While armies like to foster a sense of brotherhood and belonging in all their soldiers, those that served in the Afrikakorps developed a particularly strong bond. Their relatively small numbers compared to the campaigns in Russia, for example, would have encouraged this, as would the fact of serving one of Germany’s most famous generals – Rommel, but it was the unique and harsh environment in which they fought that gave them that sense of comradeship which would last until long after the end of the war itself. Through victories and defeats they also had to cope with the problems of extremes of temperature, a desolate and unforgiving terrain and often chronic shortages of everything, not least water itself.
The uniform of such men is very well documented, but in the early days it included some elements that were not liked by the men. First there was the sun helmet, modelled on those of colonial powers, it very quickly became something worn at formal occasions or well behind the lines, but rarely in action. While the figures in this set are on patrol rather than actually in a fight, we would still be surprised to see such headgear on front-line troops, except in the very early days (the officer at the end would be an exception however). Another unloved garment was the long laced canvas boots, which again quickly gave way amongst front-line troops to ankle boots, or were cut down to achieve the same effect. Again, fine for rear areas, and not unknown at the front, but we were surprised to see as many as five poses here wearing them. The steel helmet was the same as worn in Europe, but the preferred headgear was the peaked field cap (Einheitsfeldmütze), which several of these figures wear. Tunic and trousers were also tropical versions of the standard European garment, and the ankle boots modelled here are fine. A few wear shorts, which look to be either captured British or Italian garments as the German ones were shorter than these. One man wears the tropical shirt which was of the pullover style with two breast pockets, and properly done here.
All kit for these men was either tropical versions of the standard European kit (identical except in colour and/or material) or the normal European items themselves. So on these figures it would all look the same, and it does. The classic ‘Y’ straps and belt support a mixture of mess tin, gas mask cannister (with gas cape wrapped round it), bread bag, entrenching tool, bayonet scabbard and water flask. Men sometimes carried two of the latter item, but none of these poses has more than one. Two men carry a machine gun, and both are armed with a pistol and have a spares pouch on the waist belt, which is correct. One man has a pair of hessian bags round his neck for grenades and assault equipment, which harks back to the last war but is still correct here. One man also has goggles on his helmet, which is something we would have liked to see more of.
Just as in Europe, the principle personal weapon in the desert was the rifle. Five of these poses carry one, and they are of two types. Three are about 14mm long, which is rather shorter than the usual Karabiner 98K, which was 111 cm long, so about 15.5 mm in our scale. However the other two are much longer – both are 17 mm (122 cm) long. These are carried by the second figure in row one and the first on row two, and look very ungainly to the experienced eye. The question is, what are they, and we cannot tell you. They have almost no detail, but they are even longer than the Italian Carcano M91/41 (which was 117 cm long), and just seem too cumbersome for a 20th century weapon. There are also quite a lot of poses carrying a submachine gun (six), although these are all of the correct size, and could be either the MP38 or MP40 (again, detail too poor to tell). Lastly there are two MG34 machine guns here (row two, figure two and row three, figure three). Both are of a good size, but there are no poses carrying ammunition, spare barrels etc to go with them.
The title ‘desert patrol’ is a bit vague as to what poses you might expect. Given the vast and often featureless landscape, patrols in the desert were mainly in vehicles or by air, but clearly these men are on foot. Most seem quite relaxed and many are standing still, drinking, checking maps, chatting etc. The three figures in the middle row seem more active, but in truth nothing here really says ‘patrol’ to us. Does that matter? Probably not. The title may be simply a device to distinguish one set of Afrikakorps from another, and for many situations these poses will be very useful. We liked most of them, but our eye was caught by the crouching figure, who seems to be listening on his radio, perhaps for enemy transmissions. This is something the Germans were particularly skilled at in the desert, so it is an interesting pose.
From our comments on the weapons you might think the detail on these figures was poor, and for the weapons you would be correct. The basic form of the weapons is there, but with almost no detail it is impossible to positively identify them. This is particularly surprising as the detail on the rest of the figure is really nice, even very fine details like the lacing on the long boots. Faces are good, as are general proportions, and none of the poses are at all flat, so apart from the weapons this is a nice job. There is some flash, but not too much, and it is a bit variable, but these are mostly well-presented sculpts.
Since Strelets have made sets of the LRDG, this set might be seen as a companion piece, depicting the Germans’ response to an attack. However in general the Germans placed less emphasis on patrolling on foot than did the British, and of course they could not catch up with the motorised raiding parties with a foot patrol. But if you think of this set as more about Afrikakorps at ease, or at least not in combat, then you can enjoy some really good natural poses. Assuming they are behind the line, even the unloved helmet and long boots makes more sense, so there is nothing here that is inaccurate. The missing second and third gunners for the MG34s is a common problem in figure sets, and the blank weapons is annoying, but so long as you are not looking for men in battle these should prove a very satisfying addition to a desert collection.