Battle at sea, as far as the Spanish were concerned in the 16th and early 17th centuries, meant coming alongside your opponent and then boarding him to hopefully overpower him and his ship. As a consequence they commissioned ships with space for plenty of soldiers, so in effect their ships were more armoured personnel carriers than they were battleships. A typical 500 tonelada galleon in the early 17th century had a crew of about 90 all ranks, plus about 125 soldiers. There might be more if troops were being transported to some land destination, but under any circumstances there were a lot of troops on board Spanish galleons and galleys. Smaller vessels like merchant traders and exploration ships might have few or no soldiers, though if they did have them they were probably mercenaries. In times of crisis the crew would also be expected to take up arms and fight, and most ships carried weapons and armour for this very purpose. However crews of the day were well known for distaining armour, and would often go into action with no protection, though this was less true when they went ashore in a landing party.
As a general rule soldiers on board ships were split roughly 50/50 between firearm troops and close-quarter combatants. Those with edged weapons would muster on the opposite side of the ship to that facing the enemy, waiting until the order came to board them. Our top row shows those troops in this fairly small set, which are represented by two figures with halberds and one with sword and shield. All are in typical costume of soldiers of the time, with the characteristic Spanish helmet or morion, breast and back plates, and sometimes tassets too. As such they are no different to their land-based comrades, and nor should they be if they are soldiers. As seamen acting as soldiers they are much less convincing simply because they are too well attired, especially given the reluctance to wear armour amongst many. The set’s title speaks of sailors in battle, but we think this is a simplification when what is intended is marine soldiers, in which case these figures are absolutely fine.
As a ship drew near to its intended victim (or potentially its attacker), the men armed with musket and arquebus would line the sides to face them. Formed in two rough lines, one would fire and then retire inboard to reload while the other would give fire. The first two figures in our second row show these men, both holding a rather short arquebus. Again they are rather too well-armed and kitted to be sailors, but work well as marine soldiers, so again this must be what they are. Armour, clothing and kit is all typical of the 16th century, so as with the close-combat figures these are correctly modelled.
The remaining two men in our second row are much more like what we would expect real sailors in battle to look like. They wear simple sailors clothing and are bare-footed, suggesting they are on board (landing parties usually wore shoes or boots). One has a sort of half pike or boat-hook and the other an axe and large knife, all very appropriate weapons for such men. These two perfectly match the title of the set, if taken literally.
Finally we have our third row, which contains a couple of officers. Very well dressed and equipped, they are certainly not sailors, but almost certainly officers for the soldiers. One might be the captain of the ship, which despite what we might expect was usually a military man with little maritime knowledge; it was the master who ran the ship in these circumstances. Various junior officers would also have been present, and perhaps even the senior commander of the whole fleet, so these figures have several uses. They also look quite splendid, and authentic for the 16th century.
In looking at the poses we can find nothing to concern us except for the sailor with the axe, for he holds his edged weapon almost over his head, which is not really particularly natural. Both the sailors and the soldiers are nicely aggressive in posture, and pretty lively, while the officers are more sedate, as you might expect. In short then an almost perfect selection of poses, though very few of each kind of individual in a set this modest in size.
Sculpting is very good indeed, with lovely slender anatomies that are perfectly natural, particularly for this sort of subject. Apart from our axe man the poses do not feel particularly flat and have been nicely done, and while there is a little excess plastic between man and polearm, as you would expect, these are very neat and flash free. You couldn’t ask for more or sharper detail, so another very fine quality sculpt from RedBox.
It is a sign of how far the hobby has come in recent years that major manufacturers are now making sets such as this, presumably with campaigns such as the Armada of 1588 in mind. That such an interesting but unusual subject is being made at all is fantastic news, and RedBox are to be applauded once more for broadening the hobby in this way when the temptation must be to make yet more Romans, Napoleonics or World War II. With that very much in mind we feel it a little churlish to complain about the small number of poses for each troop type here, although that is certainly the case. Other sets can help to expand what is on offer here of course, but what we do get is very nicely produced, accurate in all regards and simply good-looking; the two officers are particularly outstanding in this regard. As we have said, we treat the set title with some caution, as most of the figures here would not describe themselves as sailors, but merely soldiers that are on board a ship. Nevertheless this is a great set of figures for any Spanish maritime action of the 16th century (but not really for much of the 17th), whether on board ship or as a landing party, and work perfectly to defend Spain’s New World riches from French, English and Dutch raiders.