Like all French colonial troops during World War II, the Foreign Legion had some very difficult choices to make, and the result was some troops fought with the British and against the Germans and Italians, while others remained in the service of the puppet Vichy regime, at least until the Allies arrived in their territory. As we shall see, this set depicts those that fought with the British in the Middle East and Africa, and such men went to great lengths to retain as much of their French uniform and equipment as they could. Above all else, the kepi was worn as a mark of national pride and defiance.
This set is a companion to the Strelets French Foreign Legion WWII, but the first of the heavy weapons is one that the first set already included – the French Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. Despite its age this excellent weapon was still in service in the 1940s, and this time Strelets have provided a better tripod by making the weapon in the traditional two-piece manner of barrel and tripod. The gunner is a good pose, although there is the issue of how to get him to be in the firing position when the long leg of the tripod prevents this. The number two is holding a strip of ammunition, but he does not look like he is about to load it, despite the machine gun currently having no ammunition loaded. Nevertheless a nice little gun and crew.
Our second row shows the mortar, which is of the generic Stokes mortar design and so could be British or French, probably 81mm calibre. The model here is in the usual three parts, and goes together quite well, making a decent enough weapon with fair detail. There is a figure apparently about to drop a round down the tube, and two others also handling rounds. The second of these is looking at the ground but holding a round in the air, perhaps waiting for it to be taken out of his hand while he looks toward the next one to be passed. It is an unusual pose, but perhaps not particularly unlikely. A crate of bombs is also provided, and some of the more generic poses in the third row could also be used for the crew.
The third row starts with a couple of men with empty hands, and so suitable for positioning around either weapon, plus some command figures. First is a nice one of a man on a field telephone, and then we have two officers. The first we have assumed is an officer because he carries a submachine gun and is shouting at someone, but the second looks to be the more senior because he is armed with a pistol, is looking through binoculars and doing what so many officers in this hobby are doing – pointing at something, but to his side and certainly not where he is looking. These sorts of poses are useful in many situations, and do add to both this and the earlier infantry set.
The key item of clothing here is the kepi of course, and the legionnaires went to great lengths to retain this iconic French headwear, or to find replacements, some of which were acquired after the Syrian campaign. Of course like all infantry, they would normally have worn the steel helmet when in action, but it is known that the kepi was sometimes worn, notably during the breakout from Bir Hakeim in Libya in 1942, and since it is mainly the kepi that distinguishes these men as French, it is understandable that they are being worn here, even though this would be the exception rather than the rule. The reason the kepi was so precious was that the rest of the uniform is British KD, with shirt and shorts, socks and boots. However all here still proudly wear the traditional Legion chèche scarf, and also the standard French M1935/37 ‘Y’-shaped leather straps and twin pouches. From 1943 a new agreement meant French forces such as these were entirely resupplied by the Americans, so this look disappeared in that year, but for the two years prior to that this is an entirely authentic appearance for these men.
The sculpting is pretty reasonable, with decent detail and fairly natural proportions. The heavy weapons are quite good, and the only small arms on show in this set – a couple of submachine guns – are clear enough for us to think that one is a MAS-38 and the other looks like a Thompson. There is quite a lot of flash in places, including in areas which will be very difficult to trim away (the man feeding the mortar is particularly bad), and there is extra plastic around the machine gunner’s hands, so the perfectionist will need some time to make the best of this collection of figures. However as we have said, the heavy weapons go together quite nicely and have none of the flash found on the men.
By using the kepis rather than helmets, along with the other items of French kit and weaponry, this set does well at conveying the nationality of these men, which they were also very keen to underline at the time. The quality of sculpting is quite useable, and the poses are workmanlike and useful too, though it is the rough finish to some areas that are a blemish on this otherwise satisfactory set of figures.