World War II Special Forces
World War 2 is often considered the 'last good war' for many reasons. It had huge battles, a variety of equipment and it involved just about every nation in some way or another. Many of the battles were straightforward, and unlike the current geopolitical situation it seemed easy to tell who were the good guys and bad guys. Until now the Special Forces line from Plan B Toys has stayed with modern units and equipment, ones that have gotten more than their share of use in the real world over the last decade. With the first series of WW2 figures, they are delving into some of the elite units on both sides with the same attention to detail and authenticity.
Before we get into the units covered in WW2 Series, there are some important things to keep in mind about the units that inspired these figures. All the units share some traits with modern special forces. They are all highly motivated and volunteers to the last. No one is in a special forces unit who doesn't want to be, one the reasons former Minnesota Governor (and SEAL) Jesse Ventura went for the elite unit - the guy next to you who may save your life wants to be there. This isn't to say that no special forces personnel are drafted - some were - but you had to volunteer further to enter these elite units. All the soldiers are highly disciplined and have to pass extremely difficult physical and even more difficult mental tests.
The plan behind Special Forces is to provide historically accurate figures of famous (or infamous) military units, complete with appropriate weaponry and dress. The line is built around a 6" scale, so the figures fit in with most modern action figure lines like Toy Biz's Marvel Legends and Mattel's Batman figures. All the lines have removable and interchangeable heads and equipment, so you can mix and match to create many more different soldiers.
There are some things that are common for all the figures in this assortment, beyond the ability to change heads and equipment. There is some new articulation from the previous figures, most notably the addition of ball-jointed thighs. All the figures have the same articulation:
- Neck (twist)
- Shoulders (ball-joints)
- Mid-Biceps (twists)
- Elbows (bends)
- Wrists (twists)
- Waist (twist)
- Thighs (ball-joints)
- Knees (bends)
- Ankles (bends)
Before we continue, it bears noting that there is a great deal of description listed below, especially concerning the equipment and units represented in these figures. The reason for this is simply to show you the level of authenticity that Plan B has used to ensure these are historically accurate. There are better sources for historical information on the web, and you should look there (and at your local library), but we feel it is very important to put in the research and detail, even for coverage of toys. They stand up great as toys, and just as well as historically accurate collectibles. Enough of the heavy stuff - enjoy!!
The Airborne divisions of the US Army took their genesis from the 82nd Infantry Division. 1942 was the year that the 82nd Infantry was split into a pair of airborne divisions - the 82nd and 101st Airborne. The 82nd was the first to leave the US and they headed for North Africa while the 101st would show its mettle in France and Northern Europe.
The invasion of Northern France at Normandy was dubbed 'Overlord', and was also referred to as 'Neptune'. The location of the invasion was a closely guarded secret, and the Allies went to great lengths to keep it a secret - sort of. They went to a great effort to ensure the Germans knew that General Patton would be leading the invasion in the Pas De Calais with his 1st Army group. However, the 1st Army group was about as real as most starlets' breasts in Hollywood - which is to say not at all. It was an army of inflatable tanks with movie-set like facades for buildings. And the Germans bought it.
When D-Day arrived on June 6th, 1944 it forecast the end of Hitler's Fortress Europe. The night before, paratroopers from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division dropped in behind enemy lines via gliders and parachutes to support landing operations. The projected losses for the Airborne units ran around 80% and there were over 2500 American paratroopers that lost their lives on D-Day.
After the war, the 101st Airborne was inactivated while the 82nd remained in service. The inactivation would only last decade, as the 101st was reactivated in 1956 and continues to serve proudly today.
82nd Airborne - D-Day
The 82nd Airborne Division was the first airborne in the US Army, and it was formed from the 82nd Infantry Division, a distinguished unit with the nickname 'All-Americans' and that counts as an alumni the famed Sergeant Alvin York. This was because the original unit in WW1 was formed with men from all of the then 48 states, and so they retain this name even today, with the AA as part of their unit logo and patch.
The first combat drops for the 82nd were in the soft underbelly of Hitler's Fortress Europe - in Salerno and Sicily in mid-1943. Part of the unit was detached to continue fighting in Italy (the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, known as the 'devils in baggy pants' at Anzio), while the rest went to England to prepare for the invasion of France.
