Sets of toy soldiers tend to be composed of a handful of fairly predictable poses. After all, buyers love, and expect to find, certain standard poses. But when faced with competition, manufacturers have to find ways of standing out from the crowd. So, what can you do to the poses to excite the market?
There are two obvious and complementary ways of increasing the attractiveness of the sets – by expanding the number of poses in a set, and by innovating with new, and hopefully more exciting, ones. Airfix experimented with both of these, and a good example to illustrate this is their set of Second World War German mountain troops.
Mountain troops like the German Gebirgsjäger are intended to be specialists in high-altitude, bad weather, rugged terrain combat. Because of the difficulties of moving in such a landscape, such troops were lightly-equipped, intensively trained and very fit – just like airborne and commando forces. Not surprisingly they also saw themselves as superior formations, and enjoyed high elan. Symbols of the Gebirgsjäger included their distinctive field cap, edelweiss emblem and stout mountain boots.
During World War Two, the Germans fielded 16 mountain divisions in all, raised initially from the Tyrol and Austria. They fought in Norway and the Caucasus, both challenging mountainous regions suited to their specialism, but later in the war as German resources were stretched thin, they were thrown into regular combat wherever they were needed.
The Airfix Mountain Troops
Airfix A04763 German Mountain Troops
Year first produced:1976
L87xW20xH55, Plastic 5g (av), Scale 1:32, Features: 0
Our set for this story is a modern production of the set first introduced in the mid 1970s, and inevitably made in China. The plastic used is very different to the material that would have been used by Airfix back in the 1970s, being stiffer and having a glossy sheen. Not surprisingly, the moulds have also aged somewhat. Mould lines can be prominent, and there is some flash (plastic that escapes between the two sides of the mould) in places. Details are also slightly soft.
The uniform depicted includes the soft cap and mountain boots, and some figures wear a thick hooded smock. We’ll examine the poses below. As usual with Airfix figures, there are no identifying marks on the figures (not even on the underside of their bases), although the figures do have a number moulded in unobtrusive spots. The meaning of these numbers is not clear, but they seem to be unique to each figure rather than each pose, so perhaps they relate to the layout of the figures in the mould?
The box reuses the original 1970s illustration, and on the side proclaims the contents: “29 figures & 20 accessory pieces”. On the back are a visual guide to the poses included, and the painting instructions. These are a great improvement over previous Airfix practice, because several examples are shown, and they are keyed to Humbrol paint numbers so there can be no doubt which colours to use. Hooray!
The ‘Standard’ Poses
Airfix almost always posed their figures as if in combat. This was, after all, probably what their customers wanted, and it seems so obvious that you have to pause for a moment to acknowledge that from Airfix you rarely, if ever, get anyone
- Marching, or on parade
- In any form of non-active non-combat pose
- Dead or wounded, or running away
- Operating a heavy weapon (although Airfix made one foray into this area)
But how far were the individual poses predictable? To check this out, I surveyed all 20 sets produced by Airfix covering fighters from World War 2 and the Cold War. The 8 most common poses turn out to be these, the most popular first:
- Standing, firing a rifle
- An officer pointing, gesticulating or using a pistol
- Charging with or without bayonet
- Standing, firing a sub-machine gun
- Kneeling, firing a rifle
- Walking rifleman
- Standing, throwing a grenade
- Lying, firing an LMG
All of these appear in at least half of the sets, which given that many sets have only 7 in total, shows that there is a strong degree of commonality across the board.
The Gebirgsjäger Poses
Airfix established a norm in their early releases of including 7 poses in their figure sets. During the mid-1970s, however, they doubled that number before returning to the standard 7 towards the end of the decade. This set is an interesting example taken from the period of extended poses, and contains a total of no less than 13 poses, plus some accessories.
The 29 figures included are
- An officer, kneeling and pointing
- Three kneeling soldiers armed with sub-machine gun
- Four men standing firing a rifle
- Four men lying prone and firing a rifle
- Two men lying prone firing an LMG
- Two prone loaders for the above
- Two men signalling with semaphore flags
- Two men using a pick
- Two men preparing to cast a grapnel
- Two men walking carrying skies
- Three men skiing
- Two figures roped together
The above list of 13 poses (the final two joined on a single base) begins normally enough, with a variety of firing combat poses. Note however that a loader is provided for the LMG – a luxury that had not been seen since an eighth pose was included in the very first set of figures released in 1969 – and that the bipod for the LMG is a separate item (see accessories below).
