Germany had long known that she was trapped between two potential enemies - France, who was still smarting from the humiliations of 1870, and the Russian Empire, which blocked German hopes of expansion eastward. When those two countries entered into formal alliance in 1894 the danger seemed even more real, and during the first years of the 20th century much of Europe assumed there would be a major war sooner or later. The German response to their potential encirclement was essentially to deliver the first blow, speedily subduing France before Russia could fully mobilise. Thus it was that in the summer of 1914 German troops poured through Belgium to attack France, and soon also struck deep into the Russian Empire. The plan failed, and those first troops soon found themselves in the static warfare which we now recognise as the horrors of the trenches. After that everything about war seemed to change rapidly.
Before the release of this set early war Germans had only been modelled by Airfix over 40 years previously. That set is not without its problems but is generally well-liked, but the need for something new was easy to see. This set from HaT has only eight poses, which is less than half the Airfix set, so the emphasis has to be on standard useful infantry poses without many of the more exotic choices, and this is indeed the case here. We find a group of riflemen in firing and advancing poses plus a useful marching figure and an officer. All the poses are either good or better, apart from the running figure. We are always wary of figures with one leg high in the air - it is a commonly modelled pose yet can easily be made to look unnatural, and we thought this figure was just such a case, with the leg too high and too far back.
The uniform worn by the soldier at the start of the war was admirably practical in many respects yet could still look smart. The traditional but entirely impractical pickelhaube helmet was sensibly covered with a cloth, as appears to be the case with these figures, although they still have the spike attached, which was often removed and can easily be trimmed off here too. The tunic is correctly done and has Brandenburg cuffs - the most common of several styles worn by troops from different regions. Trousers are fine, as are the marching boots. All the men carry the M1909 belts and ammunition pouches, which again were the most common at this time, and all have a full pack with mess tin strapped on and greatcoat/bivouac sheet rolled round the edge. In addition all carry the bread bag, water bottle, entrenching tool and bayonet that were standard issue. All of this equipment is correctly done and looks good, although it should be mentioned that this is full marching order and when going into battle some items such as the pack were sometimes left behind. Where visible the rifles all look to be the standard 1898 Mauser. In all respects the uniform is fine, and while patterns began to change very soon after hostilities began (particularly simplification of the tunic), this was more or less the uniform to be seen for at least the first 12 months of the war.
The detail on these figures is very good and nice and clear, but some of the proportions made us uneasy. Heads and helmets are not always as nicely turned out as they could be (the helmets having a somewhat exagerated rear peak), and the running figure has both his feet at incredibly severe angles compared to the lower leg, which is almost anatomically impossible and certainly inappropriate here. These are not attractive figures close up but from any distance they are OK. On our review samples we found some small amounts of flash but nothing worthy of mention.
Although such things are a matter of opinion we preferred the sculpting style of the old Airfix figures to these, but these do gain in that they are better researched. The eight poses do at least cover all the basics, and for the first time we get an officer actively leading his men into battle. Useful figures certainly, but no replacement for the older set.