Tristar have recently released a rather unique kit in the form of a 2-figure set of British Paratroopers and two Welbikes. This rather unusual vehicle was developed with the Special Operations Executive in mind at Station IX in Welwyn in the UK. Around 3853 bikes were produce between 1942 - 1945. Although not much used by SOE the bikes were sent for trials with the Airborne Forces, the idea being to give Airborne Troops a fast, easily-assembled means of transport on landing. The bikes were designed to fit into a standard size drop container, and could therefore be parachuted in with the troops.
There were 3 version of the Welbike; the first 1,108 odd being the Mk I, which was the developed version on the prototype and identifiable by having no rear mud guard. The Mk II Series 1 had some minor modifications, including the addition of the rear mudguard; about 1,330 of these were produced. The Mk II Series 2 had saddle fuel tanks with a splash guard between them and an improved filler cap, of which about 1,340 were produced. The kit represents the Mk II Series I Welbike.
The Welbike went into full production in 1942 being issued initially to the Airborne Forces and by 1943 it was also being used by ground troops like the Commandos. They were at Anzio, and on the D-Day landings by the RM Commandos, and for general run-about on airfields when they could be acquired. They were dropped with the Airborne Forces on D-Day and at least a few were used during Operation Market Garden.
The Welbike, like any form of transport, had it drawbacks, and as with anything dropped from the sky, the bikes could get lost or drift off with the wind easily. The small tyres were not very efficient on any kind of rough terrain, but on a paved road the bikes could do 30 mph and had a range of 90 miles. They were powered by a 2-stroke engine, with the original batch being a bit under-powered. Few if any of the Mk II Series 2 saw active service, the majority being sold off at the end of the war. The bikes were easily portable, and whilst not the most rugged of vehicles, as any foot soldier will tell you, they were much better than walking, and did at least provide a level of transportation that initially wasn’t available to Airborne Troops. The development of larger Gliders meant that by the time they were in mass production, larger, more rugged bikes like the BSA and Triumph could be flown into the battle area.
The figures in the set were sculpted by Mr. Cheung Law, and special thanks are acknowledged on the box front to Mr. Rob van Meel, whom some of you may know for his interest and enthusiasm in British Airborne kit.
Noticeable in the box title is the word “Welkbikes”! A misspelling I assume? The box art depicts three Airborne figures, one riding one of the bikes, one standing holding a bike and one kneeling lifting a folded bike. Don’t be fooled, you only get sufficient parts for 2 figures, as the bike rider and standing soldier are one in the same, depending on what parts you use. The box is a good sturdy professional one, and my set arrived through the normal post with no damage.
Inside the box are 3 sprues in separate sealed plastic bags. One bag contains the Airborne figures, and the other two a bike and the airborne container it was dropped in. Also included is an A4 four-sided sheet of instructions and a small set of PE for the bikes and rifle sling, plus a set of decals for the troops
Airborne Bike Rider:
The bike rider comes in eight main parts, plus equipment. The head is in 2 parts, along with separate parts for the upper body, lower waste/body, legs and arms. The soldier wears the early Dennison smock with the sock-type cuffs, paratrooper trousers, anklets and ammo boots. Cast to the body around the neck is a camouflage scarf. The smock has very nice detail with the pockets and studs being in the correct place. The 2-part head shows the face of quite a stern-looking chap. The straps for the helmet are moulded in-place with the correct chin strap and neck straps. Overall, the trousers and smock have very good detail with nice natural-looking folds in the clothing. The large map pocket is present on the left leg, too.
On top of the smock, the figure wears standard 37 pattern webbing, again with good detailing with things like the brasses and buckles being present and in the correct place. The webbing is designed to add a small back pack to, and in the centre of the back is a small hole to locate the pack in. Anklets and boots are also well-done. Across the upper body is a strap running from the left shoulder to nowhere really, as it wouldn’t be required in the standard 37 pattern setup. Could it be meant to be the strap for the water bottle or a respirator case if you were to add one?
to add to the basic webbing, you get a small backpack (again with quite a nice level of detail), left and right ammo pouches (which look very acceptable), a water bottle, basic digging tool and the small stabbing bayonet. For helmets you get a choice of two: a smooth paratroopers helmet, or one covered with netting. Finally you get a No. 4 rifle which unfortunately has the bolt moulded to the wrong side! The rifles themselves are reasonably good.
