I was unsure exactly where to put a review of a vintage GI Joe, so, if that's intended for somewhere other than here, give me a sharp reprimand and move this. It'll have some pics to go with it once I can get my webcam to cooperate with me again.
This is my first genuine, non-repro GI Joe figure, an actual vintage figure from 1966. Ever since I was a boy, I've had a fascination with WWII, and Nazi Germany in particular. I blame (thank?) my dad. Like many boys of his era, he grew up in the aftermath of WWII. His father had fought in the war, and as a consequence he'd grown up admiring WWII era American soldiers as heroes and became deeply fascinated by the war. By the time he was a grown man, and had me for a son, he had seen such WWII classics as The Dirty Dozen, The Battle of the Bulge, Kelly's Heroes, The Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, etc., and owned them on video.
I remember as a kid seeing all of them with him. I found them action-packed, riveting and fun, and, in my innocence, all I understood about the Nazis was that they were the bad guys. Me being me, I have always been drawn to the villains in films, and this was no different. It was only years later that I learned the truth. I always knew the movies' stories themselves were almost entirely fiction, even the ones ostensibly based on true events. I knew there had been a war with Germany and Japan. My dad told me as much. However it wasn't until later in my teenage years that I found out these two regimes' crimes extended beyond being merely aggressors. Things like the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking came as a great shock to me.
If you think I was dense for not figuring out that stuff until relatively late into my teenage years, well, I thought babies were made by kissing until I was in high school. So I was a very sheltered kid, despite the fact my parents let me watch some pretty violent films. Mock me as you will.
I suppose I should've known. While watching the films, my dad felt the need to point out there were two kinds of Nazis. The regular military, who he called the "good" ones just fighting for their country, albeit knowingly serving an evil regime, and the SS - the hardcore Nazis who went above and beyond just serving their country and did bad things (my dad wouldn't say what at the time, though). The ones with skulls on their hats and sometimes black outfits. Consequently, I was taught to identify the Heer (and to a lesser extent the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine) as being bad, but not wholly evil, and the SS as complete and utter monsters. Some movies, like The Guns of Navarone and The Great Escape were quite quick to make this distinction, as well.
This may seem like a radical digression. But what I am trying to explain is that, thanks to my dad's explanation of how the German military functioned, and these movies hammering the point home, I was able to separate the Nazis into "good" ones and "bad" ones and let me continue liking the "good" ones; a fortunate thing, because their uniforms, weaponry and vehicles had an allure to me that went beyond just liking the villains. Nowadays, I watch more war movies than just WWII ones, and am trying to learn more about Imperial Japan and their uniforms, tactics, etc. (and their crimes), but my weird fascination with the WWII-era German military has continued unabated, if somewhat subdued.
For my birthday one year, my father gave me a book titled GI Joe: The Complete Story of America's Favorite Man of Action, by John Michlig. I was surprised. To me, a child growing up in the 80's, GI Joe were the smallish figures based off of the cartoon where "GI Joe" was an organization, not any individual character. Imagine my surprise when this book revealed to me that there had been Barbie-sized GI Joes without names, all intended to basically represent America's armed forces as a whole, and that the evil organization the (then) modern GI Joes fought, Cobra, didn't exist until the 80's. I was surprised, but not particularly interested; it may make me sound unpatriotic, but the uniforms, weapons and so forth of the US military never interested me overmuch. Even today (despite owning and zealously equipping an American GI Joe). I appreciate them and their sacrifices. My entire family has been in the military at some point or another, and I grew up a military brat. I just didn't think their outfits and equipment were particularly interesting. When I read that they'd made a "Soldiers of the World" subline in 1966 which included a German Storm Trooper, I became interested, but this being the early days of the World Wide Web and acquiring vintage toys much harder, I wasn't interested enough to put in the effort. I kept and enjoyed the book, but when we moved from Mississippi to North Carolina, it was in one of the boxes that got put out in our storage shed and quickly forgotten about.
Until this year.
