No range of World War II infantry sets would be complete without the Red Army, and this hard plastic set from Esci has among the first of their figure sets. Much effort had been made after the Revolution in sweeping away ranks and distinctions between classes and people, but this unnatural order of things had not lasted long. Gradually the old ways returned, and in May 1942 the distinction of Guard status was reintroduced. This was deliberately meant to be an elite label - a reward given to units that had distinguished themselves in battle. Far removed from the principles of the Revolution, it nevertheless boosted morale at a time when morale needed any boost it could get. However those units that received this coveted title gained nothing in terms of uniform apart from a badge, so at this scale Guard units look identical to all other Red Army units.
Many of the poses are almost identical to the 1/32 scale soft plastic set produced by Airfix, while the rest bare a striking similarity to figures from Tamiya, and in this case many have few or no separate parts - a look at the whole sprue reveals the full list of parts available. Many of the Esci hard plastic sets are very mean with the variety of poses, but here we find a respectable 11. There is a heavy emphasis on men firing their weapons, with just two poses moving forward and none on the march or at rest. The officer has adopted a classic and oft-seen pose of looking through binoculars while holding his hand aloft, and the prone machine gunners are actually holding their weapons in a more realistic way than is usually seen.
The uniform is the usual gymnastiorka shirt-tunic, sharovari trousers and boots as worn throughout the war, with either the 1940 helmet or the pilotka side cap. This has been well represented, although one man has the opening to his tunic running down to his waist, which is too far, and the officer wears the Other Ranks tunic rather than the subtly different officer's version. All the men are very lightly equipped, which is a fair reflection of the difficulties the Soviets had in supplying their vast army for much of the war, although we would have liked to have seen some with more equipment. All have belts and some have a single ammunition pouch on it, but only one man has his greatcoat rolled across his body and it would seem none of those armed with the PPSh sub-machine gun have the round pouch to take the ammunition.
The Red Army issued a far higher proportion of sub-machine guns to its ordinary soldiers than did the Germans, and most of the men here are carrying the PPSh that was so well liked by the troops. One of the prone figures is firing a DP light machine gun with its round ammunition drum, and as seems obligatory in sets such as this, a Maxim has also been included. Not that this is a bad thing, and the model is a pretty good representation of this common weapon, while its operator (third row, second figure) is actually holding it thanks to separate arms. One of the other poses (second row, third figure) is engaged in pulling this weapon, but it should be observed that while there are a total of four figures interacting with this gun there are only two such guns in the set.
The standard of sculpting is pretty good, with reasonable detail. Sadly some of the figures have mould marks round the back, but this is much less obvious than on some sets we have seen. Where arms and weapons are separate we encountered some difficulty in getting everything to fit together realistically, and in general the one-piece figures look better then the rest. Flash is about average, but there is little other trimming required. A pretty reasonable set but not one that offers anything that cannot now be found in larger better-value soft plastic sets from Revell or Esci themselves.