The 82nd Airborne was an experienced paratrooper unit, and they were among the first to fight during the invasion of France in Normandy on D-Day. After 33 bloody days of combat and over 5000 men killed they were pulled back to England with the following report '"...33 days of action without relief, without replacements. Every mission accomplished. No ground gained was ever relinquished.'
Their fourth combat drop was into Holland as part of Market-Garden (more of which is detailed under the 101st Market Garden trooper), After fighting in Holland they were reassigned to France but ended up joining Allied forces in the Ardennes forest for the Battle of the Bulge.
After the capture of Berlin, the 82nd Airborne occupied the city and after the war was made a permanent part of the Army. Since then the 82nd Airborne has fought in many conflicts, including Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan.
The first detail that is perfect is the appearance of the brown jump boots that the American airborne units wore in WW2. A small detail, but just one of the reasons that these figures are incredibly accurate, and from there you can move on to the brown camo uniform complete with the gas mask bag molded on the left leg (complete with accurate markings). This was an important piece of equipment as it wasn't clear if any poison gas would be used by the Germans.
While there isn't a parachute included, you do get plenty of other goodies to make life a little better in battle. Starting out is the folding stock M1A1 rifle, a weapon only used by paratroops. It seems the guns weren't terribly popular, as the .30 caliber ammunition lacked stopping power. The stock is glued on the toy because it proved too fragile to make a working model for this figure. You can get it off, but you'll have to do some modifying and it can easily be lost.
The M1911A1 pistol, along with a holster, is included for close combat. There are two canteens, a backpack (also called a musette bag) and the ever-popular entrenching tool. The helmet is removable, and there are 2 large (most likely for M1 ammo) and 1 small equipment pouches (used first aid kit or other equipment) and a non-removable jump knife are included, and you can attach them to the belt via a peg and hole system.
101st Airborne - D-Day
The 101st Airborne Division was activated on June 15th, 1942 and their first commander's comment on the unit was that they had no history, but had a 'rendezvous with destiny'. Truer words were never spoken, as the 101st led the charge at D-Day with night drops prior to the invasion and were able to capture roads and key objectives leading from Utah beach.
The 'Screaming Eagles' were then used to capture Carentan, France - a strategic city that linked Utah and Omaha beaches and greatly slowed the German response to the invasion. From there the 101st ended up fighting in Holland in Market-Garden, and from there the Ardennes forest near Bastogne, Belgium. During this campaign the 101st was surrounded by 8 German Divisions, and their response when asked to surrender was 'Nuts!'
After other Allied forces broke in, the 101st eventually traveled into Germany and elements would go as far as Bavaria and they captured Berchtesgaden in Austria. For a closer look at the 101st, the HBO mini-series 'Band of Brothers' is available on DVD and on the History Channel.
Underneath the removable helmet is the well-known Mohawk of the 101st Airborne Pathfinders, the first units deployed before D-Day. The paratroops shaved their heads and donned war paint to try and scare the Germans and perhaps channel the fighting spirit of the Native American Indians.
Dressed in lighter brown colors like the 82nd trooper, the 101st D-Day soldier is a little better armed. That's mainly due to the Thompson M1A1 submachine gun, a weapon that had plenty of stopping power and a nice rate of fire. With that healthy rate of fire you need more ammo, so a large ammo pouch (along with a Strap) is included. There is also the ubiquitous M1911A1 along with a holster and a non-removable jump knife. To round out the trooper is the musette bag (backpack), entrenching tool, a small equipment pouch, a pair of canteens.
101st Airborne - Market Garden
After some success on D-Day, the 101st Airborne was again tasked with a combat jump - this time in Holland. Operation Market-Garden was a huge paratrooper operation with the goal of capturing bridges in Holland to ensure the Allied Army could quickly enter the German Lowlands, with the hope that the war could be ended sooner.
The mission started on September 17th, 1944 as the British 1st Airborne and American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped behind the German lines. The airborne portion of the operation was the 'market' part while following ground troops would make up 'garden'.
While the 101st captured the objective of Eindhoven, the overall operation was a failure. The last bridge - that at Arnhem, was never held. Perhaps one of the most ironic things that happened was that the Germans captured detailed plans of this operation, but the German Commander thought they were decoys and ignored them for the most part, perhaps being a little jumpy after being duped before the Normandy invasion.
Though it is more a look at the overall situation than at the 101st in particular, and excellent resource for those who prefer to watch history and not read it is the movie 'A Bridge Too Far'.