The book was taken out of storage while I was waiting for our neighbor to get off of his cell phone so I could mow the lawn. I didn't wanna fire up the mower while he was talking, so, while waiting, I poked around in the shed out of boredom and found the GI Joe book. Since the guy still wasn't off his phone when I re-emerged, I took the book inside and thumbed through it. Eventually the guy finally hung up, and I was able to mow the lawn without disturbing him. When I was done, I found myself sitting down and actually reading the book again. I suddenly decided I wanted a 12-inch GI Joe figure, just for the sake of having one. Michlig mentioned a "Masterpiece Edition" which included a different GI Joe history book and a bonus reproduction of the original 1964 Joe, so I ordered the Action Soldier version off of eBay. I found him quite exciting. Despite my dismay at the fact he came with no accessories other than a hat and the clothes on his back, I found his larger size compared to the Star Wars figures I'd been collecting rather appealing. I sought to get some stuff for him - a gun and helmet principally.
While cruising eBay in search of accessories to equip him with, I randomly remembered the German GI Joe figure, and decided to price him. He was pretty expensive. Nevertheless, I found one which was comparatively cheap, mostly because he wasn't in that great of shape and did not have all of his original accessories. After some deliberation, I decided to postpone equipping my American Joe in favor of blowing my monthly allowance (as it were) on this guy, just to go ahead and get him. I wasn't disappointed.
So, now, on to actually discussing this figure, the German Soldier. Since even the foreign soldiers were sold as "GI Joes," just "GI Joes from other countries," I jokingly dubbed our Nazi here "GI Josef." He arrived in the mail nude, with his uniform and all of his accessories in a Ziploc bag. Imagine my surprise when a naked GI Joe fell out onto my desk as I opened the box! Everything was well packed and arrived in the precise condition the seller advertised. I got a crash course in how to dress one of these suckers, and I think I passed with flying colors. I had him dressed and equipped in under ten minutes. His tunic and belt gave me the most trouble.
Josef isn't in the best of condition. I suppose he could be worse, though; he's very old, so some knocks and scrapes are to be expected. He also hails from a time when kids played with their toys in their backyards instead of locking themselves indoors with video games. That said, apart from a couple of cracks, paint chips and some loose limbs, Josef is in decent shape for his age. The worst part is his hair. He's the brown-haired version, and numerous paint chips make it appear as if he has salt-and-pepper hair sort of, but this is easily concealed by his helmet, so it doesn't bug me. The cracks, likewise, are hidden under his clothes, and while the joints are loose, he stands up fine despite them and isn't prone to toppling over. A model soldier!
His basic outfit consists of a German army Jacket (although I call it a tunic) and Pants, with black Boots. The clothes are of a weird dark green color instead of the light greenish gray the Nazis actually wore. Red trim on his shoulder boards and collar insignia apparently denote him as an artillery soldier. His insignia is generic and undetailed, but this isn't surprising for a 60's toy. However I guess he's a private. The red trim seems oddly specific, although I think I can explain it.
The book which inspired me to start collecting 12-inch GI Joes explains how Hasbro would acquire surplus military stuff to model their toys' outfits and accessories on. This was done for the Soldiers of the World line, too; it specifically says that a Hasbro executive (I believe Jerry Einhorn), whilst trying to find uniforms and gear of foreign soldiers, spoke to someone at the Pentagon, and was referred to a WWII museum in New Jersey. He went to this museum and in the main lobby there were numerous mannequins wearing WWII-era uniforms and holding weapons, etc. displayed behind a glass wall. He persuaded the owners to let him take out all of the mannequins and take numerous photos of all of them and their gear and weapons from multiple angles. All of the six original Soldiers of the World figures' outfits and weapon choices were thus the result of Einhorn photographing these particular mannequins.
As far as I know, after finishing up, they put them back and he left with his photos, without going further into the museum to see what else they had. Apparently he felt he'd hit the jackpot, got photos of just these six specific soldiers, and then gone. It seems obvious, then, that the German soldier being displayed was wearing an artillery unit tunic, and Hasbro, not up on what if anything the different color trim meant on different German soldiers' outfits, just copied it verbatim. This may also explain the slightly inaccurate choice of very stereotypical weapons; he of course has an MP40 and a Luger, so it's my guess the New Jersey museum had their mannequin posed with these, even though he should really have a Mauser K98 and Walther P38.
