A popular myth is the First World War was one where vast numbers of brave soldier’s lives were wasted in futile assaults on heavily defended trenches simply because the commanders could not think of doing anything else. ‘Lions led by donkeys’ is a common phrase, but the reality is quite different. In fact commanders on all sides were appalled by the vast casualties and the efficient industrial methods now available to take life, and over the four war years there were many attempts to break the deadlock. In the case of Germany one of the most successful of these initiatives were the storm troopers, Stosstruppen, who were intended to raid enemy positions and spearhead larger assaults using innovative tactics. First appearing in 1915, their success quickly led to their expansion, and by 1918 all German infantry were in effect being trained as storm troopers. Ultimately it was not enough to save Germany from defeat, but their image was to be a potent symbol after the war.
In terms of physical appearance there were many differences between storm troopers and ordinary infantry. While the basic uniform was the same, storm troopers usually got the best kit (such as the steel helmet) first, and in order to improve movement they preferred ankle boots and puttees rather than the usual long boots (although this was not universal, as reflected here). Instead of the normal knapsack an assault pack was commonly adopted, but for some reason no one here has this. However some do have patches on the elbows and/or the knees, which was a common method of reinforcing the uniform. A few have sufficient of the tunic visible to see that they have breast pocket flaps, which is wrong for these or any German infantry of the war.
The major difference between regular and storm troopers however was in the equipment they carried, for although they were still riflemen this was not their usual weapon. Typically storm troopers went into battle heavily armed with grenades, and would also carry an assortment of knives, clubs, pistols and other weapons suitable for close-quarter fighting in the confined spaces of an enemy trench. Wire cutters and other equipment appropriate for the mission were also common, but on occasion the weapon was as crude as an entrenching tool with the blade sharpened. These Strelets figures carry much of this sort of kit, with grenades tucked into belts or carried in bags as you would expect. However the design is not always particularly appropriate here. In particular, although several carry bags with grenades these are all short, causing the grenades to stick out by a good way, which would make them easy to lose, particularly when crawling towards the target. In reality the bags were deep and carried each side of the chest, not under the arm as shown here. Many have gas mask containers and some also have the bandoliers of extra ammunition, but one common item missing here is the long-handled spade.
Apart from the various clubs and knives one man has a pistol with a shoulder stock attached, and several others have holstered pistols, which again is accurate. Several have rifles slung, which was normal, although no one is actually using their rifle. There is a very nice two-man flamethrower team which is quite authentic, but two weapons require particular comment. At the end of our second row is a soldier carrying the lightened version of the German MG08 machine gun, the MG 08/15. The purpose of lightening it was to provide a more mobile fire support, but even lightened the MG 08/15 was still a heavy beast and took a strong man to carry it. In theory it could be fired on the move, and it does have the 100-round magazine attached, so this is possible, although more likely it is being carried forward in support of an advance. Either way it is a good addition to the set which, incidentally, lacks another late war weapon, the MP18. Lastly there is the final figure in the top row. This is a prone man holding a long pole with what looks like grenade charges on the end, so presumably this fulfilled the same task as the British Bangalore torpedo, but we could not find any evidence for this device.
There is one final thing to say about the appearance of these figures. With the success of the steel helmet all armies experimented with more body armour, and the storm troopers were specifically charged with evaluating German armour. Their conclusions, which were shared by all the combatants, were that the armour was too heavy and too cumbersome to make the protection worthwhile, and this was doubly true of raiders like storm troopers who often had to be agile and silent. So while such armour may well have been worn in a few experimental operations, it was largely reserved for sentries and some static machine gunners. With this in mind we felt it was unwise to have three of the poses in this set wearing such armour, as it would have been rare indeed on such men. Even more surprising is that one of these men is the one who has to carry the very heavy MG 08/15, which would surely tax beyond endurance even the strongest of men (especially as he also has the sniper’s additional plate on his helmet).
With a good number of close-quarter combat poses we liked these figures very much and thought they embodied the spirit of the storm trooper nicely. However the execution of the poses is not at all good, with a lot of flat poses which are particularly inappropriate when the man is meant to be swinging something around. Two of the figures are anatomically impossible too. The man in the bottom row holding a knife directly over the centre of his head cannot be reproduced in reality, as well as being a highly unlikely pose. Worse yet is the middle figure in the top row, who has twisted the trunk of his body far beyond anything humanly possible, and with no real hope of correcting this by cutting and repositioning. On the plus side we liked the prone man cutting the wire, and the man running with entrenching tool upraised is quite appealing too.
Storm troopers tended to be heavily encumbered with kit of various sorts, and this presents a considerable challenge to Strelets’ sculptors who cannot do small, fine details. The result is enlarged items which almost completely hide the trunk of the body and make for something of a mess where different items are not easy to distinguish. The crude Strelets style is therefore particularly unfortunate here, with some items such as the bipod for the machine gun being especially poor. The faces are quite good, but there is some flash on these figures, and in a couple of places the mould looks to be slightly misaligned too.
The storm troopers were to point the way to infantry tactics for much of the rest of the century, and are fully deserving of a set of their own. However this is not a particularly skilful rendition of them, and the designer or sculptor certainly needs to try and achieve some of the poses themselves before committing them to plastic. The small grenade bags are difficult to understand as by having the grenades visible they make the sculptor’s job harder, and the overuse of body armour looks to be an excessive desire to distinguish these figures from ordinary infantrymen. There are plenty of nice ideas here, but the delivery leaves much to be desired.