During the economic difficulties of the 1930s the Indian Army had fallen behind in terms of weaponry, and while moves to correct this were in progress in 1939, the coming of war interrupted them, but also gave them an urgency peacetime never could. In time the Indian Army, deployed on many fronts from Italy to China, received the same sort of heavy weapons other Empire forces were using, and played a very large part in the defeat of Japan in particular.
The set title promises heavy weapons, but in truth there are just two here. The first, the standard British 3-inch mortar, is to be found with its crew on our top row. The dimensions of the mortar are perfect, but the weapon is otherwise disappointing. As can be seen the barrel/base and bipod are separate pieces, each with a base, so they only go together as shown. This gives the barrel an elevation of at least 80 degrees, so range will be very short and the target uncomfortably close. Not visible in our image (see sprue image for a better look) is the bipod, where the middle strut has been disconnected from the legs and extended into the ground, forming a third leg in what is essentially a flat tripod. This is far from the real thing, and shows the sculptor had no idea of how this device worked, since we cannot attribute difficulty of sculpting for such errors. There are the usual simplifications of course, but the two major problems mean this is really a pretty poor model.
We can be more positive about the three crewmen. The first kneeling man holds the muzzle cover while the second holds a projectile, and the standing man is feeding another into the weapon. All these are very appropriate and useful poses that work well, although the third man would normally be holding the bomb with both hands as it was somewhat larger than modelled here. They wear the usual khaki drill shirt and shorts, with long socks and anklets covering the tops of the boots. All wear the pagri on the head, and seem to have a variety of items of webbing, mostly items that pre-date the 1937 pattern. All this uniform is authentic.
The last figure in the top row is a generic officer who could be directing the fire of the mortar, or just as easily be in charge of the other heavy weapon, the Vickers machine gun in the second row. This classic weapon has been modelled many times before, and this one is not the best ever made, but is quite reasonable and with no obvious accuracy issues. One feature of interest is the corrugated water jacket, suggesting it is probably old reconditioned stock from World War One which was widely sent to India and other parts of the Empire, yet performed very well and remained the standard British medium machine gun until the 1960s. The one here is being correctly fired by the gunner, and his No.2 is feeding in the ammunition belt. The two figures go together very well and look good, as does the whole group. Having a third man bringing up ammunition is very nice to see, and rarely included in figure sets, so a nice gun and crew. All wear the same uniform and kit as the mortar team, so again no issues there.
The third row begins with a man using an early-version Thompson machine gun, with circular magazine and forward pistol grip. Hardly a ‘heavy’ weapon by any standards, but truly heavy weapons normally had infantry to help protect them, so that must be the task of this man. Lastly we have an officer apparently directing fire, or at least giving some instructions, plus another using a periscope to observe targets. Nice figures all, and again correctly uniformed. The only issue with the last man is his base, or that of the periscope, must be trimmed back before he can successfully place his eyes on the viewing device.
The sculpting is pretty good – certainly good enough to stand next to the output of other manufacturers. Thin items like straps are much more realistically slim than Strelets have produced in the past, and proportions too are much improved. There is still a certain roughness to the mould, since there is a little flash and the odd excess plastic, but in terms of sculpting we thought these were amongst the best Strelets have yet produced, with nice natural poses that require no assembly yet do not feel at all flat or compromised.
While the mortar has not been well done, the rest of the set is admirable, and only needs a little tidying up to make some very fine pieces that any follower of the Indian Army would be happy to deploy. All World War II infantry will require heavy weapons such as these, and with this set the soldiers of India have at last received their share. That the set has been done really nicely for the most part is a bonus, so this is a worthy collection for an enormous but scantily covered army that contributed so much to eventual victory.