Although the title of this set may well be arbitrary, and designed to allow many more sets of Italian infantry to be made if this proves to be a popular subject, it is fitting that it concentrates on defence, because after the opening moves of the war in the North African Desert, the Italians found themselves entirely on the defensive. With the intervention of the Germans of course this changed, and the war ebbed and flowed back and forth over the next two years, but in the end the last battles would again be defensive as the Allies pushed the Italian and other Axis forces back until they finally surrendered in Tunisia, closing that theatre of the Second World War.
With plenty of experience of operating in North Africa, the Italian tropical uniform was practical and pretty comfortable. The various garments were sometimes joined by captured enemy stocks, and at times when the climate was at its most severe, there was little effort to enforce strict dress codes in the front line. Starting with the headwear, the set is roughly divided equally into thirds, with one third wearing the steel helmet, one third the tropical sun hat and the last third the bustina or side cap. The wearing of the side cap by troops in action is something of a surprise, since the steel helmet and the sun hat are clearly far more practical items when operating in the open for different reasons, so it is likely that most men wore the more sensible steel or tropical helmet when actually in the face of the enemy. Naturally you always get some who think it is macho to spurn head protection, so wearing the cap is not impossible, but not common enough to require so many poses in this set we think. There is also a problem with the helmets, because no less than five of them have the plume of feathers as worn by the famous Bersaglieri. This is a lot in a set of 13 poses, but only three of them are on the correct, right side. Two have them are on the left side, which never happened. Only the Alpini had their emblem on the left side, but that was a single feather, which is definitely not what has been sculpted here, so that is another mistake.
The rest of the uniform is less contentious. Most seem to be wearing the early, pullover version of the camiciotto Sahariano, though this is not always easy to see clearly. Most also wear breeches and puttees, as was common, but one man has chosen instead to wear shorts and socks, also perfectly common. Many wear the classic Italian twin pouches on the belt supported by a strap around the neck, and most have a haversack and water bottle. All this is accurate, but more surprising is that the obvious officer figure (bottom row) also wears the same uniform and has the rifle pouches seen on his men. Although he also has a holster for his pistol, we were surprised to find this man looking so much like his men.
So now we come to the weapons. Oh dear. This may take some time! Let’s start with the basics – the rifle. In this set the rifle looks to be the normal Modello 1891, which is the best choice, but it has been sculpted with a length of 15 mm, which equates to 108 cm. The real thing was 129 cm in length, and the missing three millimetres really does notice. If it had been the cavalry carbine or special forces version then it would have been 91.5 cm, so clearly this is not correct either. However the really big problem here is there are just four poses carrying it. In a set of 13 poses that is incredibly low for this stage of the war, so what is everyone else carrying? Well amazingly no less than three of them carry a submachine gun – the Beretta Model 38. The M38 was a terrific weapon, and both large and heavy for a submachine gun as you can see (first three figures in the second row), but did not appear in large numbers until 1943, too late for the war in the desert. Prior to that time, this prestige weapon was issued mostly to police (particularly the Polizia dell-Africa Italiana), paratroops, elite army units like the Bersaglieri and Alpini, and to the MVSN. It was certainly seen during the desert war, but in small numbers, so no more than one pose in this set should be carrying one in our view. Not for the first time a designer has got carried away with an exotic weapon regardless of how rare it actually was. Also, two of the three poses that carry this are the two with feathers on the wrong side of the helmet. The designer seems to have got very confused with these two figures!
We are not finished with the weapons yet, nor with the complaints! Two figures are carrying the Breda M30 light machine gun; one fires it from prone while the other shoots from the hip. This was a common weapon and good to see it here, and both are nicely done with the unusual magazine visible on the right-hand side, although liberties have been taken with the (twisted) bipod on the standing figure to make the mould work. The heavy machine gun is one of Great War vintage and one we have seen before in this hobby, the Fiat-Revelli Model 1914. This unusual weapon had a distinctive profile that is easy to recognise here, and again while the tripod has been made asymmetrical to allow the mould to produce it, and it is missing the condenser that would be especially vital in the desert, it is otherwise a nice model. The fact that gunner and weapon are done as a single piece makes life simple too. So what of our complaints? Well, the question is what is the fourth man in the second row doing, and equally what is the second man in the last row doing? The first is holding a long strip, presumably ammunition, but the M30 did not take strips – it had a complicated magazine that had to be reloaded in situ with a shorter cartridge. Indeed this weapon is shown on the box cover with the magazine hinged forward and the number two reloading it, which the sculptor seems not to have appreciated, though simply cutting away some of the strip will produce a better model. The other ‘feeding’ pose however is a nonsense. The M1914 was fed by a cube-like device that had to be reloaded after the 50 or 100 rounds were exhausted. It could not be fed by a belt, and indeed nothing here could be fed by a belt, so the sculptor has not taken the trouble to find out how the weapon actually worked, and has given us a pointless figure as a result (the later M1935 version of this gun did take a belt, but it was air cooled and looked nothing like the model we have here).
Having vented to some degree about the mistakes in the uniforms and the weapons, we now come to the poses. In general the poses are not bad, bearing in mind all we have already said about this set. Apart from the belt-feeder, all of them are reasonable and fairly natural without being anything exceptional. In an environment that might well be short on cover it is nice to see so many keeping their heads down, and since these are men in defence there is not a lot of movement, which is fine. However the three men with the submachine guns are all holding them by the magazine, which is never recommended when actually firing such weapons since you do not want to risk jamming the weapon if the magazine comes loose.
The quality of the sculpting is pretty good, with nice detail, good anatomy and reasonable faces. Occasionally a strap is part missing, but this is probably an accident during the production process. The poses do not seem at all flat, yet they avoid any excess plastic and are nicely presented. Much of the join between the moulds is completely clean, but a few areas have some flash, which can be quite considerable in a handful of cases. However suitably tidied up these make some great figures.
In truth you can fix some of the mistakes with no more than a knife. The high proportion of Bersaglieri can be reduced by trimming off the cockerel feather plumes on the helmets, particularly for the two on the wrong side, and we have already said the ammo strip should be reduced. There is no escaping the high proportion of elite weapons however, nor the high incidence of fighting men wearing a side cap, nor the man with the belt ammunition but no weapon to feed. These are nicely made figures, but a bit more research could have avoided all these mistakes, even the ones that any modeller can correct by themselves.