Traditionally Soviet tactics in World War II are seen as waves of men being hurled at enemy positions until they overwhelm them despite suffering enormous casualties, and to a great extent that is true. However after Stalingrad there was growing interest in more sophisticated tactics and alternatives to the human-wave approach, and one result of this was the formation of assault units, particularly engineers. By the last year of the war such assault engineers were well established, and as effective and professional as their German adversaries.
Since it seems most of the body armour was issued to assault engineers we will use that label for this set, and as such there is nothing suspect in terms of accuracy. The men all wear camouflage clothing including a hooded smock and baggy over-trousers gathered at the ankle, plus the standard M1940 helmets of course. The most interesting feature is the body armour, which is the SN-42 (the most widely issued Soviet body armour of the war). The shape has been well done here, including the twin chest and abdomen panels and the cutaway section round the right shoulder to facilitate movement of the weapons arm and to reduce weight. The men have similar kit consisting of a gasmask case (almost certainly minus any gasmask by 1945), water bottle in its canvas cover, pouch for grenades and another for the submachine gun magazine. This last has been positioned well below the waist belt on some of the figures, which is odd as it was always attached to the belt, unless perhaps the wearing of the armour forced some form of alternative arrangement.
Two of these figures depart from this description. First is the penultimate figure in the second row, who has a case hung round his neck (by a strap that comes and goes), and what looks like a map case on his left hip. From this we can deduce that this is supposed to be the officer with binoculars, especially as he also has a pistol holster on his belt. The second figure is of course the woman at the end, who wears typical uniform of the time including the regulation skirt and beret. She has something on her left hip which we could not identify, but is otherwise unarmed and without any equipment. As she holds two flags she could be signalling but is much more likely to be controlling traffic - she also has an armband on her left arm which could hold the symbol for a Military Traffic Regulator.
The Red Army was particularly good at supplying its troops with submachine guns instead of rifles, and by the war’s end there were millions in use, with many units such as this elite one having no rifles at all. Six of the 10 poses seem to hold a PPSh-41 submachine gun, which is very good, so with the unarmed woman that leaves just three other weapons. The first is being held by the last kneeling figure in the top row, and looks to be a DP light machine gun. The first figure in the next row is holding a captured German Panzerfaust, which was a great weapon widely used by the Soviets when they could get their hands on them, which was often by 1945. Finally the middle figure in the second row might seem like he holds a rifle, but in fact he carries a ROKS-3 flamethrower, with its lance that was deliberately designed to look like a rifle from a distance. Such a weapon was a particular speciality of assault engineer units, but all the weapons here are quite appropriate for the subject.
All the poses meet with our approval. There are lots of kneeling figures and men running with hunched shoulders as they keep their head down, so everything looks nice and natural. Although there are only nine fighting poses, all of them are very usable and well-chosen. As can be seen, three of the poses are repeated on each sprue, although technically the middle figure in the top row is two different poses since one has an entrenching tool on the back of his belt and the other does not.
The general standard of sculpting is pretty good, with good creases in the clothing and fair faces. The man with the Panzerfaust is especially tall, since although his knee is not quite on the ground he is already almost as tall as those that are standing. In some key areas the detail is minimal however; all the weapons are largely lacking any detail at all, which makes identification more difficult. Also many of the weapons are quite a lot too small; this is particularly true of many of the PPSh-41 and the Panzerfaust. In places the plastic is missing entirely, so for example the pipework for the flamethrower disappears in several key areas. However it is the level of flash which is particularly devastating for this set, for as you can see it is rampant in places and present almost everywhere. Extricating the man with the grenade from his flash will be no easy matter, and every figure will require at least some cleaning, which is a real shame.
As so often we have a set with some very good features and some very bad ones. The best aspects are the flawless accuracy and the nice, lively poses which do not seem at all flat. On the down side the sculpting is lacking a fair bit of detail, there are only nine soldier poses and the quality of the mould is in places dreadful. The traffic-controller is a puzzling inclusion here, not least because she has previously been released in the Orion set of Soviet Artillery Crew, but as a whole we thought the research and design were great, but badly let down by the poor quality of production, leaving a set that is useful and welcome, but hard work to use to best effect.