When war broke out in 1914 Russia patriotically rallied round its Tsar and mobilised in a remarkably short time, giving the Central Powers serious problems as they had relied on defeating France before Russia was ready. There were early successes but also early disasters, and as the war dragged on the initial enthusiasm soon dissipated, particularly as the number of casualties rapidly grew. The Russian soldier continued to be courageous but in time political tensions at home were to undermine the effort, so by 1918 the new Soviet government negotiated Russia’s withdrawal from the war as the country descended into civil war.
Perhaps the first thing that crosses your mind when you open this box of figures is just how much work is going to be needed to obtain the promised 40 figures. You can see what we mean by looking at the sprue: Every figure apart from the marching pose requires some element of assembly, and many require both arms to be put in place. Now everyone knows about the care Zvezda put into their poses, and this generally means a number of figures that need to be put together, but this set sets a new record. Another record is probably set by the machine gun ensemble, which contains no less than 14 separate pieces. Such pieces are fairly small and therefore quite fiddly, although they do go together very well without the need for excessive force nor gluing to ensure they stay in place, so as always a first rate engineering job. The figures have no flash and, as you might imagine, no excess plastic, while the general standard of sculpting in terms of detail and proportions is excellent (apart from the rather strange thin head of the officer).
The reward for all the time spent assembling these figures is some cracking poses which are very dynamic and very lifelike. There are the standard marching and firing poses, but most of the rest are men advancing with the bayonet, which is exactly what these men were asked to do, often meeting their death at the hands of the enemy artillery and machine guns. The separate arms means there is some latitude for changing the precise pose, so a very worthwhile full charge can quite easily be arranged. The standing officer is holding his binoculars either up to his eyes or in front of him, as we have shown him (the separate arms allow you to place them wherever you like, which is great). The man carrying the flag is less useful, although flags were certainly carried at the front line, but the machine gun crew is simply terrific. All those components mean the figures are handling the weapon and its ammunition in precisely the right way, with no compromises necessary, so the result is a lovely little model that is also very fine and slender, down to the two extra legs that lift the carriage off the ground.
When you put a lot of effort into making a nice model you want to make sure it is also historically accurate, and usually Zvezda do just that. All these men are correctly clothed in summer uniform as they would have appeared at the start of the war, with greatcoat wrapped around their chest and the soft peaked cap on the head. Everything here, both clothing and equipment, is correctly done, and largely reflects the regulations at the time. All the men have tucked the ends of their greatcoat roll into the mess tin, which was a common practice, and most have the half tent pole and two pegs strapped to the roll, which again was the norm. Lastly, both the machine gunners have the bebout, a large curved knife, hanging from their waist. As the war progressed some things did change, such as shorter boots, the issue of gasmasks and extra bandoliers, so with all these features missing here these figures are most appropriate for the first year or two of the war.
The officer wears a gymnastiorka tunic like his men, which was not officer issue but quite common nonetheless. He wears the common M1912 belts including two vertical braces, but here Zvezda have made their one and only accuracy mistake in that the braces join together at the back to form a 'Y' shape then they should be crossing to form an 'X'. He correctly has a pistol on his belt, and has chosen to retain his sword, although this was often left behind to be less obvious to the enemy. The sword is properly done and hangs with the sharp edge uppermost, in the correct 'Oriental' style. The man's shoulder boards are clear to see, but those of the men are very inconspicuous.
The finely done rifles are instantly recognisable as the standard Mosin-Nagant M1891 model, and we are happy to report that every one of these has a fixed bayonet, as they should. The machine gun is of course the Maxim, and in this case it is the PM1905 version mounted on the two-wheeled Sokolov carriage which, as we have said, is set up on the extra legs here. Although by the war's start the PM1910 was in production many of the older model, which lacked the corrugated barrel jacket, were still in service and mounted in this way, but this is the first time this particular weapon has been modelled in this scale. The shield was sometimes omitted to reduce weight, and the shield in this set is separate, allowing it to be included or left off as required.
Unfortunately Zvezda have once more let themselves down in one important area of quality control, and that is the scale of the figures. They average 1.84 metres in height, which is more than the average Russian male measures today and certainly far more than one born in the pre-industrial Russia of the late 19th century. Indeed at the start of the war the minimum height for an infantryman was only 1.54 metres, which in our scale is a massive 4mm less than even the shortest figure here.
To what extent the poor scaling effects the appeal of this set will vary between customers, but in all other respects it is another quality product from this company. The one accuracy error only effects a single figure, and the great poses and sculpting are very pleasing to the eye. If ever a set of figures deserved the moniker of 'kit' (and many are referred to in that way), then this is it, so for some this will enhance the pleasure while others may find it frustrating. However there is no denying that the end result is superb and a fine introduction to their Great War range for Zvezda.