Articles

First to Fight - German Infantry Support Weapons 1939 (PL1939-020)_________(EXT)

Manufacturer First to Fight
Scale 1/72
Set Code PL1939-020
Year 2015
No. of Figures 5
No. of Poses 5
Additional Items 1 GrW34, 1 MG34 on Lafette tripod
Size Small
Material Soft Plastic/Hard Plastic
Colour Gray
Flash Level Low
Glue-ability Excellent (Polly-cement)
Convert-ability Difficult
Optimal Period 1939 - 1945

 

Review  

Since the outset and till the end of WWII, mortar and machine-gun (MG) emerged as key weapons for German infantry and even if there were established specialised companies endowed with such weapons, those were also widely spread within various smaller formations like platoons or squads. Due to terrifying performances in achieving the goals for which were created, statistics mentioning those as the weapons producing the largest number of casualties, the mortar and MG represented the main support weapons used both in offensive and defence by the standard WWII German company. Following long instruction sessions and extensive practice on the battlefield, the German mortar and MG crews succeeded to employ those arms at full capacity in a very short time, terrifying all opponents.

Of course, for a manufacturer trying to recreate the basic image of the WWII German infantry, MGs and mortars could not miss from the catalogue. First-to-Fight (FtF), a fairly new established company preoccupied by the appearance of the very early WWII German Army, did not ignore such subject and under the name “German Infantry Support Weapons 1939” issued a kit comprising the well-known Granatwerfer34 (GrW34) and MG34 in heavy role, mounted on the Laffette tripod. 

Just like in reality, also in 1/72 scale MGs and mortars are encountered in huge amounts, made available by various specialised sets or mixed within generic infantry ones. Most of the times, the dedicated tenders focus either on mortars or MGs, but a similar approach, of combining both in the same box, has already been done by Plastic Soldier Company, in the hard plastic kit “Late War German Infantry Heavy Weapons”.

At the beginning of war, many German infantry platoons received the 8.1 cm GrW34 operated by three soldiers. Moreover, inside different types of companies functioned a distinct mortar group/squad, commonly endowed with two GrW34 handled by a varying number of soldiers, according to what kind of unit was about. Assessed as heavy mortar in the early stage, after the appearance of the 12 cm Granatwerfer 42 the 8.1 cm GrW34 was listed as medium mortar and remained in service till the end of the conflict. Usually, GrW34 received a crew of seven or eight, but practically the weapon was handled by three army-men, the rest being riflemen, commander, and driver or horse(s) leader(s). While the gunner and his two assistants had to transport the mortar parts, namely tube, bipod, and base plate, all of them had pistols as side arms. 

In use on all fronts during the whole period of war, MG34 constituted the first general purpose machine-gun, engaged in light/medium or heavy roles by infantry as well as primary defensive weapon of armoured vehicles and aircraft. In light/medium role, MG was fired off from a bipod attached to the weapon, close to the end of the barrel, while in heavy duty, the machine-gun was mounted on a Lafette tripod, adaptable at various heights, including anti-aircraft. From the Lafette tripod, MG34 could be used for indirect fire, through a device allowing to automatically sweeping a preset area while the gunner kept his head down. In addition, mounted on the tripod the MG34 range was 3,500 meters and the telescopic sight facilitated a better aim.

The M34 Lafette tripod designed for MG34 arrived in the same time with the weapon and had three legs that could be set at various heights. The tripod had a frame for fixing the weapon, a fire mechanism, traverse and elevation devices, and a telescopic sight for a proper aim. In addition, a collimator was delivered for establishing the safety point of minimum elevation for firing over the heads of advancing comrades. For easier transporting the folded tripod, two pads had been set on the front leg as well as a sling that could often miss, more photos of the period showing the tripod without it.

A standard heavy MG team was composed by three men, gunner, loader, and commander, all of them with pistols as personal weapons while the gunner had to carry the MG and the loader the tripod. Taking into consideration the MG34 in heavy role could fire more bullets while the distance was much increased, the quantity of ammunition tentatively enforced for such a weapon was 2,150 rounds for each while in light/medium role the same machine-gun received only 1,150 rounds. In general, an MG34 could be belt-fed and magazine-fed, except the familiar 50 round drum magazine, a drum-saddle magazine with 75 rounds being created for anti-aircraft. However, MGs in heavy roles were only belt-fed and the 50 round belts featured the link-and-length option, allowing the creation of longer belts and exempting the loader for repeating the same operation. 

