This is certainly a spectacular set, in part because it depicts a spectacular subject. Elephants were a feature of Indian armies by the 6th century BCE, and Europeans first came upon them when Alexander campaigned in Persia and India. From then on many armies adopted elephants, which remained fashionable until after Hannibal, perhaps their most famous employer.
The set is named 'War Elephants', which is pretty vague. However the pictures of the beautifully painted models on the back of the box identify the first elephant and crew (the first two rows shown above) as the North African Forest Elephant, and the second as an Indian elephant. The North African Forest Elephant, which was thought extinct but is now merely endangered, is a small animal, and stands at a height of less than 2.5 metres at the shoulder. Both these animals are about 45mm (3.2 metres) at the shoulder. Because of its size the African Forest could not have carried a crew of four as modelled here, so this animal is unlikely to be associated with Carthage or Ptolemaic Egypt, which used this species. The decoration on the second animal, coupled with the appearance of the crew, mean it is not part of any Indian army.
The first issue is the species of animal. In fact both these are much the same size, with similar sized ears and a trunk that ends in one point. The size, ears and tusk characteristics mean both appear to be Indian (the species, not the nationality), and therefore would have been introduced to Europe after the campaigns of Alexander.
Next, the towers. Towers are first recorded during the 3rd century BCE, so none of these animals are appropriate for the campaigns of Alexander. The first animal has a very large tower which accommodates three fighters. This looks much like an elephant in the army of Antiochos I, the Seleucid king who inherited the kingdom of Syria from his father, Seleukos I Nicator, who was one of Alexander's generals and who had carved out a realm for himself after the death of that famous leader. However the armour and large fan-style decoration over the metal-covered head are possibly a little later.
The second beast does not have any armour, and supports a smaller tower for just two soldiers. It is altogether less sophisticated than the first, and seems to represent one of the elephants used by King Pyrrhos when he invaded Italy and attacked Rome around 280 BCE. This was the first occasion on which the Romans met elephants in battle. Towers were wooden, but a figurine from the time shows a tower with this tiled surface that seems to suggest stone but was perhaps panels of stitched hide.
Finally, we come to the two crews. These are a mixed bag, but they do have a certain Hellenistic look to them. However given the spread of Greek influence at the time, a mix of styles as shown here could reasonably represent a number of armies. All the figures are pretty good and could prove useful for a fair range of ancient subjects.
This is a big review, but then this is a set with a lot to talk about. Accurate or not, these are beautiful models, with the trademark high level of detail which has been superbly sculpted. The elephants come in a number of pieces, as do the towers, and all the pieces fit perfectly. As a result, there is no problem with excess plastic, and there is no flash on them either. Each crew has one man using a sarissa, and this has been done in the same manner as the Phalanx set, i.e. the weapon comes in two halves, with a rather thick 'sleeve' used to join these in the middle. One man has the sarissa in front of his face, and this is achieved by moulding him in two parts, with the legs and chest piece fitting well onto the back and head piece. Such a piece requires a high degree of precision engineering to work properly, and Zvezda have shown that they are more than up to the challenge.
The two drivers, or mahouts, sit astride the animal's neck. They are not fixed at all, and tend to perch, so gluing would be advisable. Also, though all the figures have smaller bases, it is still a tight squeeze to get everyone in the towers, though this probably reflects the reality anyway. Anyone wishing to utilise the elephants without towers will be disappointed to learn that they come with a large rectangular slab on their backs which forms the base of the tower and ensures a secure fit for it.
These really do look impressive (judge for yourself here). It is good to see sets being made for the Successor Wars, i.e. the wars between Alexander's generals for control of his conquests, and if Zvezda had labelled them more clearly then this set would have been better than this rather confused collection.