When Italy declared war on France and Britain on 10th June 1940, the most direct threat to British interests was the large Italian garrison based in Libya, which might be expected to invade British Egypt, potentially closing the Suez Canal - a vital link to the empire in Asia. In preparing to defend Egypt the British were concerned that a small Italian force could cross the inhospitable desert in the south of the country and sever links between Egypt and the Sudan, and so a unit was created to monitor and patrol this vast region, which came to be called the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). That particular Italian threat never materialised, but the LRDG quickly proved to be an extremely effective way of monitoring activities far behind the Italian lines, providing vital information on troop movements and enemy intentions. While primarily a reconnaissance force, which never exceeded a strength of 350 men, the LRDG had sometimes to capture prisoners to gather intelligence, and they also sometimes carried out small raids on enemy installations well to the rear, but they became very adept at transporting people through the desert, including agents to be planted in Italian bases and units such as the SAS, who conducted various raids to disrupt the enemy.
Although very much a military unit, the LRDG was usually more concerned with not being found by the enemy, so tried to avoid a fight whenever possible. Their main purpose was to watch roads, report on enemy installations and ferry people through the open desert. As a result we would have expected poses that are either sitting in a vehicle or observing from a concealed position (given that the other major activity – setting up camp for the night – is covered in the sister set LRDG at Rest). However there is none of that here. Almost every man is carrying a personal weapon, which would normally only have happened if they were in contact with the enemy, and in that case we would have expected some fighting poses, of which there are none here. Instead everyone seems fairly relaxed, but standing or walking around, so clearly safe from enemy action. Why then are they carrying weapons? These would have been stowed in the vehicles, and might have been slung if they were venturing some distance away, but we couldn’t work out exactly what is supposed to be depicted here. That is not to say no LRDG man ever walked around carrying a rifle, just that the poses are far from typical of the unit and its activities, and so are a very poor choice. Much the best in our view is the man lying down in the third row, but even then he does not convince as someone on road watch (observing a road for long periods of time). The radio man is a particular concern, because he holds a microphone to his lips. For obvious security reasons, no radio transmission was ever broadcast as plain speech – every message had to be enciphered before transmission, despite the time this took – so unless this man is communicating over a very short range and between units, the pose is a particularly poor one.
The LRDG wore the same clothing as the rest of the British forces in the Middle East, although they had considerable latitude and did not worry about a smart appearance, at least when away from their base. Comfort and functionality were everything in such a hostile environment, and each man adopted whatever clothing he felt worked best for him. So a variety of British KD kit was worn, as well as items of native dress, but the general appearance was usually quite dishevelled and often downright tatty. Most of the figures in this set wear KD shirt and shorts or long trousers, and at least one wears a jumper too. The heat of the day could be matched by the sub-zero temperatures at night, so warm clothing was also necessary, especially if on a long reconnaissance when movement was almost impossible for some hours. So one of these figures wears a coat, which seems to be a cross between a Tropal and a Hebron coat. Headwear is pleasingly varied, with a number of cap comforters, berets and peaked caps, but a couple have the Arab keffiyeh, which were popular but could get in the way when in the field so were not particularly common except at base. Most wear standard army boots, but at least the man with the coat seems to wear chaplis, which were sandals that were particularly good when walking on soft sand.
The most important weapons for the LRDG were the machine guns and even anti-tank guns mounted on the vehicles. For personal weapons the available armoury was the same as for the rest of the army, and we find most here are holding either the standard Enfield rifle or a Thompson submachine gun. One man carries a Lewis gun, which was common in the Desert campaign, and another holds a Bren, which was the successor to the Lewis. This pose (the fourth in the second row) seems to hold it rather too easily for such a heavy weapon, but the main issue is its presence here at all. The Bren was not widely issued to the LRDG (other guns performed better in the desert), but that is not to say it never came into their hands, and it certainly was issued in numbers to the Indian Long Range Squadron – effectively part of the LRDG – so it makes sense here.
Photos of LRDG members never show them wearing webbing or pouches, but then again there are no photos of them in a fire-fight. Since most here have armed themselves, it makes sense that they have also equipped themselves with the standard pouches of the day, the ’37 pattern kit. One figure however, the man with the coat and carrying the Bren (who we seem to pick out a great deal here), wears similar pouches but lower and attached to the sides of his waist belt. These are the ‘Pouches, MT Drivers’, specifically designed to handle the problems with normal pouches when people are in a vehicle, as these men would be most of the time. The problem is that these only commenced manufacture in 1944, and general issue in 1945, long after the Desert war was over, so not suitable here. No one carries any other kit – not a water bottle or anything - which is fine as such things were, once again, stowed on the vehicles. However it does again beg the question of what these men are doing. They are close enough to the vehicles to not need any water, yet far enough to be carrying weapons and ammunition. Another item notable by its absence is any form of protection for the eyes. When in the desert the dangers of dust, sand and sunlight reflecting off the white sand meant goggles were essential, yet only the pointing officer has any, and even he is not wearing them. So perhaps it is night-time, or one of the few occasions when the clouds rolled in, but again not typical and so not a great choice if these men are meant to be in the field.
Sculpting is generally really good, with great proportions and all the detail you could wish for. With precious little water, the men could not shave in the field and so sported assorted beards during a mission, and this has been nicely reflected here. The great sculpting has been let down to some degree by the production of the mould, because there is a fair amount of flash here, and a quite rough feel to all the seams. Occasionally there are larger tabs of flash, and the left hand of the last figure in row two is mostly missing, we assume due to a problem with the mould. So some tidying up is required, but the quality of the figures makes this worthwhile.
The wireless depicted in the third row is a fair representation of what it should be – the No.11 - although it lacks an aerial (which would have been very slender at this scale anyway). The middle figure in the second row stands out, and although he holds a rifle he is probably a native, perhaps a guide or someone being dropped to spy on an enemy position.
So our biggest problem with this set is what is going on? These men are not in action, nor in their vehicles. They are carrying personal weapons, so clearly close to the enemy but not simply camped out somewhere, nor at base, nor doing any reconnaissance. Should you want to depict these men in any of the typical scenarios they would have found themselves in, these figures will be of almost no help at all. They are pretty accurate in appearance apart from some minor issues, and the weapons on show are appropriate and well sculpted, as are the men themselves. The tatty finish to the seams is a pity on otherwise well-produced figures, but we get the feeling that the designer wanted to depict these men, but did not give much thought as to the situation that they might find themselves in, leaving us with some poses which are hard to find useful.