Back to the outfit. The tunic has an undetailed silver eagle emblem above the right breast pocket. It's on a rectacular shaped piece of dark green cloth sewn onto the tunic. I guess its small size meant sewing the eagle itself onto the outfit was not doable. It must be attached to the rectangular piece some other way, then they sewed that on. Josef's boots are, well, boots. Nothing spectacular, but they serve well.
The figure's precise name confuses me. The book refers to him as "German Storm Trooper" when listing him along with the Australian Jungle Fighter, French Resistance Fighter, Russian Infantry Man, British Commando and Japanese Imperial Soldier. However, all the box art I've seen of him calls him just "German Soldier." The box art for the other figures use the names given in the book, but not our boy Josef here. Again I have a theory.
The section about these guys concludes with a revelation that Harold Hassenfield, Hasbro owner Merrill Hassenfield's brother, didn't want a Nazi in the toy line. The Hassenfields being Jewish, Harold found the inclusion of an "elite storm trooper, whose reputation exceded mere complicity in Hitler's campaign of exterminaton" (so sayeth the book) insulting, and he wanted the figure dropped from the lineup. Yeah, apparently, we almost only got five Soldiers of the World, instead of six.
After some arguing, though, Harold was apparently persuaded that because the German had already been produced in large numbers for sale and was about to debut at Toy Fair and was already listed in Hasbro's catalogues, etc., dropping the figure at such a late date was impossible. Finally he conceded. Michlig's book says no more about the issue, but my theory is that one of the ways Merrill appeased his brother was by changing the figure's name. Since "Storm Trooper" explicitly calls to mind the brutal SS, as outlined in the book, I think Hasbro changed his name to just "German Soldier" to avoid any direct connection - implied or otherwise - to the SS. He still has a swastika on his helmet, though, but even non-SS soldiers had that.
His accessories are where I really love this figure. First the Helmet. It has a swastika decal as I said, on the left side, and another decal on the right side. I'm unsure what it signifies. I know a lot about WWII Germans, but not everything. The helmet is a very, very light gray and really stands out from the dark green uniform, and it has a chin strap which is something of a chore to get it place. The helmet is my least favorite accessory, despite needing it (for this particular figure) to hide his messed up hair. Firstly, it's way too big. With the strap on, it comes down so far over poor Josef's head it covers his eyes and makes it look like he can't see anything. Without the strap, though, it's so loose it wobbles around and tends to fall off at the slightest bump. Ugh.
His Cartridge Belt, as I said, was also a bit of a chore to get on. This isn't his original belt. It's one of the accessories that the eBay seller described as a "Cotswold replacement." Cotswold is apparently a company that specializes in making reproductions of vintage GI Joe stuff, but my experience with them has been that their repros are never exact (more on this in a minute), and actually seem a little too detailed. The belt's buckle has what appears to be the famous "God Is With Us" slogan in German, a nice touch, but I'm unsure if this was on the original buckle, too, or only the Cotswold version. The belt also has a Holster for the Luger (which the seller said was the original holster and not a Cotswold one) and some ammo pouches (unsure if they're the originals). In another error likely attributable to the museum piece this guy's outfit and gear were based on, they're for the K98 rifle and not the MP40 Josef actually comes with! There's no way an MP40 clip with fit into those pouches! I'd Hasbro thought they were just generic utility pouches, but the box art explicitly calls it "Cartridge Belt," so they knew what those pouches were for.
Next up are his two guns. The MP40 is called a "9mm Schmeisser Pistol" and used to have a working folding stock, but that broke off. However it is otherwise perfectly intact. It has the shoulder strap still, so Josef can either have his trusty machine pistol held in his hands or slung over his shoulder. The MP40 is painted a very bright silvery color except for the grips, which are black. Detail-wise, it is amazingly accurate.
I currently have him posed holding it. A common depiction in films is to have the legions of Nazi troopers wielding their MP40's two-handed by gripping the gun's downward-pointing ammo clip as though it were a foregrip (like on a Thompson or Beretta M12). However, I was told this was inaccurate, and you actually held it either in front or behind the ammo clip. I'm unsure if any real life German soldiers held the gun the way they do in the movies, or if the actors and legions of stuntmen and extras just couldn't resist using the ammo clip as a foregrip. Either way, I have Josef holding his what I believe is the "proper" way.
