In general 1914 found the Entente Powers expecting any future European war to be one of movement and strategy, while Germany, faced with conquering France and Belgium before she could be attacked by Russia, saw the need to overcome a number of massive modern fortifications on the way. As a result, when war did come it was Germany that had the better heavy artillery, and once the fighting got bogged down in static trenches this advantage came into its own. The super-heavy guns of Germany and Austria such as Big Bertha grabbed the headlines and still fire the imagination today, but these were exceptions - the workhorse of the German heavy howitzers during the early part of the war (216 were in service on day one of the war) was the 21 cm Mörser 10, which is the subject of this set.
The MRS 10 was superseded by the MRS 16 later in the war, but this weapon is being used in the opening months of the war, which we can tell by looking at the crew. They all wear the early war M1907 Waffenrock tunic which exhibits all the details which would in time be lost in later simplified versions, so it has the rear skirt buttons and the smart cuffs. In addition the men wear what are either long boots or short boots and leggings - it is hard to tell on these figures - so they pre-date the trend towards puttees. Most obviously some are wearing the distinctive pickelhaube headgear which so symbolized the early war German infantry. In fact there we have a problem, because whilst the infantry wore this, most of the artillery did not, wearing the 'helmet' with a ball instead of a spike (kugelhelm). The only artillery to wear the spike were those from Bavaria, so these men must be Bavarian. This identification is confirmed by the cuffs of the men's tunics - they are all of the Brandenburg type, which was another Bavarian distinction (everyone else wore Swedish cuffs). Of course should you want Prussian or other artillery then you could cut off the spikes – both ball and spike were in time dropped as the war went on - and apart from the officers all the helmets have covers, which is as it should be. Assuming you want Bavarian artillery then, these figures are correctly clothed, although the figures that wear the comfortable field cap (a common practice of gun crews) could be any German artillery. These figures also have a very believable minimum of equipment – apart from the belt there are only a handful of bayonets and canteens, so they really look very natural.
The officers stand out because both have their pickelhaube uncovered and both wear riding breeches. Both also have a pistol holster, and one carries a pair of binoculars, although he has no case for it. The other man is particularly surprising because he still has his sword - an item of no practical use in this new form of warfare, so it was quickly withdrawn. Both the officer poses are really nice, with one apparently issuing a command while the other stands observing the action, holding a riding crop behind his back.
We also liked the poses of the gunners. The two single figures on the top row are presumably actively operating the gun, while the man in the second row covering his ears speaks for himself. The stand-out piece is the group of men in the top row, but what are they doing? There is really only one possibility - they are using the ramrod to push home the shell prior to firing, but if so then there are issues. Firstly, as can be seen from the gun itself, to do this the men must stand on the box trail, and this piece looks very awkward if perched there. Secondly, the men hold the ramrod much too high - the front man has it at the level of his shoulders, when the breech, with the barrel in its loading position, was about waist high. However the ramrod is at the perfect height if the men are pushing it down the muzzle. We have revealed some terrible historical errors on this site over the years, but surely Strelets don't think this weapon was muzzle-loading? It seems hard to believe, but why else is the ramrod being held so high? Whatever the reason, this piece, which looks great, is actually impossible to position correctly on the gun.
Another problem with the ramming group is they have nothing to ram. What should be happening is a shell should be being presented to the breech carried on a loading tray, but there is nothing of the sort in this set. Instead we have a pair of men carrying a shell in a device which we could not find evidence for, although that does not mean we are casting doubt on it. Also we would expect another man to be holding the charge, ready to place this behind the shell, but again this is missing. So while the poses are good to look at there are some crucial ones missing which are necessary to make the whole thing work.
The sculpting of the figures is fairly decent by Strelets standards. Although not comparable to the best being made today, the figures are a bit less chunky and thick than some Strelets sets. Detail is fair, although smaller items are still a little exaggerated in places, but the poses are well chosen to avoid any flatness, and on our sample at least there was no flash. The ramrod, however, looks rather more like a telegraph pole as it is very thick indeed.
So the feeling on the figures is generally positive, although there are some missing, but the gun is another matter. As with all Strelets kits this one is a nightmare. The pieces, which are at least made in a hard plastic, are roughly shaped, fit very badly and require a very great deal of filling and trimming to obtain a decent result. There are also no instructions - just a computer-produced diagram on the back of the box showing many of the parts and some arrows, which give a vague (at best) impression of where the parts go. We managed to put together all the major pieces, but were left with a lot of small items, some of which are not apparently shown on the diagram, and some shown but very unclear as to the proper position. Certainly the design of the parts gives nothing away in terms of correct positioning - so the only real hope is to study many photographs of the real thing and decide for yourself (even the miniaturised picture on the front of the box is dark and difficult to make out). We quickly lost the will to live making the kit, so the above is a much cut-down version - unfinished if you like. Someone with great patience and a lot of skill will doubtless make much more of this kit, but then that can be said of any kit! The general accuracy looks reasonable, although we thought it should have included the pedrails normally seen on such weapons.
Ignoring the gun kit (which we were happy to do), the crew figures are really very nice, although the absence of some key poses and the ramrod being held too high mean the poses leave much to be desired. Quite why Strelets and others make Bavarian artillery rather than Prussians we cannot understand, but as we have said they can be converted by trimming off the spikes and altering the cuffs. So, something of a set of contrasts, from a gun we hated to a group of figures we generally liked and would have cheerful had more of.
Note. Since we wrote this review it has been pointed out that the Strelets website does show some more diagrams of the howitzer, which would have made construction a little easier. It is a pity they failed to point this out on the box, and the web diagrams are still nothing like what you would expect from a proper kit maker, but anyone looking to embark on this project should refer to www.strelets-r.com/Pages/Set.aspx?SetID=235&M=M.