Gone are the days when there was little to represent the enormous Soviet war effort during the years 1939 to 1945 except the less than ideal Airfix set. Today there is a good range of Soviet infantry sets, as well as quite a variety of other Soviet troops, but Zvezda sets are always well worth examination, and with so much emphasis on the small Art of Tactic game pieces, a full set of figures is a rare event at the moment. This then is the first full Zvezda figure set for World War II, and we learn from the box that it represents the Red Army at Kursk in 1943. By this stage the Soviet juggernaut was starting to gain ascendancy, having stopped the German armies before Moscow and Leningrad, and inflicting a decisive defeat at Stalingrad. The initial dark days of 1941 were being forgotten as the Red Army advanced along a path that would ultimately take it to the heart of the Nazi empire.
The style of these figures is exactly the same as the various Art of Tactic sets already produced, which is hardly to be wondered at. Practically every man has at least one separate arm, and sometimes more parts, and everyone without exception has been given a separate base. Although it does not make the claim, we found no need to glue anything here, as all the parts fitted together very snugly to leave a perfectly solid join. Applying arms to shoulders is not always the easiest task for fingers that are not as dexterous as they used to be, but in general the assembly is pretty good, although it will take quite a time to cut off, trim and assemble the full 38 figures. There is no flash, but on occasion the detail, though mostly very good, is missing in some key area. Since almost everyone has a separate arm, the designer has produced some very realistic poses, rather than ones that half face the mould as is normal. This is great, but it means many of the chests are effectively hidden from the mould at the centre, so the opening of the gymnastiorka is missing on some. Nevertheless compared to most, these figures are beautifully detailed and very well produced.
We have already mentioned the poses which, thanks to the liberal use of extra arms, have been largely unrestrained by the limitations of the rigid steel mould. The result is, as usual, the most realistic poses you can find which, despite the computer-aided design, are never anything less than utterly realistic and natural. Men are facing fully forwards as they advance, and no runner has a leg bizarrely high in the air. With some figures there is some scope for altering the position of the arm, allowing a little more variety, but it should be noted that there are a pretty generous 16 poses here already. Better yet six of them are on the deck, while three more and kneeling and most of the rest are keeping low for obvious reasons. This is how all soldiers should be in the inferno of bullets and shells that characterised Kursk and so many other battles - there is just one pose with a nice straight back, and we like to assume that he is firing from cover. The marching figure is particularly appealing, leaning into his walking and having a smoke - a really nice little human touch. In a feast of great ideas we also admired in particular the prone man attempting to dig a rifle pit for himself and the man pulling back the bolt of his rifle - normal poses almost never made in our hobby. The first rifleman in the top row is remarkable for apparently being left-handed, and the officer pose is very familiar, being based on a famous wartime photograph that also inspired the officer in the Revell set.
In terms of uniforms these figures quite correctly show the very familiar items we are used to seeing on such Soviet troops. They all have the M1940 helmet, the gymnastiorka, breeches and long boots. The marching figure wears the more comfortable pilotka cap, as does the officer, who with his binoculars, map-case and flamboyant pistol waving is making himself an irresistible target for the enemy. Officers who wanted to outlive the war made more of an effort to be inconspicuous, although nothing about this one’s uniform or kit is inaccurate.
If you were serving in the Red Army infantry at Kursk then you would have been greatly impressed with the commissariat if your platoon had been this well-equipped. Every man has at least one haversack, a water bottle and an entrenching tool. The latter seems to have been quite rare on the battlefield, so not the universal issue this set suggests. The marching figure is weighed down with extra kit, including a rolled greatcoat and the duffle-bag style pack, which is particularly pleasing to see, and a couple of figures have a dagger or knife at their waist, suggesting perhaps men who are NCOs or above in rank, although many ordinary soldiers also carried 'recon knives'. The different styles of ammunition pouches are also good to see and all are quite authentic, so the kit here is great if certainly over-generous compared to the reality of 1943.
All Soviet infantry were referred to as riflemen, regardless of the weapon they carried, but naturally many did carry a rifle, which was more likely to be the Mosin-Nagant 91/30 than anything else. Happily most of the rifles on show here are indeed this very weapon, quite well done and certainly very highly detailed as well as being beautifully (and realistically) slender. Two of the riflemen however carry something else - the SVT40, one of the earlier self-loading rifles. By this stage this weapon was mainly given to specialists and NCOs etc., and both the figures with this rifle also have the daggers we mentioned earlier, reinforcing the suggestion of their rank. In fact the marching figure also seems to have this rifle, although in his case it is very poorly detailed so hard to be sure. Of the Mosin-Nagant riflemen, two have telescopic sights added, which was often done. The detail on these weapons is so good you can see that the bolt on these two rifles is turned down so it will not interfere with the sight! Most of the rifles have bayonets attached, which is good, but of course these can be easily removed if desired.
No set of Soviet infantry would be complete without a few of the PPSh 41 submachine gun, and here there are four, again well detailed and splendidly proportioned. The machine gunner in the second row is using the DP light machine gun, another very common weapon of the war and once again very well done here.
The positive aspects of this set are many, and we have already gushed enough about them here. The negative points are limited to this being a time-consuming set to put together (some will see that as no great loss, and of course many will enjoy the experience anyway), and the noticeably well-equipped and neat/uniform appearance of the men - a feature that is hardly uncommon of many plastic soldiers in this scale and beyond. In a word - excellent. In two words - buy it!