REVIEW: H.M. ARMED FORCES ARMY INFANTRYMAN
I'm sure many people reading this review will recall the G.I. JOE CLASSIC COLLECTION of the late 1990's, and into the early 2000's. A very worthy successor to the original 12" G.I. Joe of the 1960's, the Classic Collection presented kids and collectors with authentically-styled, realistic military soldiers from not only the United States, but all over the world, featuring a wide range of specialties and even different time periods, from the modern day to World War I, World War II, the Civil War, and even the Revolutionary War. Vehicles were later added to the line, as well.
The Classic Collection was entirely separate from the more character-driven 3-3/4" Real American Hero G.I. Joe, in that it sought to present, as best as possible, realistic interpretations of actual military personnel. And for a very generous number of years, it did just that. I often wish that the line was still around.
However, our friend in England, the United Kingdom, have picked up that particular ball on their own. In no way affiliated with G.I. Joe, and not manufactured by Hasbro, a company in England, called Character Options Ltd., is producing a series of very authentic military action figures based on various aspects of the British armed forces.
The line is, in fact, called, H.M. ARMED FORCES (H.M. standing for "Her Majesty's"). How authentic is this series? How about officially licensed from the British military itself? The text on the package of one of these figures -- the one I plan to review here --reads, "Reproduced with the permission of the Controller, HMSO, London. The Army and HM Armed Forces names and logos are trade marks of the UK Secretary of State for Defence are used under licence."
Iit doesn't get much more official than that...! This review will take a look at the BRITISH ARMY INFANTRYMAN Figure!
The packaging for these figures is suitably impressive. It bears the official logo of the Army, which in this vase is a crown with a lion atop the crown (and wearing a crown, as well), with two crossed swords behind it, and the word "ARMY" below. There is a photograph of an actual Army Infantryman on the side of the package, along with some explanatory text, which reads as follows:
The British Infantry is based on the regimental system, which consists of 36 regular battalions, 14 territorial battalions, and forms 18 Regiments. One of the British Army's standard combat weapons is the 5.56mm assault rifle. It fires NATO standard 5.56x45mm ammunition.
The Combat 95 clothing system is designed to provide the soldier with exactly the right degree of protection for any operational environment. It has to satisfy stringent military requirements covering infrared reflection, thermal signature and flame resistance.
Personal Role Radios are small transmitter-receivers that allow infantry soldiers to communicate and react quickly and efficiently to rapidly changing situations, including contact with the enemy.
Soldiers are also issued with body armour that can be further reinforced with ceramic armour plates. Every soldier has a Mark 6a combat helmet that provides outstanding protection while allowing the soldier to wear a respirator, ear defenders, goggles and a radio set, as necessary.
That's a good explanation of the specific soldier, but since I suspect most of us haven't spent all that much time studying the British military, I decided to check out Wikipedia to see what they had to say about the British Army. Obviously the article in its entirety is far too long to reproduce here, and I do highly recommend it for further reading, but some of the summarized high points are as follows:
The British Army is the land armed forces branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England and Scotland and was administered by the War Office from London. It has been managed by the Ministry of Defence since 1963.
The British Army consists of 114,000 regular soldiers (which includes 3,760 Gurkhas) plus 35,500 Territorial Army soldiers, giving it a total of around 150,000 soldiers in October 2009. The full-time element of the British Army has also been referred to as the Regular Army since the creation of the reservist Territorial Force in 1908. The British Army is deployed in many of the world's war zones as part of both Expeditionary Forces and in United Nations Peacekeeping forces. The British Army is currently deployed in Kosovo, Cyprus, Germany, Afghanistan and many other places.
In contrast to the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, the British Army does not include Royal in its title. This is because, historically, British Armies comprised individually raised regiments and corps. The position of the British Army as the Army of Parliament and not the Crown was confirmed by the Bill of Rights of 1689 requiring Parliamentary Authority to maintain a standing army in peacetime. Nevertheless, many of its constituent Regiments and Corps have been granted the Royal prefix and have members of the Royal Family occupying senior positions within some regiments.
