Supporting the Infantry
Most of the sets produced by Airfix were of troops fighting on the front line. As such they are usually armed with the most common weapons such as rifles, sub and light machine guns, and grenades. During World War 2, all armies supported these troops with a smaller number of men equipped with heavier weapons; heavier in the literal sense, and usually operated by a small crew, but capable of putting out a higher firepower.
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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.
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The Importance of Accuracy
Airfix was proud to claim accuracy for their kits, emphasising their quality and attention to detail, and naturally wished this reputation to also apply to the figures they produced. After all, many of their buyers were knowledgeable enough to complain if they made mistakes, and in the 1970s there were plenty of competitors who could step into the gap if the figures proved to be inaccurate. So, how well did they fare with the Military Series? To make a judgement, let’s go back in history to the fateful day of Waterloo, 18 June 1815.
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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.
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The Magnificent Seven (Poses)
The Airfix Military Series
Airfix first began to produce figures in HO/OO scale, a size compatible with their burgeoning ranges of railway and military vehicles. It wasn’t until 1969, a decade later, that they introduced their first set of larger figures in 1:32 scale. 31 different sets were created up to 1983, mainly of military figures from the Napoleonic Wars, Wild West, WW2 and Cold War eras. In other words, classic toy soldier subjects. A selection of vehicles and buildings was also produced.
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Interest in the possibility of Space travel, and speculation about what might be found, had steadily grown during the period after World War Two. In 1966 the TV series Star Trek was televised; in 1969 the first Moon landing was watched by millions; and in 1977 the first Star Wars film was released.
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Evolution or Revolution?
The introduction of plastic in the 1950s as a material for making toy figures, ushered in a period of rapid innovation and development for Britains. Several distinct generations of figures, each with their own distinctive character, followed each other in swift succession during the post-war decades culminating with the very successful Deetail range of the 1970s.
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