At the beginning of 1939 the regular Australian Army numbered some 2,795 personnel, and there were a further 43,000 in the militia who were only for service at home. When Australia entered the war in September the militia had grown to 80,000, and the formation of a new Australian Imperial Force, initially 20,000 men, plus future enlargements, meant there was a pressing need for weapons of all sorts, and these would take much time to acquire. In the event the weapons used were mostly British models, although many would be made in Australia itself. Those Australians that served in the Eighth Army therefore used much the same weapons as their counterparts from Britain and the other Dominions, which clearly had many advantages, although it was part of the reason why the Axis forces found it hard to distinguish between British and Dominion troops.
Another part of the reason was that the Australian troops dressed much the same as their British allies. Normal wear was the Khaki Drill tropical combat dress of shirt and shorts, long socks, anklets and short boots. Most here are wearing this, but the first figure in the bottom row wears a greatcoat instead, a necessary garment when the desert got cold, at night or in the winter. Both officers wear a tunic and trousers, and the usual peaked service cap. All but two of the poses wear the classic Australian slouch or bush hat, which naturally screams their nationality, although it is an inconvenient truth that in battle the British steel helmet was almost always worn, so here the manufacturer has gone for identifiability rather than historical accuracy. This is far from the first set to do so, but it does damage the accuracy marks it can be given as the figures can only be corrected with a head swap.
Not all the poses are wearing webbing, but where they are it is of the ’37 pattern, as is the water bottle many have. The officers have Sam Browne belts and holstered revolvers (though no apparent case for the binoculars both grasp), but otherwise there is no kit here apart from some form of bag on the chest of the gunner in the third row. We wondered if this was a respirator – only worn early in the campaign – in which case it is rather too small. An alternative interpretation is the tools-and-spares bag for his Bren, but if so then it is rather too large, and in any case would not normally be worn on the chest.
The support weapons are the most important element here of course, and these begin with the Vickers machine gun in our top row. This is a really nice little model, well detailed and of a good size. It fits into the separate tripod nice and securely, and all it lacks is a condenser – particularly important in a hot environment like the Mediterranean.
Row two contains the mortar, which in this case is the British 3-inch type (actually 81mm calibre). As can be seen this is a two-part assembly, with barrel and base plate as a single piece, while the bipod has its own base. This means the angle of the mortar is fixed, and unfortunately that angle is about 87 degrees here (yes, our photo does show the barrel at its intended degree of lean)). The real thing could be angled between 45 and 80 degrees, but at this angle the round would fall extremely close to where it was fired, which is hardly likely to have a happy outcome for the crew. The bipod is similarly almost upright, so matches the barrel, but is a very poor choice. Although this arrangement means the customer cannot choose their own arrangement for the mortar, we think many will prefer the simplicity of this method, but the chosen angle is very bad, and something more typical like that shown on the box should have been used instead. Also, there is no way of connecting barrel with bipod - no peg or hole, just a tiny surface area which we would predict will not be sufficient for gluing, so the whole thing will probably have to be mounted on another base to make a secure assembly. Both barrel and bipod are adequate models but quite simplified, so in particular the elevating screw tube reaches the ground, making it look like a third leg!
The last heavy weapon is the Bren gun in the bottom row, which here has been rendered in the anti-aircraft mode. Although not an ideal weapon for this role it was certainly used as such on many occasions, as intended, with the tripod suitably rearranged to provide the necessary support. On this model that tripod has been rather simplified again, and in particular the urge to make it fit on a standard-sized base means the spread of the legs is extremely narrow, making the whole thing very unstable. The Bren is quite well done, a little shorter than it should be, and missing its bipod, which was presumably seen as too fiddley to sculpt.
The Vickers’ gunner is in a good pose; by having his arms in the correct position there is a little extra plastic between them, but this is minimal and hard to see anyway. The number two is feeding the ammunition belt from the right side, and is also an excellent pose. For the mortars however things are much less clear. The second figure in the second row holds a mortar round, and we assume that the standing figure is either adjusting the weapon or has just dropped a round down the tube, as he is empty-handed. The other two poses are also empty-handed and simply covering their ears, so generic poses and not doing much for any weapon. More to the point, the set includes eight mortars but only four of each pose, so there is not enough men to man all the weapons unless you want a whole crew just covering their ears. Even then there is no one bringing up ammunition for any of the weapons. The Bren gunner is fine given there is no forward handle on his Bren. The two officer poses are nice, and indeed our favourites in this set, but we felt having two was a bit of an extravagance when you consider the small numbers of crew.
We have discussed the sculpting of the main weapons, but that of the men is nicely done, with good proportions and good detail such as is needed. Great faces, good hands and convincing clothing are all much in evidence. What little flash there is to be found is in a handful of places, and most of the seams are impressively clean.
As an exercise in sculpting and mould-making this is a great example of the art, and we thought everything looked good, even the simplified weapons. Some of the choices here are harder to understand however. Why are the men wearing hats when they would actually be wearing helmets (OK, we have already answered that one)? Why are there so few men for so many mortars? Why is the mortar fixed at a stupid angle? Also, since most here are in shorts and with sleeves rolled up, why have one man in a greatcoat? There is no rule that says all figures in a set should make sense placed together, but we did not see why this man should not more or less match the others in terms of climate. This is a nice-looking set with some useful weapons for your desert campaign, but there is much that could have been done better in our view.