In 1939 the Red Army had come a long way from the original ideal of workers and soldiers defending the revolution. From unpromising beginnings it had developed into a powerful and effective force until the 1930s, when Stalin’s insane Great Purge deprived it of many of its best officers and most imaginative strategists. Still great in sheer numbers, when it came to bullying the small state of Finland in the Winter War of 1939-40 it proved a paper tiger, eventually overcoming the Finnish resistance after suffering enormous losses, and was seen internationally as backward and mired in political interference. As a result reforms were begun and new equipment developed, so that the soldier of the Great Patriotic War a few years later would look remarkably different from his brother in 1939. Strelets have already produced a set for the Red Army at this period, but this set is more useful for the Winter War as all the men are clearly in winter gear.
Despite a legendary familiarity with hard winters, inefficiency and incompetence severely hampered the Red Army’s efforts in Finland, and many soldiers suffered and died as a result. However all the figures in this set seem to have done relatively well in terms of supply. Two thirds of the poses have the standard double-breasted greatcoat which was closed with hooks rather than external buttons, and two have a slightly shorter form of coat with large fleece collars. That leaves just two figures, who both have quilted jackets and trousers - a practical form of cold-weather clothing that had first appeared in 1931. Footwear is hard to make out on many, but it looks like all have nice thick boots, making them particularly lucky compared to the many that suffered frostbite with their ankle boots and puttees. The headgear is easier to make out, with a straight split between the six poses that wear the soft pointed budenovka 'helmet' with flaps up or down, and the six that wear the M1936 helmet with the more pronounced rim and slight crest. Both are quite correct here, and mark the men out from those that fought the Germans a few years later.
In addition to a shortage of adequate clothing, the men had to make do with shortages of kit, and these figures have a variety of items, or nothing at all. The ammunition pouches, where visible, look OK here, and the examples of canteens, entrenching tools, haversacks and mess tins on offer are all correct. Two of the men look to have the gas mask case (although often without the actual mask inside), and four have a full pack on their back - in all cases the newly issued M1938 with two external pockets. The rain cape/groundsheet/tent section could be rolled underneath or around the pack, as it is here, so there are no issues with the kit.
The rifles are pretty crude but look OK, although we were surprised that only about half have a bayonet fixed. Apart from the officer’s pistol the only other weapon is the DP-28 light machine gun, which is in the possession of two of the poses.
The usual Strelets chunky style is clear to see, with if anything less detail than some of their better sets. The machine guns are particularly crude, and the faces mostly very poor. The usual enlarged items such as the binoculars that cover much of the officer's chest can be seen, and the fall of the clothes is also not particularly well done. There is no flash, and the flatness of the poses means there is no excess plastic anywhere, although liberties such as the twisted bipod on one of the DP-28s help to explain this.
The poses are conventional and quite useable, although we did like the man moving forward and holding his helmet. The crawling figure with the grenade in the bottom row does not sit well, and many of the poses are very flat, so these are not great examples of the human form in motion, but will do at a push.
With a very large range, Strelets have long churned out sets that are similar to this one in many ways. Pretty good accuracy goes some way to make up for some flat and uninspiring poses, although in this set we thought the sculpting was a little below their norm. Still once again they have produced a subject not done previously, which allows a proper depiction of the Winter War for the first time.