Ever since the initial Japanese attacks in December of 1941, the war in the Far East had been a disaster for the British, with some of the biggest defeats (Singapore) and longest retreats (Burma) in their military history. With London concentrating efforts and resources in Europe and North Africa there seemed little prospect of an early reversal of fortunes, and morale amongst British and Imperial forces was low. At this point Brigadier Orde Wingate enters the picture, proposing and then organising troops for a long-range penetration operation whereby they would be inserted well behind Japanese lines to attack and disrupt communications and supplies, as well as divert resources that could have been used at the front. Two operations went ahead, ‘Longcloth’ in February 1943 and ‘Thursday’ in March 1944, and the men who carried them out were known as Chindits. The military value of these operations is doubtful, especially given the resources they consumed, but the lift in morale they gave the British during a dark period was enormous and very welcome.
Although Indian, African and Burmese imperial forces made up a good part of the Chindit forces, this set concentrates on the British infantry, who were ordinary soldiers though with special training prior to the operation. Their uniform is standard for the region, which is to say khaki drill hurriedly dyed green for ‘Longcloth’, although some wore the new jungle-green uniform, which was probably universal by ‘Thursday’. It appears that both uniforms are present in this set, so a good mix, and largely accurately done. All the men correctly wear long trousers and slouch or bush hats in the Australian style, with a puggaree wrapped round the crown. Campaigning in the jungle quickly takes its toll on clothing, and we were pleased to see signs of tearing and ragged hems on some garments here (though in reality some men were considerably less dressed than even these figures). Boots are worn by all of course, and one man wears anklets which helped stop insects etc. from getting inside clothing. Finally a couple have small scarves round their necks – probably the silk ‘panic maps’ which carried maps for use if the group had to disperse
One observation quickly made on this set is there are only three poses carrying rifles. Although the length of the standard SMLE rifle was an issue in jungle fighting, this remained the standard weapon of the Chindits, so is under represented here. Having said that, the Chindits were lavishly supplied with the best weaponry, at least compared to others in Far East Command at the time, and this included many Thompson submachine guns, which were well-liked by the men and can be found in the hands of no less than three of the 10 soldier poses here. For ‘Thursday’ in 1944 the Chindits also carried Sten submachine guns, which like the Thompson were good for short range, high rate-of-fire in the confined spaces of the jungle, though they had a reputation for jamming too often. Normally only a section leader would carry a Sten, but they were more common with the Chindits, though having two figures carrying them here still seems excessive. The Bren light machine gun was another Chindit favourite, and it is good to see one here. Ideally the Bren was used from the prone position, but could and often was fired from the hip, as may be happening here. Lastly the set contains another useful weapon, the reliable Vickers machine gun. Like the other weapons this has been correctly sculpted, but with no number two to guide the ammunition belt the designer has made the belt feed automatically from below, which is nonsense. Other weapons could also have been included, of course, but only 10 poses limits options, and more rifles to replace some of the submachine guns would have been better in our view.
With months of fighting behind enemy lines the Chindits had to carry a considerable amount of ammunition, rations and other kit. They had mules to help carry this burden (which would have been a very appropriate additional element in this set), and they were supplied by air, but their normal load was still considerable. Naturally this would be laid aside if action was imminent, and during ‘Thursday’ there were large dumps established for their use, so a mix of heavily-laden and light figures as we find here is very suitable. Most have the usual 1937-pattern webbing and kit items such as canteens, while some have a full pack or extra bandoliers, which is fine. Several have a machete or similar, though we would have expected more to have this, and one man carries a spade which was such a vital tool for so much from digging fox holes to preparing landing strips. The pistol carried by the Vickers gunner completes the picture, which has been excellently done here.
The poses are a very strong element of this set, all of which we thought were well-chosen. We particularly liked the man on the march carrying the spade, since far more time was spent moving through the jungle than in contact with the Japanese. The man in the second row about to throw a grenade has his left arm and Thompson in a strange position with elbow very high, and the prone man with binoculars in the bottom row has them against the brim of his hat, which is an odd choice, but clearly easier to mould. Also the third figure in the top row holds his Sten twisted through 90 degrees to allow moulding of the magazine, but it looks very odd. However the poses are quite lively and look good.
Sculpting is another positive feature, with generally very good detail, particularly on all the weapons except for the rifle of the marching man. It is good to see many of the men with full beards, and the faces are reasonable too, while the overall proportions of the men are well done. There is very little excess plastic, despite there being no assembly, yet most of the poses do not feel flat or unnatural. The main exception is the Vickers gunner, who is a single piece with his gun, and has the area between his arms as solid plastic, as is the gap between the two front legs of the tripod. There is some flash in places, but nothing particularly bad, though the binoculars on the prone man are mismatched between the mould halves, so there is still room for improvement.
The one figure we have ignored until now is the middle figure in the bottom row, who is not dressed as a British infantryman. We assume this to be a local Burmese, perhaps acting as a guide for the Chindits, though he does have an ammunition belt round his waist and a rifle slung across his back. The traditional male attire in Burma was the Longyi, but this generally reached to the ankles, so this is some sort of shorter version. On his upper body he seems to wear a pullover, and a turban on his head. His lower legs are bare, and he wears sandals, but on his historical accuracy we have insufficient information to comment. His inclusion is an interesting feature of the set, but on balance we would have preferred someone feeding the Vickers instead.
There is so much more that could have been included in a set like this, since these men had to rip up railways, demolish bridges and generally make a nuisance of themselves in many ways. Naturally different people will have different views on what should or should not have been included, but our main concerns were the small proportion of rifles and the lack of a second gunner for the Vickers (though many sets have this fault). Positives are the generally good sculpting and useful poses, and some nice touches to make this set particular to the Chindits rather than just another set of World War II infantry. The Chindits were an unorthodox fighting force during the War, and while their impact may have been small they pioneered many facets of warfare that would be standard in the following decades. This set may not be the definitive portrayal of those undoubtedly brave and long-suffering men, but it does a good job and is worthy recognition for one of the less well-known theatres of that terrible conflict.