War has always been a spur for scientific and technical development, and while the atomic bomb might be the most obvious example, the United States developed a number of weapons to make her troops as effective as possible in both World Wars, some of which are to be found in this set of infantry support weapons for the Second World War. Development is not all that is required of course, but the United States had the industrial capacity to deliver such weapons in meaningful quantities and quickly, and many would serve for many years and decades after 1945.
In keeping with our tradition, we will consider this set working downwards through our photographs, beginning with the large mortar in row one. This is the 4.2 inch M2 Chemical Mortar, a weapon first used in the Sicilian campaign in 1943, nicknamed the 'Goon Gun'. Chemical mortars had been designed to fire gas and smoke projectiles, but when it became evident that gas would not be used in World War II a high explosive shell was developed for it, and it was widely used on many fronts. The model here is in two parts and reasonably detailed, but unfortunately the barrel length (at 20mm or 1.44 metres) is far longer than the real thing, which was only 1 metre (14mm) in length. As a result the top of the tube is at eye level which is massively too high, as the many photos of the weapon in action clearly show. The figures in this row are those suggested by Plastic Soldier as a crew for this weapon, and are reasonably posed to be so.
Row two begins with the two most common mortars in the US arsenal during the war, the 60mm M2 and the 81mm M1. The 60mm weapon had a barrel length of 726mm, which equates to about 10mm and has been correctly sized on this model. The 81mm weapon had a barrel of 1257mm, which is about 17.5mm in our scale, yet as you can plainly see the model is barely any larger than the smaller mortar, and indeed has a barrel length of only 12mm. This means it can be served by men on their knees, which would not be possible were it the correct size. In fact both models are virtually identical, being much simplified and lacking most of the detail we would expect these days. The bipods in particular, while not clearly visible in our photos, are thick, crude and about the worst attempt at doing a mortar bipod since Matchbox. In short, the smaller mortar is very poor and the slightly larger one is like nothing historical at all. The first crewmen is covering his ears, while the second holds his empty hands out as if he has just fed a bomb into the tube - both are adequate.
Row two concludes with the bazooka team, and sadly this too gave us a lot of trouble. To begin with, what sort of bazooka is it? The classic and most recognisable model, the M1A1, had a barrel length of 1.38 metres, a solid shoulder stock and no forward handgrip. This model is longer than a man is tall (25mm or 1.8 metres), has no discernible shoulder stock and a hand grip close in front of the trigger. It is also much too thick, so this is either the worst M1A1 ever made or else it is something else (the original M1 did have a forward hand grip, but not positioned like this). Since it is labelled as World War II it must therefore be the foldable M9. But oh dear, that is not good either. The M9 certainly had a longer barrel (1.55 metres), but still not as long as this model, and while it did have a frame shoulder stock as modelled here, it never had a forward hand grip. The weapon does not look too long simply because it is also much too fat, so basically something of a mess. The second crewman clutches a rocket which has a pointed nose, making it earlier than the M6A3 rocket introduced in 1943. Such earlier, pointed rockets pre-dated the M9 and so were very rarely used with it as it first appeared in 1944, yet this is an error commonly seen in films and other poorly-researched sources, such as this set.
It is depressing, but there is more. Row three has an M2 Browning heavy machine gun - well that is debateable. Certainly the general design is somewhat simplified but largely OK, but again we find major size issues. The M2 had an overall length of 1654mm (23mm) - this model has an overall length of 31mm. The barrel is also too long, and considerably too thick, while the ammunition belt and the rounds are just enormous and laughable - errors made all the worse by the fact that this weapon is still in use today, so easy to research. The crew are a reasonable lot, and include the very important second crewman supporting the ammunition belt as it feeds into the gun.
These crew figures are also intended for the next machine gun, the M1919A4 that starts row four. This .30 calibre weapon was of course a lighter weapon and has been reasonably accurately modelled here, although the method of attaching the barrel to the tripod means there is extra unwanted plastic between the two which seems quite unnecessary. However size once again is all over the place, as the barrel length of this weapon should be about 8.5mm at this scale, but is actually nearer 12mm. The barrel is also too thick, and in fact the whole thing is simply out of scale.
Last weapon on the roll call is the M1917A1 machine gun with its two crew. The good news is that this model is pretty accurately detailed, and about the right size too. It’s tripod is a lot flatter than we have ever seen before, but that may not be impossible. However while it correctly has the water jacket around the barrel it is missing the water chest and condensation hose that would keep the cooling jacket working, so this gun will risk overheating if it were fired like this for long.
Obviously a set like this is primarily focused on the weapons, and happily a decent amount of crew figures have been provided too, which we have already said are generally appropriately posed for their role. The men all seem to be identically uniformed, beginning with the classic M1 helmet, which has in all cases been given netting here. There are no pockets or distinguishing features on any of the upper garments, but from the general shape we would guess these are supposed to be field jackets like the so-called M1941 or Parsons. The trousers are exactly the same on all, and have no pockets of any sort - sideseam, rear or cargo. All have short boots and leggings.
Although weapon’s crews generally had some sort of personal weapon, few here have anything. Six of the poses have visible pistol holsters, and the two-man bazooka team are also carrying grenades, but that is all. We would have liked to have seen more pistols on show, and those figures not directly handling a weapon could easily have carried a rifle or carbine. The webbing is a bit vague and not particularly detailed. Pouches for the belt are few (since they do not have rifles), as are the few first aid pouches, which seem to be randomly placed but always on the belt rather than hanging below it as you would expect. The same goes for the canteen, which is laudably common here but again has been placed on the belt rather than hanging below it as was actually the case. The suspenders or braces show little sign of the split they had at the front, and they seem to cross very high over the back.
The sculpting style is not to our taste but that is very much a matter of opinion, and generally the proportions are good and the detail OK. Many of the figures require some simple assembly which is achieved with ease, but used well to improve the poses and make them more natural. We found no flash anywhere, so it should have been all good news on this front. Unfortunately many of the kneeling poses have no base, which is something we do not understand but nevertheless some manufacturers do it so perhaps it is popular. However one of these baseless figures, the man peering through binoculars, simply does not stand up by himself, so why was he not given a base? It makes no sense to us, but there you have it.
As figures this set is reasonable, but the weapons vary wildly in scale, with many too big and one of the mortars much too small. How such a chaotic scaling could have been approved we do not know, but undoubtedly the weapons are the weakest element of this set. Plastic Soldier have thoughtfully included a coloured diagram of the kit parts to aid in assembling weapons and assigning crew members, which is great, although surely it would have been a good idea for this diagram to actually reflect the layout of the sprue! Many of the weapons on show here have been done before by others, and a great deal better, so it is hard to think of a compelling reason why you would want to invest in this collection.