All the major combatants of World War I used gas at one time or another, and for most soldiers injury or death by gas was feared much more than by the bullet or shell. The first gas masks had been crude and not particularly effective, and there was always the risk that you wouldn’t be able to put the mask on properly before being overwhelmed. While Germany had been one of the leaders in developing irritant and poisonous gas attacks, it did not have a particularly reliable gas mask until late 1915, when the Linienmaske began to be issued. A combination of technical improvements and difficulties in obtaining materials brought in first the Rahmenmaske and then the Ledermaske. All these masks were similar in that they were made up of a rubberised cloth face with two windows for vision plus a filter cylinder that was screwed on. Up until now such masks have only appeared on a handful of German figures, so this is the first set to be dedicated entirely to this particularly unsettling subject.
The three major types of mask mentioned above have another similarity that is useful to us; they all look more or less the same at this sort of scale. Add to that the vagueness of Strelets sculpting and we can confidently say that the men in this set could be wearing any of these masks. All are wearing a greatcoat, which obscures the rest of their uniform, so for dating purposes we have just two elements to consider. The first is the most obvious. The Model 1916 steel helmet, which started appearing in numbers in early 1916, is worn by everyone here, so these men are broadly appropriate for the second half of the war. The other indicator, the metal cylinder in which the gas mask was kept, is also worn by most here and again appeared during 1916. The greatcoat is single-breasted (apart from that of the officer) and is accurate, as is most of the kit. However Strelets always struggle with small items, and generally make them bigger than they should be. This has happened here with the ammunition pouches, of which there is only room for two on each side rather than the historically accurate three. Other items too are exaggerated, while bayonets and entrenching tools are also truncated, but in general the kit looks OK.
Unusually for Strelets some of the figures have a noticeable ridge where the moulds met, but the standard of sculpting generally is what we would expect from this manufacturer. The masks avoid any issues with faces, but some hands disappear entirely, as do some straps and belts. Detail is chunky and largely lacking on items such as rifles, while the poses are fairly standard and rather flat. The third figure in the last row carries not a rifle but the MG 08/15, a 'lightened' version of the excellent MG 08 machine gun. It should, and does, have a bipod, but this is solid and crude, so again not a good model.
No German officer was stupid enough to carry his sword into battle by this stage of the war, yet Strelets continue to insist on providing their officers with this weapon, as they have done here. At least he is not waving it in the air, but even so it is out of place in a set of this date. Their style means these figures do not work well with any except others from the Strelets range, so it is just as well that that range is very large already. These are not the best WWI Germans in gas masks - in fact they are the worst to date - but they are a useful addition to their Great War range, and for those looking to game or model this era with Strelets figures these provide one of the most disturbing yet characteristic images of a soldier of that conflict.