All armies have their elite divisions, but in the case of the German armed forces in 1944 this almost certainly means the Waffen-SS. Notice we say ‘armed forces’, because technically the Waffen-SS were merely the armed, military wing of the Nazi Party, and never part of the Heer or regular German Army. As sometimes happens, the ‘elite’ status becomes pretty meaningless as ever more men are given this label, and at its height the Waffen-SS had 38 divisions, a substantial proportion of the total army. Several units took part in the campaign in France in 1944, from the initial struggle against the Allied landings in June to the final gamble in the west – the Ardennes Offensive - in December, and of course thereafter as the Allies moved into Germany itself. It was a campaign marked by several notorious massacres and murders of civilians and unarmed enemy soldiers, helping to ensure the Waffen-SS would become the most hated and reviled military organisation in history.
As an elite unit the Waffen-SS tended to get the best of the clothing and weapons available, and at times this made them easier to distinguish from regular Army units, but by 1944 such distinctions were not apparent, so these figures are little different from many ordinary German soldiers in the campaign. All the men here seem to wear a smock, which would be of camouflage material. There appears to be a collar at the neck, which would imply the smock is being worn over an ordinary tunic, as often happened, but these smocks are extremely short, some barely reaching the waist, and there is no sign of a tunic around the hips, so we puzzled as to where this collar comes from. Basically, the top of the garment, with collar and sometimes external pockets, looks like a shortened tunic, while the bottom is clearly a smock, since there is no opening. Whether this is poor research or terrible sculpting we do not know. Elsewhere, the lower ranks wear the standard German helmet, although we were surprised that there was no sign of any covers anywhere. On their feet they have short boots and anklets, which was the norm by late 1944.
If the clothing presents some problems then so too does the kit. Generally things are OK here, with the men carrying a mess tin, water bottle, gasmask canister and entrenching tool. We were very surprised however to see just one figure with a bread bag, which was a standard item of equipment, and neither man holding a rifle seems to have a bayonet or scabbard for one. Many of the men have the appropriate ammunition pouches for the weapon in hand, but not all. The rifleman about to throw a grenade his just a small pouch on his left side, and the man with the Panzerfaust has something similar to the right of his waist belt buckle. Nothing like this was regulation, and we could find no good reason to validate such items, which look almost like pistol ammunition pouches. Also regarding the rifleman throwing the grenade, he has on his back two very slim bags which again we could not identify. Certainly not the normal infantry pack (which would not be worn in combat anyway), we could not decide what these are, although as they are entirely flat we can say with certainty that both are empty.
Weaponry is pretty good, at least in terms of the choices made. The eight poses include two with rifles, one MP 38 or MP 40 submachine gun, two with the new StG44 assault rifle, one Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon and one with an MP 42 machine gun. The eighth, the officer, holds an unusual weapon, the MP 41 submachine gun. This weapon was not adopted by the Army, and in any case production was fairly brief and only about 26,700 were ever made, but of those that did make it into the German armed forces it seems just about all went to the Waffen-SS. With its wooden stock it was a good-quality weapon, so it makes sense to find one in the hands of an officer.
As choices we find many of the poses in this set to be conventional and so perfectly reasonable, but there are some that warrant a lot more comment than that. Most are simply firing their weapon, including all in the top row, but the last figure in that row is dreadful. He holds one of the StG44 assault rifles, but he does so far back, with his nose almost touching the rear sight. To do this he has to stick his right elbow directly behind him, so his hand can reach the trigger, which is behind his face. Even then, the sculptor has had to shorten the stock of this weapon considerably, since in fact it could not be held this way. In any case, the question is why? Surely no one in history ever held this weapon in this way, for very good reasons, unless perhaps in an extremely cramped space such as a vehicle. The second row begins with the grenade man, who holds his rifle mid-way along the barrel and parallel with his arm. Very insecure and uncomfortable, and again, surely no one in history has ever held their rifle this way. Handy for the sculptor, but far from believable. Next we have the man with the MG 42 machine gun. He fires it from the hip, which may seem surprising but was actually a recognised technique when in an assault. It was hard to hold (there should be extra straps here to help with this), and hard to control, so only the strongest tended to do this. So it is a valid if unusual pose, but fortunately for everyone the weapon has neither magazine nor belt, so he is doing no one any harm. Finally the officer is in an enigmatic pose. He holds his submachine gun by his side, and for some reason his left hand holds one of his straps. Again, not an incorrect pose, but a curious choice.
In the past Mars sets have easily had the worst sculpting of any producer active today, and worse than most that have long since stopped. This set is something of a different style, but it has to be said there is little improvement here. The first thing that strikes you is the very poor proportions. Most of the men have their waist exceptionally high on their body, or else are wearing their trousers slung so low they look like the absurd fashion of the early 21st century amongst some young people for trousers barely reaching the hip, thus having a very low crotch and revealing the underwear. This is hardly a look for the 1940s. Also detail is often very poor, and in particular rifles and submachine guns are quite basic. The end of the rifle in the second row seems not to have been formed at all, and there are several compromises made to allow the pose. This is nowhere more obvious than with the officer’s submachine gun, which has no magazine attached. The sculptor has somewhat exaggerated the fitting into which the magazine should go, but if the magazine were actually there then it would penetrate the leg to well beyond the bone. The items of kit are generally very thin and hug the body more than plastic figures usually do. The entrenching tools on the men follow the line of the leg, as this is much easier to sculpt, apart from the two kneeling men, where this would be so ridiculous even the Mars sculptor has thought better of it. In those two cases they have simply made them so short as to be laughable. None of the gasmask cases have any form of strap, so they must all be attached to the belt, and the ‘Y’ shaped straps have all been done as some sort of solid, continuous belt rather than meeting at the ‘Y’ with a ring. Many of the hands are really poor, and some are missing entirely, such as the man supposedly ‘holding’ a grenade. We could go on, but you get the idea. Add to that the strong ridge all the way around where the moulds meet, and you have some very ugly figures.
We have already talked a lot about this set, but there is still a little more to say. In general officers wore helmets when in combat, so we would have preferred to not see the peaked cap here, and if he is moving around with his submachine gun, even though not loaded, then you would have thought he would have cased the binoculars which are hanging around his neck (not that he case such a case). Also, back to the sculpting, while in general it is bad, the heads and faces are beautiful, brilliantly done (although the helmets are not a good shape), and if without any particular expression are at least very natural and well made. Those more cynical than ourselves might suggest that the heads were sculpted by someone else, and perhaps came from a different source entirely, but we cannot know if that is so. We would have liked to have seen more personal pistols on these men, in particular the man with the MG 42, since they are SS, but liked the fair number of grenades tucked into belts here. Aside from the faces the sculpting is quite poor, although a bit better than their previous output. Some of the poses are OK, but others again are poor, and accuracy is very hard to judge. We suspect some of our problems with accuracy are down to the poor sculpting, otherwise how else can you explain these tunic/smock hybrids?
In the past, Mars have chosen older subjects where uniform is basic or non-existent, so to a degree the poor sculpting is not so important. With 20th century subjects that have set uniforms, regulation equipment and highly sophisticated weapons, the sculpting needs to be better, and these figures fall well short despite being better than the older sets. Also Mars have tended to choose subjects with very little competition, so again, the customer could overlook the negatives if they really wanted the subject depicted. Here however there are many sets of late-war Germans to choose from, and this set does not offer anything that has not been done elsewhere. Sadly all the alternatives to this set have been done much better, leaving us no real reason to utilise this offering at all.