The Habsburg Empire was not one of the belligerents of the First World War that rushed into the use of gas, but of course once their enemies did so they had to protect their soldiers just the same. As with all the armies, the first attempts at a mask were crude and rushed, but in the case of Austria-Hungary they came to rely mainly on importing German masks rather than developing their own, and used large numbers of the Gummimaske and later leather models, referred to as the Model 1917.
All the masks on these figures are appropriate, but it is not quite such a happy state of affairs with the uniform. The men all wear greatcoats, which naturally hides their tunic and finer points of uniform. Styles of greatcoat varied to a degree but one thing they all had in common was they were double-breasted, and all the coats in this set are single-breasted. This is particularly annoying as Strelets got this right in their previous set of greatcoated Austrians, although on some of these figures the detail is too unclear to make out much of the coat. All wear the standard Austrian Army peaked cap, which is fine although it would have been nice to see some in steel helmets by this stage of the war.
Kit is reasonable, with the usual four-pouch arrangement on the waist-belt, the reserve ammunition pouch at the back and the haversack on the left hip. Some, but not all, have a bayonet, although this is often incorrectly shown on the right side of the body, and about half have an entrenching tool, which is a fair reflection of the actual proportion who carried this tool in the field. Other surprises include the observation that several carry canteens (these were usually kept in the haversack), and that several lack the supporting braces for their belts. However there is one item which is entirely missing here, and it is the one item that really must be present, for not one man has the case for his gasmask! Initially these were fabric bags, but soon were readily identifiable metal cylinders, but there are none here, so where did these men get their masks, and where will they put them once the danger is over?
The weapons are all rifles, but of a fairly naïve and simplistic design that makes any kind of identification impossible. The officer deserves special attention though because he is carrying a revolver and a sabre. Like everyone else the Austrian High Command quickly realised the stupidity of carrying sabres into this new industrial war and ordered them left behind in 1914. By 1916 no officer would have been reckless enough to make a spectacle of himself in this way, and this man has gone further with his death wish and tied the traditional sash around his waist. Austrians loved their traditions at least as much as anyone else, but this figure is completely inappropriate for the period when gasmasks were issued.
The idea behind all the poses is OK but many are extremely flat. This is most true of the man bayoneting over the top of his head – a hugely ungainly and unlikely posture to take, not least because he is about to smack himself in the head with his right arm. The walking figure with the grenade is holding his rifle in a very strange place, which is for the convenience of the sculptor rather than reflecting any sense of reality. Sculpting too is really not good, with the standard chunky detail and wayward proportions that give Strelets figures a look all of their own. Some bayonets and entrenching tools are especially short and stubby, although at least there is no flash anywhere.
Flat and awkward poses, along with the bizarre lack of gasmask canisters, are the most obvious failings of this set. However the standard style does fit well with the other Great War sets from this company, so while these are no works of art they are consistent. Newcomers to the hobby will not find these amongst the better figures ever made, but as to date no one else has made Austrians in gasmasks it may well be the lack of an alternative that is the main positive point for this set.