The Japanese Type 96 anti-aircraft gun was a copy of the French Hotchkiss design. In the mid 1930s the design was evaluated and accepted for service by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and originally was a double-barrel weapon. It proved itself useful and was widely installed in all types of ship, such that a triple-barrelled version was produced and entered service with the Navy in 1941. In 1943 a single barrelled version was introduced, and by this time the changing nature of the Pacific War (which was by now one of defending the islands Japan already occupied) meant that some of these guns were dismounted from ships and placed on land, where they could also be used against enemy armour. Later some were even mounted on a wheeled carriage, which is where we finally meet the model that is in this set.
Images and technical specifications of this particular variety of the Type 96 seem to be very few, suggesting that few were made (although tens of thousands were made in other configurations), but usefully an extant example still exists in Beijing, and based on that this is a fair model. The somewhat unorthodox wheels certainly match this example, and generally it looks to be fairly accurate. Naturally there is some simplification, and in particular Strelets have used a different sighting system, but the main concern is with the barrel length. The barrel is quoted as 150cm long, which to scale is the total length of the weapon here. However the point where the shells are introduced is only about 110cm from the muzzle, which would reasonably is supposed to be the barrel length. In addition, many photos of the weapon show long flash suppressors, which this model lacks, but even taking that into account the barrel here seems much too short, and indeed the box artwork looks more realistic. Some of the smaller elements modelled here were hard to identify, but it is easy to assume that there was much variation and improvisation. The model is made of the same softish plastic as other Strelets figures, which is not ideal for assembly kits such as this, but in fact we found everything went together with very little effort, and nothing even needed gluing. The gun model can be traversed both horizontally and vertically, although it is not possible to match the 85 degrees of elevation the original could boast. Only the fixing at the end of the trails, which seems a bit odd anyway, proved difficult as pegs needed trimming or holes enlarging.
This gun had a crew of three, but in fact this set provides five men to operate it. The first is clearly actually operating the gun, holding the controls close to his chest, while the second man prepares to load a fresh 15-round magazine. The others are simply bringing up more ammunition, which is a vital function for any rapid-fire weapon which is rarely acknowledged in sets such as this. We thought all the poses were excellent, natural and entirely suitable.
All the men wear the same uniform, which is basically the tropical one of shirt and trousers with puttees and boots. Each has the field cap with four-panel sun screen around the neck. They have the proper three rifle ammunition pouches on the waist belt, a haversack on the right hip, and a water bottle and bayonet scabbard on the left. It was usual to carry the water bottle on the right hip, along with the haversack, but since these are gunners, and potentially many miles from any enemy except for some aircraft, we might speculate that they have shifted the bottle in order to better balance their kit as they do not anticipate using their rifles or bayonets. So as with the uniform we were very happy with the accuracy of the kit here.
The few figures here are great sculpts, with good detail and proportions, so represent some of the best currently being produced by this company. We found almost no flash and no excess plastic, yet the poses are not at all flat, thanks partly to the fact that none are armed. Faces are nicely done, so these are very attractive figures, and could also find valuable service in roles other than serving this weapon.
The lack of evidence for the wheeled carriage means it is hard to know for sure if the model here is accurate or even typical. Since most Type 96s were on a static mount on board ship, we could say that this arrangement was far from typical, but we have no reason to think this carriage is incorrect. As soft models go this one is pretty easy to to construct, and the figures are commendable in all regards, so while the weapon has issues and may not be particularly common on this carriage, even after 1943, the figures are really well produced and provide an unusual addition for those seeking to model the China or Pacific Wars.