The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 caught the Soviet leadership by surprise and quickly sent the Red Army into headlong retreat, losing vast numbers of soldiers captured or killed along with much of their equipment. The Soviet response was to send equally vast numbers of raw recruits into the front line, often with barely any training and sometimes without even a weapon each. The fortitude of such men is almost impossible to comprehend today, yet with the help of ‘general winter’ such men did eventually stop, and then turn back, the German Blitzkrieg. Ultimately these men would bring major victories at places with names that resonate through history such as Stalingrad and Kursk, and as their logistics and weapons improved they would go on to seal Allied victory, although paying by far the highest price of any of the allied armies.
A first glance at the figures in this set reveals that they are all dressed for cold or bad weather. Two of the poses (top row) are wearing the quilted jacket and shapka-ushanka hat (one with the flaps down over the ears), and one of these also has the quilted trousers. Either or both could also have the pressed felt boots, so they are clearly operating in particularly low temperatures, and are well dressed to cope. Three more poses are also wearing the quilted jacket, but this is largely covered by a plashch-palatka, which was a tent section that could also be worn as a sort of cape, with slits at the side through which the wearer could pass his arms, as clearly demonstrated by the second figure in the top row. These three men all wear the ordinary pilotka, perhaps spurning the helmet as in very low temperatures the steel helmet could actually make the head colder. Finally we have three poses, including the officer with the pistol, wearing the greatcoat, which naturally covers the rest of the uniform. Two wear a helmet, but the officer has his warm shapka-ushanka instead. All of this clothing is typical of Russian winter wear during the war, and is well done here.
The weapons on show, and the mix overall, suggest a later war date for these figures. There is one man firing a DP light machine gun from the hip, one carrying a PPS-43 submachine gun, and just one man with a rifle. Since the officer has his pistol, that leaves four poses, all of whom carry the familiar PPSh-41 submachine gun which was made in the millions and very widely used in the later stages of the war. However all these weapons were common, so again everything here is accurate and reasonable.
Some of the equipment these men have on is obscured by the tent sections or arms, but where visible all the ammunition pouches are appropriate to the weapon carried. Also visible on some figures are water bottles, bread bags and entrenching tools, plus the map case and pistol holster for the officer. Many of the men have no apparent pack, which is fine, but those that do all have the veshchevoi mesho, literally ‘thing bag’, which was a simple bag that was widely worn and very suitable here.
For a long time Mars produced figures with quite basic and unappealing sculpting, but their more recent output has been much better, with better proportions and more fine detail. These soldiers continue that more recent tradition, and in many ways are quite attractive. The faces are excellent, and generally detail is good if at times a little soft or vague, but there is none of the old chunky feel here. There are limits however, so it is difficult to see if the greatcoats have the earlier or later collar tabs, or even if they have the post 1943 shoulder boards. Sometimes elements can be too thin too, so for example one man carries a German submachine gun on his back, but this is so thin as to almost pass unnoticed. Hands too are a problem, generally being too small and often vague (yet not apparently wearing mittens or gloves). While the sculpting is for the most part good, the mould-making is pretty bad, because these figures have a lot of thick flash all over the place. This is evident to a degree in our pictures, and some examples have even more flash than those shown, which is particularly annoying when the mould line wanders around detailed kit or faces. Removing it will be a substantial task, and the challenge will be to save the detail of the original sculpt – not easy.
Mars are often innovative in their poses, avoiding the ‘classic’ poses often seen in other sets, and several here fall into that category. Several are firing or running with their weapons, and they are all quite energetic, giving a good impression of being in the midst of battle. We particularly liked the man advancing carrying submachine gun and ammo box (third figure in second row) because he is an unusual choice yet a common sight in battle, and because he is clearly keeping his head down, as surely most would in such circumstances. To his right is another ducking figure who holds his submachine gun in a slightly odd way, and has his right hand to his mouth for no reason that we could discern. The officer pose is very much in the ‘classic’ category for Soviet officers, though even he has been given a twist by having his left arm in a sling!
We were slightly annoyed at the kneeling man having no base, although he does stand without one, and most of the bases here are so slim that the difference in height is negligible. Still the sculpting is good and we could see no problems with accuracy in clothing, weaponry or kit. The flavour of the set is for the later part of the war, once the Red Army was on the offensive, and we really liked the choice of poses, which are quite original and have more of the feel of a terrifying combat than is often seen. The big negative aspect here is the flash, which is considerable and will be difficult to remove, so more work is required there. There are plenty of sets of Soviet/Russian infantry for World War II, and many of them are dressed for winter. The only new feature in this set is the wearing of the tent section – otherwise it delivers more of the same, but if you can rescue the figures from their flash you will have some very useful extra troops for your Red Army, battling in less than ideal weather conditions.