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REVIEW: H.M. ARMED FORCES ROYAL MARINE COMMANDO
By Thomas Wheeler

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 friends 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 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 reads, "Reproduced with the permission of the Controller, HMSO, London. The Royal Navy and HM Armed Forces names and logos are trade marks of the UK Secretary of State for Defence are used under licence." I'd have to say that it doesn't get much more official than that...!

This review will take a look at the BRITISH ROYAL MARINES COMMANDO Figure!

The packaging for these figures is suitably impressive. It bears the official logo of the Royal Navy, which is a white flag sectioned into fourths by red bars, with the upper left portion of the flag duplicating the British national flag itself. The flag is on a navy blue (!) background, with the words "Royal Navy" printed in white below. There is a photograph of an actual Royal Marine Commando on the side of the package, along with some explanatory text, which reads as follows:

The Royal Marines are the UK Royal Navy's 'go anywhere' amphibious forces and a key component of the government's Rapid Reaction Force. As such, they are required to be trained to work in different terrains and environments, from the cold, mountainous conditions in Northern Europe, to the hot arid regions of the Middle East and Africa and to the dense tropical jungles of the Far East.

All Royal Marines are first and foremost, Commandos, and are required to undergo what is recognised as one of the longest and most demanding infantry training regimes in the world at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone.

On completion of training all Royal Marines are entitled to wear the Green Beret and the "Royal Marines Commando" flash on his uniform.

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 some online sources to see what they had to say about the British Royal Navy. What follows is a very brief summary. I encourage you to do your own research if you're interested.

The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the oldest of HM Armed Forces (and is therefore known as the Senior Service). From the beginning of the 18th century until well into the 20th century, it was the most powerful navy in the world, playing a key part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power from 1815 until the early 1940s. In World War II, the Royal Navy operated almost 900 ships. During the Cold War, it was transformed into a primarily anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, its role for the 21st century has returned to focus on global expeditionary operations.

The Royal Navy is the second-largest navy of the NATO alliance. There are currently 88 commissioned ships in the Royal Navy, including aircraft carriers, a helicopter carrier, landing platform docks, ballistic missile submarines, nuclear fleet submarines, guided missile destroyers, frigates, mine counter-measures and patrol vessels. Twenty-two vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) also contribute to the Royal Navy's order-of-battle. The Royal Navy's ability to project power globally is considered second only to the U.S. Navy. The Royal Navy maintains the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons.

The Royal Navy is a constituent component of the Naval Service, which also comprises the Royal Marines, Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve. As of April 2009, the Royal Navy numbered approximately 39,100 Regular personel of whom 7,500 are in the Royal Marines, in addition, there are 3,600 Volunteer Reserve personnel, giving a total of 42,700 personnel.

The creation of a standing Navy Royal, with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships, occurred in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII. By the time of Henry's death in 1547 his fleet had grown to 58 vessels. Under Elizabeth I England became involved in a war with Spain, which saw privately-owned ships combining with the Navy Royal in raids against Spanish commerce and colonies.

During the 1670s and 1680s the Navy succeeded in permanently ending the threat to English shipping from the Barbary corsairs, inflicting defeats which induced the Barbary states to conclude peace treaties which would long endure. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the Royal Navy was the largest in the world, and was able to maintain an almost uninterrupted ascendancy over its rivals through superiority in financing, tactics, training, organization, dockyard facilities, logistical support and, from the middle of the 18th century, warship design and construction.

During the two World Wars, the Royal Navy played a vital role in keeping the United Kingdom supplied with food, arms and raw materials and in defeating the German campaigns of unrestricted submarine warfare in the first and second battles of the Atlantic.

After World War II, the decline of the British Empire and the economic hardships in Britain at the time forced the reduction in the size and capability of the Royal Navy. The increasingly powerful U.S. Navy took on the former role of the Royal Navy as global naval power. However, the threat of the Soviet Union and British commitments throughout the world created a new role for the Navy.

The current role of the Royal Navy is to protect British interests at home and abroad, executing the foreign and defense policies of Her Majesty's Government through the exercise of military effect, diplomatic activities and other activities in support of these objectives.

As to the Commandos, initially known as the Corps of Royal Marines, the infantry land fighting element of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, was formed as part of the Naval Service in 1755. However, it can trace its origins back as far as 1664, when English soldiers first went to sea to fight the Dutch.

