In-Box Review
Hand to Hand Combat Tarawa
Hand to Hand Combat, Tarawa, November 1943
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by: Gareth McGorman [ GARETHM ]


The war in the Pacific is one of the most underrepresented subjects in any media. Starting with the raid on Pearl Harbour and the subsequent declaration of war, Roosevelt set the tone with the US Government's “Europe First” policy. A majority of America's resources went towards defeating Germany, while a substantially smaller portion was spent fighting Japan. This attitude in which the war in Europe was prioritized over the PTO has come to be reflected in movies, games and indeed scale models. While figure sets of US Marines in combat are not particularly difficult to find, the availability of figures representing Japanese soldiers is far more limited. Masterbox, with this particular set has gone to the trouble of releasing a set of five figures engaged in hand to hand combat that could represent soldiers at any point of the war post 1943.


I will break the review into two halves since this kit involves both American and Japanese infantry. Before doing so, however, I must bring up my frustration with Masterbox's consistent failure to number parts on the sprue. Every single other manufacturer seems to be capable of this. Fortunately the quantity or parts is relatively low and they are grouped logically, so this does not make assembly an impossible task. It would just be nice if they took this simple step.

First thing that's immediately noticeable is that all the sculpting here is exquisite. Of particular note are the facial expressions – all of which are shown grimacing and shouting.

The US Marines

The soldier swinging his Garand as a club has a suitably desperate looking grimace on his face. There is no reason he has to be holding the rifle in his hands and if an axe, shovel, or another suitable object were available it would be worth considering. If for some reason you wanted to build a diorama portraying marines playing baseball then this figure would be a must have - despite his terrible posture.

It's also nice to see that the figure kneeling and firing is wearing the canvas leggings, while the other two figures have opted to discard what was a universally unpopular piece of kit. This blend reflects actual practice since, while many, or even most marines despised them for shrinking in the wet jungle conditions, being uncomfortable and cumbersome to lace up, their intended purpose was to prevent debris from getting inside the soldier's boot. Some marines recognized that and chose to wear them for that reason.

The Japanese Marines

The Japanese figures themselves are finely sculpted. Of note are the puttees – a difficult detail to do well that's been handled very competently in this case.

I have a minor pet peeve when it comes to styrene figure sets representing Japanese infantry of the Second World War: almost every set includes a guy with a sword. If you want to build something that would include a section that involves more than three infantrymen, you could easily wind up purchasing enough swordsmen to make your own separate samurai squad. This is similar to the problem of almost every American figure set including what would work out to be a disproportionate number of BAR men, but with swords. This kit does not include an officer with a sword and that makes me very happy.

The low point here is definitely the Arisaka rifles – specifically how the bolt has been handled here. Instead of handling the bolt as a separate assembly (as Masterbox does with the Mosin Nagant rifle in other sets) instead the bolt is a single tiny plastic peg. This is easily lost, and for the lazy modeller who is uninterested in wrestling with such tiny details the cost of just not bothering seems to outweigh the effort involved. There is a more tasteful way of tackling this challenge and this does not feel like the right approach. The fact that part numbers are not marked on the sprue is not exactly helpful in situations like this.


If there is one thing that Masterbox excels at it is creating figure sets and in combining figures in a way that will work in a variety of contexts and will also interact with each other in a diorama setting. Much of the credit for this achievement is down to A. Gagarin who is undoubtedly one of the most talented sculptors working in styrene figures today with a gift for conveying a sense of action in his figures. He has sculpted hand to hand combat sets in other theatres of war and considering the nature of the conflict in the Pacific and the Japanese army's tactical emphasis on the Bayonet charge, the fact that he has applied his skills to the PTO is greatly appreciated and I would not hesitate to recommend this kit.
Highs: The sculpting of the heads and facial expressions is excellent for Styrene. All of the figures interact with each other very nicely.
Lows: The bolt on the Arisaka rifles is on the small side, and will be annoyingly difficult to work with. Masterbox never marks part numbers on the sprue.
Verdict: An excellent depiction of hand to hand combat in the Pacific Theatre of War.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:35
  Mfg. ID: MB3544
  PUBLISHED: Mar 11, 2017
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Gareth McGorman (GarethM)

Started building planes when I was 12 or so, then moved into 1:35 scale armour and figures in my 20s. I also photograph my figures and vehicles in real world situations. These can be seen on my Facebook page Army Men Around the House.

Copyright ©2021 text by Gareth McGorman [ GARETHM ]. All rights reserved.


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