In less than two months, France lost 290,000 men killed or wounded and 1,900,000 taken prisoner in its massive defeat that heavily relied upon a strategy based on solid defensive fortifications. Germany’s leaders were not going to fight the First World War again, in spite of all appearances. After their successful Blitzkrieg through Poland in September 1939, they seemed to have run out of steam, settling down to wage a “Sitzkrieg” or “Phoney War” (dôle de guerre). While the world waited through that first bitter, particularly severe winter of World War II, France began calling up reservists. Confident that their investment in the Maginot Line stopped the Germans in their tracks, and in their superior quantity and quality of French armor, French generals became overconfident while morale in their conscript army wore thin as time ticked by. “Observers, including the British general Brooke, were shaken by (the French army’s) insubordination and slovenly appearance.”¹ Soldiers, especially citizen soldiers, hate to “hurry up and wait.” Finally, on 10 May 1940, Germany launched its lightening war of combined arms driving through Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg with tightly knit air support and attached infantry. The British Expeditionary Force, French and Low Countries countered with weak, uncoordinated counter attacks but were hampered by inferior communications and failure to know their enemy. The allies fell for the diversion and were outflanked. Heinz Guderian’s Panzers then emerged from the “impassable” Ardennes near the city of Sedan on the Meuse River. The Battle of Sedan took place from 12-15 May, leaving the interior of France undefended enabling the Germans to encircle the British in Belgium. The demoralized French were unable to mount a coherent defense or to launch successful counterattacks. They signed an Armistice on 22 June 1940. The Battle of Sedan was thus instrumental in the total defeat of France...²
This is Dragon's first-ever 1/35 WWII French infantrymen figure set! Previously the Battle for France had been largely ignored aside from an occasional figure, usually surrendering. The opening line of this review should put this battle in proper perspective, as the French military paid dearly for their leaders’ mistakes. This set is long overdue! The box top illustration depicts the four figures about to defend their position and the figures are molded to match the illustrated poses. One figure crouches down behind a sandbag wall looking thru his binoculars, motioning for the others to stand back. The man next to him stands upright, pointing over that wall with one hand while holding his MAS Modèle 36 rifle upright in his other hand, calling out to the other two. The other two approach them, one with a Fusil-Mitrailleur modèle 1924 M29 (FM 24/29) Châtellerault light machine gun, the other with his pipe and holstered pistol. They’re sharply defined and true to the artist with hands that have fingers, open mouths and lifelike expressions. The Châtellerault light m.g. CORRECTLY has two triggers – one for single rounds, the other for automatic! FYI a safety lever had to be switched to the mode you wanted before it would fire. The updated FM 24/29 fired a 7.5mm round and “…earned an excellent reputation for reliability and performance.”³
They all wear the Adrian helmet, stamped out of single piece of manganese. It had a metal flute or ridge attached to the top and a metal badge attached to the front. The standard badge represented a flaming grenade with the letters RF (République Française). Take care to glue the helmet facing the right way! There is one helmet per figure, no optional headgear and every figure has a flathead! France sold a lot of equipment to other countries between the wars, so if you think this looks like the helmet worn by the Poles, for example, you’re right. The long, warm greatcoat they wear was unique to France in that the bottom front flaps could be buttoned back up to facilitate movement. DML provides the bottom of the greatcoats as three separate pieces with prominent cutouts to align them. Nonetheless, DON’T remove all the parts and get them mixed up or you’ll have some puzzle! Dry fit and study the illustrations and photos. I attached the back middle piece first, then each side in turn. Still, I needed a little putty to blend it just right. In fact most of the figures needed just a touch of putty wherever I turned someone at the waist, or have an arm or leg positioned “my way.” For the most part, I followed DML’s suggested poses. Puttees were standard, except for officers who wore boots.
