It is as true today as it has always been - people believe what they want to believe. When Germany planned the invasion of the Soviet Union it chose to believe its aims could be achieved in three months, and with a start date of June 1941, they would avoid the winter that had cost Napoleon so dear in 1812. Many Germans did not share this illusion, however, but the leadership refused to accept these doubts and pressed ahead without preparations for a winter war. As a result, when winter did set in and the Germans had not reached Moscow, the troops suffered appallingly, and there were desperate pleas on the home front for any warm clothing. As it became apparent that the Soviet Union would not collapse, and the war might last for years, various efforts were made to provide the Germans with better winter clothing, and by the time the Germans were being pushed back out of Russia they were at least much better clothed for the conditions.
There have been several sets of Germans in winter clothing, which illustrate the diversity of such items in the later part of the war. All the figures in this Mars set wear the same thing, which is a hooded smock and over-trousers, as would be worn over the ordinary uniform for camouflage from 1943 onwards. This might be in camouflage material, but clearly here it is intended to be a white snow suit. The anorak shows no sign of an opening at the front, but we would have expected at least a small opening towards the neck. However the painted examples to be found on the back of the box show a full-length front opening painted on, so perhaps this was the intent but it got lost during the sculpting. None of the figures seem to have any form of covering on their helmets, which are perhaps painted white instead, but otherwise apparel is hidden, so for example we cannot say if the feet have ordinary boots or something better suited to the winter. The snow suits lack any particular detail, but generally there are no accuracy issues here.
All but one of the men wear standard ‘Y’ straps and belts, with ammunition pouches appropriate to the weapon they hold. All have the usual bread bag, water bottle and fluted gasmask case. Most also have the cook pot or mess tin, but only a couple have an entrenching tool and bayonet scabbard. A couple of the poses have no ammunition pouches at all, which is surprising, but generally the level of kit is reasonable.
Weaponry too is a good selection. There are two riflemen with the usual Kar 98K, plus the sitting sniper, whose weapon is largely undetailed apart from the sight, so impossible to identify, but looks too plain to be credible. Two are using the MP38 or MP40 submachine gun, and the first figure in the top row is firing a Soviet PPSh 41. Large numbers of this weapon were captured by the Germans, and subsequently put to use by them, so its presence makes perfect sense, although this man has nothing in which he can carry addition drums or ammunition, which is odd. Another captured Soviet weapon being reused against its former owners is the DP light machine gun held by the last man in the first row, but again we see no sign of any spare ammunition being carried. Lastly we have the man in the bottom row with the 5cm Model 36 mortar. As a single piece this model is a fair representation of this mortar, although inevitably somewhat simplified. You are expected to slot this in next to the man, who is clearly feeding a bomb into it, and there are bumps on the base to help ‘guide’ you. This is very vague, but in any case most photos show this weapon being manned by two men lying prone behind it rather than kneeling beside it, so this is not the best choice of pose. It should also be noted that production of this mortar ceased in June 1943, and it was later withdrawn from service in favour of larger mortars that packed more of a punch, so it would be seen less frequently in the later stages of the war, for which these men are dressed. Also the man operating the mortar has no visible personal weapon.
All the poses are quite useful, and the seated sniper is particularly interesting and unusual. The sculpting is pretty good, with particularly nicely done faces and hands (which may be gloved in some cases). Most of the weapons are quite nicely detailed (apart from the sniper’s rifle), and the clothing is reasonable too. Some of the detail is a bit ‘soft’, however, and we thought some of the helmets had not been shaped well, with a shallow step more reminiscent of American helmets than German ones. There is some flash but not a lot, so overall the quality is quite good, and certain far better than most previous output from this manufacturer.
A word of warning is required about the numbers of each pose we are showing. In our copy of the set some figures were missing on some of the sprues, and extra loose figures had been added to the box to make up the advertised 40. However we suspect this is a largely random operation, perhaps to compensate for figures that do not come out of the mould properly, so our numbers above represent the ideal, if all the sprues come out well, and you may find the actual numbers vary slightly in your copy.
This set is in keeping with the improved quality of recent Mars sets, which are a huge improvement on earlier production. Accuracy is good and the poses are fine, bearing in mind our reservations about the mortar man. The three figures in the bottom row with no base do still stand by themselves, although we would have preferred a base to improve stability and make them of the same height as the other figures. While other sets have delivered Germans in winter clothing, these have their place too and should be very useful to those looking to depict the titanic battles on the Eastern Front during the last two years of the war.