The experience of the Italian soldier during the First World War was very similar to that of others on the western and eastern fronts. There was little movement by either side, conditions were harsh (made worse by the cold and bare rock at altitude), and losses were terrible. In addition, the Italian soldier often faced an enemy well dug in on higher ground, increasing the danger from artillery and sniping. Matters were made still worse however by the chief-of-staff, General Luigi Cadorna, who repeatedly ordered aggressive but unsophisticated assaults despite enormous casualties, resulting in little or no gain. With the gradual crumbling of the Central Powers in the later part of 1918 Italy finally made progress, but at the war’s end hundreds of thousands of Italians had been killed, mainly from the infantry.
It is perhaps not surprising that a company such as HaT, with such a massive catalogue, has not maintained a standard style or quality of sculpting, and over the years this has varied between excellent and very poor. These Italians are definitely not some of their better work, for despite reasonable amounts of detail this tends to be quite soft and indistinct. Of particular note is that the sculptor has often struggled to render the items of kit, at times unsuccessfully, and the result is large areas of excess plastic between kit and body which are both ugly and extremely difficult to remove. Even areas that are not in any way hidden from the mould, such as the left arm of the second figure in our second row, are still filled in with plastic, which adds to the lack of refinement and makes them look very unattractive. In some areas even the basic shape has not been successfully reproduced; you need only look at the head of the kneeling firing figure to see that, and no one can blame the limitations of the mould. The clothing is generally better, but the weaponry is almost hopeless. There is very little detail on the rifles, and while their length suggests that there is a bayonet attached in most cases, there is absolutely no distinction between these two items, so the men effectively hold a long pointy stick. No amount of carving with a knife, nor work with paint, can improve such a basic flaw. The slung rifle of the first figure in the second row is simply a length of featureless plastic, and many of the hands are poor too. We also found several of our examples had sink holes where the mould has not been properly filled or the plastic not set, which merely adds to the woes. Although the excess plastic is vast, there is not much flash on these figures - scant compensation indeed for their many faults.
In a set with only eight poses it is good practice to use mostly standard examples, and on the whole this is what HaT have done here. There are figures suitable for a trench, and others good for moving forward, and generally we have no complaints about any of the choices made here, although we thought the manner in which the second figure holds his weapon, with a very high right elbow, looked odd and uncomfortable. The officer we particularly liked – the sculpting is too poor to tell what he is doing, but we would guess he is either shouting at his men or blowing a whistle, which are both useful poses.
Most of the men are carrying a rifle, which as we have already said is far too badly sculpted to be able to identify with confidence, though it would most likely be the 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano M1891. The length of these varies between the poses, but all are longer than the correct 18 mm, implying that a bayonet is attached. However the ‘extra’ length, which must be the bayonet, varies enormously, and since there is no definition we can only assume this has failed to fill the mould properly. It was only when we looked at the design drawings on the back of the box that we realised the first kneeling man is using a rifle-grenade. Again, very poor definition on this, but a useful weapon to include. The grenade being thrown by the first figure in this row looks to be the Baldari, which is a fair choice and reasonably well done.
In as much as it can be made out, the uniform here looks to be correctly reproduced. All wear the M1909 tunic with stand collar, pointed cuffs, shoulder rolls and no visible pockets. Trousers are worn with puttees by all except the officer, who wears long socks instead. All wear the helmet in the style of the French ‘Adrian’, which first appeared in 1915, and while these are not always well-sculpted, it appears none of them have a cover. The kit consists of the two pairs of pouches on the waist belt supported by a brace around the neck, the usual M1907 design which is appropriate. All have a haversack, water bottle and bayonet scabbard on the left hip and a metal gas mask case on the right. Despite the clumsy way many of these have been sculpted, they look to be accurately done. No one has a knapsack, which is fine.
Prior to the release of this set the Italian infantry of the Great War was represented only by the two contrasting sets from Waterloo 1815 (see below). This Hat set is perhaps better than the very poor first Waterloo set (though not by a lot), but cannot compare to the beautiful second Waterloo set. It offers nothing particularly new, but it can boast good accuracy and sensible poses. Many of the horrors of extra plastic and indistinct detail are not visible on our photos, which therefore rather flatter the set, but this is a product for those looking to set out large numbers to be viewed at a distance rather than those looking to enjoy beautiful sculpting close up.