When war was declared in September 1939 Australia set about raising an army almost from scratch. Called the Second Australian Imperial Force, in the end it would send three divisions to the Mediterranean theatre, the 6th, 7th and 9th, in support of Britain. As part of the Western Desert Force they had their first fight at Bardia at the start of 1941, and achieved a spectacular success, establishing a reputation for fierce fighting that would only be enhanced during the rest of the desert war, when they were a vital part of the British Eighth Army. After Japan entered the war, Australian troops were gradually redeployed back to the South Pacific to fight closer to home, having already contributed greatly to the Allied victory in North Africa.
The Axis soldiers often had difficulty determining the nationality of those they fought as there were many in the Eighth Army, because most wore the same uniform and used the same weapons. So without recourse to insignia Australian troops in the desert looked much like the British and others, wearing the Khaki Drill shirt and shorts, socks, anklets and boots. All these figures have this clothing, so are correct, but eight of the 13 poses wear the instantly-recognisable Australian bush hat, which would be reasonable if they were behind the lines, but when in battle, as all these poses clearly are, they should be wearing the normal steel helmet. In fact three of the eight men carry a helmet on their person, but this is wrong – all should be wearing one, despite the fact that this would mean they would look no different to British or other infantry of the Eighth Army. The officer is dressed like his men, which is fine, although this does also mean he only has a hat.
Each man wears pattern ’37 webbing – the standard of the day – limited to the front pouches and the water bottle carrier, which for troops going into battle is fine. Most also correctly carry the excellent and widely used British ‘Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield’ rifle, but there are a few other weapons on show here too. The first man in the bottom row is likely to be an NCO as he is armed with a Thompson submachine gun. In fact he has the earlier model with the front pistol grip, which would have been increasingly unusual as the war went on, but this was a great weapon, even with the less-than-ideal drum magazine attached. Next to him is another NCO also armed with a Thompson, but this time the newer M1928A1 model with the better box magazine. Third in that row is another much-favoured weapon, the excellent Bren gun. The officer holds a pistol which cannot be identified, but looks reasonable.
The title says ‘in attack’, and everyone here is pretty much doing just that. There is a lot of advancing poses, mostly with bayonet attached which is great. The man firing whilst advancing was not one of our preferred poses, and we would have chosen a different pose for both the men with Thompsons, but otherwise the advancing poses are good. The last man in the first two rows looks to be bayonetting, which would not have been particularly common in the Desert but did happen. The lower figure looks great, but the upper one, with rifle raised high, can only be doing this because there is an obstruction in his way – otherwise there is no reason why he would be doing it so awkwardly.
We have come to expect high quality sculpting from Strelets lately, and these figures do not disappoint. The figures are lovely and slender, as are the various items of equipment, with good proportions and a natural feel to most of the poses. Details of uniform and weaponry are excellent, and a good variety of poses have been achieved without excess plastic or compromises in stature. There is very little flash, and some seams are entirely clean, so a good job making the mould too. There is really not much more we could have asked for in this regard.
So these are attractive figures with a good spread of weapons. By just concentrating on the attack the set captures the many advances across wide open expanses of desert very well, contrasting with the more cautious, advancing from cover you would expect on a European battlefield of the same date. We also liked the fact that most have a bayonet attached – this did not always happen, but at least the customer has the choice to keep or trim off as desired. Given the rarity of the act, we would have dropped the top bayonetting man and left just the one pose, and having two NCOs is a bit excessive for 10 men, but these are small niggles really. The big one is that everyone should actually be wearing the helmet, which is what has cost the set accuracy marks as this is a difficult thing to resolve. Other than that, here we have some excellent soldiers that can march proudly with the several other sets of Desert Rats made over the years, and that is quite illustrious company.