Shortly after the announcement of the Welbike with paratroopers by Tristar, Dragon announced its own Welbike in combination with their previously released (2004) set of the 2nd SAS Regiment.
Not intending to reinvent the wheel, I will refer you to Alan McNeilly’s excellent review of the Tristar Welbike
kit for the historical notes and also to Ian Sadler’s excellent comments on the uniforms and their use of the original 2nd SAS Regiment
The one historical question that remains to be cleared is whether the SAS actually used the Welbikes. I am sorry to say that I cannot give you an answer to that question. I have not found any mention of the Welbike in any of the books I have read on the SAS over the years. The 2nd SAS Regiment was in action behind enemy lines in France in 1944, and were supplied via para drop, so it is quite possible that some Welbikes were dropped in with other equipment. What is
clear though, is that the Welbike was used by paratroopers, and as Ian Sadler’s review points out, three of the figures in this set can easily be converted to Airborne figures which is an easy way to get around this issue.
The box is labelled Premium Edition
and the Welbike is indicated as a “bonus”. In my eyes this would indicate that the figures are premium edition (or even Gen 2) as well, but that is not the case. No PE is included for the figures, and they are exactly the same as when first released in 2004.
The instructions consist of a single sheet of paper with building and painting instructions for the figures on one side, and construction and painting of the Welbike on the other. The instructions are basically easy to follow but have several glitches, which are noted further on in the review.
The box contains four sprues in the standard grey DML plastic – two each for the figures and the Welbike – and one PE-fret for the Welbike and container. Moulding is very clean with some slide moulds used on the Welbike parts, and only the usual mould seams to take care of. No pin marks are evident; these were avoided with the use of knock out nodes.
The Figure Sprue
, as mentioned, is the 2nd SAS Regiment (kit 6199) sprue in unchanged form. It contains parts for 4 figures along with a Tommy Gun (M1928A1) with 30 round clip and two M1 carbines. As can be noted on quite a few Dragon figure kits, there are some slight mould “trenches”, especially on the torso parts. These can be noticed after painting and should be taken care of during assembly. Unfortunately this may compromise some of the otherwise excellent details. The sprue also contains pistol holsters, ammo pouches, knives and some other accessories. All four figures are wearing berets. The features of the faces are good for styrene, but do not have a lot of character.
Three of the figures are standing, while one is kneeling on his right knee. This is the one that can be modelled either holding a carbine in the right hand and binoculars in the left (as in the original release of this kit) or with two new arms provided on the Welbike sprue to show a figure in the process of unpacking the Welbike from its container. The new arms seem rather crude to me and remind me of some of the old Tamiya or Italeri releases. My impression is that Dragon was looking for a simple update, but the arms seem very crude, especially compared to the details on the figure sprue.
The Weapons Sprue
provided is from Dragons older “British Commonwealth Troops (NW Europe 1944)” (kit 6055) and contains the Bren gun used for this set as well as a Sten gun and two Lee Enfield rifles for the spares box. Detail on these weapons is quite good.
The Welbike Sprue
contains – apart from the replacement arms already mentioned – all the parts needed for the Welbike. The Wellbike itself is a Mk II Series 1, identifiable by the rear mud guard and the absence of the saddle fuel tank. The Welbike is made up of 31 parts with one of these (drive chain) replaceable by a PE part.
The Drop Tube Container Sprue
contains 6 parts for the container and the attachment to the underside of the aircraft. The parts are basically the upper and lower halves plus three parts for the front end. The basic layout looks spot on with reference photos. For a diorama, one might want to add the opened parachute or at least the strings attached to the open lower end of the container where the parachute is stored before the drop.
provides – apart from the replacement drive chain for the Welbike – framing for the interior of the drop container (14 parts). The instructions are incorrect when it comes to the numbering and placement of the PE parts. The chain for the bike is numbered MA3 when it is actually MA4, although this part is easily identified.
The PE parts for the container are only indicated for one half, and it is up to the modeller to assume that the other half has the same. That way you would use 8 of the 14 parts provided and it is unclear what the other 6 are for. On top of that comes another mistake in the numbering, the indicated part MA1 is actually MA2 and indicated MA2 is MA1. MA3 is probably meant for the open portion of the container (where the parachute would be before the drop). See my scheme for the supposed placement of the PE parts, as this may be more accurate according to reference photos (but still leaving 2xMA1 left over).
Construction of the Welbike
Construction of the Welbike starts with the wheels which are made up of two halves each. No PE is provided for the spokes and, although these are moulded very finely, they are still on the thick side. Next is the construction of the front fork and steering, consisting of three parts plus the wheel. These parts are extremely fine and a lot of care will be needed to get them off the sprue. The parts are laid out to be constructed in the folded position and some modification is needed to build the bike in a deployed mode.
The third step is construction of the engine, consisting of 10 parts, some of them again very small and delicate. Step 4 is the construction of the container, step 5 is non-existent, and step 6 is the final assembly. Some parts already used in step 3 are shown again, which makes you wonder in which step they are easier to add. Also in step 6 is the fitting of the Welbike into the container, but there is no indication as to the correct angle in which to fit the bike (it is simply shown to be fitted straight up whereas it should be at a 45° angle to the bottom).
What could have been a very nice kit is compromised by some glitches in the instructions and poorly designed arms for the figure. It is also too bad that there is no possibility in the kit (other than custom modifications) to build the bike in deployed mode. Altogether it leaves the impression of having been rushed to production so the market wouldn’t be left to a competitor.
On the other hand, I can see a small instant diorama, maybe together with an SAS Jeep or with an SAS man recovering the Welbike while his buddies secure the surroundings.
(offers some useful photographs of original and restored Welbikes as well as some links to youtube videos)
(offers some very useful photos of the Welbike, the container and troops using it in training)