Then, the list takes a sudden swerve, and we get a range of non-combat poses mainly portraying men engaged in the, sometimes difficult task of moving through a mountainous and snowy landscape. The two signallers are a fascinating inclusion. Radio communications were often difficult at high altitudes, so semaphore would be employed if necessary. The position of the flags indicated letters of the alphabet (for the record, the pose is shown signalling the letter ‘M’).
The men wielding a pick are a bit of a puzzle. As far as I can tell, the tool being used is a pickaxe, wielded with two hands to break up rocky ground prior to digging. Gebirgsjäger would indeed, like many troops, have used pickaxes. However, what I might have expected from this set, is to see figures using an ice pick, a one-handed tool for breaking or piercing ice to facilitate climbing or traversing – as used exclusively by mountain troops. My suspicion is that the sculptor got confused between the two, but of course that is just speculation…
The skiing figures are ingenious. Each figure is assembled from three pieces. Two of these are individual skis with boots moulded onto them. The third is the soldier figure itself, which is complete (including ski poles) except that where the feet would be, there are projecting plugs. The plugs fit into the feet on the skis, and the result is a very solid 3-D figure.
The two poses moulded together on a single base are attached by a rope looped around the shoulder of the leading man, and held by his companion behind. They appear to be moving cautiously forward across level ground, the leading man stooping down to reach something ahead and below him. But what exactly are they doing? Moving across unstable ground, to retrieve an object? Boring! Let’s imagine them approaching the edge of a precipice to grab hold of a comrade perilously dangling from the edge. That’s much better! However, as the set doesn’t include a suitable figure in distress and there is no indication on the box artwork of what was intended, this is pure speculation.
The 20 accessories included in the set include
- 2 bipods for the LMGs
- 6 skis
- 6 ski poles
The final 6 accessories appear to be the 6 skis with integral feet that form part of the skiing figures. Counting them as accessories is a bit of ‘creative accounting’ in my book, since they can hardly be used for anything else and the skiing figures aren’t complete without them!
So, in summary, what do we have? 16 figures are fairly standard combat poses, mostly firing their weapons, though we don’t get any charging or walking figures, or anyone throwing grenades. The remaining 13 figures are quite different, all of them unique to the Gebirgsjäger set and they involve some interesting innovations (multipart figures and the two-man assemblage). They depict the Gebirgsjäger in non-combat action poses, which is unusual – the other large sets created by Airfix tended to simply include further combat poses.
Despite pushing the boundaries, I don’t think the set can be described as wholly successful. As already noted, the mix of poses makes for a set of two halves, combat and non-combat. Whether this is a problem depends on your personal taste. What is more important to me is that despite the strenuous activities that the figures are engaged in, I have to say that I find many of the poses somewhat stiff and awkward. I’m impressed by the ambition of the set, but It’s no good having lots of figures in different poses, if the figures aren’t animated!
Airfix also used the masters of the mountain troops to produce a new 1:72 set of figures. At this scale, they appear really well-detailed! All of the figures described above were included, plus a bicyclist and a pack horse (though there is no-one to lead it), thus the smaller scale set actually extended the number of non-combat poses.
Naturally, Airfix created a number of other German WW2 sets. Set 1718 German Infantry was one of the first created, and unusually contained 8 poses, probably because Airfix decided in this instance to provide a loader for the inevitable LMG gunner. Set 1806 Afrika Korps reverted to the standard 7 poses (with LMG gunner but no loader), while the later set 51467-7 German Paratroops has a massive 14 poses, including an LMG gunner (but no loader)!
2 thoughts on “Airfix Military Series – Poses”
I’m sure4 I had a few of these. I distinctly remember the rope team and the chap with the pick axe, but not the skier or signaller – who knows, I had a bit of a bucket full of soldiers given to me from who knows where!
I do remember they gave me a lot of joy, so for that, they were great and happily remembered, thanks.
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You are welcome!
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