The Japanese Army in World War II was overwhelmingly an infantry army. Of course they had all the usual technical branches of any army of the day, but enormous emphasis was placed on the spirit and aggression of the individual infantryman, armed with rifle and bayonet. However this did not mean the Japanese overlooked the advantages of heavier infantry-support weapons, and indeed made good use of many, including machine guns and mortars. Such weapons tend to get very little representation in most sets of infantry, for understandable reasons, but this set is devoted entirely to such important elements, made even more so where the terrain made vehicles and heavy artillery difficult or impossible to use.
Taking the weapons in order from heavy to light, we begin with the larger of the two mortars, pictured in our top row. Immediately we hit a problem, because with a barrel length of 25mm (about 180 cm in scale) this is not a model that we found easy to identify. Mortars with a barrel of this sort of length would be of the 150mm calibre, and the only one that comes close is the Type 96, which had a barrel length of 193 cm. However that weapon had a recoil absorber which is missing from this model (and only about 90 were ever made). So few were made because such a large weapon was difficult to handle, so the Type 97 replaced it, which had a barrel only 140 cm long. However some sources suggest the Type 97 also came in the longer-barrelled version, in which case this must be what we have here, though that model too was only made in quite small numbers. The design of this weapon is the standard Stokes-Brandt, and so is the presentation here, with the base, barrel and bipod all as separate parts requiring gluing. The result is an acceptable rather than a great model.
Next we have the smaller mortar in row 2, and this time we are on safer ground. The barrel length is 16mm, which is about 115 cm, and so clearly this is the 8 cm Model 97, which was widely used throughout the war despite the introduction of other models. The presentation here is very different, with the mortar tube and base being one piece with the firer, and the bipod being a separate piece with its own base. Placed together as shown this unconventional arrangement works well, and the model is fairly basic but again acceptable.
At the other end of our second row there is something we struggled to identify, because it is not the sort of weapon you would expect in such a set. This light machine gun is a 7.7 mm Model 92 Naval gun, a copy of the British Lewis gun for use by the Navy. The only justification for its presence here is it was used on land by naval infantry, but not by the IJA, which is after all what this set is supposed to be about. While the general lines are correct it is not the best of models, and in order to do the tripod in one piece this has been completely flattened.
Not really what you would call a heavy weapon, but the last of the significant weapons in this set is the flamethrower in the third row. During the period of the war when Japanese forces were on the attack, in China and early on in the Pacific, they made considerable use of flamethrowers as useful weapons against pillboxes and other emplacements. Later, when they went on the defensive, they had little use for such a weapon, when of course the Americans used it extensively for exactly the same reasons. There were two Japanese models, the Type 93 and the Type 100, virtually identical except in the length of the gun. This model has a length of 16mm, which is about 115 cm, making this the earlier Type 93, a reasonable choice (the Type 100 had a much shorter gun length). The three cylinders on the back and other details are quite nicely and accurately done, so a good model.
The only other weapon of any sort on show here is the sniper’s rifle, which is most likely to be the Type 97 version of the Meiji 38 (the ‘Arisaka’). The sniper himself has some bits in his helmet netting but is otherwise dressed like any other infantryman, when it would have been good to see more effort put into dressing him in the sort of camouflage that would, ironically, make this figure stand out from the rest.
All the figures are dressed appropriately, with some wearing a tunic and others just in a shirt. The tunics all have the fall collar, and many are open at the neck, so this would be the Type 98 version, worn from 1938. All have the usual breeches and puttees on the lower leg apart from the officer in the bottom row, who wears leggings instead. Two men wear the peaked field cap without a helmet, and several others probably do so under the helmet; three have the sun screen or havelock visible to confirm this. The helmets are all of the normal 1932 pattern, some having netting but apparently none has a cover.
The kit on these men is very minimal, and many have none at all. The sniper has ammo pouches, water bottle and haversack, but there is hardly any kit on any other man. Since all these weapons would be in the front line we were surprised at this, and while full packs might be out of place most of the men should at least have water bottle and haversack. Every Japanese infantryman was issued a bayonet, whether they carried a rifle or not, partly because of the Japanese ethos of every man should be able to fight hand-to-hand, and we would expect most or all here to have one. Apparently the bayonet was often fixed to the rifle simply because it improved the balance of the weapon, which suggests the sniper might have had one attached, but again he has none. The two men holding binoculars have the appropriate case for them, and the officer has a map case, pistol holster and of course his sword.
Although none of the poses could be described as terrible there is the problem that what is present is less important than what is missing. For the large mortar we have the man obviously carrying a round for it, but otherwise no one apart from the generic kneeling figure in the top row. Either or both of the men drawn on the box front would have been necessary to make an otherwise inactive piece of equipment into a weapon. Similarly, while the smaller mortar has the man protecting his ears from the firing, there is no one else who might actually be feeding the round or otherwise manning the weapon. The men with binoculars are fine and useful, as is the kneeling figure with the field telephone, but the last figure with the binocular telescope is more of a problem. The master sculpt for this figure shows him looking through the piece, so his eyes are on the same level as the eyepiece naturally. However to do this and get the instrument close enough to the man you have to shorten two of the legs, both of which are impeded by the base. However the third leg, which must be beyond the base, is not long enough to reach the ground, so whoever designed this did not think it through, or at least the master was not properly followed. Either way, it is a silly but annoying mistake for an otherwise useful piece.
Sculpting is really not too bad, somewhat better than the old chunky style but not as good as the best this company have produced. Detail does not need to be abundant but is fairly well done here, and proportions are quite good too. There is still a slightly rough feel to the whole set, though there is almost no flash and the chosen poses mean there is no excess plastic in hidden areas. Where assembly is required the parts fit together quite well but will need gluing in all cases to stay put.
The small numbers of the larger mortar (apparently less than a hundred were made) is a restriction on the usefulness of this set. The lack of appropriate crew figures for the larger weapons is more of a problem, which really amounts to some quite serious issues. Also including a weapon never used by the IJA means something that was used (or a necessary mortar crewman) gets left out. Although other sets have machine guns, one could easily have been provided here too (at least one actually used by the IJA), though the flamethrower and viewing device are welcome nonetheless. Sculpting is pretty good and very little flash, so some positives to be sure, but this is probably not the set many people would have hoped for when they saw the title for the first time.