Italian Infantry of World War Two, 1939–44
Airfix/HaT Industrie 1:72 Scale Figure Review
Italian temperate and tropical uniforms were of very similar cut, and these miniatures may be painted to represent either type. Another interesting conversion would be to replace some steel helmets with the tropical helmet issued in North Africa. The figures show a lot of crisp detail which will paint beautifully. The unusually low number of poses suggests that Airfix put this figure set into production even though it had not been completed by the sculptor. As a result, all support weapons at platoon and company level are missing, such as the light and medium machine guns and mortars one would expect to see in a miniatures set of this quality.
Italian troops showed dash and courage in combat, a fact easily ignored in the wake of post-war ridicule of the army’s performance. If Italian formations were no match for the Allied, and German counterparts, blame must be placed on the fascist regime which poorly prepared the army for the job it had to do. Careful study will reveal a number of contributing factors:
- Inexperienced leadership. The majority of junior officers were drawn from a pool of inexperienced young men with a university education and very little military training. These reserve officers had been conscripted for 18 months of military service, commissioned, and released into civilian life again. Upon mobilization nearly 20,000 of them were called up annually, and assigned primarily to infantry formations. Inadequate leadership training, and the shortage of combat experienced junior officers would negatively effect the cohesion of infantry platoons and companies.
- Inadequate Equipment. Infantry weapons at platoon and company level were substandard. The 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle stands out as particularly inadequate, it had a much shorter range, lower accuracy and stopping power than the rifles used by other nations. Beretta 9 mm submachine guns were excellent weapons, but the standard squad light machine gun again fired the inadequate 6.5 mm rifle ammunition. The 8 mm Breda heavy machine gun had a complicated loading mechanism which significantly reduced its rate of fire. Light and heavy machine guns were known to jam easily, particularly if the ammunition was not well lubricated.
- Ineffective anti-tank weapons. The Italian army fielded a copy of the Austrian 47 mm Böhler anti-tank gun, which proved dangerously inadequate against Allied armour. Artillery units had to be deployed well forward to provide the infantry with some anti-tank protection. The artillery served with great distinction, but the practise of forward deployment resulted in enormous personnel and equipment losses.
- Flimsy armour plating. Many Italian vehicles were well designed from a mechanical point of view, but armour plating technology was well behind that of other nations. Italian armour plating had a tendency to crack when hit. Italian tanks were at a tremendous disadvantage in combat, unable to penetrate opposing infantry tanks, and easily knocked out by a variety of enemy anti-tank weapons. Italian tanks also suffered from a lack of power, they were inadequately protected and slow, a deadly combination.
- Insufficient strategic mobility. Italian infantry formations serving in North Africa were inadequately motorized. If a defensive position had to be given up, German motorized units and Italian armoured formations easily re-deployed to another defensive line, but the foot troops were often left behind, cut off and captured.
Taken together, poor leadership, low firepower, inadequate tank defenses, weak armour, and low mobility must spell disaster at the tactical, operational and strategic level. To take the field under such obviously adverse conditions is an act of exceptional courage.
- 48 Figures in only 7 Poses – 22.5 mm height equals 162 cm
- 2 Officers firing pistol
- 8 standing Infantrymen firing Beretta Modello 3A SMG
- 8 kneeling Infantrymen firing Beretta Modello 3A SMG
- 8 marching Infantrymen with Mannlicher-Carcano Rifle
- 8 standing Infantrymen firing with Mannlicher-Carcano Rifle
- 7 advancing Infantrymen with Mannlicher-Carcano Rifle
- 7 prone Infantrymen with Mannlicher-Carcano Rifle, throwing grenade
Beautifully sculpted figures. The poses look completely natural, and anatomically correct. The figures are slender, and they appear taller than they actually are. The box says that these are 1:72 scale figures, which would make the men less than 5’-4″ tall. Interestingly, the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and the Beretta submachine gun scale out correctly at 1:72 scale, supporting this claim.
Exceptional detail in the uniforms, weapons, and equipment. Everything is sculpted accurately, and the equipment is carried correctly.
Nice facial features, the officer could be right out of a movie. This figure alone would justify buying a box or two of these soldiers.
Excellent casting quality, crisp detail, and little flash.
No support weapons. Unlike other Airfix figure sets, this one does not include standard infantry weapons like machine guns, and light mortars. Diorama builders, and wargamers will have to convert figures to create the missing troop types.
Only seven poses. Sadly, this set falls far short of the industry standard of 12–15 poses in a set of 45–50 infantry figures. Considering the exceptional detail and sculpting quality of these figures, we seem to have missed out on a bunch of great figures. A light and heavy machine gun team may have been planned, but not completed in time, that would account for the missing poses. We may never know.
Incomplete painting instructions. The back of the box shows an infantryman in a medium grey uniform, with leather equipment of the same colour. Without Humbrol or Revell colour reference numbers, the painting is not very useful. Andrew Mollo describes the uniform and equipment colour as a gray-green. Officers wore a uniform made from better material which had a lighter gray-green colour.
- Italian Infantry in temperate uniform (gray-green)
- Invasion of the Balkans, 1941–43
- Invasion of Russia, 1941–44
- Italian Campaign, 1943
- Italian Partizan War, 1944
- Italian Infantry in tropical uniform (light khaki)
- Libyan Campaign, 1940–41
- North African Campaign, 1941–42
- Tunisian Campaign, 1943
- Italian Campaign, 1943
- Italian infantry in tropical helmets. The uniforms can be painted light khaki to represent the tropical uniform which was very similar to the temperate uniform. Some figures may be converted, replacing the steel helmet with a tropical helmet taken from Atlantic’s Afrikakorps or from ESCI’s North Vietnamese infantry set. Gray-green leather equipment was also worn in Africa.
- Infantry of the Repubblica Soziale Italiana in 1945, wearing Italian uniforms with German steel helmets and Einheitsmütze caps. These troops fought alongside German units on the Eastern Front, and they were engaged in anti-Partizan warfare in Upper Italy.
- Funcken, L. & F.: L’Uniforme et les Armes des Soldats de la Guerre 1939–1945, p. 13
HaT Industrie’s re-release of the old Airfix infantry set is a welcome addition to the growing range of World War Two troops. The Italian shirt and tie uniform is very modern in appearance, and it’s beautifully sculpted. Painting and drybrushing these figures should be fun, it will accentuate the many folds in the clothing. The genius who sculpted these troops should be commissioned to do more work in our favorite figure scale.