The past few years have been a mini-renaissance for what was called in Napoleon's time the "queen of the battlefield," artillery (now often called the "King of the Battlefield"). Many new kits have come out, though unfortunately a majority seem to be offered without crews. Master Box, one of the current innovators in styrene figures, has just released a solution for US guns lacking crews with one intended for the larger calibers.
what you get
Inside the usual MB box is a single sprue of tan plastic that has been broken into two pieces. (Ed Note: Our apologies to Bill, but actually it's just this way to fit in the box we sent to him. The kit comes as one solid sprue.)
The molding and execution of Master Box figures has improved dramatically in recent years, and the set is one of their better efforts. Each figure is made up of six parts with separate helmets. Two of the figures have a second set of arms & hands to allow for a different pose. Those of you who are good with your hands could probably even combine two sets for a bigger mob.
The molds are crisp with little or no flash and only modest seam lines. The clothing folds are good, though not as sophisticated as some others I've seen, but well within the limits of acceptability. The hands especially are as close to resin quality as I've seen in recent styrene offerings (see close-up photo at right). There are none of the usual indistinct globs, but instead fingers in realistic positions.
While big guns like the M115 8" howitzer or 155mm "Long Tom" typically had 14-man crews, this set gives you enough figures to make a diorama look realistically busy. The set builds up into six crewmen:
- Three loaders in various positions
- One sponger (can also be a loader with different arms)
- One gunner aiming the piece (also a second set of arms in a different elevation)
- One radio telephone operator for indirect fire (complete with radio set)
While one large shell is included, you will still need to come up with ammunition if you intend to build a fire base. The cover shows one of the loaders pulling out a propellent bag from a canister, but unfortunately nothing of the sort in included.
One of my pet peeves with artillery crews is that often they look like infantry squads pressed into manning a gun: lots of packs, gear and hanging accoutrements that could get caught in the violently moving parts of a busy cannon. This crew, on the other hand, is stripped for action - at least three of them are, with two in skivvy shirts and one sporting a bare chest.
He looks in pretty good shape, and maybe his sculpted abs will attract a few more female modelers to the hobby the way the many naked and half-naked fantasy female figures have found a market among us males.
The crew is perfectly-matched for the AFV Club M115 8" howitzer or 155mm "Long Tom" kits, and I'm glad to have the option of building the former in a fire base diorama instead of in transport mode. Six figures are a realistic option instead of 2-3 resin ones at 2x-3x the price of plastic.
As per Master Box's usual custom, the assembly and painting guides are color photo montages on the back of the box. The parts aren't numbered on the sprues, so care must be taken in removing them in the right order, though the figures aren't terribly complicated. The painting guide offers only Vallejo and Lifecolor choices, and numbers instead of color names, so research your paint options before beginning the build.
Anyone with a big gun in their stash should immediately seek out this set and add it to the mix. The molding, poses and execution of the figures is exemplary, and continues Master Box's recent run of interesting, creative and useful figure sets. While not quite a "diorama in a box," this set will bring life to any artillery build if handled correctly.