The role of US infantry in World War II needs no introduction here. It is a subject that has already been tackled several times in 1/72 scale plastic with rather mixed results, not least by the old and imperfect Esci set that Italeri reissued earlier in their range. This set then must be seen as a replacement for that product, which in fairness is well over 20 years old and was originally made for a quite different market to the one that exists today.
Manufacturers of figure sets such as this are faced with at least two conflicting demands from customers. Some want a balance of weapons and specialists that reflects the actual proportions found in an average infantry unit, while others want a broad range of weapons, which will inevitably be at the expense of numbers of ordinary riflemen. In this set Italeri have favoured providing a good range of weapons, so we will consider each as we move along our pictures.
The top row shows the ordinary riflemen. All appear to have the usual M1 rifle (the 'Garand') which is very nicely done, but none are actually firing it, which seems a rather obvious oversight. Exactly what the first kneeling figure is doing is unclear. He appears to be holding something in the air - possibly a grenade - but why is hard to fathom. The remaining poses are really good however, but as we say gamers and model-makers always want a firing figure.
The second row begins with a figure carrying an M1 carbine - another common weapon - while the man next to him is holding a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). This figure is deliberately holding his weapon well to his left (probably to make the sculpting/moulding easier), but is looking to the right, which looks rather odd to us. Third in line on this row is the officer, who carries a Thompson M1A1 with the vertical box magazine and the horizontal foregrip. He appears to be signalling to others, which makes a refreshing and far more realistic change from the usual 'waving pistol in the air' kind of pose. Indeed the signs of his rank are few and subtle, which is exactly as it should be. Finally we find one of the few poses who appear to be seriously threatening to do some harm - a man firing his M3 sub machine gun (the 'grease gun'). Another nice pose.
Row three begins with a man using a backpack radio. This device appears to be the SCR-300 (BC-1000), which was introduced in early 1943 and is a good choice. Usually such a man would be armed with a carbine, but our friend here has acquired an ordinary Garand rifle instead. Beside him is a man whose function is difficult to guess. His rifle is slung and he is perhaps waving? Next we have the mortar. Like other recent Italeri sets this comes with man and mortar tube as one piece and a separate bipod stand which needs to be glued in place. This is a reasonably good way of doing things and works well. The mortar is at quite a high trajectory, but the bipod is better positioned than in the recent D.A.K. Infantry set. The mortar is the 60 mm M2, and is a fair model. Lastly there is the very recognisable bazooka anti-tank weapon, which has often appeared in figure sets but always being fired. Here for a change we find it being carried, which perhaps makes the usual absence of the No.2 crew member less of an issue. However the operator is not carrying any shells for the weapon, nor the custom vest to carry them, which would have been nice to see.
The final row starts with two poses some will find really useful and others will largely dismiss. Both are handling ammunition boxes - a function that was extremely common given the rate at which ammunition could be expended in battle yet is rarely depicted in models. We thought their inclusion well worth it, given the fairly good number of poses overall. Beside them is the main reason for the need for so much ammo - a Browning M1919A4 machine gun. This was belt fed - guided by a second man, but neither belt nor second gunner are evident here, although the kneeling figure with the ammunition box could be used if a belt is added. However the gunner is sitting, and far above the barrel of his weapon, which is a serious flaw. Gunners were trained to lie prone as they looked down the barrel to aim the weapon (much as depicted on the always excellent box artwork). This man cannot be aiming and presents a good target for the enemy. However he fits the gun well as his trigger hand is moulded with the gun barrel and plugs into a hole on the figure itself, making a very realistic figure. Naturally the tripod too is separate and fits in the conventional manner. This is a nicely thought out figure in terms of how it fits together but poorly researched in terms of historical accuracy.
Finally we have something a bit different - a tank crewman. Such a man was also included in the Matchbox set, and there have been sets of US tank crew since, but when this set first appeared there were none. This man is standing rather casually firing his pistol, presumably because his tank is no longer serviceable. He wears the much prized tankers jacket and a Rawlings tankers helmet with goggles. His belt is lightly adorned with canteen, first aid pouch, holster and pistol ammo pouch (such items could easily snag in the confines of a tank so were kept to a minimum). The presence of binoculars and the pistol suggest he is a tank commander, but could also be 'trophies' for another crewman. Although casual this is a really nice figure.
Apart from the tanker the uniform is, well, uniform. All wear the 'windcheater' 1941 field jacket ('Parsons jacket') with slash pockets at the front, OD trousers, canvas leggings and short boots. This uniform was not great for cold weather but was the standard appearance for GIs in the Europe and Mediterranean theatres. It began to disappear with the introduction of the M1943 combat jacket (during 1943 in Italy and late 1944 in North-West Europe), but many were still being worn in the final days as Berlin fell. This is the classic look for the GIs, and a fine choice, but the reality was usually much more mixed and much less neat. Bandoliers and all manner of extra items might be seen, and clothing - particularly during winter - could vary widely. These men are more regulation than real, but then that is true of the majority of figure sets and not meant as a criticism.
The majority wear the correct M1928 pack, mostly with the entrenching tool correctly strapped on. None have the pack carrier, which was rarely worn in battle, but all have the meatcan pouch, which is spot on. Some such as the officer carry a field bag instead, which is also fine. All figures have the standard infantry cartridge belt, mostly with first aid pouch and canteen. The tankman and soldiers using the mortar, heavy machine gun and grease-gun all have pistols, while those with other weapons such as the officer with his Thompson all have the appropriate ammunition pouches. However no one has a bayonet scabbard.
The sculpting is beyond reproach. Excellent proportions and natural gaits make the figure really live, while the levels of detail are of the highest order. Where parts need to be fitted together they do so with no problem at all, and there is no element of flash whatsoever. Some figures do have excess plastic where the piece is blind to the mould. This is in the usual places - between weapon and man for example, and especially between the handle of the entrenching tool and the man. However without having many separate pieces (which are in themselves often unpopular), this is largely unavoidable.
There has been a lot to say about this set, but almost all of it is positive. One or two poses could have been improved, and a man firing his rifle would have been worthwhile, but most of the poses are great, with a good number of kneeling poses which works well for this conflict. The only really spoiler is the heavy machine gunner, which is of no real value. Still it must be said this is certainly the best set of US infantry for the European theatre so far and will take a lot of beating in future.