When Mussolini hurried his country into war in 1940 he was well aware it was not ready for a major European conflict. A particular problem was the large amount of out-dated and obsolete equipment which served the Italians well enough against tribesmen in Africa but did not compare well with other European states. Most Italian artillery in 1940 was over a decade old, with much of it dating to the Great War, so there had been much effort on developing new, more modern guns. One of the results was this, the 149/40, which was generally agreed to be a very good weapon and was produced between 1940 and 1944. It could hurl shells of 149mm calibre up to around 22km at the rate of one per minute, which should have made it a marvellous asset for the Italians.
We were unable to find any detailed technical drawings for this gun, but from photographs this looks to be a pretty good model. Naturally there are some compromises as this is a kit of relatively few pieces, but despite that a good job has been made of capturing the essence of this gun. As with all Italian artillery, the name of this gun tells us something about its size. '149' is of course the calibre, and '40' is the length of the barrel as a multiple of the calibre, so in this case 40 x 149 = 596cm. Scaled down that is 83mm, so this is an impressively large gun, and on the model the trails can move and the gun can swivel (but not elevate). It all makes for an imposing and accurate model.
For the crew the set includes nine figures, all in different poses. As the box artwork suggests all the men are in tropical kit, of which the M1935 tropical helmets are the most obvious element. In all cases these have been given goggles which are tucked over the brim on the right side, which is fine but has been so perfectly replicated on every man here as to look as if it were part of some regulation. Tunics are also likely to be of the tropical variety (which looked the same as the normal M1937 version with the four pleated pockets), and all the men are wearing flared breeches with puttees. The two officers are dressed similarly to their men apart from the peaked version of the bustina cap and, of course, their personal sidearms.
As artillerymen these figures can get away with very little kit, which would be close at hand if needed but more of an encumbrance while serving the gun. All the men have the characteristic twin rifle ammunition pouches on the waist, which in this case are not supported by the strap around the neck. The only other kit is a bayonet, which is rather too short, and a couple of the men have chosen to place theirs on their right hip rather than the regulation left.
The poses are largely fine but we couldn't help thinking that the two men carrying shells for this gun are making ridiculously easy work of carrying their 46kg burdens. The officer with the megaphone is an unusual piece, but we particularly liked those figures that seem to be actively interacting with the gun. The third figure in our second row is not anticipating a game of polo but rather holding a mallet to secure the trail spade plates to steady the gun.
The style of these figures, including the slightly excessive height, is very reminiscent of the current output from Italeri, which means these are really nicely detailed figures with great proportions and good faces. There is no flash, and while there is some extra plastic in places the mould could not reach, this is not a particularly serious problem.
We said that this gun should have been a marvellous asset for the Italians, but in reality things were not so rosy. Although it was a good weapon Italian industry once again failed to make it in large enough numbers to seriously affect the course of the war, especially since some were even exported. As the figures in this set are in tropical uniform our thoughts naturally tend towards the African campaigns, and only 12 such guns saw service there. Rather more were used on the Russian front, and the Germans used them after the Italian surrender, so the gun does have some limited wider use. However that should not detract from a really nicely produced gun that is easy to put together, and some very decent figures which present a uniform not previously seen in this hobby.