Russia’s attitude to China in the late 19th century was to encourage friendly relations. The anti-foreigner activities of the ‘Boxers’ provoked little reaction in St Petersburg as they were seen as primarily anti-western Europe. However as the situation deteriorated in spring 1900 it became evident that Russia would have to work with the western allies against the Chinese government, however reluctantly. When the initial appeal for troops to protect foreigners in Peking was made, 72 Russian sailors and two officers from the Imperial Asian Fleet joined the scratch force that was sent, and therefore participated in the defence of the legations throughout the siege in Peking. Some 300 Russian sailors also took part in the ill-fated first relief expedition of Admiral Seymour, and therefore also saw action, while Russian ships participated in various actions on the coast, but the large Russian contribution to the second relief force included no sailors.
Sailors are something of a novelty in this hobby as historically they rarely found themselves in action on dry land. The particular circumstances of the China crisis were an exception, however, allowing us to see some unusual figures. Most sailors got some form of basic military training, which allowed them to perform as emergency infantry, as in this case. Therefore they were relatively familiar with their weapons, so many of the poses here are the standard infantry examples so often seen on these pages. That is no bad thing as the poses are valid, and those in the top two rows are all quite appropriate, with the two crouching figures being particularly worthy of praise. They seem perfect for the Peking situation where the garrison was often subject to sporadic sniper and shell fire and the need to keep your head down was obvious. The bottom row, however, reveals two men using boat hooks, one apparently swinging an oar and a fourth with a knife. Unless repelling borders in an extreme emergency it is hard to imagine that an imperial sailor would find himself in this kind of pose. It would seem very doubtful that sailors would even take boat hooks and oars with them into a land battle since firearms were never in short supply, even during the siege. The man with the knife is a little more acceptable, but we can’t help think that these poses were done to bring a nautical flavour to the set and provide something different in the way of poses, which is admirable in itself but has been taken much too far here.
In reality the nautical flavour should have been limited to the uniform, which was much the same for the sailor in the Russian fleet as in most others. Here the men wear the traditional peakless sailor cap with long ribbons at the rear, a simple shirt without collar, cuffs or opening, and trousers. Most of the figures in this set are dressed in this way, and are therefore entirely correct (although it should be noted that the sailors wore shirts of blue and white stripes, not red as shown on the box and in the Osprey book). One man wears a peaked cap and a coat, which could make him an officer (although dress coats of the day were double-breasted and this is not). Some carry a small cartridge pouch on a crossbelt, which is a practice confirmed by photographs of the Peking garrison. Otherwise the men are without equipment, which would be unlikely for those on campaign but quite reasonable for those besieged in Peking, which is clearly what these figures are intended to portray.
Sculpting is not great, with not particularly convincing folds in the clothing. However this simple uniform has no need for intricate detail so to a degree the rather vague sculpting is less of a problem here. Flash is quite variable, with some figures being largely clean while others have a fair amount, although in general this is not a particularly big problem.
On the positive side this set has some great poses as well as all the normal, useful ones, and there are no accuracy problems. On the negative side the boat hook/oar poses are fun but largely useless, the sculpting is quite underwhelming and there is enough flash to be annoying. This is therefore a mixed bag, as is so often the case, but if you trim the eight poses we think are useful you should find you have some adequate figures for an unusual military unit.