A Matter of Scale
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII


I've built dozens of AFV kits and a couple hundred figures since I returned to the hobby in the early 1990s, and thus have experience with most of the major manufacturers of plastic AFVs and many of the resin in the market today.

There is an “affliction” among many experienced modelers called “Advanced Modeler’s Syndrome,” or AMS. It’s symptoms include absorption with the most minute details of an AFV and the desire to replicate them faithfully down to the last rivet and bolt; a preoccupation with measurements and their accuracy; a zest for tracking down every after-market detail set available for a kit; and the ability to scratchbuild those additional details that are not available commercially. Often kits are set aside as a sense of bewilderment and paralysis sets in while awaiting production of the “right” tracks or barrels. But those modelers with AMS take immense pride when then have accomplished the excruciating detailing they’ve assigned themselves, even if most of it is transparent to the casual viewer.

But this gives them pleasure, just as building the same kit “out of the box” with no additional embellishments can give another modeler equal pleasure. Everything is relatively, and what is most important is to enjoy they kit you’re working on, no matter how you approach it.

Having said that, there are some things to understand about how models, and figures in particular, are scaled.

The Past as Prelude

Initially there was a wide disparity in scale sizes during the 1960s and 1970s. Some Monogram AFVs and figures were 1/32 (or 54mm); some were more towards 1/40 scale. Airfix offered popular (and still sought-after) 1/32 scale “multipose” sets of six and twelve figures, which were expressly designed so you could mix and match body parts to create additional poses (sadly these are out of production and many modelers regularly request a return of this figure format from current manufacturers). Initial Tamiya AFV kits were a mishmash of 1/32 and 1/35 scales, often due to accommodations made for battery-powered motors.

Eventually, perhaps because of Tamiya’s increasing domination of the market, 1/35 became the de facto scale for AFV kits. When Belgian modeler François Verlinden began producing resin figures in in the 1980s, they were 54mm, which remains the standard size for most historical miniature figures. Eventually he relabeled many of the boxes as “1/35 54mm.” Which, of course, is like saying a mile is equal to a kilometer. Indeed, many of the weapons in Verlinden Productions’ WWII figure sets were – and, unfortunately, still are – copies of 1/32 Airfix weapons (even including sanded-down ejection marks from Airfix’s plastic molds).

Still, Verlinden set the stage for the aftermarket industry. While many more-informed modelers take issue with the scale and accuracy of a number of his AFV products, generally he’s revered as one of the most influential 1/1 scale figures in the industry.With the rise in popularity of Verlinden’s figures, update sets and diorama products through the 1980s and 1990s, other small companies sprung up. Some lasted only a few years, but many more have survived and thrived. These days scale inaccuracies are relatively infrequent in AFV kits; most dimensional problems are a matter of millimeters.

There are more disparities, however, between figures. And while the differences are still millimeters, they often appear to be greater when posing figures from different manufacturers next to one another. I go into detail about the overall quality of these soldiers on the Figures and Reviews page, but below is a summary of comparative sizes and issues.

Figuring It Out

There are three key things to remember about figures and their relative size. First, during the war years, the average height of an American or European male was 5’8”. Second, people do come in all shapes and sizes, though individual skeletal structures are generally proportioned (head not too big or small, arms not too short or long, etc.). Third, though uniforms were cut in different sizes, virtually all equipment was standardized and did not come in small, medium or large.  Some older DML, Warriors, and other resin figures run around 6'+, and the majority of Verlinden figures (especially those marked 54mm) are in the 6'6"+ range. Consequently you might have problems sitting them in jeeps or trucks without significant alterations (shaving off backs and butts or feet).

It can become disconcerting when you try to mix these oversized figures that dwarf the other smaller ones. I try to group similarly sized figures if I can, or position them on lower or higher levels if possible so the difference is less distracting. 

While there are variations in all of these product lines, you can use this guide as a general reference point in sizing resin and plastic figures:

Large 1/35 (height of 6'+ and larger equipment)

  • Most pre-1990 Tamiya
  • Much early DML
  • Most Verlinden (including head sets)
  • Most Warriors (including head sets)
  • Academy
  • Some Jaguar
  • Some Dynasty

Medium 1/35 (height less than 6' and more accurately scaled weapons & gear)

  • Post-1990 Tamiya
  • Most post 1998 DML
  • Coree
  • Wolf
  • Scale Model Accessories
  • Yanks
  • Hobby Fan
  • Royal
  • Ultracast (including excellent replacement head sets)
  • Hornet (excellent replacement head sets)
  • Most CMK
  • Most Jaguar
  • Most Dynasty
  • Italeri/Testors/Zvezda (same figures under different brands)

Smaller 1/35 (figures tend to be distinctly undersized)

  • Some ADV
  • Italeri seated drivers in AFV kits
  • Some Italeri/Zvezda/Heller figures (particularly those with two-piece front/back torsos)

DML figures seem to have shrunk a bit over the years. Their initial sets were tipped towards the 1/32 size; their more recent ones over the past four years or so have been smaller. Tamiya's also started out bigger than they are now. The current figures included with AFVs such as the M4 Sherman or M8 Greyhound are downright puny compared to Verlinden figures, but their size is more the historical norm.

There can be significant differences within companies that use several sculptors to create figures. Sculptors have different styles as well as skill levels, but most companies tend towards a predominant style or characteristic. Consequently it doesn't take long before you can tell Verlinden from Warriors and Italeri from Tamiya.

Gearing Up

If you’re concerned about accuracy, the most crucial thing to keep in mind is the relative size of equipment. While bodies vary in size, there was only one size M1 Garand or MP40. Germans helmets came in five sizes, but U.S. had only one size. Germans had large and smaller gas mask containers. But haversacks and packs of a type, for any WWII army that I’m aware, did not come in large, medium and small sizes.

Consequently, if you become a stickler for accuracy, you won’t want to have a Verlinden GI holding an M1 Garand next to a Tamiya figure holding an M1 -- the Verlinden gun is 1/32 scale and about 7” too long that its Tamiya counterpart, which is accurately scaled to 1/35. The most accurately scaled U.S. M1 steelpot helmets are found on Tamiya’s post-1990 figures and equipment sets, or on replacements heads from Ultracast and Hornet. DML, Verlinden and Warriors are way oversized.

If you look closely at resin gear, you’ll see that much of it is clearly “borrowed” from Tamiya and DML molds. For those of you who have moral objections to pirating, you might find yourself tested in this regard.

Heads Above the Rest

Most plastic figures have very bland, complacent faces with little character. One of the best ways to improve a figure is to replace the head with a new resin noggin. Using a razor saw or hobby knife cut the head off right at the collar and hollow out the neck. A Dremel or similar rotary tool works best for this, but it can be done with a hand drill and bit if you’re extremely careful. Remove any burrs and debris. Most accessory heads have a good length of neck attached, which you can trim as necessary. I prefer to paint heads separately and attach them when the rest of the figure has been painted.

Again, scale and proportion is a concern when replacing heads. Warriors’ heads look the best on the larger sized figures, while replacements from Hornet and Ultracast work well with medium sized figures. Their helmet sizes compare favorably with Tamiya’s, and even the old U.S. figure sets from Tamiya improve greatly with new heads and careful painting.

Replacement hands are also available from Verlinden and Warriors. Some modelers prefer to cut off the hands on the figure, hollow out the sleeve a bit, and then reinsert the hands, sometimes glued onto a bit of sprue to allow for the new depth of the sleeve. Another way to imply depth and shadowing is to paint a ring around the wrist in a darker shade than the sleeve color.



Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2007 Timothy S. Streeter