Articles

ESCI - German Soldiers Smoke Units (8033) _________(EXT)

 

Manufacturer ESCI
Scale 1/72
Set Code 8033; 6212; H2333; 8351
Year 197?
No. of Figures 12
No. of Poses 5
Additional Items 1 15 cm Nebelwerfer; 4 rockets; 2 rocket metal cases
Aspect Small
Material Hard Plastic
Colour Cream
Flash Level Intermediate
Glue-ability Excellent (polly-cement)
Convert-ability Medium
Optimal Period 1942 -1945

 

Review 

Though Nebelwerfer was a German artillery piece intensively used on all fronts after 1941, even at present the old ESCI kit has remained the only mass production replica of this weapon available in the 1/72 scale. Furthermore, not only the depicted subject, but also because it has passed a very long period since its last re-release, turn this kit into a very desired and hunted set by collectors, wargamers and diorama builders. The original ESCI's Nebelwerfer had been re-boxed by companies comprising in their name "ESCI", respectively "Aurora-ESCI" "Revell-ESCI" and "ESCI/Ertl", the first quitting its existence in 1977 and the last in late 80's. Nowadays, Italeri is the one responsible with re-marketing ESCI products, but in spite the great interest of the target groups, the Nebelwerfer has not been brought again in modelling shops. Such a thing can only sustain the theory of "lost moulds" emphasising that several old ESCI moulds were forever gone in a fire, on the sea or due to other calamities. Lost or not lost, it is certitude that ESCI Nebelwerfer and its subsequent reissues represent a most wanted mass production kit, in plenty of cases the price of a box reaching the psychological barrier of 100 $ on eBay.   

World War II is acknowledged as bringing a massive contribution to the advancement of new weapons and improvement of older ones, Germans clearly distinguishing in this regard. An excellent example of upgraded weapon is the rocket, which is attested to be used in battles by ancient Persians and Greeks as well as at wide scale by Chinese and Mongols a little bit latter. In the Middle Eve Europe rockets were often employed in conflicts, but the appearance of standard cannons put them out of business. It was the WWII the event dusting off the rocket that became famous in the service of Wehrmacht and Red Army. Researched in the 1920', several types of ground based rocket launchers were developed in the same time both by German and Russian engineers. Grouped in specialised and fully motorised units, rockets occupied a major place in the ordnances of those armies. In spite the general perception as Russians being the first making use of rockets in WWII, the truth is that Wehrmacht was the first army who put at work this weapon, and even with one month before Red Army did it. The history of rocket launcher artillery in WWII was opened right at the beginning of Operation "Barbarossa", when on June 22nd 1941 four Nebelwerfer Regiments sent their rockets against Red Army units. The first Russian reply with similar weapons came on July 14th 1941, at almost one month distance. Due to their terrifying noise when fired, the ground based rocket launcher and its deadly charge received various nicknames, the German Nebelwerfer being called by Allies "Screaming Meemie" or "Moaning Minnie" while the Russian's most notorious are "Katyusha" and "Stalin's Organs".

German Army recognised the importance and immense potential of rockets and granted enhanced attention to a weapon that known various shapes and utilisations in their service, starting from the common Nebelwerfer 41 and ending to V2, the rocket thanks to which lately the humans started to explore the space. The most known WWII German ground-based variants of rocket launchers were Nebelwerfer 41 firing 15 cm projectiles and Nebelwerfer 42 accommodating 21 cm rockets, but the easiest perceived difference rests in the fact that the 41 version had six barrels while the other only five.

