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

In the United States, the primary military action figure of all time is certainly G.I. Joe -- and in this case I'm not talking about the 3-3/4" Real American Hero. I'm talking about the original, 12" grand-daddy of them all, that first came on the scene in 1964. Yeah -- THAT G.I. Joe.

I'm you'll also recall the G.I. Joe Classic Collection which began in the late 1990's, and enjoyed a healthy run of quite a few years. A very worthy successor to the original 12" G.I. Joe, 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.

The Classic Collection 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 this 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 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 SNIPER 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:

Snipers are employed as members of Sniper Troop within a Commando Unit. They will work as a pair consisting of a sniper and an observer. These pairs can be formed into 4 or 5 man teams who provide precision fire support to a Company; they may also be grouped as a Troop for Commando Unit level tasks.

The Royal Marine Sniper is taught how to successfully engage targets at 1200 metres, and to harass a target out to 1500 metres with the L115 A3 Sniper Rifle. He is an expert at locating and identifying targets which he may engage himself, or report the enemy's activities to his Headquarters. Snipers are taught how to move across all types of terrain by day and night, move into a fire position, engage targets and extract whilst remaining unobserved by the enemy.

Snipers will be expected to work for prolonged periods of time in arduous conditions in many different climates. They strike fear into the enemy and are the most effective weapon against enemy snipers. As trained observers they are the eyes of the Commando Unit on the battlefield with the ability to strike unexpectedly at anytime.

Heck of a job description, isn't it? Since I don't expect that many of my readers are entirely up on their British military history, I tracked down some additional information about the Royal Marines:

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, mostly active in the GIUK gap. 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 personnel 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.

As to the Commandos, which include the Snipers, I was able to track down further information:

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.

The 'first official' unit of English Naval Infantry, originally called the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot and soon becoming known as the Admiral's Regiment, was formed on 28 October 1664, with an initial strength of 1,200 infantrymen recruited from the Trained Bands of London as part of the mobilisation for the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

On 5 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 defence 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.

My spell-check is having fits with this British spelling, but I'd rather leave the data intact.

So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. One point I should mention is that they're not entirely compatible with G.I. Joe. Although certainly a "large scale" action figure, they're not a full 12" in height. It's more like 10-1/2". Close, but the difference is noticeable.

This is the third H.M. Armed Forces figure I have received, and something that I have noticed about all of them is that the headsculpt all somehow look distinctly British. I realize that may be an odd thing to say. The figure is basically a white male, and they come in all shapes and sizes all over the world. But somehow, the face sculpts that have been created for this line look especially British. They don't look American. I really can't explain it beyond that. Just call it personal perception, I suppose. The figure has a somewhat narrow and angular face, with short-cropped black hair, and a particularly angular nose.

The Sniper figure is wearing a fabric uniform, except for a removable plastic hat. The uniform is mostly tan, with brown camouflage of a very interesting pattern. It is also a ghillie suit. The top part of the front and most of the back of the uniform is made of shredded, thin lengths of fabric in several colors of tan, that to these desert-dwelling eyes make the Sniper look a bit like he's wearing a tumbleweed.

Ghillie suits are common camouflage for snipers around the world, however. I decided, as long as I was researching military material, to see if I could find anything about ghillie suits. I was.

Ghillie suits are typically a net or cloth garment covered in loose strips of cloth or twine, sometimes made to look like leaves and twigs, and occasionally augmented with scraps of foliage from the area.

The name is derived from "gille", the Gaelic word for "servant", in English especially used to refer to those assisting in deer hunting, deer stalking, or fly fishing expeditions in the Scottish Highlands.

The ghillie suit was developed by Scottish gamekeepers as a portable hunting blind. Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment formed by a British army during the Second Boer War, is the first known military unit to use ghillie suits. In 1916, Lovat Scouts went on to become the British Army's first sniper unit.

The research goes on to say that ghillie suits can be either commercially manufactured or assembled by hand. Certain impractical considerations are that they tend to be very heavy and hot. Personally, I'd think that they'd also restrict both mobility and visibility, but I don't have any direct experience with one of these things, so I don't really know. Charitably, I think they look pretty silly, but if they help a sniper do his job and stay concealed and not get shot at too readily, who cares about silly?

