particularly some weapons, the paratroops of the IJA and IJN had significant differences in appearance, but it is clear which are represented in this set. These men all wear the same uniform, which is made up of a jacket with trousers that have cargo pockets on the hips and front of the left leg, plus a slender magazine pocket on the right. They also have mid-length laced jump boots, and on the right sleeve of each jacket is a circular badge indicating rank as was the norm in the Japanese Navy, so all these elements tell us that these are IJN paratroops. Other elements are less specific, like the proliferation of cloth bandoliers on show here, and the helmets worn over a cloth cap with long ear flaps. But all are appropriate for paratroopers. Some of the men have netting on their helmet, and some also have goggles, though only the man with the flame-thrower is wearing his (understandably). As IJN paratroopers everything about these men’s uniform is correct.
Kit issued to paratroops included standard infantry items and others such as the bandoliers, and again everything here looks good, with a good level of variety as you would expect of such men. Most weapons were the same as those held by the ordinary infantry, at least in the early days. Here the first five men pictured above all carry a rifle. This is about 17 or 18 mm in length, which is roughly 1250 mm scaled up, so all of them are probably the standard Arisaka rifle, although detail is not nearly good enough to be sure. Later many were issued carbines or even rifles that could be broken down into two lengths, but none of these are here, so giving more of an early war feel to the men. Figures six to nine above all carry a submachine gun which we have found difficult to identify. Our first thought was of the Type 100 submachine gun, which the weapons here certainly closely resemble, except that it had a curved magazine and all those here are straight. The straight magazine would suggest the 1920 model from Swiss manufacturer SIG, which were bought in small quantities by the IJN in the 1920s. This weapon served as the model for the later Japanese product, and this is the best match with what we find being held by these figures, but we were unable to confirm to what extent IJN paratroopers got their hands on this weapon in the 1940s. It seems the submachine gun was not widely used in the early days, so we have some doubts as to this weapon, and particularly whether it should be so generously represented here with a third of the poses.
The second figure in the last row carries what looks like the Type 99 machine gun. Paratroops had their own, similar version, but this could be either, and yes, it does have a bayonet attached, as was certainly done in the field, though whether anyone could effectively use one on such a heavy weapon must be doubted. Third in that row is a man with a flamethrower, again probably the Type 100 model. We were a bit suspicious that the sculptor thought this weapon had a trigger rather than a valve, but generally this is a nicely done model. Finally the officer carries a sword and pistol, which did happen despite the nature of warfare in the mid-20th century.
What is lacking is any sign of a parachute, but then as these were seldom actually used this is perfectly reasonable and indeed a good feature of these figures. Their sculpting is not too bad for Strelets, although finer detail suffers as always. There is a certain flatness to some of them, but they have a lot of detail which may be a bit too big but is certainly necessary for such a subject. The hose of the flamethrower particularly caught our eye as being very nicely done, even if it does rather stand upright too much, but it is good to report that there is no flash at all.
The poses are pretty good. More men are leaning in to where they are going, or just keeping their heads down, which is what you want. The kneeling and prone figures are obviously good for modern warfare, although as much fighting was in thick vegetation where cover was abundant, even the upright figures seem reasonable. The third figure in the top row is quite odd – not a great running pose, and he has his knees at greatly differing heights so he must look quite a sight when he stands. A couple of flat poses like the officer are not impressive, but we particularly liked the low stance of the engineer with the flamethrower. Overall then a lot of very usable poses.
The few airborne operations that these men did undertake taught the Japanese the same lesson that the Germans had learned – that these men were costly to train and equip, and made for very expensive casualties in highly risky ventures at a time when Japan could afford such losses less and less. With no famous battle honour like Crete or Arnhem to their name, Japan’s paratroopers are not well remembered today, but this likeable set from Strelets is a creditable representation of these brave men, even though the submachine guns gave us some concern.