Despite the successes of the early months of Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union), as the operation continued into 1942 it was apparent that it would not reach the hoped-for early conclusion, and the losses of manpower to the Germans had been immense. As replacements were urgently sought, all sources of trained military personnel were considered, and it was proposed that the Luftwaffe should provide up to 50,000 such men. Rather than lose such large numbers to the Army, Göring convinced Hitler to agree to the raising of Luftwaffe field divisions, which would fight on the ground alongside the Army but remain part of the Luftwaffe. Many such divisions were raised from late 1942, but their performance was generally perceived as poor, partly because they were usually neither properly trained nor well-equipped. Already under Army tactical control, in November 1943 they were transferred from the Luftwaffe to the Army in an attempt to resolve the problem, but their reputation remained mixed. Such divisions fought on the Eastern Front, the Western Front (from 1944) and in the Mediterranean, and were often used in defensive roles.
When used as ground troops, Luftwaffe personnel often looked little different to those of the Army apart from insignia and sometimes the colour of some equipment. The same weapons and equipment was used, and much of the clothing was similar too. The clothing of the figures in this set can be divided into three categories. The first category (the first two figures in both our above rows), is of men wearing the triangular Zeltbahn, an item which could be worn as a sort of poncho or joined with others to form a simple tent for shelter. Here all four men wear one, which was popular as it offered both some limited protection from the weather and a degree of camouflage, useful before purpose-made camouflage clothing became widely available. All wear the standard steel helmet worn throughout the Reich, and short boots with anklets. This is a typical and perfectly valid look for these men.
The second category of uniform is the paratroopers, large numbers of whom were included in the divisions to provide a highly trained and elite fighting unit, since by this stage the Germans had decided to no longer use such troops in the airborne role. The second pair in our top row depict these men, and both wear the paratrooper’s jump smock as a very clear identifier of their type. The jump smock could be buttoned round the upper legs to stop it from flapping while on the descent, but these were normally unbuttoned once on the ground. Since these men have not jumped, we might have expected the smock to be loose already, but for whatever reason both these men have it securely buttoned round the legs. The man about to throw the grenade also wears the paratrooper’s jump boots, and has the paratroop ammunition belt round his neck, but his comrade has neither. This sort of mixing of Luftwaffe and Army clothing and equipment was normal, so good to see here.
The third category is filled by the last two figures in our second row. Both men wear some form of tunic (possibly the Luftwaffe Fliegerbluse), and one wears long marching boots while the pistol-holding officer has short boots and anklets. As can be seen, both wear the Einheitsfeldmütze, or peaked field cap, based on the Bergmütze mountain cap and first issued in 1943. This is perfectly correct, but when in action it is far more likely that both men would have put on the steel helmet - even the officer, despite many sets preferring to show officers in caps.
All the men wear a variety of standard German equipment, with the exact composition and layout differing between each man, which is nice to see. Items include the bread bag, cook pot, field flask, gas mask canister and entrenching tool or bayonet. The officer also seems to have a rolled tent section and a map case. The riflemen have the usual rifle ammunition pouches on the waist belt, and the men with submachine guns have a single set of pouches on the right kidney, so all is well done here.
The poses we thought were all good. We particularly liked the kneeling man with the Panzerfaust, who leans a little to his right and looks like he is emerging from behind cover, a sensible choice if you are about to tackle a tank at relatively close range. The man throwing the grenade is nicely poised, but holds his rifle in an awkward way, which is not surprising given the limitations of the two-piece mould. Even the man being hit is actually more realistic than many other attempts at such a pose, so the only reservation we had was with the officer, who you might describe as a classic pose of advancing firing pistol, but in reality this would achieve very little if charging an enemy.
After a long list of releases over the years with pretty bad sculpting, Mars have recently much improved, and this set is up to the new standard. Proportions are good and the sculpting is nice and clean, with good detail – weapons in particularly are very nicely done here. We thought the various items of kit on the body were often a bit too shallow, and the entrenching tool is both basic and a bit too short, but in general the sculpting is very pleasing. What is much less satisfactory is the at times quite extensive amounts of flash, which appears on all the seams but is very intrusive in lots of places.
We were slightly annoyed that the kneeling man has no base (though he does remain perfectly upright without one), since this makes him shorter than the rest, although this may have something to do with the leaning pose he takes. However overall we liked the lively poses, the mix of uniform and equipment and the good standard of sculpting. By covering several types of soldier you get few of each in a set this size, of course, but the only really negative aspect to this set is the amount of flash, which still needs a lot of work. Other than that, a really nice set that represents another of the many elements of the complex armed forces of the Third Reich.