Brave Little Soldiers by Gerard van Geleuken
10 August 2002  
A good diorama tells a story, and for a story you need a few characters. To show what a monster your Tiger really is - even if it's just 3 inches long - you need men crawling over it, laboriously loading ammunition, adjusting track tension, and cleaning out the barrel with a long rod, while on the edge of the scene two officers (Italians?) look on in awe, standing in front of their staff car (a small one of course, for the necessary contrast - say Al.By's Fiat 508). Unfortunately, getting a convincing group of figures (i.e. to scale, sufficiently detailed, in the right poses and compatible with each other) together can be a difficult undertaking in our little 1:72 world.

1:72 scale figures basically come in 4 types of material:

1) Soft plastic or polyethylene. Cheap and plentiful, but there are disadvantages: because of the limitations of the casting process, detail is often blurry, although recent offerings (Revell, Italeri) are pretty good. Another problem is that the poses are largely limited to shooting, running, and throwing hand grenades, presumably because the manufacturers think that is what the kids want, whereas in most dioramas no actual fighting is going on. Converting these figures is not impossible but takes a lot of trial and error, blood, sweat and tears, and foul language (when you stick the reinforcing pin in your finger instead of in the tiny little head). And of course this eats into the time you want to spend working on your AFV's. Finally, most soft plastic figures do not hold paint too well, even with undercoating.

2) White metal. Lots of figures on offer (variously designated 1:72, 1:76, 20 mm, 25 mm, OO scale, etc.). Mostly intended and only acceptable for wargaming, with few exceptions (MMS are fairly good). Some figures look nice overall but have disproportionately large heads. A few sets of WW II and modern AFV crews are worthy of consideration. Conversion of metal figures is a difficult job and hardly worth the trouble.

3) Resin. Here things get more interesting. Several manufacturers (Milicast, ExoKit, etc.) offer nicely detailed figures with a good variety of poses. Disadvantages: high price, very fragile (just getting them off the sprues in one piece can be a challenge, and gun barrels are broken off as a matter of course). Also, there are often air bubbles to fill. Working with the required cyanoacrylate (CA) glue is no joy either, it's toxic and will always glue your fingers together first before it consents to join a tiny arm to a tiny body.

4) Hard plastic. This is what we really want, and what the 1:35 modellers have such an abundance of. Until recently the choice was sadly limited: a few figures thrown in with vehicle kits (Airfix, Matchbox, Hasegawa, Fujimi) and some infantry sets (Hasegawa), but these are mostly not up to modern standards.

In recent years however, the German firm of Preiser has come to the rescue. Preiser produces an endless variety of 1:87 scale figures (HO scale) for model railroads, but they are now offering more and more 1:72 figures. The early ones were not so impressive, although serviceable (set 72520, NATO pilots and ground crew for instance), but I just got some of the latest, Modern US Infantry (Preiser 72500) and WW II German Infantry at rest (72505). And what a joy they are to behold and to assemble! (At this point, perhaps I should state for the record that I have no financial interest WHATSOEVER in Preiser.) Superb detail, you can just snip them off the sprues, glue on the arms and heads (they fit, hardly any need for filing and sanding), and on to the next figure! Heads and arms are also largely interchangeable so you can create different poses. With the Germans, Preiser thoughtfully provides lots of separate rifles (with and without bayonets) and MP 40 submachine guns (stock folded or extended), with really exquisite detail, plus helmets, caps, canteens, entrenching tools, ammo pouches, etc., etc. I never thought I'd see the day.

Since a picture is better than a thousand words, here are a couple of webpages with pictures:

What I particularly like about these Preiser figures is that they are marching, doing maintenance, eating, reading, standing guard, sleeping, and just sitting around waiting, all activities that soldiers, even in wartime, spend far more time on than actual fighting. I would recommend buying a few of the civilians sets too, if only to have a supply of body parts, unhelmeted heads etc. Or how about a diorama with US soldiers and French resistance fighters conferring at a crossroads, over a map spread out on the hood of a jeep? Just pick a few suitable civilians, hang some of the aforementioned German weapons and ammo pouches on them, and there you are! By the way, berets can be made by gently - but firmly - pressing down a little ball of Miliput on a head with the top cut off. This works well with soft plastic figures too, if you hollow out the head a little and use plenty of water on all surfaces. I converted a bunch of US Marines to postwar Latin American rebels simply by replacing their helmets with berets. You may also want to look at Preiser set 72413, Civilians Waving : these are WWII civilians, 5 of them and prepainted, and therefore not cheap, but very original. There is one thin woman in drab clothes waving a little white flag, who would work very well standing on the pavement in front of a damaged house, as a JS II tank and a truck full of jubilant Red Army soldiers roll by. Of course, with a few strokes of the paintbrush you can change the white flag to a French, Belgian or Dutch flag, and then you have a woman enthusiastically welcoming her liberators! Two other waving women have scarves around their heads and would fit in a Eastern European or Russian scene. For the Ukraine, be sure to add lots of colourful flowery decoration to the dresses.

Preiser figures are sometimes hard to find, and the company's own website has been "under construction" for over a year now. Possible sources in the US are and Be sure to get them before somebody at Preiser decides that the 1:72 scale line is not profitable, and happy modelling to you.

Back to Articles Page Back to Home Page