When the United States invaded the Spanish possessions of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898 they found the defenders were brave and resourceful, but unable to long stand against the onslaught. A large part of the defending forces were made up of Spanish regulars, and it is these men that are depicted in this, the first set to portray this war in 1/72 scale plastic.
Like any other power the Spanish clothed their infantry in typical style of the day, but those in charge had the good sense to adopt a much more practical field uniform for the troops in Spain’s Caribbean and Pacific colonies, and this is the uniform of these figures. It was a loose jacket and trousers made of rayadillo ticking material with leather belts supporting ammunition pouches at the front and often the rear. This eminently practical uniform was not generally seen as smart, and the casual appearance was often topped off with a straw hat with the brim turned up according to personal taste. The troops in this set wear this uniform and in all respects this has been correctly done, although the original men were often far from uniform themselves. The bottom row contains all the exceptions to this look, beginning with a man wearing a peakless barrack hat that was less practical than the brimmed straw hat but still quite commonly seen. The third figure is the officer, and as you might expect he has paid more attention to a smart appearance, most particularly with his standard leopoldina hat. The final unfortunate figure is an American, included in this set for no apparent reason but reminding us of a similar policy in some Matchbox sets of yesteryear. In brief then, while these figures could perhaps have benefited from being a little less uniform still, they are all quite accurate and appropriate.
For weaponry the Spanish enjoyed the advantages of excellent modern rifles like the Mauser with its smokeless cartridge, which may be the weapon here. The rifle had a sword bayonet but where such a bayonet is in evidence in this set it is not well done, being generally too short. The last figure in the second row also carries a machete, which was very useful in some parts of the islands, and the officer is traditionally armed with revolver and sword slung from a belt under his jacket. While several patterns of belts were employed by the Spanish these men wear the common two pouches at the front and one at the rear with bayonet and canteen. Unstiffened knapsacks were issued but were uncomfortable in the heat and humidity so were seldom worn in battle, and only the first figure in row one wears his, along with a rolled blanket over one shoulder.
The poses are a very good selection in our view. On the whole the war was fought as Spanish forces defending positions from American attack, so the relatively few advancing poses seems justified here. The man using the butt of his rifle is an unusual but well done piece, as is the prone figure, who would have been our favourite were it not for the very dramatic and beautifully done falling American. This kind of pose is often attempted but usually results in an unconvincing and stiff figure, but here the sculptor has genuinely caught the moment and produced something exceptional, helped by a flexible mould that allows detail in areas masked from rigid steel moulds.
While the uniform was more practical than smart these are very attractive figures because they have been beautifully done. The proportions are excellent and while subtleties of detail might seem less important for such a subject as this they are nonetheless very well presented. All the folds in the clothing are believable and the faces are nothing short of astonishing, with masses of character - quite as good as anything ever done at this scale. There is no flash anywhere, and the only assembly is the left arm of the man holding the machete, which is separate and must be glued, although as a result it can be placed at different angles to that pictured.
It all sounds so good, doesn’t it? We have only really complained about the bayonets, but there is one more negative aspect to report. Like their recent set of French Musketeers, these figures are done in a very pleasing soft plastic material which seems to show detail well. However it is particularly weak and with very little effort it can simply be torn with the hands. The correctly proportioned slender parts such as the rifles are fairly safe as the material allows them to bend (and return) when pressed, but it is much too easy to rip such items off. The manufacturer is aware of this serious limitation and has promised to change the material, but this is a limited edition set (only 900) so presumably it will not be rerun in a better material. The unwise choice of material and the very limited production run do this set a great disservice as this is a great set of figures. Material aside if future sets from this manufacturer are of similar quality then they will be well worth the wait.