China’s weakness in the 19th century allowed many foreign powers to force concessions out of her, and for Russia this meant gaining Port Arthur, an excellent natural harbour, from 1897. This and many other humiliations provoked increasing anti-foreigner hostility in China and when in early 1900 the foreign legations in Peking called for troops to help protect them around 75 Russians were in the small force that responded. All of these were sailors rather than regular infantry, and there was also no Russian infantry in the first relief expedition once Peking was under siege. However the second relief expedition included three Russian infantry battalions, over 2,500 infantry, which is where this set of figures makes its entry.
The books will tell you that the Russian summer uniform in 1900 dated back to reforms made in the early 1880s, when a conscious attempt was made to create a uniform specifically Russian in style. This meant the men wore a peakless cloth cap (furashka), a traditional white gymnastiorka shirt/tunic and dark green trousers tucked into high boots. This is the soldier depicted on the box artwork and this is the soldier we find in the box. It is also the soldier depicted by other manufacturers for the Boxer Rebellion (probably because it appears in the older Osprey book). However, there are a number of photographs of the Russians during this campaign, and they clearly differ from this image. They clearly have loose white trousers, and there seems to be very many peaks on the caps (as well as other variations that are doubtless down to the individual soldier). This is because the troops that participated in the relief expedition came from the East Siberian Regiment, and the Siberians wore a peaked cap. Whether some western Russian regiments took part in later actions well after the siege of Peking is unclear, so these figures are only appropriate if that is the case.
Another aspect that contemporary photographs show is rather more obvious – the Russians had to carry kit. Most of these figures have nothing more than a belt with their two cartridge pouches, although a few also have a greatcoat rolled across their chest. No one has so much as a canteen, let along a haversack or other baggage. This might be plausible for troops defending the legations, but since there was no Russian infantry fulfilling that role these figures are on a regular campaign, and therefore seriously unencumbered with all the usual detritus a soldier has to carry. One further point has to be made. By long tradition the Russian soldier had his bayonet fixed to his rifle more or less permanently, and indeed usually had nowhere else to put it. However two thirds of the figures in this set have no bayonet at all – fixed or otherwise – which further devalues their authenticity.
The chosen poses include some basics as well as some more unorthodox postures. The first figure in the top row is another attempt to depict bayoneting, and as so often the result is rather awkward. The two men taking a cartridge from their pouch (second figure on first row and last in second row) are much better, but we wonder at the man pointing his bayonet at the ground in the final row. If his rifle and bayonet were considerably higher than he could be seen as threatening some downed opponent, but as it is this pose achieves nothing much, although reminiscent of the equally useless Esci pose. Of course the usual RedBox policy of including no officers can cause difficulties too.
Sculpting is about the usual, which is not impressive. Detail is not too bad but not sharp and clothing has little in the way of folds or creases – particularly apparent as this clothing is supposed to be loose and baggy. There is quite a rough finish too in places, while flash is fairly widespread. The only just adequate small bases are another RedBox trademark, although with suitable filing we got even the difficult poses to stand by themselves.
We must just explain our remark on the colour. Our sample box contained figures that were red or brown, but most were a marbled mixture of the two. Clearly the plastic was not adequately mixed before injecting, but we cannot be sure which colour was intended (we chose the most consistent for our pictures).
Too often manufacturers open a book and slavishly copy what they find, assuming that is all that is required. RedBox are by no means the only company to fall into this trap, but any single book can have mistakes, and in fact this particular Osprey has more than most. While of doubtful validity for the Boxer campaign these figures are correctly dressed for some other units so are not a waste. However the complete lack of kit is a real disappointment, and the overall quality does nothing to redeem them.