In 1941 the Soviet Union had around 20,000 km of land border to patrol as well as 40,000 km of coastline, and the Soviet border guards tasked with watching these numbered around 70,000. They were part of the NKVD rather than the Red Army, and lacking artillery and armour they could not expect to stop a full-scale invasion such as that at the start of Operation Barbarossa, which came as a complete surprise. Naturally they were amongst the first troops to see action, and despite this overwhelming force they fought well, with their most celebrated action being as part of the defence of the Fortress of Brest, which delayed the Germans much longer than they expected, although this defiance was at the cost of very high casualties. During the rest of the war border troops were sometimes used in NKVD units fighting as ordinary infantry, since the need for troops of any description was often desperate.
Since they would act as ordinary troops when faced with action, most of the poses in this set are pretty standard, but the third figure in the second row is perhaps more reflective of their peace-time role. This is of a crouching man next to a sitting dog, and while the Red Army also used dogs, as did other parts of the NKVD, naturally they were an important part of border patrols. In addition, we really liked this pose, which may not be popular with those who only want battle poses, but we thought it was well worth inclusion in this set, which is of a fairly unusual subject anyway. As we said, the rest of the poses are more typical, and all are appropriate. The first figure in the top row looks to be about to throw a grenade underarm, and is a better pose than our picture suggests, while there are many simple firing figures too. The crawling figure in the second row is harder to see, partly because he wears camouflage clothing (which is therefore effective!), but he is moving forward holding a rifle in one hand and a concentrated charge in the other. It is the other really unusual pose in this set, but again a worthy addition. The officer is, as so often, depicted firing his pistol, although at least here the pose is more interesting than the usual one so often seen.
The current good standard of sculpting from Mars is repeated here, with plenty of clear detail, if not quite as sharp as from some manufacturers. The proportions of the figures are good, and the more complex poses have been achieved pretty well, meaning that once again Mars have largely avoided the flat poses seen in many less adventurous sets. Where the set does let itself down is with the large amounts of flash, some of which is evident in our photos. This is pretty widespread and does disfigure some areas like some of the faces, so expect to do a lot of trimming to get these looking their best. However there are no artificial blocks of plastic anywhere, so the design of the poses is very good. However we must yet again bemoan the lack of bases on a couple of the figures, which do still stand, but less securely, and of course are lower than their comrades as a result.
At this small size, the clothing of the border guards and the wider NKVD is exactly the same as for the Red Army of the day, and these men have the normal two-pocket pullover gymnastiorka tunic, breeches and long boots. The one distinction is that they wear peaked caps, and this has been properly done here, as has the rest of the uniform. The crawling man wears a loose sort of poncho or tent section, which makes him much less smart than the rest of the team, but a reasonable choice nonetheless.
Armament consists of five rifles and three submachine guns. Four of the rifles are the normal Mosin-Nagant type, and since they are all 17 mm in length (122 cm) they must be the older model rather than the shortened newer one issued later. Two of these have a bayonet fixed, but there is no sign of a bayonet on the other two figures. The fifth rifle is that carried by the crawling man and is the more advanced semi-automatic SVT-40, which was less common but still used in large numbers during World War II. The three submachine guns are all the classic PPSh-41, again perfectly rendered here. The second figure in the top row is steadying his by holding the drum magazine, which was discouraged as it risked damaging the connection between magazine and weapon, yet is likely to have been done anyway. The pistol, grenade and concentrated charge complete the weaponry on show here, unless you count the dog as an offensive weapon of course, which in some ways it was.
The men’s kit is just the same as for the Red Army, so we find typical examples of ammunition pouches, satchels, water bottles, ration pouches and entrenching tools, all held by straps or on the waist belt. The officer has a Sam Browne belt with pistol holster, and a map case, so everything looks authentic.
The role of the border guards was relatively brief if often heroic, so on the face of it these figures might have a fairly limited use. However, the uniform was much the same for the rest of the NKVD, and that was a vast organisation responsible for internal security and forming blocks to ‘discourage’ troops who were retreating without orders, as well as sometimes providing front line troops when required. So their use is wider than just for border guards, and such men were a vital element of the Stalin regime both against German invaders and dissident elements within the Soviet Union and occupied territories. This set is relatively small but pretty good, with no mistakes and some very useable poses that have been nicely done. The flash does spoil things however, although sometimes this varies considerably between copies of the same set, so perhaps there are cleaner examples to be found too.
Note At least some examples of this set have a variable number of each pose, often with few of the two in the middle of the second row, so exact numbers of each are unpredictable.