In April 1755, His Majesty's Marine Forces, fifty Companies in three Divisions, headquartered at Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth, were formed by Order of Council under Admiralty control. Initially all field officers were Royal Navy officers as the Royal Navy felt that the ranks of Marine field officers were largely honorary.

In 1855 the Infantry forces were re-named the Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI) and in 1862 the name was slightly altered to Royal Marine Light Infantry. The Royal Navy saw only limited active service at sea after 1850 (until 1914) and became interested in developing the concept of landings by Naval Brigades.

During World War I, in addition to their usual stations aboard ship, Royal Marines were part of the Royal Naval Division which landed in Belgium in 1914 to help defend Antwerp and later took part in the amphibious landing at Gallipoli in 1915. It also served on the Western Front in the trenches.

During the early parts of World War II, a small party of Royal Marines were first ashore at Namsos in April 1940, seizing the approaches to the Norwegian town preparatory to a landing by the British Army two days later. The Royal Marines formed the Royal Marine Division as an amphibious warfare trained division, parts of which served at Dakar and in the capture of Madagascar. In addition the Royal Marines formed Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisations (MNBDOs) similar to the US Marine Corps Defense Battalions. One of these took part in the defense of Crete.

A total of four Special Service, later Commando, Brigades were raised during the war, and Royal Marines were represented in all of them. A total of nine RM Commandos (Battalions) were raised during the war, numbered from 40 to 48.

More recently Royal Marines detachments have been involved in operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor and the Congo where alongside French troops they prepared for a NEO Non-combatant evacuation operation of Brits from the embassies.

From 2000 onwards, the Royal Marines began converting from their traditional light infantry role towards an expanded force protection type role, with the introduction of the Commando 21 concept, leading to the introduction of the Viking, the first armored vehicle to be operated by the Royal Marines for half a century.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. One thing I should mention, though. Those expecting to incorporate these figures into a 12" collection may be a bit disappointed. The figures are not 12" in height. From top of the beret to base of the foot, the British Royal Marine Commando 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.

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 cheap, second-rate figure. It's superbly well-crafted and well-made.

There's something about the face that looks distinctly British. I know that sort of facial description 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.

This is just not an American face. It's a very British face. Overall, the figure looks like a British version of Lt. Falcon from G.I. Joe, what with the green beret and the style of the uniform and all. The painted details are superbly well done. The figure has brown painted hair, brown eyebrows, and brown eyes. All of them have been very neatly painted.

Interestingly, the figure's beret is not removable. It's a separate piece, no question, but it's been attached. It's an excellent, design, though. It's been molded from flexible green plastic, and it has a very well-detailed emblem of the Royal Marine Commandos on its front.

The Royal Marine Commando is dressed in a mostly fabric uniform. This consists of a long sleeved shirt and long pants. These have such an intricate camouflage pattern to them that, if you look at the reverse side, you realize that the uniform was made from a white fabric, with the entire camouflage pattern printed on it. The camouflage is multi-colored, and is what I would call an extremely complex "woodland" camouflage. It has significant amounts of dark green and some tan on it, with smaller amounts of brown and black. It features some splotches and a great many 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 extremely effective.

Additional stitching on the shirt and trousers represents pockets, and an emblem reading "Royal Marines Commando" has been imprinted, very neatly, on the tops of both sleeves.

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. The boot laces and even the eyelets of the boots have been very well done, and there is visible "stitching". The treads of the boots are extensive and very well done. There's no painted detail, as the boots are solid black, but they're exceptionally well made. The gloved hands are also neatly done, and are molded in a dark green.

In addition to the fabric uniform, the figure is also wearing a plastic equipment belt around his waist, superbly detailed, and with two pouches molded as part of its design. The pouches do not actually open, but they look cool.

Although the uniform does appear to be removable, I have to say I was rather disinclined to do so. He looks too cool to do that with. 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 Royal Marines Commando is fully poseable at the head -- with a neck joint that has some sort of ball-and-socket construction that is just amazing -- arms, an upper-arm swivel, double-jointed elbows (yes, that's double-jointed!), wrists, waist, legs, an upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees (yes, 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. Fine by me -- it's less stuff to lose. 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 Commando 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, 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.

The H.M. ARMED FORCES figure of the ROYAL MARINES COMMANDO definitely has my highest recommendation!