One of the enduring myths of the First World War is that it was characterised by stupid and unimaginative generals who could think of no other course of action than to send large numbers of men in waves against the enemy trenches where they were slaughtered in their tens of thousands. In fact commanders of all nations were acutely aware of the tremendous losses suffered and the lack of progress made, and were desperate for some means to break the deadlock. One answer developed by many was the training of limited numbers of elite infantry, well-armed and motivated, for use as raiders or as the spearhead of an attack, moving quickly to take a position at little cost so the ordinary infantry could then relieve them. In the Italian army this idea led to the formation of Esploratori, and then the pioneer squads ('Wire-cutter companies'), but officers experimented with the concept and the ultimate result of all this was the formation, in the spring of 1917, of reparti d’assalto. Such shock troops were referred to, and are still known to history today, as Arditi, or 'bold ones', and they quickly gained an excellent reputation, becoming one of the best-known elites of the war. They were disbanded in 1920, but their reputation lives on today.
First impressions are always important, and our first thought with these figures was how ugly they were. The sculpting is not great, with fairly low levels of detail, and what there is can hardly be described as sharp or clear. However what really hits you about these figures is the terrible quality of the mould-making. Not only is there a lot of flash, but there are vast blocks of plastic in places that the mould can easily see, so there is no excuse. A great pose might suffer some such plastic because of the limits of a steel 2-piece mould, but here there is much that is not hidden from the mould, and it gets worse. The impression given is that whoever created the mould never got to finish because in some places there is very poor matching between the moulds, and the third figure in our top row is shocking. Half of his chest has simply never been done, so it is flat, featureless and ends sharply as a cliff halfway across the body. As with the rest of these WWI Italians from HaT, the kit is very badly arranged so there is much extra plastic and poor definition. The third figure in the second row is supposed to have the separate arms attached, but after a long struggle we decided this was virtually impossible. There is no apparent attempt to make the arm fit the shoulder, so we would recommend removing the ‘peg’ and trusting to glue (this plastic does not take most glues securely). Even then you have problems, because the thin strap is supposed to fit into a hole on the body of the man, but the arms have been sculpted flat, so you have to bend the plastic to reach the holes, and the plastic has memory, so it won’t stay there. It’s frustrating and extremely badly designed. Basically this is by far the worst example of mould-making we have seen on any set of figures for many years, and a lot worse than the output of any other current manufacturer, many of whom are recently improved their quality, not made it worse.
Having said all that, we still need to decide of whether these are properly researched or not, and for the most part that is a much happier story. The Arditi had a prescribed uniform which was comfortable and helped to distinguish them from the ordinary infantry. This was a jacket like the Bersaglieri Ciclisti, with two chest pockets and a large one at the rear. It also had shoulder straps rather than rolls, and an open collar. All these features have been correctly done here, as has the turtle-neck jumper worn under the jacket by most of these men, another uniform distinction. Later in the war a shirt and tie became more popular, but in this set only the officer wears these. Long socks often replaced puttees, but surprisingly these figures all wear puttees apart again from the officer, which is not wrong but a little untypical. Headwear was originally the normal kepi, which of course soon gave way to the helmet of 'Adrian' design. Those Arditi who were recruited from the Alpini continued to wear their traditional felt hat, as do several here, and three of the poses wear the soft fez, in the manner of the Bersaglieri, which was the normal off-duty choice. All of these are accurate then, but whether they were worn in action must be highly unlikely, yet all these poses are clearly in battle. This looks like a case of making the men distinctive and clearly identifiable, and ignoring their actual appearance when in battle.
As with the uniform, these elites were given much latitude with what kit they took into battle, and of course it varied depending on the particular circumstances. Here the men all carry a haversack and water bottle, and some have ammunition pouches, though these are often hidden or poorly sculpted. Another mark of the Ardito, the dagger on the waist belt, is visible on all, but we were a little surprised to see no gas mask carriers anywhere. In fact gas was not a major problem on the Italian front, and the Arditi would mostly be doing the attacking anyway, but masks should still really be here.
The Arditi normally carried a shortened version of the infantry Mannlicher-Carcano M1891 rifle, either a cavalry carbine or 'special troop' version. Despite the poor sculpting all here seem to carry the cavalry carbine, which was 92 cm in length, so fractionally too long on these models, though not noticeably so. What is surprising is that, although this weapon had a folding bayonet permanently attached, everyone here has this folded rather than extended, which makes absolutely no sense. Daggers were much used as close-quarter weapons, but the bayonet remained an important weapon. Grenades too were important, and it is good to see a man using one. The third figure in the second row carries a very unconventional weapon, the Italian M1915 ‘Villar Perosa’ submachine gun. This twin-barrelled weapon would be impossible to sculpt except as multiple parts as here, so the intention is good, but as we have said, the execution is poor. We thought the weapon could have been better done, for example by including each half of the front plate that joined the two barrels. However, the weapon was indeed used like this, fired from the hip whilst on the move, although we suspect firing it from prone, mounted on a bipod, would have been more normal and given better control. Finally, what on Earth is the officer holding? Well, it is a revolver with a barrel that is 43 cm in length. This is absurd, made even more laughable by the holster that he has on his belt, which is less than half the length of the revolver! Basic common sense should have told the designer or sculptor that this is ridiculous.
The poses are all fairly conventional, if not particularly energetic, and while not especially well done they are at least appropriate. The man with the M1915 submachine gun is the least useful of the poses, although manufacturers sometimes like to pick out the unusual to help distinguish one set from another. More to the point however is that this weapon fired 1,500 rounds per minute, and each barrel had a magazine that held 25 rounds, so each barrel could fire for one whole second before needing to be reloaded. As a result each had a back-up team of two or three tasked simply to carry and reload ammunition, though this must have been an awkward arrangement, and really this was a case of making the most of a redundant aircraft weapon rather than good design. The complete absence of any back-up team is, of course, an obvious failure in this set.
So the good points here are that the clothing and weapons are largely correct and the poses are not inappropriate. The bad points are that the sculpting is poor, the mould making terrible, detail vague, no bayonets extended, unlikely choice of headgear for most and a figure that is almost impossible to put together. Reviewing this set was not a pleasure, and anyone who is wanting to add Arditi to their armies will probably be very disappointed with this offering, which in terms of quality of production is one of the worst we have ever seen.