Airborne Biker Standing:
This figure utilizes the upper body of the bike rider, but has alternative arms and an alternative lower body and legs. All of these alternative parts are nicely-done, with the lower smock pockets and tail being present.
As per the 1st figure above.
Airborne Biker Kneeling:
This figure has the same basic make-up as the first figure, with the head in two parts, separate upper and lower body, legs and arms. Once again, the uniform and basic webbing have very nice detail, and this time no mystery strap.
This is of a similar quality and make-up as the first figure, and again you get a choice of two helmets. Interestingly in the instructions is a configuration of PE to be added to the helmet, but this looks more complicated than it is worth, although only time and completing the kit will tell.
Overall these are very good paratrooper figures. The uniforms are well-detailed and the clothing has nice natural folds. The poses of the first two biker figures are fairly natural-looking to me, whilst the pose of the 3rd figure looks a little unnatural. However, I have seen a real photograph of just such a pose, (click here
to see a photo on which I would guess the kneeling figure was modelled), so enough said there. The figure body proportions look very acceptable. You get the right kit for the troops, but the bolts on the rifles being on the wrong side is a bit of a slip-up by Tristar. Some may say the smocks are a little short, but both people and clothing come in all sizes, and as two of the figures are in a sitting/kneeling position, this is not really an issue. As with most plastic figures, the parts will need a clean-up to remove some mould seams and flash, but I do think these are a very commendable effort from Tristar.
The Welbikes and Airborne Containers
The bikes come on two identical sprues containing the bike parts and airborne containers they were packed in. The bikes can be modelled in either a packed or unpacked position to suit your needs. There are some tiny parts to deal with, so watch out for the carpet monster. On the PE fret that accompanies the kit, you get the wheel spokes and drive chain for the bikes. Accompanying these is a small jig to help you assemble them correctly, so hopefully that will make the wheel assembly much easier. These appear to be a very good representation of this odd little motor bike; the only thing you might want to add is a cable from the brake.
The bike engine is made up of 8 parts which is a lot for something this small. The bike frame is cast as a whole, with handlebars, seat, rear mudguard, drive chain and wheels all being separate items, as are the fuel tank and pedals. A magnifying glass might be a useful item to have to hand when building this one.
The Airborne containers are made up of five basic parts plus some very small PE parts. They have good internal detail, and can be built open or closed. They come complete with the crash pan and recess for the chute. Also thoughtfully provided are the cradles that the containers were fixed onto when slung beneath the aircraft. Looking at the references I have for both the bikes and the containers, these look to give an excellent representation of the real thing, and so this kit should certainly be an interesting item to any airborne build you might be planning.
These are of the expanded picture type and seem reasonably straight-forward and easy-to-follow. Just note the jig has a bottom and top so you will need to use it the correct way up when making the two sides of the spoke wheels.
Decals and Painting
A small set of decals accompanies the set, and contains marking for the bike, airborne containers and rank badges for the troops. The chevrons are white with a red edge, which I believe may represent Police Airborne Troops. Some of the markings are so small I couldn’t read then even with a magnifying glass!
The kit is a really interesting and detailed set of man and machine, one that offers the modeller a very unusual and unique vehicle to build. The overall detail is excellent for plastic 1/35th scale figures, and the figures have been well-sculpted with really nice uniform detail. There is a slight slip-up with the No. 4 rifles though, along with that “strap to nowhere.” I think this is a first class set, not perfect, but very nicely-done indeed. I would hope it proves a very popular set, because if Tristar can do a 1/35th Welbike in plastic to this level of detail, then I do hold out hope for a Triumph or BSA motorcycle at some point in the future. The bike itself seems very well-detailed and should build into a really good model indeed.
Whilst the alternative combination of parts for the riding/standing biker is a good idea, I would have preferred if one of each type of figure had been included in the set, as all that would have been required was an extra upper torso, head and basic set of webbing. Also by mixing the limbs, you can’t have a standing and riding biker unless the kneeling figure torso can be utilized. That said, the set gives you everything you need to make an interesting and challenging build, and should prove highly popular, if for no other reason than the Welbike. This is I believe the first set of British/Commonwealth Troops Tristar have produced. I do hope that it will not be the last, as they have got off to a cracking start with this interesting set of figures and machines.
My thanks to Ian Sadler who provided some additional photographs of the Welbike for me to include with the review.
A Build Log
has been started on the Forums to evaluate the kit construction. ********