Since 15 cm Nebelwerfer 41 reached for the first time the front line, it remained in service with the German Army until the end of war, seeing action on all fronts including North Africa. The 15 cm Nebelwerfer or "smoke thrower" was a six-barreled tubular projector mounted on a slightly modified PAK35/36 chassis. Even the name might be a little confusing, the Nebelwerfer was definitely not an inoffensive weapon, while it could fire both smoke and incendiary or high explosive projectiles. Being very light, the weapon was towed by a large range of tractors though Sd.Kfz 11 was the dedicated one. The crew loaded the 15 cm Nebelwerfer from both sides starting with the lower barrels and continuing upwards, after aiming the weapon, the rockets being fired from few meters with an electric switch linked to the artillery piece by a cable. Never the rockets had been fired simultaneously while that could roll over the weapon. The firing sequence was tube 1-4-6-2-3-5 at an interval of one or two seconds, documentaries of the period also attesting that Nebelwerfer was recoilless.  In addition, the standard procedure required the crew to dig few meters far from the weapon foxholes on side and rear for taking cover while that was fired and then to return and reload it. Characteristic for Nebelwerfer was the large amount of smoke produced after the rockets were launched, divulging the position to the enemy. That represented a significant disadvantage of the weapon and because of the smoke fog, usually after firing several rounds, the crew rushed to relocate the artillery piece in a new strategic position. Built for providing support to infantry, along with the frightening noise of huge impact on enemy moral, the Nebelwerfer rockets attained great success when it was exercised a concentrated fire. Particularly enemy infantry units were the most exposed, but Nebelwerfer rockets had also the capacity to destroy soft skinned vehicles, buildings and even armour in case of a direct hit. Aware on the necessity of achieving a concentrate fire, German Army organised Nebelwerfer units in regiments, with the same organisation scheme as a standard artillery regiment. For rockets to reach the desired impact, essential was the number and not the precision, the more launched, the better effectiveness was gained. Normally, a 15 cm Nebelwerfer battalion consisted in three batteries, each grouping six rocket projectors as well as an anti-tank gun integrated in the last battery. Operating pretty close to the front line, the presence of an anti-tank gun was more than required for protecting the battery against enemy armour. Moreover, there were often the cases when Nebeltruppen had to exercise a direct fire for protecting themselves against a threatening tank. Desperate situations require desperate measures and the Nebelwerfer crewmen discovered a strategy for using the launcher as an anti-tank weapon. In such a role there was loaded a single barrel, aiming being released through the next unloaded barrel. A successful hit could register within less than 200 m, not destroying a heavy tank, but damaging its tracks, enough for the artillerymen to have the chance to run away.            

Returning to the purpose of the present review after a brief history of Nebelwerfer, the ESCI original title of the kit, "German Soldiers Smoke Units" does not refer at all to the included Nebelwerfer, even if the weapon was featured by a fine artwork. The same artwork was also adopted by the next re-releases made by Aurora/ESCI under the name "Nebelwerfer Battery" and Revell-Esci "German Artillery Soldiers with 150 mm Nebelwerfer". Though close, both the artwork and the title were changed by the last reissue made available by ESCI/Ertl, the set being labelled as "Nebelwerfer 41 - Section with German Crew", which is probably the most correct title.

A part of the soldiers illustrated by the initial artwork appear in quite similar poses with those encountered inside the box while the other part targets possible stances and duties required by operating a Nebelwerfer, but not provided within the kit. In this regard, a trooper with a cable and another with a shovel introduce two common activities carried out around such a weapon, namely laying the electric cable of the switch and digging a foxhole. These details corroborated with others reiterate the good research done by the ESCI team for releasing the set.

No matter their titles, all boxes have taken in the same content formed by the assembly guide and two identical sprues, each incorporating the necessary parts for putting together a 15 cm Nebelwerfer 41, six figures as well as four Kar98K, one MP40, four 15 cm rockets and other two rockets in metal cases.

A little bit contradictory is the number of crewmen operating the weapon, while KStN stressed that six troopers had to manage it, other sources, including reports of war prisoners and German journals of the period, reveal only four soldiers as crew for the 15 cm Nebelwerfer41. Anyway, providing six poses for the launcher, both versions are covered by the ESCI kit. Furthermore, the same KStN establishes the Nebelwerfer crews were endowed with Kar98K as personal weapons, and that is what we get here, four soldiers can be armed with such rifles. The next two warriors received dissimilar personal firing weapons, more precisely one has got a MP40 and the other a pistol in its holster. Taking into account both the role and place where Nebelwerfer operated, these two figures might be appraised either as the commander and the NCO of the battery or forward artillery observers or even signal troops.

The assembly sheet draws clear guidelines for putting together both the artillery piece and the figures. Moreover, the Aurora/ESCI instructions paper delivers some information about Nebelwerfer as well as an out of ordinary painting directions. The scheme mentions the colours that the real items have, but not reporting them to correspondent colours available on the hobby market. Likewise, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, on a couple of figures there are pointed the elements of equipment regularly carried by a WWII German soldier.  

