Italian troops had been stationed in the far north of Africa since the Italian conquest of Libya in 1911, so by the time Italy declared war on France, Britain and the Allies in 1940, the troops there had almost thirty years of experience in the region. With 15 divisions in Libya, Mussolini was confident he could expand Italian possessions and come a step closer to fulfilling his dream of domination of the Mediterranean, ‘Mare Nostrum’. However, these expectations were quickly dashed as enemy offensives forced the Italians onto the defensive instead, and within a few months Italy had lost most of her African possessions and only held Libya with German assistance. Despite enormous disadvantages, the ordinary Italian soldier often fought stubbornly, and always provided the majority of the Axis manpower in North Africa despite control being taken by the Germans to a considerable extent.
Because of their long history in the area, the Italian uniform was well-suited to the environment. Inevitably dress regulations were fairly relaxed when on active service, and supply difficulties further added to what was quite a diverse look, but all these figures are authentic. Four of them wear the tropical sun helmet with Bersaglieri feathers on the right hand side, some of which also have a pair of goggles on them, which is great. Two more poses wear the same helmet but without the feathers, and much of the rest wear the ordinary M1933 steel helmet. That just leaves the bustina or side cap, four of which are to be found in this set, including both with and without the front peak. Where it can be clearly identified, many of these figures wear the camiciotto Sahariano, a popular garment that came in both pull-over and open-front versions – examples of both are visible here. A few seem to have the standard tunic, which might be either the European or tropical version, and one wears just a shirt. Finally, the man pouring the can wears no shirt or tunic at all, which gives him more of the look of someone behind the lines rather than on patrol. Most wear the standard breeches, puttees and boots, although two wear shorts and socks instead. Of interest are the leather leggings worn by both the officers, which usually indicate being part of a motorised unit.
Kit is sparse, with most just having a water bottle, haversack and the standard twin front pouches supported partly by a strap running round the neck. Armament for most here is a rifle that is 15 mm (108 cm) long. The standard M91 rifle was 129 cm in length, and the carbine version 91.5 cm, so this falls mid-way between the two. However, the normal rifle is far more likely, and the detail seems to confirm this, so all those here are a bit too short. Apart from the holstered revolvers of the officers, the only other weapon is the machine gun carried over the shoulder by the second figure in the top row. This is the Breda M30, one of the most common machine guns of the period, although it is missing a vital component – the attached magazine. While this could be removed, it was normally attached and just hinged to allow reloading in a clumsy way, unlike most such weapons where the magazine was detachable and replaceable. This is missing here because it should be exactly where the man’s neck is, so he must have this vital part elsewhere. Again this is slightly shorter than it should be (not by much), and it is interesting to note that the gunner has been given normal rifle ammunition pouches, even though he has no rifle.
Since these men are on patrol rather than in action, the poses are more relaxed, yet weaponry is still close at hand should the need arise. Basically we were extremely pleased with almost all of these poses, with many such as the pair reading a map on the ground becoming instant favourites. The man filling water bottles from a can is a great pose, but again suggests activity behind the line rather than on patrol, so he seems out of place here (though not impossible of course). About the only pose that did not thrill was the last man in the second row. He is leaning slightly on his rifle and presumably waiting for something to happen, as would have been very common, so a suitable pose to be sure. However because he looks down he first gave the impression of someone at a funeral, even though is rifle is not reversed. Despite that we really cannot fault any of the poses here, which are appropriate, realistic and often imaginative.
The sculpting is very good, and all the detail required of such figures is present and correct. Detailed elements such as weaponry is pretty clear, and the figures are good and slender and with natural proportions. Many seams are perfectly clean, but there is some flash in a handful of places where there is more of a rough look, and a bit of a mess has been made of the right foot of our machine gunner. Still some deft work with a sharp knife will produce some great sculpts.
Perfect accuracy and a nice broad range of clothing adds to the appeal of this set, as does the no-nonsense limited range of weapons. The poses are a delight, and despite some challenges like the kneeling pair they have been really well done. Sculpting is good too, so you can easily pick out the headphones held by the radio man in the bottom row for example, although the short rifles is a pity. Strelets have been bold and creative with these figures, and we think the result has been well worth the effort. For once even the box artwork actually tells you what poses are to be found inside, and while that is not a requirement, we liked this approach too. A terrific set that really gives a good feel of men on patrol, yet also provides a few poses that would be equally at home behind the lines or in actual battle.