When Germany launched its invasion of Belgium en route to France in August 1914, the army they initially faced was ill-prepared to meet the aggression. Belgium had long been and still was neutral, and so had not kept her army in particularly good condition. In particular the army had relatively few machine guns and artillery, and much of the resources for defence had gone on the forts which ultimately slowed but failed to stop the Germans. Nevertheless the Belgian infantry did have more than just their rifles with which to fight, and this set includes most of the important ones at the very start of what would become known as the Great War.
The light machine gun being crewed by the first two figures in our top row looks to us like it is a Hotchkiss M1909, although detail is very vague despite being moulded from the side. This identification is all the more likely to be correct as the number two gunner is presenting a rigid strip of ammunition to the gun, and the Hotchkiss took strips with 30 rounds. This individual is not holding the strip horizontally, and nor is it at the height of the feeder, so clearly he is preparing to insert the strip (once loaded the strip did not need supporting anyway). However both poses are pretty good. These men are intended to depict Carabinier Cyclists, correctly wearing the peaked 'chapki' cap, although the detail on it is poor. They are wearing tunics without the greatcoat, which is historically accurate - they were issued with capes instead - but the tunic has piping on the back which is incorrect, and it should be removed.
The rest of row one is taken up with a heavier weapon, and this looks to be a Maxim, another common Belgian weapon. Here the gun barrel is one piece and the tripod another, so the model is pretty good, although like the rest of the set it lacks a lot of detail, and here is also missing the condenser can. The two crew are dressed in the common greatcoat, but their headgear shows them to be carabiniers. Their brimmed Corsican hat was unique to them and has been fairly well done here. The number one gunner is sitting and firing his weapon, and the pose is very good, in no small part because the figure comes in two separate pieces, meeting at the waist. The join is reasonable rather than great, and the set is made in a traditional medium plastic so takes glue to an extent, though the connection is fairly strong. The number two feeding the belt appears to do so from a box that hovers a little off the ground for some reason, and he is particularly disappointing in terms of the detail, which is vague and often missing - his rifle is particularly bad despite being easily visible to the mould.
The second row begins with no heavy weapon, but instead a marching man, another carabinier with the distinctive hat. His role is to guide the main element in this set, the dog cart. This is a small kit of various parts best seen on our image of the sprue, but takes a bit of putting together. In particular the base is in two halves, with a dog and a wheel on each, so the base has to be bonded together first, which requires a good glue. The cart itself is supported solely by the central pole of the dog’s harness, so it does not touch the ground or the wheels, and so ‘floats’ in a rather unsatisfactory way. This is because the wheels have no spokes - in reality they were bicycle wheels with very thin spokes, so this is not the first time that this impossible situation has been resolved by having no spokes at all. What it means is the cart moves about, with the axle being broadly in the middle of the wheels, but for our photograph we added a support to the body of the cart to force it in the correct position. The design of the cart itself is reasonable, but many of the straps connecting it to the dog team are naturally missing, and the central pole is a far from accurate arrangement that simply glues (precariously) to the tops of the dogs necks. The result looks very unconvincing and could have been done much better, so while the whole model is intriguing and very typical of the Belgian Army, we were far from impressed by the eventual result.
The last figure is a general officer, equally suitable to these men or the other infantry set, and corrected attired and armed. He holds a pistol and has the holster for it on his belt. He also has a pair of binoculars round his neck, but these are so thin as to almost melt into his chest. Like everything else we thought the proportions of this figure were good but detail is poor, with none at all on many items such as his pistol. None of the parts have any flash or unwanted plastic, and while the dog cart was tricky to put together it does benefit from the harder plastic - about the same consistency as the traditional sets, and better than the soft plastics HaT have used in the recent past.
A close inspection of the sprue shows we have cheated in our photographs. They show a Maxim with two crew, and another on folded tripod for the cart. In fact each sprue has just one barrel for the two tripod options, so only four barrels in the whole set. However we were more disappointed in the relatively poor detail on the figures (especially the weapons) and the really very basic faces. The dog cart is a great idea, but the harness could have been done better so that the ‘arches’ are not so unrealistically far above the animals, while the body of the cart could perhaps have had an imaginary but useful support under it to maintain it at the correct height, which the customer could trim off if desired. Also one observation on the handler for the dog cart is he has a full pack including a rolled blanket or tent section round three sides, which is not correct despite frequent representations in modern books and magazines. In conclusion our verdict on this set was one with only one major accuracy problem and some nice ideas but with figures that are not good to look at closely, and a dog cart which was always going to incorporate some compromises but still could have been better than it was. An interesting and useful set, but not a triumph by any means.