The ESCI Nebelwerfer emerges as a little simplified model, but also the depicted weapon was so. The present 1/72 interpretation has the capacity of illustrating pretty fair the real Nebelwerfer, only 19 parts, matching quite good in their places, being necessary for putting together the artillery piece. The proper instructions as well as the uncomplicated assembly process and the low number of parts make possible even for an inexperienced modeller to finish an ESCI Nebelwerfer only in few minutes. The final piece appears in scale but one drawback might lie in the thicker barrels featured by this Nebelwerfer, in reality its barrels being very thin. Coming loaded and in the launch position, the elevation of the weapon is adjustable due to the applied pin and hole system that of course, should not be glued.

Considering the period when they were created, the ESCI Nebelwerfer crewmen promoted an innovative approach, not only the way they were dressed, but also the large quantity of personal equipment and its disposal on each figure constituting a premiere in the field at that time. A single figure, the one with binoculars, was cast as single piece, the other five needing some assembly, but here it is a simple and fast procedure, except the crouched figure delivered in more pieces, just arm or arms must be joined to the bodies. Standard, the modeller has to glue rockets for four figures as well as an MP40 belonging to the crouched figure. In addition, the choice of adding or not Kar98K to the soldiers holding rockets is accessible, separate rifles being supplied in this purpose. Aware that the kit contains two identical sprues and the multipart characteristic, it is more than recommended to convert the minis from one sprue. Arms can be mixed and glued in a larger number of positions than the classical one and attaching to figures instead of rockets the metal cases will be simply and quickly conferred to figures a different look. Likewise, being made of hard plastic, heads and arms might be removed and replaced with others supplied by offers of various manufacturers such as Preiser, Dragon or Imex. Furthermore, the same sources should be accessed for extra gear and weapons employed in order to complete or replace those brought within the set. All these small tricks stand as reliable methods in reaching an increased diversity, facilitating the attainment of dissimilar crewmen for the other Nebelwerfer integrated in the kit. On the other hand, it is not compulsory for concluding the present figures as Nebeltruppen, they are also suitable for portraying infantry units or crew manning various cannons.

The soldiers are dressed just the same, wearing parkas, padded trousers, ankle boots and steel helmets, attire recommending them for winter. For enhancing the idea and because fingers are not very detailed, it seems that all figures wear gloves and probably toques, but these are not so clear revealed by the sculpture. Both items are more than appropriate and possible to be found here, gloves and toques being enclosed in the winter standard equipment issued for a WWII German soldier. Likewise, for better matching the most often met in the scale size, it is advisable to paint the helmets as covered by camouflage or white cloth though the producer's real desire on the topic is uncertain. Taking profit that it is not evident if the boots are common ankle boots or the special winter type, the figures may be employed, in spring, autumn or other cold periods, too. Regulations provided for that parkas had been distributed to all German soldiers for the winter season, starting with 15 September and had to be returned to depots for repairs and cleaning on 15 April, being redelivered the next year. Normally, situations in the field not always fit the regulations, parkas continuing to be seen on troopers all over the year, even in warm environments. Parkas reached the front line for the first time in autumn of 1942, as a measure implemented after the previous year Russian winter dramatic experience. Same as smocks, parkas were reversible, but always one side was white while the other side was at the beginning Mouse Gray and after 1943 various Waffen SS, Wehrmacht or Italian camouflage patterns replaced the initial colour. The same situation applies also to the matching padded trousers, these particularities allowing the modeller to paint and bring a huge diversity to his ESCI Nebelwerfer crew.

Gear is at its turn very attractive even judged on these days criteria, not only because its large amount, but also for how it stays on the figures. From this point of view should be highlighted the gas mask containers, the way these hung is extremely realistic and capable of suggesting the motion. However, a mistake is registered in terms of equipment, the soldiers to which the assembly instructions advise us to add Kar98Ks missing the related ammunition pouches. The problem can be easily solved with the support of the bulky number of extra ammunition pouches provided either by Preiser or Dragon sets. The officer makes a distinct note, not receiving "Y" straps and his belt holds a pistol holster, a map case, a gas mask container and a canteen. All the rest are endowed with "Y" straps, mess tins, canteens, bread bags, gas mask containers with strap around the chest and Zeltbahns, while shovel only the crouched pose did not get, but in stead possesses an MP40 ammunition pouch. To this crouched figure it must be glued the MP40 whilst he has the correspondent ammunition pouch, but emplaced quite odd, pushed too much to the back, in a manner adopted at present also by Italeri in some of their new sets. A further remark aims again the gas mask containers, these featuring two straps around. Based on this fact, it might be assessed that sculptor's goal was to add gas cap pouches rolled around the container, because that was the way how most German soldiers worn the respective pouch. Although the presence of gas cap pouches is not so evident, the existence can be marked by painting them around the gas mask containers.

