The Soviet Union maintained the largest army in Europe in 1939, but the dreadful performance against the Finns in the Winter War served to illustrate what a paper tiger it was, and with the German invasion of 1941 the losses in territory, equipment and men were catastrophic. Faced with such disasters, ideology gave way to more practical reforms, and the Red Army began to recover, ultimately pushing the German army to destruction in what became an unstoppable drive on Berlin. Naturally these soldiers have been modelled many times, and now they are the subject of the first set from new company Plastic Soldier.
These figures are made in a hard plastic, and several come in two or more parts so need assembling (see sprue image above). In all cases the parts go together well but do not grip at all so require gluing, which works well on this compound of plastic. The look of the figures is perhaps slightly bulkier than soft plastic figures, but they are true to scale and still mix well with their soft predecessors. There is a total absence of flash, and the multi-part approach means there is no excess plastic anywhere. In line with the general fuller figure some of the heads are a little large, but the style is still quite pleasing and the proportions are good. Detail is for the most part excellent, although by using simple ridges to depict the barrels of the submachine guns the sculptor seems to have got lazy occasionally. Another example is the grenade thrower in the top row, who’s magazine for his machine gun slices through much of his leg. Generally however the standard of production is excellent.
The set includes a very generous 19 poses, which allows for a lot of useful poses and specialists without cutting back on ordinary riflemen. There are seven rifle poses, all useful and fairly standard apart from one squatting man firing down as if from a building or high ground (bottom row). Five more poses carry the famous PPSh-41 submachine gun. One of these - the grenade thrower in the top row - is the only poor pose in the collection as he looks neither natural nor convincing. However two others are amongst our favourites. They are the man moving forward holding his helmet in a perfectly believable way (third row) and the second figure in the top row, firing his weapon from the hip - an excellent pose that is brought to perfection by the fantastic look of determination on his face. Also in the set are two teams with light machine guns - DPs to be exact. One team (third row) are merely carrying the weapon while a second (fourth row) are using it with the bipod. The bottom row shows a female soldier, which is a nice touch as women served in many roles in the Red Army, although a medic is perhaps the first role that comes to mind here. Finally we have two junior officers (NCOs), both pointing the way to their men and both in good poses. The extra parts make some of these poses particularly deep and natural, so apart from the grenade man this is a great effort.
The figures are pretty consistently dressed, with all wearing the gymnastiorka with stand-and-fall collar, two breast pockets and no shoulder boards, making it the pre 1943 model (although doubtless still widely seen after 1943). All wear long boots, which were officially winter wear (summer being reserved for short boots and puttees), but in reality little regard seems to have been paid to this rule so despite the 'summer' tag for this set the boots are valid. Most of the figures wear the M1940 steel helmet of course, although some, either through bravado or lack of choice, wear the pilotka cap instead.
Kit and other equipment is much more varied, as it should be since supply was always a problem for Soviet forces. Some wear the full webbing with ammunition pouches, others assorted bags and haversacks, canteens etc. Four have entrenching tools, an item which was pretty rare in reality, but several have a greatcoat rolled across their torso, which was very common. None have a full pack but several have the M1941 simple canvas bag backpack with the drawstring top, which was about the most common form of pack when one was worn at all.
Weapons we have already mentioned, with all the rifles being the standard Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 model and all the submachine guns being the classic PPSh-41. Sculpting of these is very good apart from the shortcut on the PPSh barrel we have already mentioned. None of the rifles have a bayonet attached, which is a surprise given the emphasis on the bayonet in Russian armies and the fact that the men were not issued a scabbard. True some rifles had bayonets that could fold along the barrel, but in this case it seems the men have not been issued with bayonets at all, which certainly did happen often enough, although we would have preferred some at least to have one attached. At first glance the PPSh looked too short to us, but in fact it is the exact correct length, but the drum looks slightly too big. Equally the DP light machine gun looks too short but again it is actually the correct length.
One final point is worth making. The men using the PPSh seem somewhat awkward in the way they are holding their weapon. Numerous photos and film of such troops show that the men usually steadied the weapon by holding the ammunition drum with their left hand, but the two firing it here are holding it either by the barrel (a scalding experience) or behind the drum, which is uncomfortable. However this and our other criticisms are very small and do not seriously detract from what is for the most part an excellent collection of military figures that signal a great start to a new range that will hopefully maintain this standard.