As had its predecessor, the English Army, the British Army fought Spain, France, and the Netherlands for supremacy in North America and the West Indies. With native and provincial assistance, the Army conquered New France in the Seven Years' War and subsequently suppressed a Native American uprising in Pontiac's War. The British Army suffered defeat in the American War of Independence, losing the Thirteen Colonies but holding on to Canada.
The British army was heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars in which the army served in Spain, across Europe, and in North Africa. The war between the British and First French Empires stretched around the world. The British Army finally came to defeat Napoleon at one of Britain's greatest military victories at the battle of Waterloo.
Under Oliver Cromwell, the English Army had been active in the conquest, and the settlement, of Ireland in the 1650s. Note: The Wikipedia article lists the formation date of the British Army in a sidebar as 1661.
After the end of World War II, the British Army was significantly reduced in size, although National Service continued until 1960. This period also saw the process of Decolonisation commence with the end of the British Raj, and the independence of other colonies in Africa and Asia. Accordingly the army's strength was further reduced, in recognition of Britain's reduced role in world affairs, outlined in the 1957 Defence White Paper. This was despite major actions in Korea in 1950 and Suez in 1956. A large force of British troops also remained in Germany, facing the threat of Soviet invasion. The Cold War saw significant technological advances in warfare, the Army saw more technologically advanced weapons systems come into service.
Despite the decline of the British Empire, the Army was still deployed around the world, fighting colonial wars in Aden, Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya. In 1982 the British Army, alongside the Royal Marines, helped to recapture the Falkland Islands during the war against Argentina.
In 2001 the United Kingdom, as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom with the United States, invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. The 3rd Division Signal Regiment were deployed in Kabul, to assist in the liberation of the troubled capital. The Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade (part of the Royal Navy but including a number of Army units), also swept the mountains. The British Army is today concentrating on fighting Taliban forces and bringing security to Helmand province. Approximately 9,000 British troops (including marines, airmen and sailors) are currently in Afghanistan, making it the second largest force after the US.
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. One thing right off, though. Those expecting to incorporate these figures into a 12" collection will be a bit disappointed. The figures are not 12" in height. From top of the helmet to base of the foot, the British Army Infantryman is 10-3/4" in height. I'm not sure why this was done, except perhaps to be distinctive. G.I. Joe is not the only 12" military action figure out there. During its modern heyday, there were several other 12" military lines available.
The figure is ALMOST tall enough to fit alongside 12" figures, if you want to assume that all British soldiers tend to be on the short side. But in my opinion, it's not quite there.
But set the height aside. The figure is excellent. It has a generous amount of weight to it. This isn't at all some sort of flimsy, second-rate figure. It's superbly well-crafted and well-made.
There's something about the face that looks distinctly British. I know that may be something of a tough call. What we have here is a representation of a white male soldier. In theory, that could be just about anybody from the majority of Europe or America. But there ARE differences in facial structure that are observable, and there is something quite British about the facial design of this figure, much in the same sense that if you look at the Colonel Brekhov figure from the Oktober Guard segment of G.I. Joe, he tends to look rather Russian even if you disregard the uniform.
This is just not an American face. It's a very British face. The painted details are superbly well done. The figure has black painted hair, black eyebrows, and blue eyes. All of them have been very neatly painted.
Interestingly, the figure's helmet is not apparently removable. I tried, and it doesn't want to come off, and I'm not about to force it any more than I did. The helmet has excellent detail in it, is tan with brown camouflage, and has a pair of black goggles molded as part of its design. The paint on the goggles is as neatly carried out as all of the other painted detail. There is a radio microphone descending from the left side. This is molded in a very flexible black plastic. Doubtless a good idea there to keep it from getting broken.
The British Army Infantryman is dressed in a mostly fabric uniform. This consists of a long sleeved shirt and long pants. These are made from tan fabric, and have a very interesting camouflage pattern printed on them. The camouflage is single color, and a medium brown. It features splotches and slashes, and is really unlike anything I've seen in American military uniforms. It's interesting what different countries come up with as to what their perception of effective camouflage design should be. Honestly, this looks pretty effective. There's also a nice British flag imprinted onto the left sleeve near the shoulder.
