Apart from some heavy cavalry, armour had long disappeared from the battlefield by the 20th century, yet it made a dramatic return with the issue of steel helmets during the Great War, and there was some experimenting with body armour too. In the late 1930s the Soviet Union continued such experimentation, and during the war years 1939 to 1945 issued body armour. While most infantry never saw such things, some motorised infantry received and wore them, as did assault engineers and pioneers tasked with mine-clearing while under fire. The two-piece armour weighed 3.5kg, and while not bullet-proof it must have given the wearer some reassurance during their dangerous work.
Every figure in this set wears the armour, which is the most common type worn during the war – the SN 42. Here it has been accurately modelled, with the two plates and the cutaway section round the right shoulder, but in all cases the figures are missing the straps around the back by which the armour was held in place, so quite a fundamental and vital part to be lacking. The other item of armour is of course the helmet, which in all cases looks to be the common M40 model, and nicely done. Clothing too is the same for every pose, and consists of a camouflage smock and trousers which cover the uniform underneath. This is nice and loose, with a hood and drawstrings at the wrists and ankles, and again is properly shown here.
During the War the Soviets embraced the submachine gun enthusiastically, and it is noticeable, but quite reasonable, that no man here has a rifle. Instead, several carry a submachine gun, which are of two types. The first is the PPS-43 and the second is the familiar PPSh-41, the latter having both the older drum magazine and the late-war curved magazine. One man is carrying a DP light machine gun, and another is aiming a captured German Panzerfaust, again a late-war weapon. Continuing the late-war theme, the third figure in the top row is armed with a ROKS-3 flamethrower, which had a theoretical maximum range of 45 metres, although in practice rather less. This meant the operator had to get dangerously close to his target, and would also attract the particular fire of the enemy if they saw he held such a hated weapon, so the gun element is deliberately shaped to resemble a rifle.
That just leaves us with the two heavier machine guns pictured at each end of our second row. On the left we have the classic M1910 Maxim on its wheeled carriage. This heavy but dependable weapon was still widely used during the Great Patriotic War, and although it has been modelled many times before, it is still good to see one here. On the right is an SG43, on wheeled carriage and with shield. This was one of the most successful Soviet machine guns, and widely used from 1943 onwards.
The small number of poses are basic but functional. We liked the man with the Panzerfaust, and it was also good to see someone carrying forward ammunition, especially in a set with two heavy machine guns. However neither of these weapons are being fired at the moment. The man with the Maxim has one hand more or less on the gun, but it takes two to fire it, and in any case the gun has no ammunition feed. The man with the SG43 is not touching the weapon, but appears to be signalling behind him – perhaps calling for more ammunition, as here too there is no belt for the gun. This is a reasonable and interesting pose, but the Maxim gunner is pretty hard to understand (although of course having two arms outstretched would have meant having separate pieces or a lot of ugly plastic). We suspect many will prefer men actually in the act of firing, but that is about the weakest aspect of the poses here.
Recent Mars figures for World War II have been sculpted to a much higher standard than their earlier output, and these are in much the same class. Detail is quite good, and even impressive on weapons like the heavy machine guns. The faces are very good but the hands are small and vague, and there is a good deal of flash almost everywhere. We found some of the figures were a little damaged, but other sprues were better, so as usual the quality will vary between sets. In particular the submachine gun on the back of the Maxim gunner is quite bad, and the flamethrower tanks are also variable. However the two heavy machine guns were a particular challenge. The flash meant everything had to be trimmed and holes redrilled before parts would fit, although once this was done (a fiddly job to be sure on such small parts) the fit was very good and no glue was required.
The amount of trimming, and particularly the effort required to put the machine guns together, mean this set takes some patience and time to make ready for action. The lack of straps for the armour is the only accuracy problem – something that paint can to a degree resolve. The poses are simple but work, although some will find the machine gunners less than ideal. If Mars can improve the technology that fills their moulds to the same degree that they have improved their sculpting then they will have a winning formula, but at least on our example this was a significant drawback. Other than that we have some fairly accurate figures in usable poses that should spearhead many a miniature late-war Soviet advance quite nicely.