I should mention that I noticed on the Armorama website review there was a question whether the heads were all too small. It may be an optical illusion or it may be so. A problem may be that the GREAT COAT is GREAT. It is large, bulky and not custom tailored. The neck also appears long and slender: perfect to fit the collar with a little air around it. That may be throwing our eye off or if it bothers you, replace them with ‘spare’ heads. I intentionally weathered much of the Great Coats with dust, heaviest at the bottoms. This is supposed to represent June and the soldiers would have just gone thru a terrible winter, so the coats would be worn and weathered and due for replacement.
The best I can tell, the men are correctly equipped though not fully equipped. Follow the color illustrations for proper colors. DML refers to Aqueous Hobby Colour, Mr.Colour and Model Master Colors. “Khaki” is THE color to include the canteen cover, gas mask pouch, holsters while some of the belts are leather along with the ammo pouches. The leather belt or harness forms a “Y” on the wearer’s back.
French ranks were mainly denoted by short stripes just above the cuff. They were at an angle for enlisted men from PFC (one stripe) up, and straight from 2nd Lieutenant (one stripe) up to five for Colonel. It’s a little more complicated than that and beyond the scope of this review. It appears DML molded them on some of the figures but I’ll need magnifying glasses to see them at this scale! It’s even difficult to see them on the box top! What you can see on the box top are the collar patch unit and branch of service insignia. According to my references, infantry and tank troops had khaki patches, while infantry unit numbers were red and tanks’ light grey. It looks like a couple of the men have mustaches. Period photos show large, scraggly beards on some men. I don’t know if they were “authorized” or representative of low morale but would certainly add “character” to some characters!
Each figure consists of ten parts plus weapon and gear. You can use Dragon’s box top diorama suggestion or rearrange poses as you wish. I’m thinking the fellow with binoculars would be perfect on the back of a Tamiya Char B.1, the soldier pointing and the two walking provide infinite possibilities. After the Battle of France a small French army existed in Vichy France and the Colonies, wearing this uniform for the most part. Many made it to England and served in the Free French Army with DeGaulle where they were reequipped with English uniforms and equipment. Finally, many units served with the U.S. where they obtained U.S. uniforms and equipment. At each stage it would not be unusual to mix and match where remnants of THIS 1940 gear remained along with English or American gear. After all, if dressed and armed as a G.I. from head to toe there’d be no telling they were French without interrogating the figure!
I can heartily recommend this set to all modelers who enjoy modeling figures. It’s a refreshing change from “another German” and Dragon filled a long ignored need. The set is nicely molded and creatively posed. Excellent painters can really complement the team at Dragon that created these figures. “Average” painters like myself, can appear much better than average thanks to the “canvas” we have to work on.
I can’t thank DML enough for discovering another niche among the WWII Allies! I can’t find anything that bothers me enough to mention, but I can make some positive suggestions. I think more modelers would get more value out of the model or figure set if decals were provided. In a set like these French Infantry, it would simply be above the cuff ranks and collar patch unit and branch of service insignia. If bonus ammo boxes were provided then markings for those boxes would be a plus. Further, identifying those ranks and units, and identifying the weapons and equipment on the box bottom or a paper insert would also be a plus. I happened to have some references for this review but I’m sure somebody is going to remove one of the two Châtellerault L.M.G. triggers. Somebody else might even complain that it is a non-existent Bren gun variant! Another suggestion is provide an optimal “open flap” hollow holster with the pistol a separate item that will fit into a figure’s hand.
Thanks to DML/Dragon for providing the review sample and for Steve Collins for letting me do this review, and to the IPMS crew that “makes it all happen!” This French Infantry Sedan 1940 figure set is available at better hobbyshops or see Dragon’s web site www.dragonmodelsusa.com or call: (626) 968-0322.
- ¹ ² The Armed Forces of World War II by Andrew Mollo
- ² The Dragon website also provided much of the history
- ³ Fighting Men of World War II Allied Forces by David Miller
- Army Uniforms of World War II by Andrew Mollo
- Armorama website review
The French Infantry Sedan GREATCOAT.jpg is a DML photo from the bottom of the box. It illustrates a text reference to being able to “button up” the bottom of the great coat to make it easier to move about in it!