The camo used in Market-Garden is a bit darker than the D-Day drops, but otherwise this figure is nearly the same as the D-Day soldier. The accessories for the 101st Airborne Officer figure are identical to those of the 101st D-Day soldier. About the only difference is that the officer's helmet, which has the vertical officer's bar on the rear.
All the units chosen for the first series of WW2 Special Forces are derived from the Waffen SS, an elite part of the German military. The truth was that the SS operated independently of the Army and pretty much everyone except Hitler, and the SS troopers were all extremely loyal to both Germany and the Nazi party. While some of the best military units were SS Divisions, many atrocities were committed by SS units and personnel, though it is very important to understand that the Waffen-SS units were not the same as the SS units that guarded concentration camps. The SS was a large organization that had many distinct divisions.
The SS started out in the 1920's simply as a small force to act as bodyguards for Adolf Hitler. But over time the Schutzstaffel (literally 'protection squad') grew to become a much larger organization. Along the way, as the favored child of the Nazi party their power grew as well to include specialized military divisions, police activities and homeland security. It wasn't until March of 1940 that the actual 'Waffen SS' (waffen translates to 'weapons') was officially created, and from that point forth they fought in every major front and battle in the war.
A note about the accessories - on most of the images we have attached the entrenching tool to the breadbag accessory for ease of display, though this is not historically accurate. Usually, the canteen and/or meal kit would be attached to the breadbag - so keep this in mind as you set up the accessories. Also, all the German troops have non-removable daggers glued to their belts.
Waffen SS NCO (2nd Panzer Division 'Das Reich')
The 2nd Panzer Division started life as part of the initial Western European campaigns for Germany, in the low countries and France where the unit advanced across France to the Spanish border. At the time, the unit didn't have a special designation beyond 2nd Panzer Division, but this would soon change as the SS units were reorganized after the fall of France.
The designation of 'Deutschland' (Germany in German) was initially given, but this soon changed to Reich or Das Reich. They spent time in France awaiting Operation Sealion (an invasion of England that never materialized due to stiff English resistance), and were then sent East where they eventually took part in Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union).
There were few things worse late in the war than to go to the Eastern Front, but the initial German advance came within miles of Moscow, and the 2nd Panzer Division was on the forefront of that advance. At this point they had moved from Germany to the borders of the Reich at its high-water mark - from the Spanish border to the suburbs of Moscow. And that's when the fortunes of both Germany and the 2nd Panzers went downhill.
A vicious Russian counter-attack combined with the worst winter in decades and the 2nd Panzer Division took heavy losses. They regrouped in France and soon returned to the Eastern Front where they participated in many of the larger battles. Eventually they were transferred back to France, where they defended France unsuccessfully against the Allied invasions on D-Day and thereafter. They also took part in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest, and then back to Germany and Austria until the end of the war where most members surrendered to American Forces.
This trooper is dressed in a spring patterned camouflage smock, and is the only figure in this assortment that does not have a removable hat as he wears a field cap. The actual caps were designed to have the flaps fold down for cold weather (like everywhere in Russia), but the action figure will have to do without (note - don't send him to Russia). With the spring camo and scar you can easily imagine he was a survivor of the Eastern Front who's moved to a more hospitable climate, and as a bookend to the paratroopers he might be ready to battle the D-Day invasion.
Along with the outfit, this trooper is armed with weapons and equipment that are both appropriate and accurate. For close combat there is the Luger P08 pistol, a weapon that was used more towards the beginning of the war as it was replaced by the Walther P38. Lugers are highly prized by collectors. There is one of the most reliable and popular weapons of the war (even with some Allied troops) in the MP40 'Schmeisser' submachine gun. And with any machine gun, you need some ammo pouches so you don't run out. Throw in a 'potato-masher' grenade and you're armed and dangerous. To round out the weapons are the creature comforts. These include the meal tin, canteen, bread bag, non-opening gas mask canister and the all-important entrenching tool.
Waffen SS MG42 Gunner (5th Panzer Division 'Wiking')
The 5th Panzer Division was formed at the end of 1940, with the appellation 'Germania', that changed to 'Wiking' at the start of 1941. Before being ready for action, a Finnish volunteer unit joins the ranks of Wiking making it a multi-national unit which was very remarkable among the German forces. Personnel from the Wiking Division included Swedes, Danes, Finns, Dutch, Belgian, Norse, Swiss and Estonians in addition to the Germans.
