The period covered by this set, 1939 to 1942, saw some of the darkest days of the Red Army. It includes the shameful invasion and annexation of Poland in alliance with Nazi Germany, where resistance was light, the conflict with Japan at Khalkhin Gol, where armour played an important part but again faced little armoured opposition, and the invasion of Finland, a shambolic expedition that revealed many of the weaknesses of the Red Army (although the campaign was unsuitable for widespread use of armour). The period ends with the Germany invasion, when millions of Red Army soldiers were killed or captured, and the apparently massive amounts of Soviet armour were shown to be of little value due to obsolescence, mechanical frailty and poor tactical understanding. Lessons would be learned for later, but enormous numbers of tanks and vehicles were lost during these difficult years and many crews sacrificed due to failings in the leadership.
Orion have already made two sets of Soviet tank crew for the later war years, so this one completes the picture with its coverage of the early years. Our first thought when we looked at these figures was that they are really nicely sculpted, but really badly let down by the mould. The sculpting is excellent, with plenty of fine detail all beautifully proportioned. Clothing looks very realistic, kit is nicely detailed and the faces are good too. General anatomy is excellent, and none of the poses look at all flat - happily there are none of those very awkward running poses that scarred the earlier sets. Sadly the great sculpting is really spoiled by the very bad mould, because as you can see there is a huge amount of flash all over the place. It isn’t everywhere, and perhaps not all copies of the set suffer this badly, but there is plenty to annoy anyone wishing to make the best of these figures by painting them.
Given the usual constraints on possible poses for tank crews which we have discussed many times before, we loved the choices made for this set. The selection includes men apparently in combat but out of their vehicle, with revolver in hand, men working on maintaining their vehicle, and others in more generic poses. All of them met with our approval, although we particularly liked the everyday domesticity of the man handling the kettle. Several previous Soviet figures have been made holding two flags, which are for traffic control, but in this set the men with flags is clearly signalling with them as very few Soviet vehicles had radios at this date.
Another strong point of this set is the variety of costume and attention to detail. There is a pleasingly rich variety of clothing, including the normal overalls with large thigh pocket, tunics, field shirts, leather jackets and winter coats. Several of the men wear the obvious M33 padded tanker’s helmet (some in the winter pattern), but as you would expect at this time there are also a couple of men still wearing the old pointed Shlem as well as some peaked caps. The costume ranges from cold weather to hot as the set includes men wearing the warm Ushanka fur hat and others wearing the soft brimmed panama hat, which was only issued in hot regions. Where appropriate the figures wear good deep gauntlets, and everywhere the clothing is entirely appropriate and correctly done.
Were it not for the ugly flash this would be a terrific set, and perhaps future pressings will be able to eliminate the flash problem. The poses are excellent, as is the sculpting, and accuracy is perfect. Most importantly, these figures would look amazing arrayed around one or more tanks, where you could put together a convincing scene of relaxation or preparation behind the lines. There really is not much more you could ask for from a set of tank crewmen, and in our view this is the best tank crew set Orion have yet done.