Generally the American infantry were jealous of tank crew in World War II, seeing that they did not have to walk anywhere, and were protected from enemy fire inside a steel shell. However tank crew faced enormous dangers and needed plenty of courage to go into battle. In Europe (where most of the US tank activity took place), the main tank was the medium M4 Sherman, which was intended as an infantry support weapon, but when facing a German Panther or Tiger it was a significantly inferior machine, with less armour and a weaker gun. If hit, the crew had to get out very quickly or face incineration as the Sherman was well-known for bursting into flames; a grisly way to die. Despite this the Americans had some advantages over the Germans - they usually had all the ammunition and fuel they needed, far better air cover, and there were simply more Allied tanks than there were German. US tankers had a huge impact on the fighting in North-West Europe, despite often poor training and weaker tanks, so a set of such men is much deserved.
The US had developed much specialized clothing for its fighting services during World War II, and for armoured troops that included a winter uniform made up of a winter combat jacket, winter combat trousers and a cloth winter helmet. As this set is labelled as winter, these are what we were expecting to see, particularly as the jacket was actually widely worn throughout the year, not just in winter. Every figure in this set is largely dressed the same, starting with the tanker’s helmet. This is the Rawlings helmet, the usual one by the Normandy campaign, and is well done here. However there is no sign of any figure wearing the winter helmet, either underneath or instead of the Rawlings, which we thought was a pity. The winter jacket (second model, and the most common) is worn by all, which is good, and properly done except for the position of the two slash pockets, which sources disagree on, but most show them further up the body than is sculpted here. No one here wears the winter trousers. Instead, they all have trousers with cargo pockets on each thigh, which suggests these men are wearing overalls or fatigues. This would not be impossible, but the winter trousers (which had no external pockets, but did have a bib front) were popular and common (and less likely to snag on the tank), so to exclude them entirely here is a mistake. Lastly, the men wear a mixture of long leggings (like the infantry, but equally disliked), short anklets and no leggings at all, plus the normal ankle boots. This mix is reasonable, although the proportions of each here may not reflect the reality closely.
Personal kit was usually stowed in the tank, so these men carry none of that. However 10 of the 12 poses have provided themselves with a pistol, all of which are in a mounted forces holster (from the belt). This is fine in that many tank crew liked to provide themselves with a pistol (they were not standard issue except to higher ranks), but it is surprising to see so many here, and we were also surprised that there were not some using the shoulder holster, as seen in the Orion Summer Tanker set, again to avoid discomfort and snagging when inside the vehicle.
With no official sidearms, tankers were instead supplied with submachine guns stowed inside the vehicle for use in emergencies (in an emergency, taking the time to retrieve a stowed submachine gun was often a luxury they could not afford, hence the popularity of pistols). Early in the war this was the Thompson, but by 1944 the cheaper M3, known as the ‘Grease Gun’, was standard, and three poses are carrying this.
For the most part the sculpting is very good, with very nice detail that is not too deep yet still clear and crisp. The helmets show this off nicely, as do the lower leg coverings, but all the clothing is nicely creased and everything looks very natural. The three submachine guns are good, but the two drawn pistols are featureless and so disappointing, but they are the exceptions in an otherwise excellent piece of work by the sculptor. Unfortunately this good work is slightly marred by the mould, as there is a noticeable ridge of flash in many areas, and occasionally there are bigger lumps of flash which will need to be removed. Once gone these figures look great, but it is annoying that this tedious task is necessary at all, although at least there is no excess lumps of plastic in hard-to-reach areas.
The subject of poses is always a tricky one when it comes to tank crew, assuming you are not portraying them in action in the tank. There are a couple of seated poses here, though obviously relaxed and not in action, and several others that again are relaxed and not in the face of the enemy. The fourth figure in our second row looks odd, and we are not sure what he is supposed to be doing, but clearly intended to be placed against or on a tank, where the pose probably makes a lot more sense. The are two poses (start of second row) in the act of restocking a tank with main gun ammunition, which had to be done one shell at a time, and the last figure in the top row may be using a hand-held microphone, though it is hard to see. The two men in the top row with drawn pistols, and two of the three with the Grease Gun, must be crewmen who have bailed out of a tank and are now engaging the enemy. This would not have been common, since once they evacuated the vehicle (usually very urgently), they would be likely to be targeted by either infantry or the machine gun of the attacking tank. Either way, they would normally be much out-gunned, and so these weapons were mainly for emergency self-defence, and escape was normally a wiser course of action than fighting back. However the poses are dramatic and understandable, and add some life to the set. The first man is running with his M3, but to our eye is a very poor and awkward pose, but the rest of the fighters are good.
As normal, we looked at this set and thought we would have done things a little differently. The lack of winter combat trousers is a major issue, but we would also have liked to have seen some winter helmets, and also scarves and other items to better reflect the ‘winter’ label. The inside of a tank could be extremely cold in winter, and crews improvised to an extent, so a more varied and shabby appearance than here would have been more authentic. Some crew, especially tank commanders, often wore the standard M1 steel helmet over their tanker helmet, as protection when their head was out of the hatch, so this too could have been included in this set to our mind. The sculpting however is mostly beyond reproach, and apart from the pockets on the jacket (and lack of pleats at the back), everything is nicely done. Poses are mostly great, with a couple of exceptions, so there is much to like about this set. Yes, we would have made different design decisions, but for the most part this is a worthy collection for some very brave men.