As for this figure, I'd love to see the sewing pattern. The Sniper figure is dressed in a long fabric coat, the upper front and entire back of which is covered with these strips of fabric. There's clearly a netting backing underneath the strips. The strips seem to have been made in groups and sewn onto the netting, which was then sewn onto the coat. At a small size and for mass production purposes, this cannot have been easy. The end result is extremely impressive just from the standpoint of workmanship.

The Sniper is also wearing fabric trousers that have the same camouflage pattern as the coat. The hat, although plastic, also carries over the same pattern.

Articulation of the figure is excellent. The Royal Marines Commando Sniper is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The elbows and knees are double-jointed, and many of the articulation points have rotation pivots. While normally I am of the belief that double-jointed articulation can have an adverse effect on the look of a figure, this obviously isn't the case with the Sniper, since he is fully clothed in a cloth uniform. The figure is very sturdy and well made, and can maintain a wide variety of poses.

Sculpted detail on the hands and feet is superb. The hands are designed to look like they're wearing gloves, and glove-like seams have been sculpted into them. The boots are especially impressive, with great attention to every stitch and lace. The laces are painted a different color than the boots, and the soles are also painted a different color.

Then there's the eyes. They move. Talk about an unusual bit of articulation! But it makes sense. A Sniper, especially, has to be completely aware of his surroundings. He must keep an eye on anything and everything, ready and able to spot the slightest movement that might, in particular, be an enemy sniper. And if he is at some post, then he really shouldn't be moving much more than his eyes, lest he give himself away.

The feature is called HAWK EYES, and has a logo within the package that features a front shot of a bird's eyes and beak, with the "HAWK EYES" in silver block lettering above and below. And gee -- I wonder where they got that name from?

Action figures with articulated eyes are not especially common. The first significant instance of it of which I am aware is -- EAGLE-EYES G.I. Joe, a figure developed during the Adventure Team days of the original 12" G.I. Joe that could indeed move its eyes from side to side. Quite a few years later, the European version of G.I. Joe, a Hasbro product called ACTION MAN, did several figures that had moving eyes.

To the best of my knowledge, there haven't been many other such instances. I seem to recall a Toy Story set of figures, probably produced by ThinkWay, that were loaded with electronic talking and interacting features, and they could move their eyes, but it was part of the programming.

It's a lot different when you're working with G.I. Joe, or Action Man, or, in this case, H.M. Armed Forces, and you're working with pretty much normal human proportions. The figure obviously has two holes molded in his face where the eyes are, and the eyes -- a sort of greenish brown in iris color -- are then set inside the head along with the activation mechanism, which in this case is a small dial in the back of the head that's made to look like the base of the hairline.

So, how well does it work? Very. Moving the dial from side to side causes the eyes to do likewise. Now, I'll admit, I have yet to see a figure in any of the three lines that I cited in the previous paragraph, that has this feature, that didn't look just a little too wide-eyed for his own good. Obviously, the toy company in question wants to make sure that the feature is reasonably apparent. I can understand this. But one still tends to end up with figures that look like they really need to switch to decaf, and tend to stare back at you just a bit. But let's be polite about this and say that the Marine Commando Sniper just looks like he's really, really alert.

As far as hardware is concerned, the Marine Commando Sniper comes with the aforementioned L115 A3 Sniper Rifle. This is a very nicely crafted piece, a little over 6-1/2" in length, that comes with a little tripod stand attached to it that swings back and forth. The rifle is mostly black, with some tan painted detail on it. The Sniper figure is articulated so well that he can hold the rifle in a wide range of convincing positions.

So, what's my final word here? I'm extremely pleased to add another of these H.M. Armed Forces figures to my collection. It seems that no one in the States at the moment is turning out larger-scale, authentic military action figures based on the "real world". I'm glad to see they're turning up somewhere. Obviously, if you're outside of the United Kingdom, these figures are not going to be as easily found. And the line is a lot more extensive than the three I have to date. You can check them out at Character Options' Web Site, which is www.character-online.co.uk.

I'm not presently aware of any online retailer carrying these figures, but I would also think that they're not impossible to locate. And if you're looking for a really excellent line of authentic military action figures, here it is. And this one in particular is a cool addition. Even if he does look like he's staring at me sometimes.

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