History in perhaps its broadest sense means finding what can be known about the past and presenting the facts in the form of a coherent narrative. That narrative doesn’t have to be a text. It can be a painting, a movie, or a diorama. For decades, hobby modelers have found ingenious ways to depict nearly all aspects of World War II, of course with a special interest in the lives of soldiers at the front.
They have been helped greatly by makers of military models such as British Airfix and Japanese Tamiya, which have introduced a huge array of products, stretching from the obvious, e.g. the Tiger tank in its various guises, to the slightly quirky, such as a recent release from China-based Bronco of six British and Commonwealth war correspondents.
However, the market in military models echoes a bias that has characterized the historical literature about World War II pretty much since the end of hostilities. The vast majority of products deal with the well-known theatres, such as the Eastern Front, North Africa, Northeast Europe and the Pacific.
By contrast, the war in China has been all but neglected. Surely this reflects the lack of awareness of the country’s strategic significance as well as the enormous sacrifices it made towards the cause of defeating Japan. This leaves modelers with an extremely narrow set of options if they want to pick themes from the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese War, and to a large extent they have to rely on their creativity to turn their visions into reality.
One example is the astonishing work of French hobby modeler Mickael Nitschke, depicting a fierce clash between Nationalist Chinese soldiers and their Japanese adversaries in the streets of Shanghai in 1937. The diorama, featured in the images on this page, required a large amount of photographic research, made more difficult by the lack of information about the Sino-Japanese War in the west.
“The hardest part was to reproduce the soldiers of the Chinese Nationalist Army. This theme is addressed in only a marginal fashion or not at all by the manufacturers, and I had to build these figures from scratch using figures of German infantrymen of the First World War. Building the diorama took a lot of time and work, especially the cobbled street, which has about 1,040 clay stones,” he says.