It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The plan was for a swift subjugation of France followed by a hard battle with the enormous but slow Russian Empire, so matters in the West had to be resolved quickly. But as the thousands of German troops flooded into France and Belgium, resistance proved more formidable than expected and that front soon settled down to the static slogging match from trenches that we all recognise today, while in the East an initially more fluid campaign also became one of attrition. Both would change the German soldier as it would those of all the participants, but this set from Zvezda is the third in this hobby to cover those early war, more optimistic Germans, before shortages and practicality dominated their uniform and equipment.
By far the most obvious distinction of Germany’s soldiers in 1914 was the famous Prussian Pickelhaube, the spiked helmet with which they were already so well known. However this was for show and offered no protection, so by late 1915 a new steel helmet was being issued and during 1916 this largely replaced the Pickelhaube, which means these figures are only usable for the first two years of the war. All the helmets here seem to have a cover, which was worn right from the start, and while many soon removed the spike, that is easily echoed here by simply trimming it off.
All other aspects of the uniform also confirm the early war dating. The uniform is correctly sculpted, and includes the first type of tunic, the M1907/10, which is identifiable by the Brandenburg cuffs on every man and was mostly only seen in the first year of the war. Most of the figures have long marching boots, but a couple have ankle boots and puttees, which is also authentic for the time. The kneeling figure in the second row is different in having a peaked cap and carrying a very short sword, but lacks a pistol, so could be an officer or senior NCO, although even junior NCOs unofficially wore such caps. The officer is carrying pistol and sword, but the latter quickly fell out of favour as it was useless as a weapon and only served to mark out the officers to enemy fire, so again this is likely to be very early in the conflict. The officer also wears short boots and leather gaiters, which is correct.
All the kit is fine and again suitable for the early months of the war. There are no assault packs here, just the full regulation pack with the rolled greatcoat and tent section wrapped round the outside and the mess tin attached to the back. All except the machine gun crew have the usual bread bag, canteen, entrenching tool and bayonet in the correct positions, but the belts were something of a surprise. The standard ammunition pouches, worn on the waist belt, were divided into three compartments and known as the M1909 model, but only two poses here have these. With the rapid expansion of the army in 1914 stocks of these, and much else, failed to keep up with demand and many soldiers were instead equipped with much older pouches without the compartments (the exact designation depended on which German state they came from). This is what most of these figures carry, and while this is not wrong (particularly for second line and reserve troops), we were surprised to see so many here. The rifles look to be the G98, which is fine and served throughout the war. Finally, no one has any of the extra kit that appeared later on, of which gasmasks are the most obvious example, so again this all looks very early war.
The machine gun crew - the two gunners and the man bearing ammunition - all correctly lack most of this kit but all have the drag straps so often seen, as well as pistols for personal protection. The machine gun itself is of course the ubiquitous MG08, which in this case has been set with the carriage extremely high so that the gunner is kneeling (sitting or prone was much more common), so we must assume they are behind some unseen form of cover.
With several advancing poses plus the usual firing examples, we thought all the poses here were entirely suitable. We particularly liked the more relaxed figure in the top row with his rifle slung across his chest, and the man pulling back the bolt on his rifle as he moves forward. The machine gun crew are genuinely interacting with their weapon, but to what extent German troops were accompanied into battle by drummers is questionable, even early in proceedings, so this too must be mostly for marching rather than battle situations. Also, by virtue of having the drum at his side rather than on the left thigh, he is unable to actually hit the drum, and his drumsticks are pointlessly waving in mid air.
Sculpting is very good as usual, but there is some loss of detail on some chests and even some faces. Many of the figures require some assembly, and while the tolerances are good and tight we found the fit was not quite what it might be, leaving gaps at the shoulders which some purists might find annoying. The machine gun crew in particular are in many pieces and take some time to put together. However there is no flash and no unwanted plastic, and the multi-part aspect means the poses are exceptionally lifelike and natural.
This is basically a very good set, and while sets from others on this topic have had much to recommend them we thought this was the best so far. It basically concentrates on the opening months of the war, and therefore has somewhat limited use, but many would argue that this part of the conflict was the most interesting and we would not disagree. So for the period before dreams died in the mud of Flanders and Poland this is a very good set that takes time to put together but rewards the effort handsomely.