The FtF set on WWII German infantry support weapons is commercialised in the classical package of the company, the box and the information magazine being wrapped in a transparent sealed bag. The front artwork introduces five soldiers, two operating the MG34 and other three dealing with the GrW34. Although those from the MG look similar with what is in the kit, the other three with the mortar, arranged in the second plan in the artwork, are mostly different than the supplied content. In the box there are six sprues, each repeated three times, on one modellers finding the parts allocated to the mortar and its three men crew and on the other the MG34 pieces and two crewmen. On the reverse of the box there is a painting guide for achieving the early war look of the German soldiers by using Vallejo colours, the same indications being repeated within the magazine. 

FtF is notorious for the considerable efforts in delivering extensive information as regards the product in reference, those being available inside the magazine titled “September 1939” accompanying each set. To the present one is dedicated No. 20 and there hobbyists can read plenty of data about GrW34, MG34, other WWII German machine guns and various related things, including gaming ones. If not knowing Polish, the hobbyist will limit just to look at the WWII reference images as well as at those featuring the built and painted 1/72 models. Written only in Polish, the technical data and gaming info are inaccessible to many modellers and in a certain manner, it would have been better having those in English, too.  Nevertheless, also images and titles can be useful and it is a pleasure thumbing through this magazine.

Though cast in soft plastic, some assembly is required for getting the final appearance of the two weapons, but no guideline in the field are supplied. Still, the operation is extremely simple, the GrW34 landing split as the real weapon, in its three main parts, tube, bipod, and base plate. The MG34 is delivered in two distinct components, machine-gun and front leg of the tripod, the back ones having to be attached by the hobbyist. Bearing in mind the material the product is made of, cyanoacrylate is the proper adhesive for assembling both weapons, the gel formula being the ideal one. The chemical composition of the soft plastic utilized by FtF allows super glue to make a real strong bond, facilitating not only the compulsory assembly, but also eventual conversions on figs, including even the addition of resin or hard plastic parts. 

As regards the mortar and machine-gun, both have a gaming aspect and are poorly detailed. Most of the times such weapons arrive in 1/72 over-scaled, but now is the contrary, the GrW34 and MG34 are under-scaled. The mortar has got a shorter and thinner tube and considering the intended period, 1939, the manufacturer cannot be excused that maybe it wanted to depict the 8.1 cm Kurzer Granatwerfer42,a shorter version of GrW34, designed for paratroopers and then utilised by all units, issued since 1942.The base plate is small while the bipod legs emerge minimalist, the weapon also lacking proper representations of traversing and elevation system as well as hand-wheels and sight. In addition, the tube requires drilling but the model does not deserve any efforts, it rather be binned and the crewmen allocated to a better made GrW34, the offer of such weapons abounding in 1/72 scale. 

The included MG34 should follow the same way to the trash bin as the mortar and for the crew to be identified another MG in heavy role, Armourfast and Revell providing better models that eventually may welcome the FtF heavy MG team. The tripod features the two pads designed for transportation but the legs are quite thick and shorter than normal, as well as the MG34 which although receiving several specific characteristics such as the telescopic sight and air-cooling holes, it is overall ugly and useless due to its size. 

Concerning the crewmen of both weapons, they match the FtF line portraying very early war WWII Germans, ll wearing the M36 uniform, marching/jack boots, and steel helmets, with a single exception, the helmets having straps for holding camouflage cloth or foliage. The involvement in the Polish campaign is stressed by the lack of “Y” straps, a correct feature considering that item start being intensively delivered after 1939. Anyway, these figs can be utilized by hobbyists for depicting any period of WWII, the M36 uniforms keep being worn with or without “Y” straps and marching/jack boots until the end of the conflict. In order to give emphasizes to the early war appearance, trousers might be painted in lighter gray and the tunics in the famous Feldgrau, but for after 1942 representations, the pants shall be finished in the same colour as the tunics. 

