When war broke out in August 1914, Britain was not well equipped with heavy artillery and had not sufficiently anticipated a need for it, but it had just approved the design of a new 9.2 inch heavy siege howitzer after the first example had undergone acceptance trials. This test weapon, nicknamed 'Mother', was quickly sent to France and soon saw action as the war bogged down into what was in effect one enormous siege by both sides along a front of around 700 km in length. Orders were hurriedly placed and by the end of 1916 233 had been delivered. While that year also saw the development of a Mark II model with a longer range, the Mark I nevertheless continued in service throughout the war, providing the British Army and others with excellent counter-battery capabilities.
As you can see this gun has been provided with a crew of 10 by Strelets. These would be men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, and here all are dressed for inclement weather, with most having the standard single-breasted greatcoat, although one or two may have a jerkin instead. One man wears the soft winter service dress cap with ear flaps, widely known as the 'gor' blimey', but all bar one of the rest wear the 'tin hat', the steel helmet first issued in late 1915. Further dating evidence comes from the small box respirator many have, some in the alert position, which first appeared in autumn 1916, so these figures are all suitable for the second half of the war on the Western Front. One curiosity is all the men with the respirator on the chest wear it with the flap to the front; this certainly did happen, but because the opened flap would impede access to the mask in an emergency it was usually worn with the flap facing the wearer. The level of kit is minimal, which is exactly what you would expect of such men - generally just the gas mask bag and a water bottle. We were happy that everything on these figures looks entirely authentic.
There are some nice poses here too. Several could be interacting with the weapon, and we liked the officers in particular. The kneeling man is perhaps in the process of setting a fuse, but all are perfectly reasonable and usable. However a number of key poses are missing which many will find frustrating. No one apart from the kneeling man seems to be handling ammunition, which naturally was a vital element of serving this gun (although figures handling shells and trays can be found in other Strelets sets). Also, while we liked the officer with his hand raised, we worried that he is holding a pair of binoculars. With a maximum range of 9,200 metres it would be rare indeed for any commander of the gun to have clear line of sight to see the fall of shot from the weapon itself, with or without binoculars, so in reality the crew would take instruction on aiming from a forward observer, who might communicate by telephone (although other methods were also used). So we were uneasy about the binoculars on the officer, and disappointed that there is no one here on the telephone or otherwise in communication with those observing the effects of the shots. Finally as well as shells, someone should be handling the charges, but again no one is as far as we can see.
Over the years Strelets have produced a huge number of figures, and for a long time they have been very consistent in their style and quality, so no one will be surprised to hear that these figures follow that tradition. In fact these are amongst the best examples of their output of late, because the men are relatively slim and well proportioned, and no one really has much of the small detail or thin items which in the past have been the main problem with Strelets. There is still something of a roughness to the finish, and there is some flash in places, while some of the faces are a bit below par, but the general impression is more positive than usual. One tiny detail which caught our eye was the coat tails of the officer with the stick, which are clearly being blown by a cold Flanders wind and are very convincing and natural - the kind of small feature which we love to see.
Regular visitors will probably know what is to come; an unimpressed opinion of the gun model. Essentially our point is Strelets cannot manage anything like good enough quality to make kits like this, and the results speak for themselves. The above picture has not included a number of small parts such as control wheels, mainly because instead of step-by-step instructions as you normally get in a kit you have a couple of computer images of what the parts were designed to look like, and a vague idea of where they are supposed to go. The Strelets website has more of these which helps, but still they are no substitute for proper instructions. The quality of the parts, big and small, is dreadful - everything is quite rough and as you can see above some parts simply do not fit together at all, so a tremendous amount of filling is required to make good the many gaps. Little is intuitive, so from the provided pictures we could not work out where some of the tiny bits were supposed to go, and whereas on a well-designed model their position would often be obvious from the pieces, here there are no such clues. Luckily there are plenty of images of this well-known gun in books and on the web, so a better job than ours can certainly be done, but it is very hard to summon up the enthusiasm to make the best of such a poor kit. The general design looks reasonably accurate, but the model lacks one of the really important elements of the gun – the hoist, which brought the shell up to the breech. A crude representation of this is shown on the pictures, but the part is not on the sprue (a curved piece is, however, which seems to be an even more crude substitute), so it seems things were changed after the CAD images were produced. It’s a real mess and we would recommend avoidance.
The other piece missing from the model is of course the earth box, which was filled with nine tons of earth to stop the gun moving when fired. However since we are dismissing the gun anyway (and our scores also ignore it) it is the figures that are the only reason we can think of for buying this product, and while they are not the best figures in the world they are still reason enough to part with your cash because with some tidying up you can get some very decent crew for any large artillery piece of the later war. There are gaps in the pose selection, as we have said, but those figures that are here are very worthwhile.