As with most units, they headed out to join the Russian advance where they would spend the next few years.The 5th Panzer Division fought in the south of Russia and the Caucasus, and was nearly destroyed as the unit was trapped by the Russian advances around the same time that Allied forces were invading France for D-Day.
Parts of the unit managed to escape where they were reformed in Poland where they fought the Russian advance with the SS 3rd Panzer Division and Heer 19th Panzer Division (part of the regular Army). After a short time in Poland they would end up in Czechoslovakia, where they eventually surrendered to Russian forces.
The fashions for fall in Europe are seen on this soldier, and his camo smock in brown and orange to go with the changing leaves. He does have a removable helmet and some of the basic supplies, like a canteen, bread bag, gas mask canister and meal tin. And never forget the entrenching tool!
As you might expect, the aptly named MG42 Gunner has an MG42 machine gun included, along with an ammo box since the weapon goes through bullets quicker than Bush Twins go through a six-pack. A potato-masher grenade and a holster with a Walther P38 pistol (one of the standard pistols used by the Germans) completes the ensemble.
Panzergrenadier (3rd Panzer Division 'Totenkopf')
The 3rd Panzer Division first saw combat in Poland, and then shortly thereafter in France with the designation of 'Totenkopf', which translates as 'death's head'. In France the unit was involved in executions of Allied troops (the commander would be hung after the war for this). The unit stayed in France until April 1940, when it joined many other units in the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The early combat that the 3rd Panzer Division saw was around Leningrad, and for long periods parts of the division were isolated. Eventually they broke out, but heavy losses forced them to be refit in France in the fall of 1942. While in France they were part of the take over of Vichy France, and stayed in France until February of 1943, changing to an SS Panzer Grenadier Division.
They were sent back to the Eastern Front into some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, and they participated in the failed German counter-offensives and ended up spending much time acting in a defensive role. They joined Wiking and the Heer 19th Panzer Division in the defense of Warsaw. Eventually they fought around Budapest, Hungary but ended up surrendering to American Forces near Vienna (and they were handed over to the Soviets after that).
The weather outside was frightful in Russia, and snow was nearly as plentiful as Vodka so you were best suited wearing winter camouflage as this grenadier does. He does have a removable helmet, meal tin, bread bag, canteen and white gas mask canister to help on cold nights.
For arms, there are two very popular guns - the MP40 submachine gun and the Walther P38 pistol. A pair of ammo pouches is included to keep the MP 40 going, and a potato-masher grenade (potato not included). And yes, there is the entrenching tool!!
Yep, it's time to talk about the guys who made all this possible. Nope, we don't mean the leaders of nations that started and fought World War 2 (though I guess they deserve some credit or blame as the case may be), but we mean the guys who actually make the toys. Since we are really bad with all the Chinese names at the factory that actually manufactures these, we'll just cut to the creative guys.
Plan B Toys is made up at the heart with three guys - Chris and Jay Borman and Tony Simione. They've all been in the industry for years, and whether you know it or not you've been buying stuff they've worked on from Wiz Kids, Palisades, Diamond, Resaurus and others. Keep the streak alive and buy more!
The sculpting duties have fallen to Jon Matthews, whose other work can be seen in early Mage Knight figures, DC Direct (Catwoman Statue), the Clerks Inaction Figures, Resaurus figures, Resident Evil figures from Palisades and at the National Gallery in Washington DC. We made the last one up, but the man gets around.
To help out on all those magnificent accessories is Industrial Zoo. They do tons of accessories for lots of people because they're really good at them. What more needs be said?
Now buy some toys from these good folks!
Pictures of the 82nd Airborne Figure
Pictures of the 101st Airborne Market Garden Figure
Pictures of the 101st Airborne D-Day Figure
Pictures of the Waffen SS MG42 Gunner Figure
Pictures of the Panzergrenadier Figure
Pictures of the Waffen SS NCO Figure
|Where to buy the Special Forces action figures: These action figures retail for about $8.99 to $9.99 each and are available through Plan B's online store and at Gamestop stores, as well as through your local comic book stores (and specialty stores) via Diamond Comics Distributors and various online toy retailers.
Several such online stores are: Big Bad Toy Store (an RTM sponsor), KBtoys.com, and VoyagerToys.com. (Be sure to check the other RTM sponsors, listed on the Shop Center.)