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Zvezda - German 81mm Mortar and Crew (6111) _________(EXT)

Manufacturer Zvezda
Scale 1/72
Set Code 6111
Year 2011
No. of Figures 4
No. of Poses 2
Additional Items 2 Granatwerfer34
Size Tall
Material Hard Plastic
Colour Gray
Flash Level Average
Glue-ability Excellent (Polly-cement)
Convert-ability Medium
Optimal Period 1939 - 1945

 

Review 

As one of the most important WWII infantry weapons, practically the source of the largest number of casualties according to statistics, the mortar could not miss from a complex board game like Zvezda’s “WWII Operation Barbarossa”, the manufacturer settling to incorporate the famous Granatwerfer 34 (GrW34), representing the standard heavy and then medium mortar of that army. The most common models developed by WWII Germany were Granatwerfer 36 (50 mm - light mortar), Granatwerfer 34 (81.4 mm - medium mortar), and Granatwerfer 42 (120 mm - heavy mortar), the first still appearing as a seriosus gap in Braille Scale. Its efficiency imposed the mortar, along with MGs, as the main support weapons of a WWII German infantry company, Zvezda making available both those famous arms as separate kits inside the “Mini-box” series, too.

Acknowledging the great value of the weapon on the battlefield, German High Command organized intensive training sessions for the crews and taking profit by the cheap manufacturing costs, since the outset of war it was integrated in infantry platoons a mortar operated by three soldiers. Shortly, it appeared in the scheme of plenty companies a special mortar group/squad often endowed with two GrW34 and operated by a varying number of crewmen, seven or eight being the most frequent. Still, the mortar was handled by three army-men, the rest representing riflemen, commander and driver or horse(s) leader(s). Benefitting by long training and combat experience, the mortar controlled by a WWII German crew was a lethal weapon, feared and esteemed by all enemies. Set in position by its crew in a very short time, the WWII Germans deployed the mortar in assault and defence, not only against infantry but also to attack buildings and vehicles, including light armoured ones.

Granatwerfer 34, depicted here by Zvezda, set out as the first mortar developed during the Third Reich by Rheinmetall in 1932, the weapon entering in service in 1934 and seeing action till the end of war. With a minimum range of 60 and a maximum of 2400 meters, its firing rate was given by the abilities of the crew and could vary between fifteen to twenty-five rounds per minute. In order to fire further, to the mortar shells could be attached a powder filled fabric tube set around the tail fin. Often designated as the 8 cm mortar, the true calibre of Granatwerfer 34 was 81.4 mm and fired various bombs, not only the typical HE, but also smoke, target illumination and target marking shells. As main weapon for standard vehicles like Sd.Kfz.251/2 or mounted by soldiers in various field conversions, 81.4 mm GrW34 was the most encountered mortar inside WWII German Army, in both its versions, the standard and the shorter tube one, initially created for paratroopers (8 cm Kurzer Granatwerfer 42, nicknamed Stummelwerfer), but used by all units.

In 1/72 WWII German Army, after a long period when few poor mortars were reachable in infantry sets, in 2005 Armourfasts came on the market with a dedicated set, “German Mortar Team”, changing the approach to the subject. Since then, other companies, including prominent ones, launched admirable representations of GrW34 and crewmen, namely Pegasus Hobbies in “German Mortar Teams” and Preiser in “8 cm Granatwerfer 34 in combat” and “Infantry riflemen with mortar, lined up”. The mass production infantry sets incorporating 81.4 mm mortars are ESCI’s “German Soldiers” and “Afrika Corps Soldiers”, Italeri’s “German Elite Troops” and “DAK Infantry” as well as Plastic Soldier’s “Late War German Infantry Heavy Weapons”. Now Zvezda joins the select club of manufacturers of mortar sets, their offer being wholly comparable in terms of details of the weapon, but featuring just two crewmen. In fact the same number of figs is customary delivered by the company even for cannons involving more crewmen, but for mortars, two troopers might work pretty fine assessing the weapon could be fired by a single soldier as several filmed documentaries of the period prove.

