The experience of being a paratrooper was very different from the ordinary G.I., quite apart from the requirement to throw himself out of an aircraft. Jumping behind enemy lines required men to be aggressive and especially adaptable, since there was likely to be confusion in the early stages of the operation, comrades, command and equipment might well be missing, and the enemy would almost certainly outnumber and outgun him. Even if the drop went well and nothing was lost, paratroopers would still often find themselves battling the enemy for many days while they waited for support from ground-based units, usually with limited ammunition and supplies. All US paratroopers were volunteers, and so naturally this demanding role attracted particularly intelligent and motivated recruits, which quickly gave this new type of American soldier the tag of an elite.
Mars is one of those companies that have greatly improved their quality as their range expands, and these paratroopers are as nicely produced as anything they have yet done. Everywhere the clothing is really well done, with a nice fairly baggy feel and good folds and creases, making a very believable impression. Detail too is excellent, with very good faces and hands which are sometimes not so good but still better than many we have seen. The netting most of these figures have on their helmets is a highlight as it is perfectly done, even along the join between the moulds, when you might expect some loss of detail. However nowhere is the great detail more evident than with the weapons, all of which are really clear and easy to identify. That applies also to the grenades many wear about their body, where you can easily see the pull rings and the fragmentation on the surface. There is some flash, which is fairly consistent on all seams, so some cleaning up is necessary, although a particular effort seems to have been made to avoid flash in difficult areas like faces.
The first US paratroop combat jump was in North Africa in November of 1942, by which time the early experiments with uniform and kit had settled down into a look which would be little changed for the rest of the war. All here wear the paratrooper version of the M1 helmet, and all bar one have the netting cover, but none have any scrim or other camouflage material, although several have attached an extra first aid pack (which was common). The jump suit they all wear has large cargo pockets on the jacket skirt, marking it out as the M1942 version. This was worn on all operations up to the Normandy invasions, but was afterwards replaced and by Operation Market Garden the M1943 jacket was worn, which is not in this set. The trousers have their own large cargo pockets on both sides, and all have been sculpted with large reinforcement patches on the knees, which were common (though not coloured lime green as the painted figures on the box suggest!). The boots too look good, so for operations prior to Market Garden these are perfectly accurate.
There is a nice range of weapons here. Two men hold or are carrying the M3 ‘Grease Gun’ submachine gun, and there are also two Thompsons. The man with the rifle holds an M1 Garand, and there are two examples of the M1A1 carbine (with the folding stock). This last weapon is often referred to as the ‘paratroop’ version because of the folding stock, but it was not actually issued that widely, though it was certainly used so is valid here. Note the figure running with his (last man in the top row) also has the long special holster where this weapon was stowed. The second figure in the second row is firing an M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle (‘BAR’) from the shoulder. Again this is a valid weapon for these men, although while they commonly removed the bipod to save weight, here it is clear that the bipod is still attached. The last two men are the bazooka team, and it is great to be able to use the word ‘team’, because it needed two men to fire this weapon, yet few sets provide both. The length of this weapon is 22mm, which is 158cm to scale. That makes it much too long for the original M1 model (140cm), and it also lacks the forward hand grip. The M9A1 was longer at 150cm, and the M1A1 at 155cm, so this is likely to be the intended weapon, although strangely there is no sign of the crucial hinge in the middle of the barrel which made this weapon so useful for paratroops. The waving figure in the top row (a potential officer) has a pistol sidearm, as does the man firing the bazooka. This last man is taking no chances as he also has on his person one of the M1A1 carbines.
Paratroopers were often heavily weighed down with kit since they could not be sure of what they might find once they reached the drop zone, despite the risks of jumping like this. These men are not too bad, and while no one has any evidence of the parachutes themselves (and after all paratroops sometimes saw action without a jump), each man has the appropriate webbing and pouches for the weapon he carries. All have the small first aid pouch at the back of the waist, and most have a water bottle too. Seven of the poses also wear their M1936 ‘musette’ field bag as a pack on their back. Three have an entrenching tool hanging from the belt, although one has this at the front, which you would have thought would get in the way. Finally most have an M3 fighting knife on one ankle or the other, again common practice.
We thought the poses were very lively and suited the subject matter well. The last figure in the top row seems a little awkward because his arm is held firmly against his body, but otherwise both the design and execution of these poses are very good. The second man in the bazooka team is welcome and a good pose, presenting a rocket to the weapon. Annoyingly he has no base, yet his hand reaches the back of the bazooka perfectly. His colleague holds the weapon in an unusual way, with his left hand holding the stock rather than supporting the tube or the handgrip, which is easier to mould but not the best choice.
So is it all good news? Well not quite. You may have already observed that these men average 21.5mm in height, which means they are all around 1.55 metres in height, or five feet nothing as they themselves would have expressed it. Such a height was the absolute minimum permitted for entry into the US armed forces in 1940, and very far from the average for any unit, let alone the paratroops, which might have expected a higher than average typical volunteer. Clearly then the size of these figures is very wrong, yet most of the weapons and kit do not look out of proportion on them. An analysis of the length of the weapons shows that all apart from the bazooka are between 10% and 20% too short, so the whole set has been badly pantographed (the process by which the original sculpts are reduced to the correct size for the mould). This obviously really spoils things, and to what extent will depend on personal taste. However if arrayed next to true 1/72 US paratroopers from other companies then the failure is obvious.
These are great figures well sculpted and in lively but realistic poses. There are no accuracy problems with uniform, kit or weaponry, and the range of these items is also appropriate. A slight niggle is some of these weapons are for late in the war, while the M1942 uniform was phased out by the time of the action around Nijmegen, which for the purist may impose some limit of their use. However for many the fact that these are more like 1/80th scale, and so more difficult to use with other sets (see comparison link below), really spoils what would otherwise have been a fine set of figures.