Though they were to produce many World War II sets, Esci only ever produced this one Italian set, which is surprising since they were themselves Italian. They chose the famous Alpini, one of the elite units of the Italian army, and Italy's specialist mountain troops. These figures proudly wear the feather that distinguished such troops, but in many cases by removing this you get ordinary European infantry, so perhaps Esci had that in mind when they made these. Alpini were deployed in France, East Africa, Albania, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and, of course, Italy, and proved themselves as good as any mountain troops anywhere, helped by getting better equipment, and better supply, than the average Italian soldier of the war.
To make room on the sprue for the animal and skis, there are only thirteen poses in this set. Many are the standard ones found in most sets of this era, but there are a couple of unusual ones as well. The man handling the mule is a reminder of the particular transport problems in mountainous terrain, and the skier is an obvious choice for such troops. The officer is in classic pose of holding a pistol while beckoning men forward, though here he is crouching. The running man in the second row is quite a poor, unnatural pose, and the man next to him holding a machine gun rather like a guitar is not a favourite either, but otherwise all the poses are nicely done and should prove useful.
As we have said, for many of these figures their appearance is exactly like any Italian European infantry (i.e. not in Africa) apart from the single feather attached to their helmet. As they should, they wear standard army tunic with four pockets, breeches and puttees over short boots, while most wear the standard M1933 helmet to which the feather is attached. Three of the figures wear the splendid felt alpine hat, so cannot be any other unit, but the only other variation in uniform is the greatcoat worn by the marching figure. This is a double-breasted example, which is fortunate for the wearer as most Italian army greatcoats of the war were single-breasted and particularly bad for keeping warm.
The majority of men here carry the standard rifle, which is the M1891 6.5 mm Carcano, as issued to both the Alpini and the regular infantry. Two poses have been armed with a Beretta M1938/42 submachine gun, and there are also two figures carrying and firing Breda 30 light machine guns, so all the weaponry here is easy to identify and correct for these men.
Esci soft plastic figures were always beautifully sculpted, and this set is typical. Lovely detail, crisp and sharp, with good faces and plausible folds in clothing. Weapons in particularly are very nicely done, though there is the occasional area of excess plastic where a weapon is being held. All helmets and hats come complete with the black crow's feather on the left-hand side except the prone figures. Because of the difficulties of moulding such a device, the feather is mostly shown close up to the helmet, whereas pictures of the real thing confirm it would have stood proud. The mule requires assembly in that its load of two crates is separate, but this plugs into the side of the animal very firmly. The skier too needs to be put together, as his feet need to be pressed into the separate skis, but again this fit is snug and secure. The stops on the poles of this man are something of a compromise as they are at an unrealistic angle, but otherwise the equipment is fine.
The skiing and pack animal poses make this a more interesting set than many for World War II, though this does mean there are fewer action poses than some would wish. This is an attractive set for an unusual subject, which to date has not been covered by any other manufacturer, and it is a pity that Esci discontinued production of it quite early on, although it has since seen new life marketed by Italeri.