It seems that mankind has always yearned for weapons that could kill more people more quickly and with less effort, but it was only with the Industrial Revolution that these dreams really started to become reality. Wars of the 19th century increasingly revealed what new horrors were being devised, but for many it is the global conflict of the Great War that most epitomises this trend, with ever more effective and horrifying weapons leading to the mass slaughter that is still so well remembered today. The war showcased many new weapons, which ranged from the brilliant to the very poor. Many of the best were produced for the British Army, and this set from HaT includes some of the most important.
Our top row shows a .303 Mk I Vickers machine gun and crew. This remarkable machine gun was derived from the old Maxim and was such a good weapon that over 73,600 were delivered to the British Army before the Armistice, and it remained in service for decades thereafter. This weapon has been modelled many times before, often in World War II sets, but this model is a pretty good example although we found the condenser can tended to be held above the ground as the hose is a little too short. The gunner is kneeling to fire his weapon, yet they were trained to sit on the ground and look along the barrel, which most photographs show them doing. While a kneeling pose may not be unheard of we would have much preferred the correct regulation posture. The arms of the gunner are each separate, but fit on well and greatly improve the pose. The No.2, who is feeding the ammunition belt, has no base and does not stand except tipped well forward, leaving his right foot off the ground. Neither man has the special 'waistcoat' often seen on such crewmen (which would have been nice but not essential), but the gunner at least should have a revolver, but does not.
On the end of the first row is a sniper. This is hardly a 'heavy weapon' but is a very welcome addition nonetheless and a really great figure. Snipers played an important part in the static trench warfare of the Western Front, yet are rarely modelled today. This man is dressed for the cold (a wise precaution if he is to be stuck out in no-mans-land for hours without moving), as he has both a cap comforter and a goatskin jerkin. Snipers soon appreciated the value of camouflage, so would usually make far greater efforts to disguise themselves than this chap, often wearing full suits such as ghillie suits, 'sniper's robe' and others. The telescopic sight on this man’s rifle is centrally positioned, which would have pleased him as many were offset to the left, much to the annoyance of the men themselves. However his position, while low, is by no means as flat as he could be, i.e. he is not in the Hawkins position. Therefore he must be behind some cover, as such a posture would be suicidal in open ground. Also he is not resting his rifle on anything, so could not maintain this stance for long, so again he must be largely concealed. Despite all that, we still greatly liked this pose.
So we come to the second row, and another of the excellent British innovations of the war - the Lewis gun. This was a light machine gun, more properly termed a 'light automatic machine rifle' at the time, and was well liked and popular for good reasons. When the medium machine guns like the Vickers were taken away from the infantry to form the new Machine Gun Corps, the Lewis became their sole automatic weapon, and allocations were increased through the war until it ended with 36 assigned to each battalion. As with the Vickers this is a pretty good model of the weapon, but again there are issues with the crew. The gunner has his left arm tucked under his respirator, and is therefore not holding the weapon at all. While the right hand operates the trigger the left must hold the butt stock (either on top or underneath - opinions differed at the time), otherwise the exercise will be quite uncomfortable and control will be reduced. Both the No.1 and No.2 have separate heads which greatly improve the poses, so it would not have been too difficult to place the left arm correctly. Speaking of the No.2, he is in a very natural pose and again is a great figure. He holds a magazine drum in his hand, but seems to have removed all the special ammunition pouches he would normally have carried. Both these men were entitled to carry revolvers, but there are none on show here, although this does not seem to have been universal practice anyway. Nevertheless these two make a very nice team.
The third man in the Lewis Gun row seems to be an officer, although he could just as easily be another gunner. He is dressed much like the rest of the men (as officers often were), but is holding a revolver, so he could be useful for several specialist types of troops.
On the bottom row we find a mortar and two crewmen. This is the Stokes mortar, another great weapon and pretty well done here too. At first glance the barrel seems too long but it is not for two reasons. First, the base plate was meant to be placed in a hole in the ground to help absorb the recoil, making it look shorter than it actually was. Second, at the muzzle of the weapon there is a strange bit of plastic that resembles a rifle grenade or even a Battye grenade. Neither of course should be there and apparently this was an error made during production, but happily it is easily cut off to restore the weapon to its correct appearance. The right-hand crewman is holding a bomb while the left is not apparently doing much at all, but this is a common complaint of mortar crew figures.
Taking the figures as a whole, they all obviously wear the steel helmet and box respirator at the alert position, so date from 1916 until the end of the war. Uniform as far as can be seen looks fine, and although the webbing is mostly obscured it looks to be the 08 pattern in most cases. Packs are worn by some and the other items of kit are fine, although strangely no one wears a bayonet, yet several are probably armed with a rifle.
The standard of sculpting is good, and there is hardly any flash on these figures. Although made of quite a soft plastic the various parts go together well, and the use of separate heads and arms has improved several poses yet left these items easy to attach firmly using ordinary cement that this plastic takes well.
No late war British battalion would be without these weapons, so this is an essential and well presented supplement to all infantry units of those last years of the war.