Bearing in mind the size of the mortar and the low number of figs on a sprue, the small box regularly set up by Zvezda for their mini-sets provided enough space for housing two identical sprues, an assembly guide and two wargaming cards. The fine artwork reveals a mortar crew in action somewhere in Russia or in another Eastern Europe country according to the buildings in the background. It is an often seen scene, a huge number of filmed documentaries and photos, including well-known ones published in Signal, disclosing mortars installed behind fences next to village houses or stables specific to that part of Europe. In the front artwork the crewmen are in close stances with those existing inside and the correspondence might be checked on the back of the box where three small images present the assembled kit, both painted and unpainted, as well as the image of the wargaming card and other information on the set such as content and number of parts. The reference image of a GrW34 selected to be displayed on the wargaming card does not tell too much and presents a Late War crewmen either during a training session or preparing to install the weapon. The picture in case shows only soldiers’ heads and upper parts of the bodies as well as the end of the tube, the weapon almost completely missing, so much better photos would have been appropriate, especially taking into account the immense quantity of material on the matter.

Each sprue puts forward a mortar, two figures, one larger base, and three gaming accessories, notable being the total absence of spare projectiles or ammunition boxes, delivered either as separate pieces or sculptured directly on the base. The method for assembling the product is snap fit, and as stressed on the package, it does not involve gluing. Parts go well through the pin and hole system and firmly stay in places thanks to great engineering but for no reservations in handling, gluing the pieces should be considered, too. Although the manufacturer took care and furnished an instruction sheet, the assembly is really uncomplicated and parts impossible to be mixed. Likewise, the printed guidelines advice the customer to remove the pins created for snapping the figs to the base, a maneuver certainly implemented by diorama builders or even wargamers and collectors wishing to emplace the minis on other bases.

In spite entailing simple assembly and missing few parts, the most annoying being the paramount sight, Zvezda’s Granatwerfer34 emerges as a very good model, one of the best reproduction of that legendary weapon available in Braille Scale, overcame by marvelous Preiser’s mortar in combat mode and on par or a hair below Pegasus Hobbies’ one. Only three pieces should be put together for having ready the GrW34, namely the base plate, bipod, and tube. Definitely great it is manufacturer’s decision to allocate two base plates for the mortar, one integrated on the common base mortar-figures and another, separately in case the mortar is displayed elsewhere and not on the given base. On both base plates are clearly noticed the handle for transportation, the socket for the tube as well as few other details, counting ones on the part facing the ground, too. The tube emerges accurate in shape, length, and thickness, but requires drilling for a better appearance.  At the other end, the ball shaped breech was replaced by a pin that should be snapped into a hole set in the middle of the base plate socket, in some extent recreating the general appearance of the part in case. Concerning the bipod, most important is the fact the legs are not too much over-scaled, practically some of the thinnest in the scale. The traversing system cast in the upper part of the bipod received a pin for fixing the tube and a pretty nice modelled hand-wheel. The bipod exposes other crisp details but certainly the nicest touch materialises in the chain linking the two legs for better fixing the mortar in position. Indeed, reference images often show the aspect but until Zvezda, no other mass-production manufacturer transposed it in the 1/72 scale. Of course, the chain might be easily removed by the hobbyist if the scenario he wants to employ the mortar involves one without chain.    

Regarding the crewmen, embodying the gunner and one assistant, the assembly is truly painless and consists in two arms for one trooper and the right arm for his comrade. Both of them are crouched and the multi-part approach brought a major contribution in achieving natural poses. According to box art and instructions, the soldier holding the projectile in the air and preparing to drop it in the tube has to be set on the right, the other keeping the projectile down, waiting his team-mate to finish, following to be placed to the left. In case of not using the provided base, the last mentioned figure might occupy different spots around the mortar. The selected stances are lively and fairly portray a skillful mortar crew fulfilling their main duty, launching deadly charges over incoming enemy infantry or its positions.

Dressed in M36 tunics and regular trousers and wearing marching/jack boots, “Y” straps, and steel helmets, they are fully compatible with the Zvezda sets aiming at artillery or infantry units issued until now. As gear, both received the standard one consisting in gas mask container with gas cape pouch rolled around and secured with a single strap here, mess tin, canteen, bread bag, and Zeltbahn and just one of them is in possession of an entrenching tool with bayonet attached. The projectiles look reasonably sized and shaped, with neat war-heads and tails, though the last ones are partially hidden by arms. No personal firing weapon is provided for them, but on the belts both have Kar98K ammunition pouches, thing that might raise a reservation. In conformity with their roles, as specialised troopers, the mortar gunner and his assistants were endowed by KStN with pistols, a normal fact apprising each had to carry one of the three components of GrW34, usually the gunner dealing with the tube and his two assistants sporting the base plate and bipod, the ammo being spread among the riflemen. However, there might be situations when other troopers, members or not of the mortar team, would have had to operate the mortar, so not such a big deal. In addition, hobbyists wanting to correct the eventual fault can do it extremely easy by removing the Kar98K ammo pouches and adjoin to the belts hard plastic pistol holsters massively supplied inside Preiser and Dragon figure sets.

