When Italy joined the First World War in May 1915 it faced the same problem as all the other participants – how to clothe, train and above all equip a rapidly expanding army, and to do it quickly. An additional problem was that most of the world’s arms manufacturers were by this time either making weapons for their own armies, or supplying them on contract to some other belligerent. However the first few months of the war had already shown the importance of heavy infantry weapons such as machine guns and mortars, and over the following three years of fighting Italy would utilise a range of such weapons, some procured from allies and some made at home. Many of these will be unfamiliar to most outside of Italy, and are depicted in this set for the first time.
Unless otherwise stated, these figures all wear standard Italian tunic, trousers, puttees and boots, and most wear the helmet inspired by the French ‘Adrian’. While the clothing is difficult to make out, everything here in that regard looks authentic.
Of course the main interest here is the weapons, so we will run through what is on offer in the order pictured above. This means we start off with an assault engineer, armed with a large pair of wire cutters, and likely to be sent out to cut a way for the following infantry to pass through. This is a nice pose, and the key features of this man are the Elmo Farina trench helmet and the body armour that he wears. This consists of a breast plate and shoulder pieces, and may also include a back plate (hard to be sure). The Italians made more use of body armour such as this than any other army, and such a figure would look great in no-mans-land in front of an infantry advance.
To support that advance we might expect troops armed with automatic weapons, and the next figure is carrying the Chauchat, an automatic rifle. The Italians used these French weapons, and they were designed to be fired from the hip and whilst moving forward, but not really like this. Here the man is standing and more cradling the gun than holding it properly, and his left arm in particular is very strange, with the elbow far forward of the hand. This would have been a very difficult way of holding the gun, let alone actually firing it, and is a really clumsy pose. However he does also have the proper ammunition pouches for his weapon, and the standard haversack, gasmask case and water bottle issued to all troops.
Completing the top row is the man operating the flamethrower. Here he has one of the common models in use, a modified version of the French Schilt 3bis. This has been modelled with no detail at all on the lance, and while the fuel and compressed air cylinders at the back are better done, they are still somewhat simplified. The tank arrangement is a separate piece, which makes sense, and it fits fairly well into the figure’s back, though gluing is necessary. This does mean there is no continuous hose between cylinders and lance, so there are still compromises. The operator has been properly modelled with a heat-resistant hood, though this awkward item was not well liked by the troops.
The small device at the start of the second row is a Bettica trench mortar, and the man kneeling behind it is holding the long projectile that fitted onto this device and was propelled toward the enemy. It was a simple weapon and quite nicely done here. We thought this figure could also be used to portray a man using the little-known Racchetta-Granata Poma (rocket-grenade) mortar if the tube is cut down a little. This was a cardboard tube with a wooden base from which a grenade could be launched by pulling a lanyard. Yes, we did say cardboard, and this was supposed to be a reusable weapon too, although if about to be fired it would probably not be resting on the thigh! Next to him is a generic officer, kneeling and grasping his binoculars to observe the effect of the heavy weapons around him. He wears the officer’s tunic and long socks rather than puttees, and also a berretto cap, as does the mortar crewman. Both really should be wearing a helmet, and we can only think the officer wears his to make it more clear to us that he is an officer (exactly the opposite of what the real thing wanted to do in the middle of a battle). Still he is a good and useful pose. To his left is a prone man holding nothing heavier than a rifle, but the interest here is in the helmet that he wears, which is the standard model with a French Dunand visor and Lippmann cheek pieces.
The final row is the crew for the machine gun at the end, which is the remarkable 6.5 mm M1914 Fiat-Revelli mounted on a tripod. This used a very unusual 50-round magazine which was a box or cage that was fed initially into a large square hole on the left of the weapon, next to the receiver. The weapon would then fire the rounds, pulling the ‘cage’ magazine through as it went, and ejecting it from the right of the weapon when empty, emerging from the large square cavity you can clearly see above. On this model, which is pretty well detailed, you can see the cavity to the right, but can’t quite see that a magazine is loaded on the left, so this gun is ready to fire with a full magazine. The water jacket is obvious, but there is no attached condenser as there should be. Also the gun lacks the small yet important muzzle where the bullets emerged! A further curiosity is that the tripod is moulded as one piece with the gun – there is absolutely no assembly needed here. This does mean the tripod is something of a compromise but not something particularly noticeable, so we thought this worked well. This was the standard Italian machine gun of the war, so a natural choice for a set such as this. We assume that the first figure is holding a new magazine, but to be honest this is completely unclear so he could be holding almost anything!
The sculpting of the figures and weapons is very much the same as for the corresponding set of infantry already reviewed, so not good-looking. Detail is sometimes there, particularly on some of the weapons, but in general it is a bit basic and far from sharp. We have said the flamethrower fits quite easily, but the gunner for the machine gun has both arms separate and we found these very fiddley to put together. The result had a significant gap at both shoulders (which is not visible on our photo), although it does mean the pose is pretty good. The down side is this figure has lost much of the detail on his body, and all the men suffer from equipment that is vague and badly positioned, causing a lot of excess plastic. As with the infantry, there are areas with large amounts of excess plastic even when it is not hidden from the mould – the assault engineer is a perfect example, with a huge amount of unwanted plastic to remove. Overall flash ranges from quite subtle to really intrusive, so not a well-designed mould. Lastly, we found a few areas where the plastic has sunk to form deep pits on the figures, which may vary between copies of the set and also spoils the look.
While there is much more that could have been included in such a set (and there is certainly enough room on the sprue for more), we quite liked the interesting choices made. As design concepts we particularly liked the wire-cutter and the officer, but the man with the Chauchat is a horrible pose and certainly the worst here. The rest are reasonable however, but the quality of sculpting and production really lets this set down. It is not pretty to look at, or in some cases easy to put together, but to beef up your Great War Italian forces this set offers an interesting array of support weapons which fill an obvious gap in the coverage of this particular combatant.