When in February 1941 German troops first landed in North Africa to support the Italian war effort, they had no recent experience of desert warfare and the many particular difficulties that presented. Fortunately they wore uniforms that had been designed and manufactured the previous year specifically for this mission, though these would be adapted somewhat in the light of experience. Their weapons however were the standard armoury used throughout Europe, and a key element of that was the mortar, an essential infantry support weapon that all armies used in large numbers. As a man-portable support weapon the mortar had first been developed during the last war, and was one of those weapons that would become bigger and more powerful as the Second World War went on.
As can be seen above, the set provides two mortars of different sizes on each sprue. The barrel length of the first is 18mm (129cm), while the second is 16mm (115cm), so there is not a great deal of difference between them. The most common German mortar by this stage was the 8cm Granatwerfer 34, which had a barrel length of 114cm – exactly the size of the smaller mortar here. The general design of the two mortars is very similar, but it makes sense to say the smaller mortar here is the GrW34. That leaves us with identifying the larger of the two, which also has a slightly thicker barrel. We would guess this must be the 10cm Nebelwerfer 35, basically a scaled-up version of the GrW34 but with a calibre of 105mm and a barrel length of 134cm. These were originally used to fire gas and smoke shells, but when this function was taken over by the Nebelwerfer 40 they were still used to fire HE ammunition.
The crew figures provide quite a good number to serve these weapons, and cover all the basics. So we find men actually adjusting the weapon, about to drop a round in, watching the results and, of course, handling the ammunition, both individual bombs and boxes of them. Realistically this is about as good a spread of poses as you are likely to get, and we thought all of them were perfectly valid and useable. The man with rifle slung on the shoulder seemed a bit strange to us, but the other two officers look good – we really loved the one with his foot on some ammo boxes.
The clothing here is all suitable for the Afrikakorps, and nicely mixed too. Most wear either the steel helmet, as you might expect when in action like this, or the popular and practical peaked cap, which is good. A couple (penultimate figure in each row) wear the cork sun helmet which was widely issued but not liked by the men. As a result it soon became rare to see one except well behind the lines or on formal occasions, so to have two here suggests perhaps a very early date for those two, although to be honest they really are not a great choice at all. We were particularly pleased to see several of the figures have goggles on their headgear.
The men all seem to be wearing the usual collared tropical field blouse or tunic, which is correctly done here with the four pockets. Most wear trousers or possibly breeches in the case of one of the officers, and three wear shorts. In theory shorts were not permitted in the front line, but it seems there were plenty of violations of this rule, so these figures are fine too. Some have the canvas desert high boots, another widely issued item, but again not liked by the men, and usually the ankle boot was worn instead, as many here do. The other item worthy of note is the scarf many wear around their neck – useful in the cooler temperatures, but mainly for helping to keep the sand and dust at bay.
Most wear the standard German belts and braces, along with the pair of triple rifle ammunition pouches at the front. Two men have submachine guns on the shoulder, and these both have the correct alternative pouches for these side-arms. Items of kit include the bread bag, water bottle, mess tin (‘cook pot’), entrenching tool, bayonet and even a couple of metal gas mask containers. Most of the figures have most or all of these items, though we feel some at least should have had a second water bottle, as was done in the desert. All this is standard and the same as used in Europe, so correct here. The first figure in the second row has divested himself of all his belts and items of kit.
Although the quality of Strelets figures has been very good recently, this does vary, and those in this set are good but not great. The detail is certainly there, but these don’t have quite the same look as the best figures being made today. Nevertheless they are still pretty good by most standards, and the poses are quite realistic too. The weapons are simplified as we have said (the base plates have no detail at all on top), and we were not impressed by the other accessory in this set – the scissor telescope in the bottom row. Although it looks like it is on a standard tripod, in fact the front is virtually flat, so the whole affair tends to fall forward and is very unstable and so unrealistic. It is also very short – the eye pieces are about 13mm (94cm) off the ground, so any operator will have to stoop badly to use it, and the lenses themselves are only 18mm (130cm) off the ground, so lower than the human eye. Since the lenses are placed very close together here, the depth of vision will be poor and the height worse than with the naked eye, so all told a poor model (and all the poses are wisely ignoring it). There is also a fair amount of flash in this set, which is annoying for the figures, but is particularly so for the mortars as the flash makes it much harder to assemble them. In any case the assembly is not a good tight fit, but having to trim away excess plastic to make it work at all can be quite frustrating.
The figures here are numerous and in good poses, quite well done, and with no accuracy problems. We liked the figures. The mortars we found frustratingly difficult to put together, while being fairly basic in detail and unsatisfying once assembled. On the plus side, the GrW34 can also serve as the Italian 81mm Model 35, which looked much the same as the German weapon as they were both based on the same original Brandt design. The scissor telescope is not something we felt was worthwhile at all, at least when done like this. So something of a mixed bag, usable certainly, but not a particularly appealing product.