The French Foreign Legion has a unique reputation for both its fighting capabilities and the alleged harshness of its regime. Though it has been in existence since 1831, the classic appearance most people recognise is of the legionnaire during the campaigns in North Africa at the end of the 19th century and the first few years of the 20th. Though the campaigns themselves are not well known, it is no wonder that Esci chose this period for their set.
This is really a set of two halves, with two distinct styles of uniform on show. The first is the standard look with the coat ('capote') with turned-back corners. Seven of the poses wear this, as well as the familiar kepi cap covered by a cloth and with a neck guard behind. They wear the sash round the waist and underneath the belts, and loose fatigue trousers. The other six soldier poses wear the coarse white baggy shirt and trousers which was a fatigue and undress uniform from 1870, but though this was sometimes seen in the field the capote was much more common. All those with the fatigue uniform also wear gaiters, which were pretty old fashioned by the first decade of the 20th century, though the Legion's long supply line and remoteness allowed considerable deviation from the regulation uniform.
The poses include a lot of old Esci favourites, though not all are also ours. The man bayoneting with bayonet at his knees is not a convincing pose in our view, but the others are OK. The range of poses is more limited because several appear twice - once for each uniform style. The singular figures are interesting, particularly the man drinking from his canteen. However we felt having only one marching figure in a set of 50 was not much use to anyone, even though the pose itself is a great one.
The man with a revolver is an adjutant in hot weather field uniform. His rank is indicated by the single strip round his cuff, and he carries his holster and a binocular case. The officer wears the unpopular colonial hat, rather like the British Pith helmet, and has drawn his sword. He is as conventionally dressed as officers tended to get, but sports unofficial but popular riding breeches and top-boots.
The men carry the Lebel rifle and the distinctive long epée bayonet is fixed in some cases. However very few of the men carry the scabbard for the bayonet, which is a bad omission. All have a full pack with some extra items strapped on, which is excellent. As well as the haversack they have the two-spout water bottle, but none have the black strap by which this was hung.
This is an Esci set, so detailing is absolutely superb. Sharp, clear and very natural, these figures are works of art in themselves. One or two have excess plastic where the mould could not reach, and the marching figure has lost all detail on his chest for this reason, but for the most part these are very pleasing to the eye. On our example there was no flash, although the great age of these figures, which are still in production today, means some production runs may not be so clean.
The rather strange mixture of uniforms, the missing bayonet scabbards and occasional loss of detail mean some superb individual figures do not quite add up to a superb all-round set. Still this set works well with the Airfix equivalent and will serve splendidly in many a dramatic encounter in the desert.