by: Karl N. Hoy [ ]
Zvezda figure releases are always interesting- the subject choices and poses are usually a little different to that of other styrene figure manufacturers. That’s not to say they are always knocking people’s socks off, but recently they seem to have been giving it a damn good shot.
We’ve had Volksturm in Berlin 1945, we now have this Paratroopers set and in the future there are concrete plans to release German Fallschirmjäger that include billowed out parachutes! So what have we got here…?
Christmas Day, 1979 saw much of the world sitting down to some turkey and handing out presents. For the Soviet Army, it was a day of invasion— one that would start a war lasting ten years and costing thousands of lives, the ramifications of which are still very relevant today.
Soviet Paratroopers (VDV) were at the forefront of the war in Afghanistan— from the invasion day right through until the pull-out. This included seizing Bagram Airbase on 24th December, and later in the war they were used to seize the key city of Kandahar.
The Paratroopers’ experience in Afghanistan was harsh, to say the least. Much of their uniform and kit was designed for use in a Western European war (the KLMK green and tan camouflage uniform for example), and their training had also emphasized this aspect of warfare: engaging a modern military force of similar size and structure in open warfare.
Afghanistan was about as far from this as it could get, and tactics, at least initially, were inadequate. The Soviet forces had no massed enemy in defensive positions to manoeuvre against. The Mujahedeen forces refused to play by any kind of rules. The VDV (among other units) were an elite force and adapted quickly; their innovation led them to become quite adept at counter-insurgency warfare.
However, the VDV were not always well backed-up. As airborne forces, they relied on various forms of fire support, the most necessary of which were helicopters and artillery. There were never enough helicopters to support a constant wave of airborne style offensive warfare. Unfortunately, the Soviets sometimes utilised VDV forces in a poor manner, often sending them out beyond artillery cover and essentially not utilising the tactics that had been developed to work in a counter-insurgency style of warfare.
There are five figures detailed over two sprues. We get:
a grenadier in a kneeling, ready-to-fire position
a medic/rifleman seemingly walking up a slight incline
a radio operator sitting on his knees and using his handset
a sniper in a cross-legged sitting position with his rifle up in the firing position
what I assume is an Officer/NCO looking through a pair of binoculars
a light machine gunner in the prone, ready to fire position.
The poses are realistic and would suit a variety of different scenes.
As I said, the figures are spread across two sprues, A and B:
Sprue A: This includes the Officer/NCO, grenadier and radio operator. By far the highlight of this sprue is the radio-operator, with a nicely-moulded head including hat and headset. His helmet is also one of the best I have ever seen in plastic, with the liner and straps nicely curled up inside (the helmet is supposed to lie beside him). Wires from the radio and the antenna are also welcome additions.
The Officer/NCO is also well-moulded with good detail on the combat boots and clothing; the jacket is nicely whipped to one side to, I think, suggest a gust of wind. The head is good, but will be mostly obscured by the binoculars, as they are held up to his eyes. He also appears to be wearing some kind of jumper underneath his body armor and assault vest.
The grenadier’s face is as good as many resin manufacturers, and shows just how much detail can be achieved via injection moulding. His pose is nice, but the grenade belt and rear pack aren’t very well-detailed.
Sprue B: The sniper, machine gunner and medic/rifleman are included on this sprue, along with the kit helmets and all the front-mounted pouches for the assault vests.
My particular highlight of this sprue is the stunning SVD Dragunov sniper rifles— one with the hands attached and one without. Both are flawless moulds with admirably thin sprue-attachment points. The detail goes right down to the ribs on the rear of the sight housing. However, the particular sitting pose of the sniper looks a little strange, and the ammo pouches on the front appear to be for AK-74 magazines. A separate bag for the Dragunov ammunition is included, but I don’t believe a sniper would wear three pouches containing ammunition he didn’t personally need. Face detail is terrible, with an ugly mould seam down the middle and virtually no brow/eye socket detail.
The medic/rifleman appears in a kind of walking position, perhaps stopped on an incline and using his gun as a kind of rest. I say medic, because he has a bag you can assemble that has a medical cross in the box art, although in the artwork it is on the right, whereas the instructions have it on his left. The face detail is not bad, although the helmet strap appears too thick. His backpack is very nicely-moulded, but appears big, bulky and uniform. A bit of sag would not have gone amiss, this one simply looks a bit too “perfect.”
