This set, believe it or not, contains an anti-tank rifle, namely the 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbüchse 41, hereafter abbreviated to just sPzB41. It may look like an anti-tank gun, be used like an anti-tank gun, have a lot of features you would associate with an anti-tank gun, but…well…okay, despite the official nomenclature it is basically an anti-tank gun, so we will stick with that here. This ‘gun’ was developed in Germany during the early part of the war and first went into mass production in 1941. Although described as 2.8 cm calibre, it actually used the squeeze bore principle, meaning that at the muzzle the barrel was just 2.0 cm in diameter. This gave the round a good velocity of about 1,400 metres per second, which had excellent penetrative power at close range, but quickly lost velocity thereafter, meaning the gun had an effective maximum range of about 500 metres. More of a problem was the sophisticated ammunition, which required quantities of tungsten that the Third Reich simply could not get hold of, so production ceased in 1943, although the weapon continued in use until the end of the war.
As can be seen there are two versions of the sPzB41 in this set. The difference between them is simply that one has a shield and the other does not. It appears the shield was always attached, except on a variant that was used by airborne troops (which has been made by Caesar in their set of German Fallschirmjager Heavy Weapons), but that also had different wheels and carriage, so is not modelled here. This leaves us with one gun version that is really of little use, but since we also have the models with the shield, and two in each set, that is not really a problem and we can ignore the other. The gun has a split trail which does not move but is moderately spaced, though we would have preferred a wider stance here. Needless to say this is not a hard-plastic, precision model, and much detail has been omitted or simplified, and while it has the extra shield for the sight, the sight itself is missing. The main shield is done as two plates, as was the original, but the thickness of the plastic means this gives a very thick final shield. Since the actual plates were quite thin, they probably could not have been reproduced properly at this scale, so this is a case of compromise being necessary. However in general form the gun is of the right shape and looks pretty good.
The gun was light and generally only needed one or two men to crew it. Unfortunately none of the poses in this set seem to be interacting with the gun at all. Certainly no one is actually firing the weapon, and instead we have a number of generic poses with empty hands doing nothing specific. This is common in gun sets at this scale, but it hardly counts as ‘crew’ in our eyes. One man is carrying ammunition in a box, which is great, and the man next to him is holding something which looks nothing like a round for the gun but is perhaps meant to be one, in which case it is very crude. The rest are ignoring the gun and fighting their own battle. One man advances with what we assume to be a pistol, strangely holding it with both hands, and we have a couple of men with grenades in their hands. These are perfectly useful poses, but really something of a bonus to fill out the contents of the box, which is no bad thing.
The figures all wear standard desert uniform, starting with peaked field cap, sun helmet or steel helmet. All wear a tunic, which where visible has pockets with pleats, meaning it is the M1940 model rather than the late-war M1942 version, which is fine. Two wear shorts and socks but the rest have breeches or trousers with either anklets or tropical high boots. Anklets were not popular, so are a bit over-represented here, but otherwise the clothing is all authentic and suitable. There are few personal weapons here. A couple of men have a submachine gun slung on their backs, and another has some form of rifle, but otherwise the only weapons in use are the stick grenades.
The figures are nicely sculpted but not great, though detail is reasonable and proportions quite good. The poses are not particularly energetic, but then gun crew seldom are, so it is fair to say the figures are useful rather than setting the world on fire. The gun we found to be very fiddley to put together, partly because of its size and partly because the tolerances are fairly low, as they normally are with soft-plastic kits. Some of the pegs have a small but important amount of flash about them, or are somewhat vague in shape, meaning they are a struggle to fit together, and require some awkward work to make everything fit properly. However the result needs no gluing, and as we have said, once completed, the model is quite nice. There are even very basic instructions on the box!
The real gun, sorry, ‘rifle’, could have the wheels removed to lower the profile, and this is of course possible here too. The sPzB41 was certainly used in North Africa, but also on the Eastern Front and even on the Western Front from 1944 when ammunition was available, so with different crew figures this has wider appeal than just for the desert. The model with the shield is fairly basic but will probably be sufficient for many people’s needs, but the lack of any figures actually using it is to be regretted. The generic poses are not without utility, but neither do they do much to improve the perceived value of what is on offer. So, a decent enough set that introduces one of the more unusual weapons of the Third Reich (and yes, the original Airfix German Infantry set, and by extension also the original Airfix Afrika Korps, may have had one, but they don’t count in our view), though it is perhaps more useful for out-of-battle scenes than for any combat.