It is often observed that the French soldier of 1914 was dressed to fight the war of 1870, and the soldier of 1940 was dressed to fight the war of 1914. The French love of tradition, combined with a large part of the defence budget spent on fixed fortifications at the Maginot Line, meant that relatively little had changed for the soldier of 1940 since the last war, yet the French army was large and was confident it could meet the expected blow from Germany. When the 'drôle de guerre', or ‘Phoney War’, ended with the German invasion on 10 May 1940, the French infantryman was put to the test, and this set depicts those men at that crucial moment.
The first thing to say about this set is yes, it is very similar to the Pegasus set of WWI French Infantry, which was released at the same time. Clearly Pegasus have used the fact that these are similar in appearance to use one common set of masters but with some differences to ensure both sets accurately match their intended period. As a result the poses in this set are indistinguishable from those in the Great War set, although of course that does not really matter. We liked the poses in the other set, and so much the same goes for this one, with plenty of firing and advancing figures. The use of separate arms helps to mean some otherwise identical poses are made different merely by subtle variations in equipment or weaponry, as can be seen above, but even discounting these 'pairs' there is a good and reasonably wide range of poses which should keep most happy. As with the first set, a marching figure would have been nice, but all these poses are well realised and natural, and useful, so no problems here.
The principal reason these men resemble their father’s generation is because their usual uniform was still the classic French capote or coat, and a steel helmet that was almost identical to the Adrian. Convenient or not, this was the usual form of uniform in the field, and it has been well done here. The late 1930s did see some change, however, such as a new set of equipment and larger, baggier 'golf' trousers. However even by 1940 many had yet to see these items, and this set reflects the reality well. No one has the 'golf' trousers, nor the new leggings, but instead the normal trousers and puttees. A single-breasted capote had also been introduced in 1938, but again was not common by 1940 and is not represented here. Something like a third of the infantry had received the M1935 equipment by 1940, and roughly a third of these figures have it too. This boasted larger pouches at the front, no pouch at the back, and a new water bottle slung from the waist belt, as correctly modelled here. For the rest, the old Great War equipment is still worn, again correctly done here. None of the figures has a pack or haversack, but all have their gas mask bag, which is another more obvious distinction between the two sets.
The officer is correctly shown wearing the common vareuse tunic with its four pockets. Normally we would expect him to wear the same steel helmet as his men, but for some reason he has been given the bonnet de police, a popular and perfectly appropriate side cap, but a surprise choice for going into action, which he is clearly doing. Nevertheless he is accurately done and in a good pose.
Turning to the subject of weapons, The French Army in 1940 had a remarkable array of rifles on issue, and much of that array has been reproduced here it would seem. The most modern French rifle, the MAS 36, had still to reach most troops even four years after its first appearance, so only five poses in this set have this weapon. For the rest, precise identification is tricky but there looks to be an array of older Lebel and Berthier rifles, which is fine. Two figures are using the excellent FM 1924/29 light machine gun, which was the standard such weapon at the time, while the heavier machine gun is the old but still reliable Hotchkiss. Finally one man has a rifle-launched grenade, which was still in use at this date. All these weapons are appropriate and give a fair reflection of their usage at this date, although the set is missing a mortar.
Pegasus have always prided themselves on the quality of their sculpting, and this set provides all the detail and elegance you could ask for. The proportions are excellent, and the various separate parts (see image of the sprue) make for more natural poses and a complete absence of unwanted plastic. However we did find that some of the arms were much harder to fit into place than they should be, and did not always leave a smooth join at the shoulder. Also the prone machine gunner, while mounted on a nice little contoured base, has his weapon hanging in mid air in a rather silly arrangement – an example of where reusing parts from the First World War set did not work well.
It is a wonder that there have been so few sets of classic French infantry for 1940 before now, and the hobby has certainly needed one. This offering from Pegasus fits the bill nicely, and our gripes are only small ones, so while it takes quite a while to put together, and purists might want to do some more filing and filling to hide gaps between parts, this is a good and much needed set for all those battles of May 1940.