Although German paratroopers fought on almost all fronts during World War II, their most famous campaign is of course the capture of the island of Crete in 1941. They also served in significant numbers in Italy, Greece, North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, but after Crete Hitler felt that their main advantage, that of surprise, had been lost, and the high casualties of that campaign meant they were used thereafter as elite infantry. By 1944 there were 150,000 serving in paratrooper units, yet only about 10% of those had actually been trained to jump, since there were hardly any jumps by that stage of the war.
Despite the absence of any actual jumps, the paratroops retained their Luftwaffe uniforms and specialist clothing as a mark of their pride in their elite status. The eight poses in this set all have the normal paratrooper helmet, although later in the war many wore the normal infantry helmet. Two here are not wearing theirs - instead one wears the peaked field cap and the other a sidecap. All seem to wear the second pattern jump smock, some with the flaps buttoned round the legs, but for the rest they could also be wearing the later combat jacket. The trousers on these men are good and baggy, as were the originals, particularly the version issued for tropical service, which these appear to be, although only one shows the bottom of the map pocket on the left thigh. The boots are all laced at the front - by this stage the boots laced to the side were largely disappearing from paras. So all good news on the uniform.
The basic kit of these men was much the same as for the ordinary infantry. Each here wears the correct belts and straps, and all have the pistol sidearm that was always a part of the para kit. Most or all also have the breadbag, water bottle, mess tin, entrenching tool, gas mask case (the metal one, not the earlier soft para version) and rolled tent quarter. Two have the long belt of ammunition characteristic of paratroops earlier in the war, and the second figure in our top row has a pair of binoculars round his neck, which generally implies some sort of officer. As with the uniform, so everything about the kit is accurate here.
With any World War II set, the weapons are always an area of particular interest. The first man in our top row is firing the MP38 or MP40, which as smaller weapons were always very popular with any Fallschirmjäger. Next to him, with the binoculars, is a man handling a speciality weapon of the paratroops, the FG42 automatic rifle. While this was an excellent weapon, only a few thousand were ever made, but as a classic weapon of these men it is appropriate to have it here. On this figure there is precious little room for the side magazine, which must be the less common but smaller 10-round version in this case. Figure number three is kneeling and holding an MG42 machine gun (you might think he is firing it, but there is no ammunition being fed!), and to his front is a standing man firing an FG42, but this time from the shoulder and with the aid of a sight. On this weapon you can actually see the magazine, and again it is very small, so must be the 10-round version (a 20-round magazine was much more common).
Moving to the second row, we find a man apparently about to throw a concentrated charge – six hand grenade charges wired round a seventh to produce a bigger bang. Obviously this was heavier than the normal grenade, but was very useful in damaging bunkers or blowing the tracks off of tanks, and again, grenades were favourite paratrooper weapons. The two middle figures in the second row both carry an Italian Beretta Model 38 submachine gun. This was a great weapon and widely used by the Germans, even before the establishment of the RSI in 1943. Of particular interest is that both these men have availed themselves of the characteristic ammunition pouches for this weapon – five long pouches which were nicknamed the ‘samurai’. One man has this on the chest, in the normal way, but the other has rigged one up to hang from his belt – photos show that this was in fact done. Finally the prone man holds a rifle, probably the Kar 98K, though it is not detailed enough to be identified. All these weapons are typical of the subject, so are good choices. The FG42s and Berettas make this a particularly interesting selection.
Generally the sculpting is really good, with good clear detail, especially where it counts on things like weapons. However this tends to be a bit variable, so not only is the rifle of the prone man vague and almost smooth, but so too is the right side of his face and cap. In addition the two men armed with the FG42 also have the ammunition belt round their necks, but in both cases this is rather shallow, suggesting it is empty. We thought the poses were pretty good – nice and active, with lots of body twisting and leaning as you would expect of men in combat. The man taking a magazine for his Beretta particularly caught our eye, and the man about to throw the concentrated charge conveys well the impression of getting ready to throw. As with other recent Mars sets, good sculpting has been marred by a fair amount of flash in many places. This can be particularly irksome around the faces, but all will need some trimming, though it is far from being as bad as some output over recent years.
Some of the weapons and details of the uniforms and kit all point to this set portraying these men in the later years of the war, with Crete a glorious memory, but in reality these men would not be jumping. We could find no problems with accuracy or plausibility, the design choices are all good and the sculpting very good in most places. You only get eight poses, and the flash will annoy many, but there is much to like about this collection, and although only the baggy trousers justify the label of ‘tropical’ (unless it is to contrast with a set of ‘winter’ troops), these would look suitable for hot weather if painted in appropriate tones.