The 8 Inch Mark VII Howitzer was the latest in a long line of heavy British guns when it first went into production in late 1916, but with only very minor enhancements it was to become the 'definitive' British howitzer and remained in service until after the start of World War II. When the USA entered the war in 1917 its army had no heavy artillery, so Britain provided it with the necessary guns, including the 8 Inch Mark VII, which it used through to the armistice. This then is the weapon to be found in this set, along with a suitable American crew.
Those with a good eye will have noticed that there is no picture of the gun on this page. This is because in our view the model is so bad it is very nearly impossible for most to construct. As usual the parts are quite rough and securely attached to a massive sprue, but the real problem here is the lack of instructions. All there is is a crude drawing of the parts on the back of the box with arrows showing what part attaches to what, but not where or how. There are no subassembly pictures and no illustration of the finished model. Even the photograph on the front is hugely inadequate in showing how the model should look when finished. All we did was assemble the barrel, and even that is shown on the 'instructions' with the breech hinged on the wrong side. If you have a detailed knowledge of how this gun is constructed then you might be able to do without any instruction, and make something of the roughly cut parts, but although we have enjoyed making such kits for many years, this one defeated us, and we decided life was simply too short to waste on this kind of poor effort.
Turning to the figures, there are an assortment of gunners and officers in various reasonably appropriate poses serving the gun. Some we could not fathom, such as the officer (second in top row) holding something we could not recognise in his right hand. More usefully however there are officers controlling the battery, with one looking through binoculars and another on the telephone while holding a megaphone, ready to instruct the crew. Also included are a pair of figures carrying a shell on a much simplified tray, although as you can see these are poorly done and do not stand flat. The poses are adequate but not particularly lively.
When American troops first reached Europe they wore the familiar Montana campaign hat, but of course they knew that they had to wear helmets when actually in the front line so wore the British 'Brodie' steel helmet, or later an almost identical American version. Several of these men so wear the helmet, but several wear the Montana, so clearly are well behind the lines and engaged in training. This is all very well, but many customers will be expecting figures that can be used in actual combat, and those customers will be disappointed. Several also wear the British (or again later American copy) Small Box Respirator - not necessary when training well behind the lines, but probably worn simply to become accustomed to it in the alert position as here. To stop it getting in the way a cord tied around the body usually restrained it, but there is no sign of this here. The tunics and breeches of the men are authentic, as are the puttees most have and the long boots or gaiters that a few seem to wear.
Some of the men have a canteen on their belt, and one man has a knife, but in general they are lightly kitted as you would expect. Usually the waist belt was supported by braces attached to the pack, meaning the pack was worn even when not required, but if the pack was discarded entirely, as here, then in admittedly rare occasions the men might wear separate suspenders which supported the belt at six, later four points. Strangely most of these figures have suspenders, but they have been sculpted with a 'Y' arrangement at the back, which is completely wrong. In any case, most photos of such men show them without supports for the belt, which after all is carrying nothing except a canteen anyway. Even the officers have this incorrect arrangement, when again all the evidence shows the Sam Browne belt was overwhelmingly the most popular form of belt, but is missing here.
The knife we mentioned is indicative of the usual clunky and crude proportions on these figures, with detail either over-large or omitted. To an extent you can get away with that when sculpting swords and spears, but not when producing the more sophisticated equipment of a more modern set, so it is no surprise that we could not identify some of the artefacts. There is no flash however, and while the poses are flat enough to avoid any unwanted plastic the subject allows for such flat poses since no one is carrying a rifle, sword etc. The rough production values cause lots of problems for the gun kit, but most people will be familiar with the style of the figures.
Had it been our project then we would have given the whole crew helmets and allowed them to be arrayed in a battle scene, although of course suitable helmeted British crew figures can be substituted, so that problem at least can be solved. This is an uninspiring but acceptable collection of World War I artillery crew, although better research would have made the figures much more useable. The less said about the gun the better, although if Strelets intend to persist with kits then they really must realise that a 26-piece model needs more than a single erroneous exploded view.