Although as a major Mediterranean power the Ottoman Empire maintained a powerful fleet, sea battles were a rarity. Ottoman ships were much more commonly used to replenish and support land forces, occasionally engage in raids on an enemy coast, and to conduct anti-piracy patrols, besides protecting the Ottoman coastline and shipping. The major exception is of course the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when a fleet of the Holy League (comprising various Christian states) decisively defeated the Ottomans, effectively preventing their further expansion westwards and dealing a major blow to their fearsome reputation. As with other navies, that of the Ottomans mainly used ordinary land forces for fighting, embarking Janissaries and others when battle looked imminent. Sailors usually simply manned the ship, but of course when the need arose they could take up arms and fight too, so this is what this set is all about.
The period covered by this set, the 16th and 17th centuries, saw great changes in ships but also in weaponry, particularly the rise and rise of gunpowder. Two of these fighting sailors are holding matchlocks, another holds a pistol and a fourth has a pistol tucked into his sash. There are also a couple of swords unsheathed, but the rest of the weapons are also tools useful away from a fight - an axe, a boat hook, a couple of grappling ropes and of course knives. Other weapons could easily have been included, particularly bows, but everything here is reasonable. We were defeated by the second man in the top row, who in addition to his pistol holds a long featureless item that is perhaps a yatagan sword, though this has none of the elegant lines of that weapon.
With impact weapons there is a real art to making figures that look convincing without resorting to separate parts that need assembly. If you get it wrong then the figure looks flat and unrealistic, and sadly that is the case here. The man in the top row with the pistol is holding it in his left hand, pointing his sword to his right, and not looking in either direction, so what is he doing? The man with the axe is showing the flat of the blade to anyone in front of him, and both the last two figures are holding their edged weapons well out to the sides - the last man seems to be digging the tip of his sword into his own leg. The rest are more convincing, but that is still a fairly high number of poses which don’t look good to our eyes. The first figures in each row are our favourites, as they are also nicely poised, but the standard overall is only adequate.
Sailors clothing was practical, hard wearing and inexpensive. All wear trousers or breeches, and some have a shirt, though several are stripped to the waist, which makes perfect sense. There are various caps and turbans, which look good, so the clothing all looks authentic.
There is pretty good detail on these figures, and the body proportions are well done, but there are problems too. In places things go wrong, so for example the second man in the top row is not actually holding his pistol - no part of what little hand he has is actually gripping it - while the second figure in row two, with several weapons uncomfortably stuffed into his belt, has no hands at all. Both the matchlocks are very square in section, and look quite crude, and the man firing his matchlock has a powder horn on his hip with no visible means of support at all. All this, and yet some of the faces are really nice, so once again a set of contrasts. However the biggest problem is also the most obvious. Look at the first man in the second row. He is quite a mess, isn’t he? Some of that is figure, but a lot of it is flash, which practically swallows him up. Some of the others also have a fair amount of flash, yet some are virtually clean, so once more we have contrasts, and we don’t want contrasts - we want a uniform high quality of mould.
The major tactic for an Ottoman war galley was to ram and hopefully board an enemy, and where necessary that might involve sailors in a fight, so these figures are very important for actions at sea. Nine poses is not a particularly generous offering, so inevitably some important weapons have been missed, although many of those here are interesting and very appropriate. The best bits of the sculpting are very good indeed, so why can’t the whole set by of the same standard? The best bits of the set are free from flash, so why do we have to put up with the horror of flash in other places? Easy questions to ask when you don’t actually make figures of course, and we are glad this set was made, but although it does the job it is far from an impressive product.