As previously pointed out on several occasions, personal firing weapons delivered are four Kar98K, one MP40 and one pistol in its holster. Except the pistol that was modelled at the belt of the officer, for gluing the rest of weapons we get assembly instructions. Nonetheless, it is not compulsory obeying them, especially for those proposed by the assembly guide for receiving a Kar98Ks. These are practically the Nebelwerfer crewmen, who as other artillery-men, often put down the personal weapons for better operating the gun. Still, if the owner of the set decides to endow his squad with Kar98Ks, it is wise either painting on the body the related straps or scratch-building some. A painless method, supported by the hard plastic material as well, consists in melting a sprue of the kit, cut the necessary length for each strap and then fixed it in the appropriate position with polly-cement glue. Perhaps, the best location for rifles is on the back of the figures if in front the modeller wishes to assemble the figures as holding rockets. 

Six soldiers definitely cover the necessary number of a 15 cm Nebelwerfer crew, and ESCI brought us five standing and one crouched figure on the sprue. Based on the earlier mentioned and quite reliable sources and not on KStN, so taking as four the number of crewmen operating a Nebelwerfer, it is assessed that all troopers with Kar98K are assigned to the artillery piece, this time KStN attesting that Kar98K was the personal firing weapon of a Nebelwerfer crewman. One pose is repeated, but simply through gluing the arm and the rocket in a different position there can be achieved two distinct figures. The crew is caught while carrying ammunition, actually, one of the fewer possibilities at hand for a manufacturer intending to depict a Nebelwerfer team considering the rocket launcher was fired from few meters distance and with no soldier around. However, due to the fact that all the six barrels of the ESCI's Nebelwerfer are delivered already loaded, artillery-men with rockets in their hands have no possibility to touch the weapon for suggesting a loading operation. This is an aspect for reflection while the assembly guide advices us to emplace rockets in the palms of the troopers. Nevertheless, if they are put together like that, more scenarios are plausible, bringing closer the ammunition for the next round or unloading the prime mover simply exemplify few choices also attested by reference materials. In fact, the ESCI Nebelwerfer crew in large amount has been based on two well-known reference images, not fully imitating the real soldiers, still closely linked. To all might be attached rockets, but not always the orientation of palms facilitates identical assembly with the provided guidance in the instruction sheet. However, after few tries, rockets will find the place in the hands of the crew. The other standing figure, an officer or artillery observer, holding on his chest the binoculars, is a pose that was duplicated within various ESCI armour kits. The problem comes from casting as a single piece, the binoculars being connected to the body by a considerable amount of excess of plastic, almost impossible to remove without affecting the figure. This fault might be reduced a little through painting, but from some angles, it still remains visible. While in general here there should be glued just one or two arms, a figure requiring more assembly represents the crouched soldier who is delivered in three parts, namely trunk, legs and right arm. In his hands the offered guidelines tell us to put the MP40, but that is unworkable, the left palm being sticked to the body. The right one succeeds to accommodate the weapon pretty fine and this is enough for portraying a trooper while doing something with his MP40. Of great interest could be the hood worn over the helmet bearing in mind there are not many figures in the 1/72 scale featuring the same issue.                       

