When the USA entered the Great War on the side of the Allies in 1917, Germany knew that it would eventually be overwhelmed by the strength of this new enemy, and tried unsuccessfully to achieve victory before American forces were ready. Americans mostly saw action in 1918, and as expected their strength proved decisive in defeating the Central Powers, so a set of their infantry is an important addition to the Great War range.
Airfix did themselves proud with their World War I range, with lots of poses and some of the best sculpting they had yet produced. This set is typical of the range, with no less than 19 different poses in all manner of activities. The private sitting on an ammunition box is clearly not in combat, but looks good in a 'quiet' trench scene. The two men carrying an ammo box between them are a nice feature, and the machine gun crew is a must for any set of this war, since machine guns dominated most of the action. The officer is advancing with his pistol, and there are an assortment of riflemen, including two casualties, all of whom are appropriate.
As we have said, the standard of sculpting was a new high for Airfix at the time, and it still looks decent today. There is lots of nice detail, and realistic folds in the clothing. Weaponry too took on better definition, being much more than the featureless strips of plastic found in earlier sets. There is very little excess plastic to be removed, though all examples that we have seen do suffer from large amounts of flash.
Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends. Good poses and good sculpting are very important, but Airfix slipped up badly with the accuracy of these figures. All these men wear the M1912 campaign hat often known as the 'Montana', an item that was commonly seen on troops arriving in France, but not at the front. The Allies had long learned of the value of steel helmets, and the Americans were not slow to adopt them as well, so as combat troops these men are wrong. The tunics with the stand collar generally lack the lower pockets, and all the men wear the canvas leggings which again were only seen on troops in the very early stages, and quickly replaced by the much more practical puttees.
Most of the men wear very little equipment, but they do all wear the rifle belt. This is mostly sculpted slung very low around the hips - practically slipping off on figures like the standing firing man! Also, this belt should have five pouches either side, but these have been moulded with continuous pouches right round the body, with not even any space at the front for a buckle. Apart from the belt most of the figures have no other kit, when we would have expected to see a water bottle (worn only by the crawling figure), and most importantly a gas mask bag. The only figure to wear a proper pack is the standing firing man, but this is a greatly simplified rendering of the actual article, and it lacks some of the straps used to connect it to the belt as well as the bayonet. A couple of other poses do also have some sort of haversack on the back, but again this is greatly simplified and not at all convincing, so in terms of kit this set is a bit of a disaster.
Most of the men carry rifles, but we would have liked to have seen more use of grenades. One man has a grenade attached to his rifle ready to fire - a common form of launch but one rarely seen modelled. The other weapon is the machine gun ('automatic rifle' if you prefer), mounted on a tall bipod with a two man crew. The original Airfix announcement called this a Browning Automatic, but it is quite clearly a French Chauchat. The Browning was an excellent weapon, but only saw service right at the very end of the war. Until then, the Americans were issued large numbers of the Charchat, an much-maligned weapon that was disliked by many of the troops, mainly after a botched attempt to convert it to take American ammunition. One of the distinctive features of this weapon was the semi-circular cartridge, as seen on this model, and as held by the second crewman. Why this was incorrectly labelled by Airfix we do not know, though in fact the Chauchat is a better choice anyway. The very tall bipod is a mystery. Some tall tripods were used to make machine guns into anti-aircraft weapons, but this bipod is completely incorrect and of course would not be at all stable, while it is inconceivable that such a weapon would be mounted in the open in this way anyway.
However nicely a set is executed, if fundamental errors are made in the accuracy then it has much less value. When those errors are so obvious as to be impossible to overlook, as here, the set becomes largely a waste of good plastic. The Montana hat and lack of almost all kit means there is little that can be done to utilise these figures (except perhaps for some of the preceding wars in Mexico or in the new empire territories like the Philippines), even in the hands of an experienced converter. A wasted opportunity, and eventually much better sets would be produced by others.