by: Gareth McGorman [ ]
If there's one thing that I admire about ICM it's that they're willing to take risks and issue kits representing aspects of both world wars that have been ignored or underrepresented by other manufacturers. In this case we have a set of Eritrean Askari (or in Italian Ascari).
For the purposes of this review I will be referring to the soldiers included in this kit as Askari and it seems appropriate to explain the term and its history here. The term originates from an Arabic word for soldier used during the Ottoman era which was adopted by the European colonial powers when they began raising infantry units in East Africa. All the major colonial powers, including Great Britain, Imperial Germany, France, Belgium and Italy raised units of Askari in the late 19th and early 20th century to police and defend their overseas empires.
Italy's Colonial armies raised in Africa were unique for developing a reputation for heroism which often outshone that of some of their white compatriots. This was particularly true of Italy's Eritrean Ascari, who were considered Italy's best colonial troops and who fought in all of Italy's wars in Africa. Indeed, the British seem to have spoken much more admiringly of Italian Ascari than they did of Italian regular army soldiers. The importance of the Ascari in Eritrean history is massive. Service in the army was the main source of employment for men, particularly during the period around the invasion of Ethiopia at which about 40% of all working age men in Eritrea were serving in the army. Their participation in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the Ethiopians' mutilation of prisoners are undoubtedly a factor in the bad blood that exists between Eritrea and Ethiopia to this day. Many of the earliest fighters in Eritrea's 30 year long war for independence from Ethiopia were veterans of Italy's Ascari battalions.
Inside ICM's usual double lidded box, which seems likely to survive any abuse the postal service might throw, at it is a single tan coloured sprue with 4 figures and a full colour double sided instruction sheet.
This set includes 4 figures with all the necessary weapons and equipment issued on one sprue.
Depicted charging forwards with bayonet fixed. There is some nicely sculpted detail here on the puttees, uniform and facial features. There is almost no visible seam on any of the figures.
Kneeling and firing. It's a shame considering the quality of the sculpting on this figure that there are some odd little quirks in this soldier's design. Firstly, that he appears to be aiming at some point on the ground about ten feet in front of him. This can easily be corrected. More unusually, he appears to be holding the rifle as if it has a pistol grip. It looks somewhat awkward and the purpose of sculpting his right hand in this posture is somewhat mysterious to me.
This NCO is holding a flag in one hand, and a Glisenti revolver in the other. The pose is clearly inspired by propaganda posters of the era. The sculpting is certainly more dynamic than the artwork on the box might lead you to believe and the figure inside is depicted shouting, rather than calmly beckoning his section forward. Unfortunately, the pistol holster provided is for a Beretta M1934 automatic pistol and not the Glisenti revolver in the figure's hand. If you don't have ICM's World War 1 Weapons set, or Italian WW1 infantry set in your stash then correcting this error will be slightly annoying. Frustratingly the painting instructions show him wearing the correct holster. If you do not have any Italian equipment in your spares box then the holster for the Soviet/Russian Nagant M1895 revolver will also work adequately.
Of note is the flag, which is intended to represent the regimental colours, not the Italian national flag. Decals for this will be difficult to acquire, so this may be a challenge for those who aren't confident about their ability to pain freehand. Some research may be involved if you wish to use an alternative colour scheme to the one portrayed on the box and in the instructions. Italian Ascari units used colour coded sashes to indicate which unit they belonged to. The regimental flag would use the same colour and pattern as the sashes they wore with a black Roman numeral indicating the unit number. Some units used a plain field, which may prove less challenging for some modellers than painting vertical or horizontal stripes. Instructions for painting Askari of several different units would have been appreciated, but ultimately it is up to the modeller to do their own research. I have included a couple photos of Italian propaganda posters of the era that should give a good idea of the kinds of options available for painting the sash and regimental colours.
Is a running figure, much the same as Ascari #1. and equipped in very much the same manner as both Ascari, with the sculpting and equipment very much up to the same high standards. Since he is an NCO, it would have been nice if the option of equipping him with a carbine had been made available straight out of the box. As it stands, the standard length M1891 Carcano rifle he is provided with is perfectly adequate and appropriate.
Both NCO's rank insignia is worn as an armband, with the straps going around the arm clearly visible. I can only assume that soldiers in Italy's colonial regiments were promoted and demoted in quick enough rotation that sewing them on might have been a waste. Italian regular army ranks were generally sewn on, were smaller and were worn close to the cuff, so these differences are significant enough that portraying these figures as white Italian infantry in North Africa is not recommended.
A Note Regarding Context in Dioramas
Sets representing Italian infantry of any era are hard to come by. While it may seem tempting to paint these as white Italian infantry serving in North Africa, I would strongly advise against this idea. The differences between the uniforms of regular Italian army infantry and the Colonial Ascari are significant enough that substantial modifications would be need to be made and details showing the sash worn round the waist, sandals and NCO chevrons would all have to be carved away for the sake of accuracy. Many of the same vehicles used in North Africa were used in the East African campaign of World War 2 and in the invasion of Ethiopia, so these figures can be placed alongside any of them, and alongside any white Italian troops. These figures could also, with some minor deviations from the painting instructions provided, be made to represent Somali Ascari.
Despite playing an important role in both world wars, Colonial troops have been severely underrepresented by manufacturers of scale model kits. Commendably ICM has taken it upon themselves to correct this oversight with sets of Moroccan Goumiers, and British Indian army Sepoys and Gurkhas along with this set of Eritrean Ascari. While this set is by no means perfect, the fact that this kit is the only representation of Italian colonial infantry in some ways mitigates its shortcomings. With some minor alterations to the soldier kneeling and firing, and some slight changes to the equipment provided, this can make for an interesting and unusual subject for any diorama.
The images of the assembled figures is from ICM not the reviewer.