Finally we have the machine gunner: the RPD is an excellent mould in a prone position. On the sprue, his chest appears to be very angled and it looks like he might not sit quite right, but on a flat surface it looks very realistic. The feet don’t touch the ground though, and a little bit of persuasion (i.e. glue) will probably be needed when attaching him to a base/groundwork. Again, the face detail isn’t bad, and he carries a nicely-produced entrenching tool.
So I’ve written about each figure, and now I’ll move on to individual areas that merit attention in this review.
First up is the guns: each is moulded twice— one with hands and one without. Both examples are top-notch pieces that are actually more detailed than a resin set of Soviet weapons that I compared them to. The only problem is each AK-74 has the same two magazines moulded taped together, and the same metal folding butt-stock. Apart from that, I was extremely impressed with the detail of the weaponry.
The Assault Vests are all chest rig types (worn over what I believe is body armor that is moulded integrally on all figures) with magazine pouches at the front and smaller pouches at the side. There also appears to be either a flare or a water bottle in a pouch that is attached beside the other magazine pouches. All pouches are well-detailed with nice folds/creases and openings. According to reference photos, troops liked wearing the pouches open even with magazines protruding from the top. There were also other styles of assault vest worn in Afghanistan, so it is a shame you only get the one style for all the figures.
The helmets are quite good and have detail inside suggestive of the helmet liner, but the radio operator’s helmet is much more-detailed with a much finer mould compared to the other helmets. And that is where we get to the problem with this release: the detail is all over the place. It goes from excellent (favourably comparing with its resin or Dragon Gen2 counterparts) to atrocious within the same sprue! I can’t understand why this is, and it really puts a damper on what otherwise is a really promising kit.
Another instance of detail inconsistency is the boots: on the rifleman/medic and radio operator, we have a tread pattern moulded-on. But this detail is not present on any other figure. Straps on some figures are thinner or thicker than those on other figures in the kit.
The other problem is extras: there are none, really, unless you count an extra weapon for each figure. In Tamiya or Dragon releases, there is usually a few more weapons than needed, and perhaps one or two extra things like jerry cans or ammunition boxes. There is none of that in this kit.
I chose two figures at random— one to build out of the box and paint quickly, the other to show conversion potential, which is an area where I think these figures have a lot of mileage.
OOB Build: The Officer/NCO with binoculars was the subject for the OOB build. Most injection moulded figures are very easy to assemble, so I decided not to build every figure but focus on this one and paint it to show how it goes. I didn’t encounter any problems in the build, as all the parts went together according to the instructions. The only real work I did was detach the parts from the sprue. The attachment points are nice and thin, but brittle so make sure you don’t lose any parts from rough handling of the sprues as pieces come off quite easily.
There are some very faint mould seams on either side of the figure, but they are so thin they get lost among some details. A quick swipe of a sanding stick will sort these out, along with the nubs of the sprue attachment points. I tried both hand options with some dry fitting: the one with the hand attached to the AK-74 with the grenade launcher, and a regular AK-74 with an empty hand (not shown in the pictures until it was painted). I opted for the latter so it would be easier to paint both his hand and the gun when the time came.
I base coated with Black Grey (all paints are Vallejo unless otherwise stated), and chose the main colors based on the box art, painting instructions and references: Old Wood for the trousers; Andrea Olive Green and Iraqi Sand for the jacket; London Grey for the jumper; US Dark Green for the helmet; Black Grey for the boots and Russian Khaki for the assault vest and body armor. The flesh was painted Andrea Light Flesh. The gun metal body is Andrea Gun Metal; the wooden parts Andrea Dark Brown Leather; and the magazines New Wood; and Andrea Russian Khaki for the tape around them.
The figure was shaded with Vallejo Glaze Medium and suitable dark colours, and was then highlighted by dry-brushing lighter colours, all before being sealed with Vallejo Matt Varnish.
I must stress that the build and painting I undertook was quite rushed, and I didn’t stop to finesse anything. Hence taking your time with your own build will undoubtedly produce superior results; hopefully what I have done will show that the figures are excellent without any additions and/or embellishments.
Beyond the Box: BTB potential is pretty good. The poses are solid and provide some interesting options for conversions of various sorts. Another point in favour of modification and/or conversion is the plastic: it is very soft and with care can be worked easily with a scalpel and a panel scriber.
