British soldiers in Southern Africa expecting to have to deal with a few armed farmers were in for a shock when in 1899 the Empire went to war against the Boer republics. They found the Boers were excellent marksmen, but just as importantly they had artillery, including weapons that fired explosive shells at the rate of one every two seconds, making a noise which gave the weapon its nickname – the pom-pom. This light artillery piece had been purchased by both republics in the aftermath of the Jameson Raid of 1895, when they had realised how vulnerable they were to attack, and by the outbreak of war in 1899 the South African Republic (‘Transvaal’) had 22 in service and the Orange Free State two more. They proved to be ideal support weapons as they could keep up with the highly mobile commandos yet could be devastating in the field, especially against gun crews and other concentrations of men.
The pom-pom gun in this set (or ‘37mm Shell Gun’ or ‘Quick-Firing 1-pounder gun’ to give it its formal names) is made in the same soft plastic as the crew, and comes in seven parts including the shield. This is not the ideal material for kits, but we found that everything went together pretty well and delivered a model that gives a good general impression of the weapon. Naturally it is simplified in several places, and instead of assembly instructions the box has an exploded view of the parts which is hard to make sense of until you find some good pictures of the real thing. As we said, the shield is separate, so can be left off if desired, and the gun includes a box for the ammunition belt which we thought looked wrong and too high, but this is not hard to remedy. Compared to various field guns made by many manufacturers in this scale this one is of comparable quality in appearance, so a reasonable model.
Usually Boer guns were served by crews from their professional artillery units; full-time soldiers fully trained for their equipment. These men had dress uniforms and campaign uniforms, but there is no sign that the campaign uniform is worn by the crew figures here. Various sources say that sometimes the artillerymen wore civilian dress, or that the guns might be served by ordinary commandos, so it is these instances that this set is depicting, which is correct but we would have preferred at least partly uniformed crew instead. However the civilian dress of all these figures looks authentic, although the high-crown hat one is wearing seems very untypical. They wear simple brimmed hats, jackets and trousers, so as un-uniformed Boers they work well.
The pom-pom was fed by a belt containing 25 small shells, and two of the poses here are handling the box that contained this belt. The last pictured figure seems to be the man in charge, as usual, which leaves two actually working the gun. The first seems to be doing just that – leaning forward and pulling the trigger, but the second, with hands up by his shoulders, is much harder to understand. Perhaps he is reaching to take the box being held on the shoulder? Whatever the purpose, it would not have been our choice. In reality a number two would be in charge of the ammunition feed and replenishment, but this does not seem to be happening here.
The figures are quite nicely sculpted, and while there is no call for fine detail, the clothes are well done, as are the faces. Only one of the men has a beard – a common feature of commandos, but less so of the professional gunners, some of whom were foreign volunteers, so that is okay. There is only a small ridge of plastic around the seam, so these are pretty decent models too.
The effectiveness of this weapon can be illustrated by one simple fact – the British in the field demanded, and got, pom-poms of their own later in the war. This gun, in Boer hands, had a large part to play in the first half of the war, and while this Strelets set may not be outstanding in any respect it is pretty good, and will provide some very useful support for all those Boer commandos as they pin down larger numbers of British infantry and guns.