It was high time the Legion hit back at the Germans. The 13th Demi-Brigade Légion Étrangère had been created in early 1940 from volunteers, and was to assist the Finns in their struggle against the Soviet invasion of their country. In the event the fighting ended before the unit was ready, so their first action had been at Narvik in Norway. Back in France the battle was being lost against the invasion, however, and with the armistice half the unit chose to continue the struggle as Free French in Britain. From there they fought in Africa and Syria, and by February 1942 they were part of a French force centred on a position named Bir Hacheim, on the extreme left of the British Eighth Army front in North Africa. Rommel attacked in May, and succeeded in pushing the British back, but the French at Bir Hacheim held out against ever stronger attacks by Italians and Germans, and did so with amazing courage despite being isolated and receiving few supplies. After 13 days of heroic resistance they broke out of the encirclement, having given the Eighth Army time to recover from its defeat (it would later stop Rommel's advance). Friend and foe alike marvelled at this action, which is one of the most famous episodes in the Legion's history. They had hit back at the Germans at last, and everyone had taken notice.
The first impression that leaps out from this set when opened is the rather unexpected electric blue colour (although it may be made in other colours too), but you quickly notice the very gangly appearance of these men, and indeed a closer inspection soon reveals a generally unpleasing look to everything here. So many sets exaggerate the thickness of human limbs, so it is easy to forget what a well-proportioned figure would look like, but to our eye these figures go too far the other way, having a downright mal-nourished look which is only accentuated by the fact that they wear shorts and therefore reveal their extremely thin legs. The clothing and equipment also disappoint, for neither are particularly well done, while the faces appear to partially melt in places. There is a small amount of bleeding of plastic between the moulds, causing small areas of flash, although this is not much of a problem to remove.
As with all the Free French forces, the two battalions of the Foreign Legion present at Bir Hachheim were desperate to retain their Gallic character as much as possible despite being effectively part of the British Army, but with France occupied normal supplies were unavailable, so all these men wore British uniform. Their kit and weapons were mostly French however, and following their earlier campaign in Syria the Legionnaires had happily acquired a supply of the famous képi blanc, which all these figures wear. However this is misleading as the men were sensible enough to wear the steel helmets with which they had been provided, which were of course the British version. Apparently only during the night-time evacuation was the kepi worn in action (which they tried to perform without the enemy being aware), so all these clearly combative poses should really have the normal British Mk II helmet. Otherwise their uniform and kit looks accurate, at least as far as can be seen. The surrendering figure seems to be a German, although he wears a hat like none we have seen for this war, and therefore presumably some soft civilian affair from his own wardrobe, which is not a choice that pleases us.
Where weapons can be made out at all they are pretty poorly defined but do not seem particularly inappropriate. The most obvious example is the heavy Hotchkiss machine gun mounted on its tripod and being fired while a second man feeds it ammunition. This is all one piece, and perhaps as a result the tripod is very thin and would provide little support. The gun is pretty poorly detailed, but the most obvious problem is with the loader. Hotchkiss ammunition was fed in rigid trays which were quite long, but this man holds a completely indistinct blob which cannot possibly hold more than half a dozen rounds and looks nothing like the proper tray.
The action at Bir Hacheim was characterised by troops defending well dug in positions against enemy armour supported by air attacks, so the typical French soldier would be firing from some strongpoint. There is nothing about these poses that seems to suggest that, although of course running around carrying your rifle would have been perfectly normal too, but we would have expected more kneeling poses, or poses clearly firing from cover, so while these poses are OK they do not seem to be particularly appropriate to the very specific subject matter. The way several are posed is very awkward (such as the man throwing a grenade), but there are some odd choices. The man with the pistol would be contributing little to the fight unless he was at very short range in some emergency situation, but the first figure in the last row is the most unexpected. He is standing with a small handkerchief fluttering from his bayonet. Why this is we cannot guess, nor why he is given pride of place on the box artwork, but the figure seems to be taken from a photograph of a legionnaire in just such a pose in North Africa, although not during this battle. The difference is in that photograph the man flies a full-size company flag, which is attached to his bayonet scabbard as the bayonet was not long enough. No one would have a company flag as pathetically small as the one in this set for obvious reasons, so our advice is trim it off completely.
The French contingent at Bir Hacheim was made up of much more than just the Foreign Legion, and included many colonial troops, yet, justly or otherwise, it is the Legion that is usually the focus of accounts of this action. Although this set claims to be a homage to these Legionnaires we did not feel that it went very far in representing that specific battle, and the inclusion of kepis rather than helmets, while helping to scream the word 'French', ignores the realities of the historical event. Perhaps that does not matter. Perhaps as homage it is the spirit of the thing that matters and not the details of accuracy. Ultimately though it is the poor production quality of these figures which most counts against this set, and counts against it quite heavily.