The Japanese experience with parachute troops in the 1940s was much the same as that of the Germans, which is to say initial enthusiasm followed by a realisation of the high costs of such operations, leading to their paratroops being mostly used as elite infantry staying safely on terra firma. The fact that the second half of the Pacific War was largely one of defence of the newly-acquired empire meant that there were few opportunities for paratroop forces anyway, and in the end the number of airborne operations was very small. However these remained elite troops, and served with the rest of the infantry in their country’s brave but doomed effort to stave off defeat.
Both the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) developed their own paratroop formations, largely independently of each other, so the first question would be which of these do we have here, and the answer turns out to be both. IJA paratroops wore normal infantry uniform, but when jumping they also wore a smock that covered all their kit and other gear so as to avoid it snagging on anything during the drop. The first five figures pictured above wear what we must assume is supposed to be this garment, although the results are poor. The real thing had splits front and back around the lower parts so they were fastened around the legs to avoid flapping, but the sculptor here has misunderstood the garment and given it no split at the back, making the leg fastening impossible and giving it the appearance of a rain coat. In addition, four of these poses wear their gear outside the smock, which completely defeats the purpose of wearing it. As with the Strelets set, the designer has not understood that this was removed as soon as the drop was completed, so the soldier could assemble his gear and weapons for fighting wearing normal uniform. Perhaps the intent was to make these figures distinctive from ordinary Japanese, but if so then it is at the expense of basic accuracy.
The other factors in the appearance of the five IJA troops make more sense, and they all wear the helmets with ear and neck cover, and several have the typical ammunition bandolier round the waist. Several have the usual breeches and puttees secured by strips, but a couple seem to have full trousers, which is an interesting choice.
The last three figures in the second row belong to the IJN. They all wear the naval jump suit, which was fairly similar to ordinary infantry uniform but with trousers that had more pockets, particularly external ones, which were for grenades or pistol ammo while jumping. Following navy tradition one man has an ammunition bandolier across the chest, but apart from colour these could almost pass as ordinary infantry, yet are quite accurately done here. Like their IJA comrades they have a haversack, and some have a water container too. We were pleased to see several with pistol holsters, but these should be more plentiful if these men had just jumped.
For the most part Japanese paratroop units used standard infantry weapons, for want of much else being available. Three of these poses carry a rifle, which should be the standard Arisaka or the Type 38 carbine, but none here are clear enough to identify. One pose carries a submachine gun, presumably a Type 100 with curved magazine, with bayonet attached, but again not a great model. The first kneeling figure in the second row seems to hold some sort of submachine gun, but we could not identify it at all. We would have expected the Type 99 light machine gun, or perhaps the Type 11, particularly as it has a crude side magazine, but if so then it is a very poor model. The flamethrower is a valid paratroop weapon, and would be either the Type 100 or Type 3 (almost identical). This has the correct three cylinders at the back and a decent flame gun at the front, so quite a good model. The classic 5cm Type 89 grenade discharger (i.e. mortar) is easy to identify, and the operator has the correct pouches on his chest for the rounds, although the straps to hold these are missing. Lastly the kneeling figure in the top row is holding a flare gun, specifically the Type 97, which was widely used, although mostly by the Navy. So a mixed bag in terms of weapons, but not the worst line-up we have ever seen.
The poses include some curious ideas, at least to our eye. The first figure is rather awkward because he is attaching a magazine to his submachine gun, which allows the sculptor to create the curved magazine, so the pose is understandable. The next two are fine, but we must ask why the man with the flare gun is clearly pointing it horizontally, and apparently aiming it as if it were a weapon? Again, the suspicion is that the sculptor saw an illustration of the gun but failed to understand what it was or how it was used. As a result, the pose is pretty silly unless you delicately change the gun into a pistol – no easy task. The four lower-row poses are more acceptable and conventional apart from the second figure, who holds a grenade in his hand and appears to be about to roll it forward. We do not doubt that when attacking certain positions this may be a reasonable way to deliver a grenade, perhaps downhill onto a fixed position, or through the slit of a bunker, but on balance we would have preferred a throwing pose instead.
Of late Mars have provided a considerable improvement in the quality of their sculpting, and this set is no exception. Clothing looks realistic and the faces are very nice. Weaponry and finer details are pretty good too, although this is a bit more variable. A strange aspect of our example of this set is that many of the surfaces have a very rough quality to them, which surely cannot be intentional and so is most likely to be the consequence of a poor release of the plastic from the mould, damaging the surface in the process. However the mould has more questions to answer as there is a fair amount of flash on every figure, and in places this is quite considerable. The quite wide ridge between mould halves is especially notable around the crest of each helmet, and on some figures the halves do not match up at all well, leaving a very ugly distortion on some figures. Potentially all these problems may vary between copies of this set, but we can only comment on what we found in our box, and these figures at least will take a great deal to tidy up into an acceptable state.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to this set is that it provides both Army and Navy figures, and so includes few of each. Add to that the very poor rendition of the jump smock for the Army men, and the poor quality of the mould, and although these are clearly made from quite nice masters the end result fails to make the best of the initial effort. The five IJA figures will be particularly difficult to use, in part because of the fairly large accuracy problems, and partly because they are clearly in action just after a jump, which rarely happened. Although the sculpting is good, Mars still need to do more on research for their sets, and on the quality of the actual production of the figures, at least if this set is anything to go by.