A common practice amongst toy manufacturers is to extend the play possibilities of their core ranges by creating accessories that can be used with them. By providing these, the central range is made more attractive and sales are increased. One obvious adjunct to any range of toy soldiers is the artillery that supports them, but in this story we’ll consider the vehicles that they may travel in and fight from. Britains were not slow to produce a range of these for their new Deetail range.
We started our coverage of Deetail by looking at their set of US Infantry from World War 2 (see Britains Deetail – An Introduction), so let us continue that strand by considering a vehicle that they would certainly have been familiar with, the famous jeep.
During the 1930s the United States armed forces had, like those of most European powers, adopted increasing numbers of vehicles. With the onset of war in Europe, the need for mechanisation became overwhelming and one result of this was that in 1940 the army issued a requirement for a small 4×4 utility vehicle capable of carrying a load of ¼ ton. The uses for such a vehicle were legion – for example, it served as a personnel and heavy weapons transport, a communications and radio vehicle, a reconnaissance vehicle, a battlefield ambulance, and a tow or mounting for small artillery pieces and AA guns.
The vehicles were built to a common specification and with minor differences by three competing firms, Willys (who presented the best overall design), Ford (who had the industrial capacity to scale up production to the required levels) and Bantam (who had led the way in developing the concept). The vehicle was not initially named, but it soon became known by the troops as a ‘jeep’ – a term that had been army slang for anything functional and numerous (and could be used disparagingly of new recruits).
The jeep was a simple, tough and reliable machine, which quickly became an essential piece of equipment in every unit. It could traverse rough terrain, tow a gun or trailer, and carry 4 personnel (or more if comfort and safety was not a priority). It was manoeuvrable, and could reach a respectable speed of 60mph on roads, and it just looked good!
One of the most iconic vehicles of World War 2, the ‘jeep’ was produced in huge numbers (more than 640 thousand were built) and saw service in every theatre of war and in a variety of roles.
The Britains Jeep
Britains Deetail 9786 US Jeep
Year first produced: 1977
L108 x W50 x H70 (max), Plastic+Metal 179g, Scale 1:32, Features: 4
The Britains model is a substantial item formed from mazak components (the body and chassis, plus a separate bonnet, front grill and windscreen). The chassis is black while the body, bonnet and windscreen are finished in a dark green. At the rear of the chassis is a towing hook, which can be used to tow a trailer or one of the artillery pieces also available in the Deetail range. The windscreen is unglazed, and can be lowered or raised. The grill has jewelled headlights set into it but is – strangely – unpainted.
The underside of the jeep model shows the makers marks:
BRITAINS LTD, JEEP, © 1976 and MADE IN ENGLAND
The four plastic wheels are fitted with rubber tyres (prominently marked, for some reason, with “BRITAINS LTD” and “ENGLAND”). The axles for the wheels sit on the chassis moulding and are held in place by metal rods, one per side of the vehicle, which flex if the vehicle is pressed down, thus simulating the jeep’s suspension. This is a nice feature, and although the wheels do not actually turn to left or right, it allows the vehicle to curve round while in motion by pressing down on one side.
At the rear of the vehicle is a spare wheel and tyre, and the driver is provided with a plastic steering wheel. The rear of the model is taken up by the large plastic machine gun and the pedestal mount to which it is fixed. The forward-facing seats normally fitted in the rear are omitted on the model, no doubt to make space for the gunner.
Two crew figures are provided, and as you might expect they match in colour and equipment the US Infantry figures mentioned before.
The driver is attached to the jeep by a lug underneath his feet which fits into a hole in the floor that is offset to the left, causing the figure to incline to the left. His left arm rests by his side and as with his comrades in the infantry his right arm is a separate piece, that has been glued to his body. This helps with positioning the arm at right angles from his body, and it looks like the hand could be grasping the steering wheel but in my example the arm is not raised high enough. Overall, the driver seems relaxed and I get the impression that the vehicle must be stationary.
A stationary vehicle is quite possibly good news for the second crew member, who manfully wrestles with the Browning .50 heavy machine gun mounted in the rear. The Browning HMG is a big beast, and was indeed mounted in jeeps, but a more common weapon was the smaller .30 calibre weapon which could be operated with more ease from such a small platform.
In our model the gunner stands in the rear of the jeep with legs akimbo leaning backwards, connected by the usual foot lugs to the jeep, and his grip on the Browning. It’s a dramatic action pose worthy of Hollywood! Firing a powerful weapon like a .50 calibre HMG is something that has to be done carefully, and I’m not sure that this gunner has read the safety manual…
The pedestal is a simplified rendition, as the real mount had side bracing to improve the stability of the gun. It is capable of turning but since the gun is held in place by the gunner who is himself fixed in place, it is not in fact possible to rotate it. On the other hand, the gun can elevate on the mount, since both of the gunners’ arms have been cast as a single piece separate to his body, and plug into his torso without glue, allowing movement up and down. Push the gunner fully backwards and his arms move up, causing the HMG to point directly forwards. Move the gunner forwards and his arms drop, causing the HMG to point upwards.
Do you know, I think the Deetail US jeep is one of the most dramatic models ever produced by a mainstream toy manufacturer. There are some minor quibbles (why is that radiator grill not painted?) and the crew poses are questionable, but it’s pure Hollywood and I love it!
Not surprisingly, Britains repurposed the jeep. They did this by removing the crew and machine gun, fitting new wheels, and giving it a new (and slightly psychedelic) colour scheme (but still with an unpainted grill!). This civilian version (9421) was also supplied with a trailer (9433).
The jeep was not the only vehicle that could be used with the US infantry. Other options include the 9682 Harley-Davidson motorbike with rider, 4301 Assault Craft (amphibious boat, with 2 crew) and 9761 Hughes 300C Helicopter (military air ambulance with 2 crew and a casualty).