ESCI was established in Italy in 1930, to trade goods between the mainland and the Italian colonies – hence its name “Ente Scambi Coloniali Internazionali” or, roughly translated, the “International Colonial Trade Exchange”. In the 1960s ESCI began importing Japanese plastic construction kits, and in 1972 began producing its own kits. It was the first firm to produce 1:72 military vehicles (Airfix at that time were working in 1:76) and as part of this range produced small sets of hard plastic infantry.
During 1982-9 ESCI created a new range of soft plastic military figures in 1:72 from various eras but mainly the Napoleonic Wars and World War 2. A total of 44 sets were produced. ESCI itself merged with the American firm Ertl in 1987, which itself went out of business in 1993. This was not the end of the figures however, as many of the sets remain available, almost 30 years later, from Italeri.
To get an idea of what these figures were like, let’s consider the only Italian subject that ESCI modelled, the famous Alpini.
The Alpini were mountain troops, mostly raised and based in the mountainous north of Italy. During World War 2, they formed a small but significant part of the Italian army, forming 6 divisions of approximately 100,000 men. They fought, not surprisingly, in mountainous areas such as the Balkans, but also found themselves thrown into combat as regular infantry on the Eastern Front, where three divisions were all but destroyed.
We have already encountered mountain troops in Fighting Toy Stories, and noted their essential qualities. They were of course, trained for operating in a rugged landscape requiring extreme physical fitness, and mountaineering and ski-ing where necessary. They were of necessity lightly equipped, and had to organise supply lines through difficult terrain.
Given the disappointing performance of the Italian army during the war, it is perhaps not surprising that ESCI chose to model the Alpini. They, along with the Bersaglieri and paratroopers, were perhaps the elite formations of the army and proved themselves tenacious fighters.
The ESCI Set
ESCI 211 WW2 Italian Mountain Troops “Alpini”
Year first produced:1983
L210xW130xH30 (box), Plastic 80g, Scale 1:72, Features: 0
Inside the box is a two-part sprue containing 56 items moulded in green polythene, from which a total of 48 figures can be made. Note how the sprue is compact and protectively surrounds the figures. From bottom of boot to top of helmet, the standing figures measure about 24mm.
Of the 14 poses included, 10 depict men in typical combat stances, advancing or firing weapons. The other four poses are particularly interesting, as they are suggestive of operations in mountainous country. One depicts a soldier marching clad in a greatcoat against the chilly weather, while another is assembled into a skier by attaching separate skis to the feet. The remaining two represent a soldier trying to coax along a recalcitrant pack-mule, a method of transporting supplies often used by the Alpini. The mule loads are separate pieces that are plugged into either side of the animal.
The figures are beautifully sculpted and moulded, with realistic weapons and uniforms, and details such as the ribbing on the puttees, the folds in the clothing and even the fingers on the men’s hands all picked out. Linger over the picture above. They really are a tour-de-force!
Most of the figures wear steel helmets, while three poses show the famous Alpini cap, and all sport the Alpini feather on the left side. It’s worth noting that by simply trimming off the feather, the steel-helmeted figures can represent regular Italian infantry.
Turning to the box, this is illustrated on the front with a picture of the troops in action, and as we can see the poses depicted are a good selection of what is inside. A triangular window allows the prospective purchaser to see the figures before purchase.
On the back is a painting guide, showing a typical figure front and back. The colours are keyed to the Humbrol Authentic range, which was a contemporary standard but has long since been out of production. Curiously, the back also includes a small illustration claimed to be the “actual size of the figurine”, whereas in fact it is slightly undersized.
In my opinion, the figures in this box, and in the ESCI series as a whole, established a reliable benchmark for quality that other makers can be judged against. The number of figures and range of poses, the attention to historical accuracy, and the detailed sculpting all set a high bar. It is a testament to their quality that many of the sets were later reused by other manufacturers including Italeri and Revell, and some are still available today.
Other sets of Axis figures from WW2 produced by ESCI include:
- 201 WW2 German Soldiers
- 204 WW2 Japanese Soldiers
- 206 WW2 Afrika Korps Soldiers