Sculpture is in line with the one of all Zvezda figs belonging to “Art of Tactic”, with correct proportions for gear and bodies, as well as crisp facial details. Excellent sculpture put forward the palms, where all fingers are easily perceptible though grabbing the projectiles. At their turn, clothes received proper particulars such as realistic creases, stitches, collar boards, buttons and correctly shaped waist pockets. On the other hand, details on the chest pockets come pretty indistinct, a feature met in other Zvezda sets, too. Anyway, boots continue to impress with the top-notch sculpture and gear is generally very good although few small elements such as the gas cape pouch tabs might have been sharper. 

Cast in hard plastic, the average amount of flash noticed on the figures is easy removable and the multi-part approach leaded not only to the appearance of vivid poses but also to pieces completely free of excess of material. Zvezda’s hard plastic emerges as one of the best materials ever appeared in Braille Scale, combining in a brilliant manner the attributes of soft and hard plastics, pretty elastic and resistant to shocks and bends, extremely glue-able with standard modeling glue (polly-cement), and outstanding accepting enamel, acrylics, and artistic oils for easy painting and proper integration, maintaining the artistic effort even if the pieces are subdued to intensive handling. Taking profit by the advantages granted by hard plastic, those coming from the multi-part advance, and the inclusion of two identical sprues in the same box, hobbyists can effortlessly convert at least the figs from one sprue. In this regard, proper resources rest not only in the classic Preiser and Dragon sprues of body, gear, and weapons, but also in various Zvezda sets, mixing heads and limbs for attaining the desired stances being extremely facile. Due to their crouched poses and back gear, for matching and completing other crews issued under the same label, the present mortar men might be turned in fine personnel for Pak35/36, leIG18 as well as in great infantrymen, pioneer etc.

On the wargaming table a two member crew is quite sufficient for a mortar in action, but static modellers certainly would wish to bring completions to the team. As highlighted in the first part of the review, a three member crew is more correct, so it would have been better the producer to include an extra figure on the sprue. Nevertheless, solutions to fill in the gap and complete the team are at hand with or without conversions, plenty of sets putting forward appropriate soldiers, fully compatible in terms of size, garment, and even stances, for instance Pegasus Hobbies’ “German Mortar Teams” or “German 75 mm le IG18 Infantry Gun with Crew” setting out as perfect choices. Moreover, bearing in mind this Zvezda kit proposes two identical spues, one figure can be deployed to serve together with the other two, making few modifications on him, even a dissimilar head being highly recommended in order to establish a small difference between the crewmen. In addition, by adding a GrW34 round in hands, different Zvezda miniatures can be transformed into mortar crewmen, crouched ones appropriate for change being reachable inside “German Anti-Tank Gun PAK 36 With Crew”, ”German Reconnaissance Team”, “German 75mm Infantry Gun with Crew”, and “German Sturmpioniere, the last set delivering a soldier with back gear arranged in the same manner like the mortar crewmen.

Zvezda’s “German 81 mm Mortar with crew 1939-1942” reiterates the fine qualities of the kits released in the “Mini-box” series and the exceptional aptitudes to address to wargamer, collector, and static modeller needs. The proper details, the thin legs and the rarely depicted chain linking those, the accurate poses of the crew, and the hard plastic material set out as key criteria for determining the last mentioned target group to purchase the kit. On the other hand, the easy assembly, even not necessitating glue, the ability of resisting to shocks and bending make the same set ideal not only for experienced gamers, but also for new beginners, an excellent modality for entering the hobby. Moreover, corroborating these features with the fact it puts forward two identical sprues, this Zvezda tender practically might represent a family kit, one sprue for father and another for his over three year old kid, pleasing both.  

Historical Accuracy 10
Anatomy 10
Poses Quality 9
Details Quality 9
Mould Quality 10
Sculpture 9
Recommendation/Utility 10
Reviewer’s Opinion 9