Skirmishing is something any man serving in the French Foreign Legion in North Africa would probably be familiar with. When he found himself in action, it was probably along with a small number of his comrades against a larger, but still modest, party of native fighters in Algeria or Morocco, who might break off the engagement after a couple of hours. Fights might be small-scale but no less deadly for it, and the harsh conditions added greatly to the trials of the legionnaire, even when he was simply patrolling. For some a fight was a welcome distraction from the monotony, although if they were wounded they would face a difficult trip back to proper medical attention, assuming they avoided that most feared of fates – being left to the tender mercies of the enemy.
This is one of quite a few sets of figures for the Legion made by Strelets, so let’s get straight to the point by saying that this one is clearly for the same time period as the rest, which is to say around 1903 to c.1912. The coat is the 1897 style, and all wear the anklets laced at the front, introduced from 1903, which sets the earliest date. The sunshield covering the kepi was disappearing by around 1912, so the set is good for about a decade, but for many this was a decade that saw the high point of the Legion, and certainly the one with the most iconic uniform. Four of the men wear the pullover blouse rather than the capote greatcoat, which is reasonable wear when in action too. The officer wears a tunic rather than the coat, which is great, and high boots rather than anklets, again correct. We were pleased to see one man wearing a scarf, a useful garment to help keep dust and sand from irritating the body.
The three ammunition pouches (two at the front, one at the back) are correctly worn by all here, and most have a haversack too, but all have divested themselves of their pack, which is a sensible move if action is expected. Some have a water bottle, but this is a circular affair and nothing like the correct two-spout bidon that should be here. In addition, many men have no water bottle at all, a serious state of affairs in the vast dry expanses of North Africa. Another mistake repeated from earlier sets is the belt arrangement, since here the rear supports are vertical braces when they should be ‘Y’ shaped braces.
Most of the men carry a rifle of course, which is not clear enough to be identified but looks reasonable in overall shape. We were a bit disappointed however that few have a bayonet fixed. Bizarrely, Strelets have repeated another mistake and once more given these men a British weapon that would not be invented for another ten years – the Lewis gun. Strelets love the Lewis gun, and keep issuing it to men who would have had absolutely no idea what it was in reality. As a result, the rather awkward figure in the third row is no good to anyone, despite what some lazy films and TV might suggest.
The poses are very appropriate for a skirmish, and feature lots of men either on the ground or crouching, which is what you would expect if there was little cover to be had nearby. Generally the poses are nicely animated, and we thought them all useful (apart from the Lewis gunner of course). The figure in the second row firing upward while sitting on the ground suggests an enemy very close by, so he may be in serious danger, but a great pose and one begging to be placed in front of a fierce tribesman bearing down on him. The handful of standing poses are also very good – even the man bayonetting, which is unusual! One observation concerns the officer, who is holding his revolver with his left hand. This is fine, but it is interesting that lately Strelets have apparently made a conscious effort to portray left-handers in many of their sets.
The quality of production here is a good match for the rest of the Legion sets from Strelets. The style is appealing and the detail good if a little soft (the hands in particular are somewhat vague). There is some flash, and an occasional larger blob in places, but most poses would not be particularly challenging to clean up. The two prone firing men in our top row have both been moulded from above and below, which means there is a lot of extra plastic around the head and neither man has a face. Also the support strap for the officer’s revolver, while fine at the back, has clearly come adrift before the mould was made and at the front it sort of dribbles down to the belt buckle.
Pretty good sculpting and some very good poses are the chief attractions of this set. Repeating the same errors as before – wrong water bottle, wrong belts and a heavy weapon that did not exist – are frustrating to say the least, particularly when the reenactors used to make the box artwork got these things right, and so know more about the Legion than the set designer. If you love the Legion then you might be prepared to overlook the problems with the kit, in which case this flawed set still offers some pleasing figures to depict these brave but troubled soldiers as they imposed the will of France on the region.