The uniforms are (with the exception of the Officer/NCO’s jacket) winter issue tan (identified mainly by the large fur collar). They also have the upper arm pockets; this particular winter style of dress has been issued to Soviet/Russian forces for quite some time, and it would be applicable in a number of different camouflage schemes. Additionally, the winter uniform was used extensively in both Chechen wars.
The flak-vests and chest rigs for the figures are of a somewhat similar shape to the vests issued in Chechnya. I won’t go on an exhaustive explanation of the various differences between the versions of vests and flak jackets (although I can provide this if anyone is interested), but if you are not too worried about detail, you could get away with using the box figures in a Chechnya setting. To make a very accurate Chechnya-based figure is quite possible using this kit as a base, but some sculpting and/or scratch-building would be required.
In my BTB build I have done a few things, including using the kneeling grenadier. The first thing I did was drill out the sleeves of his arms. It’s a simple job and it makes it easier to fit after-market hands. Secondly, I hollowed out the collar area to accept a resin head. In this case, I used a British WW2 head from Hornet with the helmet cut off. The Zvezda helmet had to be hollowed out to fit, but the detail on the Hornet head, I think, really adds a lot to the figure once in place.
Next step was to deepen some of the detail. I have already mentioned the inconsistencies in the kit: it can be good on one side and soft on the other with the same figure. Some of the pockets on this figure were well-moulded; others were far too soft and poorly-defined. So a panel scriber was taken to shape them, as well as some of the webbing on his back. I have purposely not re-surfaced the figure to show where I was working on it more clearly. I think it would actually be best to replace most of the strapping with A B putty or pieces of lead foil or masking tape.
Lastly I used a regular AK-74 from the box and attached two aftermarket hands and a strap. With this figure, you want the gun resting on his shoulder, held pretty much horizontally and with the face leaning in to aim. If you want this pose using aftermarket parts, it is best to use blu-tac to make sure the positions are correct. With a little more time and perhaps with some putty, these figures could have quite a number of different uses/settings.
This is quite easily the strangest box-art I have ever seen: an amalgam, it seems, of computer generated images, photos and some artwork, none of which work together all that well. The front four figures (sniper, medic, grenadier and radio operator) all look quite good— except the grenadier’s assault vest. It’s a depiction of a more modern Russian vest, not the chest rig detailed on the kit’s box art. The same can be said of the radioman: the depicted vest is not the one in the kit.
Perhaps things are better on the reverse? No, just five computer images showing the completed figures: all grey, superimposed over a Russian map. I’m going to be polite and not call the box presentation lazy. I believe it is simply a rush-job and one I sincerely hope will be rectified with full-color painting instructions, if not the front, then definitely the rear side. The box looks cheap in its current form and this may be off-putting for some. The kit deserves better presentation.
The instructions are pretty good, with diagrams showing in detail how each figure goes together. A neat touch is to mould two pairs of hands for every figure: two attached to the gun/radio/binoculars each man carries, and two moulded not holding anything. This requires all of the weapons to be moulded twice, once with hands attached and one without (all except the radio operator’s left hand; only one is moulded with the handset attached).
Assembly/positioning of each paratrooper’s assault vest is also included in the diagrams. Painting instructions are black & white with only Model Master colors covered.
I also believe that in the case of the Officer/NCO holding the binoculars, the painting instructions are wrong: his jacket appears to be a summer dress one that. VDV troops in Afghanistan usually wore the KMLK pattern mentioned earlier. The instructions have the color as identical to the winter uniforms (a mid-tan color) worn by the other figures. The Officer/NCO wears the winter trousers.
I’m really very happy with this release from Zvezda. It’s great to see some new and relatively modern Russian releases in the figure world. There is a lot of potential for these figures, whether they are built out-of-the-box or altered in some way. The poses and sublimely-moulded weaponry are well worth the asking price.
My only annoyance is that there are some very strange inconsistencies in detailing across each sprue. While this doesn’t ruin the kit, it does add a sense of frustration: how can one piece be so well-detailed yet another on the same sprue be terrible? Fix that problem and perhaps throw in an extra sprue with an RPG and some boxes/crates, and perhaps one or two more weapons, and this kit would be an absolute gem.
A big thank you goes out to the Italian reference legend, the one and only Mauro “Spiderfrommars,” who helped me out with a heap of photos and information about Russian forces in Afghanistan.