The Luger Pistol is painted the same bright silver color as the machine pistol, again except for the grips, which are black. It's less detailed than the MP40 and looks less accurate. It's a bit chunky, and isn't as slanted forward as an actual Luger, and, actually, it looks a bit like the love child of a Luger and a P38. Which makes sense, given that the P38 wins my personal award for "gun most often mistaken for a Luger." It has all the right details, but they're just proportioned weirdly, and so its overall shape tends to go more towards the P38. Mine has had the trigger and trigger guard broken off and glued back on. It looks okay, I guess. Not the best repair job in the world, though, so it's primarily going to remain in Josef's holster.
Josef next has two Grenades, of the "potato masher" variety. These, too, the seller claims are Cotswold replacements. Nothing too exciting about them. Lastly, he has his Field Pack (or just "the backpack" as I call it), which, befitting a 60's GI Joe, is made of real fabric and actually has fake fur on it. It looks like sheep wool. It's a little faded but otherwise in great shape. It can actually open up to put things in, and this solved the problem I had of what to do with the grenades. Most photos of this figure depict him with his two grenades stored in one of three places, if he isn't holding them as depicted on the box art: the shoulder straps of the backpack, the belt, or his boots (!). I guess I can kind of see sticking them in the backpack straps or belt... but stuffing them down the boots? That just looks odd. Putting them in the backpack straps looked clunky, even if it did leave them easily accessible and make Josef look more "rough and ready," and his belt was too tight to wedge them in, so ultimately I settled on the backpack itself.
When I purchased him, Josef was missing two of his accessories. Well, obviously, he was missing a lot, like his belt, pouches and grenades, but the seller had gone through the trouble of replacing those with replicas. But what he didn't include was the Iron Cross Medal and the Counter-Intelligence Manual the figure also originally came with. I considered getting an original medal, but found a cheap one made by Cotswold being sold new by a North Carolina seller. He was also offering a Cotswold Luger. Due to the condition of mine's trigger guard I got that too. First I'll discuss the Luger. It confirmed to me that Cotswold either uses the original molds or makes castings of the original accessories, because in overall appearance, this gun is identical to the vintage Luger Josef actually came with. However, it is a very dark gray color, almost black. I'm unsure why they did this. Perhaps so sellers couldn't pass it off as a genuine vintage one? However, the picture the seller used was clearly of the silver vintage Luger, despite being advertised (correctly) as a Cotswold one. Oh well.
Even though I don't really like the bright silver color of the vintage guns he came with, I would've liked if what is meant to be a vintage replacement actually matched the original (if only so it can match the other gun, the MP40). I will likely someday shill out for an actual decent condition vintage silver Luger to better match the MP40, and give this Luger to my WWI German soldier when he arrives in the mail, so I won't feel like I wasted my money.
The Iron Cross is more detailed than the pictures I've seen of the vintage one, and made from actual metal (can anyone confirm if the original Soldier of the World medals were actual metal or were they plastic?). Again Cotswold doesn't make their replacements exactly the same as the originals, it seems. Unlike with the Luger, though, I don't really care whether this looks exactly like the original. The only reason the replacement Luger's darker color bothers me is because it doesn't match the MP40. I still may one day get a vintage Iron Cross (and again award this one to the WWI soldier), but for now this one can wait. I just wish the decal of the ribbon stuck on better. It sticks, but not very well, and is displaying a tendency to slide off. I joke that I awarded the medal to Josef for braving the indignity of being shipped to me naked.
As for the Counter-Intelligence Manual, this isn't essential, and can wait, even though I am interested to have it.
And so that's my thoughts on the vintage GI Joe Soldiers of the World German Soldier. He's likely the last actual vintage Joe I'll get, given how much he put a hole in my wallet, but I don't have one ounce of buyer's remorse, and rather like him. He's making fast friends with my American Joe. Pacifist that I am, the two are likely going to resolve their differences over some rations and German beer and become best friends, as unrealistic as that is. And even if they don't remain pals, at least Joe's new M1 rifle and grenades I got for him put him on more even footing with his German counterpart, if it does come to war. As to what will happen when GI Johann, Josef's cousin who fought in WWI, comes for a visit, only time will tell.