After the Great War Italian aviation was held in high regard, and Italian pilots frequently broke records and achieved firsts. However these encouraging early successes were not maintained, and by the time Italy declared war in 1940 their air force, the Regia Aeronautica, was suffering from the same problems that faced the rest of the armed forces – design and production of equipment simply could not keep up with the other European powers. Italian fighters were particularly weak, with large numbers being virtually obsolescent, and even newer models were usually less well armed and protected than the opposition. Scattered over a wide area (including Russia and even briefly Belgium), there were also major problems with supply of fuel and spare parts, yet the highly skilled crew fought on against these odds, eventually withdrawing from North Africa and concentrating on defending Italy from the Allied invasion. In 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies, the Regia Aeronautica planes and personnel found themselves as divided as their country, some fighting for the King in the South alongside the Allies, and the rest fighting with the Germans for Mussolini's RSI.
This is the first set to depict the Italian Royal Air Force, and like the old Airfix sets it includes both pilots and ground crew, though fewer poses overall. The first three figures pictured are of the pilots, beginning with one that has no base. From the general appearance it looks like this man is in the act of boarding an aircraft, which is why he has no base as he is not on the ground. He wears typical flight suit, including the characteristic large pockets above each knee, and has a parachute strapped to his back. On his upper body he wears a flotation device named the salsicciotti (sausage) made of cork and canvas, a widely used but unpopular item as it was uncomfortable and limited movement inside bombers. All his clothing and kit is correct, as is that of the other two pilots. The second man is running, also with parachute attached, as if racing to get to his plane, and the third man is already seated in the cockpit and tightening his helmet. Neither of these man appear to wear the salsicciotti but are otherwise the same as the first, so are fine.
The remaining figures are all ground crew, and wear a wide variety of clothing. Some have the usual overalls with overlapping front flap and large pockets on the thighs, others are more casually dressed in shirt and shorts or just shorts. From photos it is clear the clothing of such men varied enormously, but everything here is correct and reasonable, though quite clearly all are in a hot climate such as North or East Africa, and not Russia during the fight for Stalingrad! Most wear the usual fatigue cap, which is properly done, but one man has a wide-brimmed straw hat, which was also quite common and much appreciated in the relentless African sun.
The three pilot poses are a fair spread for the subject, and much the same goes for the ground crew. We have two armourers handling machine gun ammunition belts, a man handling a pipe that might be for fuel or lubricant, plus two generic poses. All of them are well done, though the suggestion made on the box that the two armourers can be placed together does not work particularly well in practice. The main problem of course is the small number of poses, though at least none here are wasted.
The handful of accessories don’t add much to the set, but they are useful. Our guess would be that the larger of the two bombs is a 100kg type, and the empty box with open lid would be useful in lots of situations.
Sculpting is very good, the detail is quite clear and there is no flash anywhere. We were annoyed that none of the ground crew have a base, and while three can stand on their own, they are naturally very precarious. Presumably the thought was that they are positioned on an aircraft, or at least touching and so supported by it. We would have preferred everything to be based so we could choose to remove this if required. There is no unwanted plastic, yet apart from the man in the straw hat the poses do not look at all flat or contrived. The seated pilot comes in two halves, which makes sense and fit together well, being very secure simply using poly cement.
There are no figures wearing fatigues, but with this many poses it is not possible to cover all possibilities and we can have no complaint over the clothing actually chosen. Everything is accurate and well produced, though there are annoyances which we have already mentioned. The box artwork shows every single pose, more or less as they are presented, but we would have liked to have seen several more. However there is much to like in this set, and with sets of Luftwaffe and others having long been available it was about time the Italians were also represented.