Not really benefiting by an impressive sculpture on cloths, gear and anatomy, all these still are quite fairly done, but with a small amount of minor missing details, such as the drawstrings or some buttons that could be easily reproduced through painting. Creases on cloths are not so definite, a normal situation considering the thickness of the material employed for manufacturing the real parkas and padded trousers. In addition, the overall aspect of the parkas is much increased by their integrated hoods. If the item of garment is painted in camouflage or Mouse Gray, then the inner part of the hood has to be done in white and vice-versa. Anatomy is pretty satisfactory, with several differences in size between the figures, but nothing exceeding the natural limits or disturbing when emplacing all soldiers in the same location. Facial details are visible and all right done, we even get an opened mouth at the crouched trooper. As earlier indicated, the toques and the camouflage/white cloths on helmets are not obvious, and painting them cannot influence the accuracy, but only improving these Nebelwerfer crewmen. Moreover, although the Kar98ks look quite good and in scale, the sculptor neglected a couple of tiny characteristic features of this weapon. If the modeller chooses not to replace them with some better Preiser or Dragon weapons, then the omitted details should be suggested again through paint.

Neither the artillery piece, nor the figures or even the extra parts escape of flash, but the level is maintained in a normal limit, being effortless removed. The officer comes with an extremely small hole in his chest, close to binoculars area, but extra paint rapidly works out the matter. The multipart approach avoided excess of plastic that is noticeable only at the figure cast as a single piece. Furthermore, the back of each fighter wears the mark of the mould, materialised in a small circle, emphasised in several cases through excess of plastic. At least at one soldier the undesired mark is hard to eliminate while no matter the sharpness of the modelling knife, access is made difficult by the narrow place between the Zeltbahn, gas mask container and bread bag. As for the large majority of various types of hard plastic, enamel, acrylics or artistic oils are greatly received, the material providing perfect conditions even at heavily handling. Normally, the standard modelling glue (polly-cement) is the only recommended adhesive for putting together the components of the kit. For all figures, including the crouched one, there are supplied separate bases, perhaps the greatest approach satisfying both those enjoying minis on stands and the diorama builders preferring a more realistic appearance of their troopers that for sure not include soldiers perched on diverse pedestals.

Bearing in mind the huge importance and role of parkas during WWII, in the last period several key manufacturers of 1/72 figures have started to extend the number of soldiers wearing them, but for many years Esci's Nebelwerfer 41 crewmen were single options for depicting the topic. Few troopers dressed in parkas are supplied by Revell's "WWII German Infantry", Italeri/Revell's "German Elite Troops", Italeri's "PAK 40 AT Gun with servants", HaT's "WWII German Bicyclists" and "WWII German Mounted Infantry". Apart from the here reviewed ESCI crew, Caesar's "German Infantry with Winter Gear" and Warriors' not large but outstanding series of four sets dedicated to infantry are nowadays the fundamental sets where all the figures wear parkas.

The size of the crewmen shaped for ESCI's Nebelwerfer fits in the small side of 1/72 and in this light, probably their most appropriate companions, even if not dressed in parkas but smocks, are encountered in Armourfast's "WWII German Mortar Team" and "WWII German Machine Gun Team", Pegasus Hobbies' "Waffen SS - Set 2", Caesar's "WWII German Panzergrenadiers Set 1 and CMK's "Wehrmacht Mounted Infantry". In addition, Caesar's "WWII German Mountain Troops" with mixed attire formed by winter jackets, Gebirgs anoraks and smocks stands out as an alternative for excellent comrades.

Recognising the great contribution of ESCI in the history of modelling, and in particular at the promotion of the 1/72 scale, is beyond question a must. Oriented not only through products with market value, but also covering unusual topics, ESCI succeeded to make available to public an impressive catalogue of kits, some of them remaining un-reissued at the moment. Unfortunately, such a case is "German Soldiers Smoke Units", a real misfortune especially because its plus point resting in being the single mass production offer transposing the German 15 cm Nebelwerfer into a simplified, but fair 1/72 replica. Moreover, its twelve figures groped in five poses totally set apart from the other attempt of the company in depicting WWII German artillery pieces and their crews, "German Anti-tank Guns" where the soldiers are quite poor, but still re-marketed by Italeri. Previously described well-founded arguments clearly detach the Nebelwerfer crewmen from the common style of the 1970s' minis, turning them into valuable troopers even nowadays. For those not wanting to pay for the set astronomical sums on eBay, the only solution is waiting for another re-boxing, but that is quite improbable, this kit being enclosed on the black list of the hypothetical theory "ESCI lost moulds".

Historical Accuracy 8
Anatomy 8
Poses Quality 8
Details Quality 8
Mould Quality 7
Sculpture 8
Recommendation/Utility 10
TOTAL 8