To many infantrymen the lot of the tank crewman seemed far better than their own. After all, they rode everywhere and had an armoured shell to protect them on the battlefield. However that shell could easily become an inferno from which it was difficult to escape, and even on a quiet day the tank needed a great deal of routine maintenance, particularly in unfriendly environments such as a desert. On top of that, on a hot day the tank could be like an oven, so crewing one in hot weather was far from pleasant. Nevertheless tanks were recognised as a vital aspect of modern land warfare, particularly in wide open spaces such as North Africa and the Middle East, and like all the major belligerents the British deployed thousands during the course of World War II.
In an unusual twist we will begin our discussion of the contents and accuracy of this set by pointing out what it does not include. None of these figures are wearing tank overalls or any form of coveralls, nor are they wearing ordinary British battledress, and there is not a single helmet of any description to be seen either. Instead, every man has much the same uniform, which consists of KD ('khaki drill') shorts and bush shirt, plus a beret on the head. The shorts are all of one design, which is only one of several actually worn but perfectly accurately done here. The bush shirt only appeared later in the war, and while it was worn to a degree in North Africa it was mainly seen in later campaigns such as in Italy. With a full frontal opening, it was intended to be worn outside the waistband, but everyone here has theirs tucked into the shorts, which was a fairly common occurrence. Since the general appearance of these men is for tropical climates like North Africa, we would have liked to have seen many wearing the pullover-style KD shirt, but there are none. The lack of helmets is less of an issue as helmets were hot and generally unpopular, so not widely worn, and the beret was the popular alternative, particularly out of the line as here. On the lower legs the men all have the long socks and army boots with short gaiters round the ankle, which is fine. The only pose with different clothing is the first figure in the bottom row, who wears slacks and a long-sleeved jumper, again perfectly authentic and a rare bit of variety here.
When you are in a cramped environment and might need to bail out very quickly, you don’t want extra items of kit on you that might snag and impede your escape. Therefore these men have just one item on them – a revolver. Early in the war this was commonly held in a holster low down on the upper right leg, and restrained round the leg so the muzzle of the revolver was level with the knee. As these are later-war figures this holster is not present here – instead each man has the later design, where the holster was brought back up towards the belt in the conventional manner, which was thought less likely to be an impediment. This is fine, but the sculptor has been highly inconsistent with the location of this holster. Sometimes it is roughly where it should be, just under the belt, and other times it is half way down the thigh, meaning it is very much an item that would flap about and get in the way, potentially fatally. It must be remembered that these men are not in action, so can be more relaxed about such things, but we still felt the holsters are poorly positioned in several cases. However they are accurately sculpted, with the diagonal line of six cartridge loops down the side. All are open-topped, which is fine, but again closed holsters were not uncommon so some could have been included here. Despite the cartridge loops, the usual place for ammunition was the standard pistol pouch worn over the right kidney, so we were very surprised that just one man here has this.
Again we must comment on what is not here, because a notable absentee here is goggles. The kneeling figure in the second row has them, resting on his chest, and though you really have to look very hard as they are almost invisible, two figures in the top row also have them, on the forehead. Yet in dry, dusty environments such as the Mediterranean some form of eye protection was essential, especially if there was to be a sandstorm etc. So while we acknowledge that these figures are not in battle, we would have liked to have seen more goggles on show.
The poses are mostly relaxed and clearly not in the face of the enemy. The running man is not a pose we find particularly credible, but we liked the men apparently loading shells (middle row), and the man in the top row carrying a container, probably fuel or water. This is of the German ‘Jerry Can’ design, much admired and used by Allied tank crews when they could get them, in preference to the flimsy containers made by their own side. The several standing figures are also nice, and the man in the trousers (bottom row) looks very like a photo of General Montgomery taken in 1942, but could equally be almost anyone, since his uniform is unremarkable and he is simply drinking from a mug. The two seated figures could be inside or outside a tank, and again are nice and relaxed. The only two that are not are the two in the top row using their pistols. Now while crews were issued pistols for self-defence, if they had been forced out of their tank then they would likely be facing machine gun fire from another tank, or else rifle fire from an infantry anti-tank squad. Either way, escaping was the best policy rather than fighting it out with your little pistol, so this sort of pose would have been rare. However we understand the desire to portray some action poses in such a set, and while rare they are not actually wrong in any way (although the standing man is an awkward pose with his left arm held high).
We were pretty impressed with the sculpting of these figures, which have good proportions and pleasing levels of detail. A closer look reveals that most of the men have no pistol in the holster, which seems a bit strange, and the pistol of the running man is huge but very flat, so looks all wrong. Equally, the binoculars held by the man in the bottom row are very shallow, looking more like opera glasses than anything else. You may be able to make out that the kneeling figure in the second row has lost his forefinger and thumb from his right hand, but otherwise everything seems to be present and correct. Generally these are free of flash, with just very small amounts in a few places, and there is no extra unwanted plastic anywhere.
Our initial very positive impression of this set largely survived the detailed examination. There could certainly have been more variety of clothing on show, and there are a couple of niggles like the positioning of the pistol holster. Having established that these men all wear tropical clothing, and so cannot be used for the war in North-West Europe, we would have liked to have seen many wearing typical clothing for the North Africa campaign, rather than the later clothing and kit matching the Italian campaign, valid though that is. However that is just a personal preference, and with good sculpting and good production quality there is little to complain about here. Instead this is a really nice set that makes a start on depicting British tank crews which played so large a part in all the campaigns in which they fought.