For the GrW34 there is supplied a three member crew, which is a fairly suitable number. Two deal with projectiles, one being ready to drop it in the tube while the other prepares the new round, holding it with both hands. In comparison with the marvelous Preiser or even Pegasus Hobbies and Zvezda mortar shells, the present ones do not please the eye, but can be kept. Moreover, their size will match a normal 1/72 GrW34 but would be very difficult to enter inside the tube supplied by FtF. In conformity with the performed actions, these guys may be easily assessed as gunner and assistant while the third one, looking through binoculars and waiving the right hand in the air, portrays the commander. Generally, these minis have got items of the standard gear, namely bread-bags, canteens, gas mask containers, and gas-cape pouches in front, which is perfectly fine. On the other hand, all received Kar98K ammunition pouches that do not fit very well on mortar crew, theoretically endowed with pistols as personal weapons. An interesting item can be spotted on the gunner prepared to drop the projectile but a perfect identification of it cannot be done. Possible things might be an axe in holster or a photo-camera over a shovel, only its handle being visible, the reset being hidden by the camera case. Still, a striking item, fully accurate and easily recognizable, is the binoculars case kept on the chest by the commander. In terms of poses, with the exception of the gun assistant, his team-mates emerge very flat, particularly the commander who is twisted in a quite unnatural position. 

With reference to the crew-members operating the second main weapon put forward by the set, they come in better stances and may interact fairly fine with a MG34 on tripod. They have the same gear as their comrades from the GrW34 plus shovels and Zeltbahns, but the same mistake in terms of personal weapons is duplicated, they also got Kar98K ammo pouches instead of pistols. The gunner adopts an often depicted pose for such soldiers, as holding the trigger mechanism of a MG34 mounted on a Lafette tripod. However, the supplied weapon misses that device and if finding a better weapon for replacing the existing one, then he might grab what he had to. The loader is certainly better, holding with both hands a MG ammunition belt, a closed ammo container being placed between his legs, too. As it can be effortlessly noted, the team misses one member, the commander, FtF delivering here only the gunner and the loader. Nonetheless, the submitted mortar commander may fulfil the same job for the machine-gun or the hobbyist can search in other sets, including FtF ones, for suitable soldiers to act as heavy MG commander. Definitely, it would have been nicer the producer to advance a sixth figure in this role, especially taking into consideration the wide empty space existing on the sprue allocated to the MG34 and its team.

The sculpture of FtF minis does not impress even if the company strives to make available accurate ones. The anatomical proportions are fine but faces lack sharp details as well as the palms, which are not over-scaled but without eye-catching fingers. Though uniforms and gear reveal appropriate details, including small ones as pocket flaps, shoulder and collar boards, buttons, buckles, straps, creases etc, at the end of the day these figs have something unattractive. Maybe it is the considerable amount of flash, seam lines, and excess of material covering those and when removing the unwanted extras, obviously there are altered the efforts done by the sculptor. The cleaning work is further more difficult due to the tendency of the material in producing fluffs. The good thing is this soft plastic, practically a combination between rubber and plastic, satisfactory accepts enamel, acrylics, artistic oils and super glue gel, fitting for eventual conversions or upgrades performed over these army-men. 

Each figure is set on a thick base but both weapons did not receive similar devices, obviously, the height difference making impossible the establishment of a proper interaction between the crew and MG or mortar. It is also funny seeing inside the magazine how these crewmen are emplaced on different game bases, very far from the weapons, totally inaccurate and surely not recommended. Bearing in mind the supplied bases are quite ugly, much better would be removing the figs from those and glue them in other places at the same level with the weapons and close to those, not as in the examples shown in the magazine. In addition, being in crouched poses, the miniatures stay fine without any support, a useful attribute for testing how they will appear around the weapons before permanently fixing them.

As the entire line of the company, also these troopers are in the small/medium side of 1/72 scale and find hundreds of WWII German soldiers wearing the same uniforms. Considering their size, they perfectly interact with miniatures released by Caesar, Airfix, HaT, and Esci, but the list is much longer. Evidently, while all FtF sets seem sculptured by the same person, the infantry heavy weapons crewmen here proposed will perfectly support their comrades.  

The general look of these figures attests they will mainly interest gamers and collectors, the static modeller builders certainly preferring to identify superior options for similar weapons and crews, MG34 and GrW34 being accessible in large quantities in 1/72 scale. However, because of some rarely illustrated items of gear, these troopers may attract diorama builders and after proper cleaning and painting, the final appearance may correspond to higher exigencies. Of course, this merely refers to the crewmen that must be attached to more detailed versions of mortars and machine-guns, at least in diorama purposes.   

 

Historical Accuracy 8
Anatomy 7
Poses Quality 6
Details Quality 7
Mould Quality 7
Sculpture 6
Recommendation/Utility 9
Reviewer’s Opinion 7