Although the German tank forces of World War II are justly famous, their success in 1939 and 1940 was down to their superior ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics rather than any superiority in machines. Guderian and others saw that tanks could be very effective at punching through an enemy line and operating beyond, rather than simply as slow infantry support armour, and this proved to be the case. The main German tanks of the period, the Panzer I and Panzer II, were poorly armed and poorly armoured, and the Germans were well aware of this. Although work had been done on the much better Panzer III and Panzer IV, few of these machines were in service by the fall of France. Some of the better tanks used by the Germans in those early months were not even German at all, yet regardless of the machinery being used, the tank crews of the first year of the war proved their expertise and quickly became an elite of the Wehrmacht.
Other sets have been made of Panzer crews, but this one focuses only on the first few months of the war, and all the men here wear the same uniform. The classic double-breasted, waist-length wool jacket was worn throughout the war, as were the loose-cut trousers and short boots, but every man here wears the Schutzmütze. This was a two part garment, an inner protective ‘helmet’ almost completely covered by a beret-style cover, which was quite floppy and generally worn down at the rear. This had the badge at the front, and was the first headgear issued to tank troops once they were formed in the 1930s. It is correctly done here (as is the rest of the uniform) but was not popular with the men, and was worn less and less during this period, being quite rare by the end of 1940 and ordered out of use on 15 January 1941.
In the tight confines of a tank, particularly the early models, wearing items of kit would be uncomfortable and get snagged on the superstructure, especially if a swift escape was required, so the only item being worn here is a personal revolver, which most have on their belt. One man has drawn his, and so is presumably engaging the enemy, but at this stage of the war it would have been the P.08 Luger, which had a barrel length of 200mm, yet the model here has one of well over 300mm to scale, so is considerably too long (even much too long for the holster he has!). The other combat figure here holds an MP38 submachine gun. Such weapons were stowed inside larger tanks, so probably few had them in 1940, but he could of course have acquired the weapon from elsewhere. However again this weapon is too large – the length of an MP38 with stock retracted, as here, was 630mm, but this one is 792mm to scale, about 25% bigger than it should be.
Apart from the two poses apparently engaging the enemy with small arms, the rest are either relaxed or involved in the usual tasks of maintaining their vehicle. A couple are engaged in stowing shells for the main gun, and one is pouring fuel from a jerrycan (Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister). The rest are in more generic poses, and include one man who could be standing in the turret, and another who is seated, and so could be in or on a tank or other vehicle. We thought all the poses were very useful and natural, particularly the running man, which is a pose that is rarely done as well as it is here. The fifth man in the first row intrigued us, and we think this man is simply having a cigarette, which looks great in an age when smoking was still widespread.
Most figures produced today are well sculpted, particularly when compared to production in previous decades, and Orion have normally been amongst the better makers in this regard. These figures are certainly up to today’s high standards, very nicely done with good folds in the clothing and nice detail such as on weapons. In addition the seams are mostly perfectly clean, and the rest have only the slightest suggestion of flash, so that will save much trimming time and most customers will find these ready to go straight from the box. On our examples the raised hand of the seated figure had not quite fully filled, but otherwise there are no issues. The poses are of course carefully chosen to avoid excess plastic, so in all regards these figures look great.
We were pleased to see a few wearing goggles, and some have communication headsets too, but we were surprised to find no one wearing the peaked officer’s cap, which was still popular with some men even when inside the tank. Our only real quibble was with the oversized weapons, although this only affects two of the poses. Otherwise this is yet another really well thought out and nicely produced set which has a quite limited period of usefulness, but one that saw some of the most important triumphs of German armour.