The gloves and boots are molded as the actual hands and feet of the figure. The trousers go all the way down to the ankles, and end in little elastic bands around the ankles. However, if you raise them up just a bit, there are these boot tops that are actually separate (but not removable) pieces on the lower legs. Interesting way of accomplishing this.
The boots are superb in the detail department on both a sculpted and painted level. Stitching and fabric differences have been sculpted into the design, as have the boot laces and even the eyelets of the boots. The paintwork is similarly intricate, the the laces being painted a slightly lighter color of tan than the boots, and the soles of the boots being painted a dark grey. Both laces and soles have been painted with great precision. The laces are even carried over into the articulation point itself, which struck me as pretty impressive, and not something I've seen before.
The gloved hands are also neatly done, but don't show quite the same level of detail as the boots. Of course it's well possible that this would be the case in real life, as far as that goes.
In addition to his fabric uniform, the British Army Infantryman is wearing a flexible plastic vest, that is as well detailed in sculpt as the boots. Numerous fabric-looking straps, all with individual stitching, appears to hold the vest in place across the front. There are thick equipment pouches on the vest, and all of these have black painted clasps.
The back of the vest is just as intricate, with sculpted differences in "fabric", and overall design, detail, stitching, and so forth. It is back here that the vest has its actual clasps, and the package claims that the vest is removable, but in all honesty, I wasn't really inclined to try it. Similarly, I suspect that the uniform itself is removable -- I see some Velcro here and there -- but I just wasn't too inclined to find out for myself how much of a challenge this might prove to be.
As such, I'll admit I can't extensively discuss the precise structure of the figure's body. However, I can certainly comment on its articulation, which is considerable, and I mean very considerable, well above what I expected, and arguably above some of this figure's 12" predecessors.
The British Army Infantryman is fully poseable at the head -- with a neck joint that has some sort of ball-and-socket construction that is just unreal -- arms, an upper-arm swivel, double-jointed elbows (yes, I said double-jointed!), wrists, waist, legs, an upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees (yes, I said it again!), and ankles.
The end result is a figure that certainly qualifies for the term "action figure", can doubtless assume any military pose desired, and I would hope, has kids all over the United Kingdom clamoring for these cool soldier figures!
Accessorywise, the figure is not exactly loaded, unless you want to count the vest. However, he does come with a 5.56mm Assault Rifle, which has been nicely designed, and is mostly black with some dark olive green trim on it. It's an interesting weapon, and much like the face sculpt of the Infantryman himself, doesn't look especially American. Looks effective, though!
So, what's my final word here? Okay, I realize that unless you're in England reading this review (in which case, thank you!), then these figures are probably not readily accessible to you. They're not super-heroes, they're not robots, and they're not from a science-fiction movie, so the average online collectibles' shop probably isn't going to carry them, either. And I honestly have no idea how extensive the line is.
However, if you're at all into military action figures, or even just have an interest in the military, then you should consider finding some means of tracking down these figures. This company, Character Options, has really turned out an amazing line of British military action figures here, and any of them would be a welcome addition to any action figure collection. They're well-made, of excellent quality, and certainly distinctive. And that would, of course, include the one I have just reviewed.
Let me also add this thought -- the G.I. Joe Real American Hero line gave me an interest in learning more about the real-world military, aided to a considerable degree by Larry Hama's excellent writing on the comic book, no doubt. The G.I. Joe Classic Collection enhanced and refined that interest, because, as was its intent, it was distinctly more "real world" than the Real American Hero. I can readily see this H.M. Armed Forces line accomplishing much the same purpose for British kids and collectors, and I think that's a good thing. The armed forces should be respected, and that includes America AND her allies.
The H.M. ARMED FORCES figure of the BRITISH ARMY INFANTRYMAN definitely has my highest recommendation!