The Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire was an entirely European entity, and since it possessed only a relatively small amount of coastline there was no need for a large navy such as those of Britain and France. Nonetheless when the Boxer Movement in China seriously threatened European and other foreign interests it sent ships to the area, and as a result Austrian sailors took part in many of the momentous events of 1900. With no Asian possessions of their own the Austrians were based at Port Arthur (then a Russian possession), and when the initial call came for troops to protect the legations in Peking, the sole Austrian ship in the area, SMS Zenta, contributed around 35 sailors and officers, who were to find themselves besieged along with the other nationalities. Another 25 Austrian sailors participated in Seymour’s abortive rescue expedition, and while there was no Austrian presence in the successful relief of Peking, 160 sailors fought alongside German troops in the storming of the Taku forts. From these statistics it can be seen that the Austrian contribution to these events was small, yet it is clear that Redbox intend to depict all the elements in the international forces, hence we find Austrian sailors before us now.
In line with previous sets in this range these figures are not easy on the eye. They have quite a rough quality, and while the subject does not call for large amounts of intricate detail these don’t deliver even the small amount that is required. Hands are in all cases without any suggestion of fingers, and often only vaguely resemble the shape of a hand, while the rifles are completely devoid of any detail. The limbs are rather chunky, and clothing folds leave something to be desired, but what really scars these figures is the large amount of flash, as can clearly be seen in our pictures. This is irregularly spread over each sprue, yet to get a full set of usable figures will require a good deal of carving away of excess plastic.
The poses are a much better story, with some interesting choices and all being very usable. Hand-to-hand combat was far more likely in this campaign then most others, so the figure using the bayonet is a good idea, although by the same token we were surprised that only this figure has actually fixed his bayonet. The poses are sometimes a little clumsy but the ideas are right so no problems here. The inclusion of a man waving a flag might seem strange for a sailor performing onshore duties, but for some reason several contemporary illustrations show such a man, and while this could easily be no more than artistic licence identifying one nationality in a multi-national setting, accounts speak of flags being used to indicate capture of a fort or area, so such a figure would seem reasonable.
Austro-Hungarian sailors had by 1900 worn the fairly standard international sailors uniform for almost half a century, and are correctly depicted here, including the square collar and the gaiters on the lower leg that were only used when serving on dry land. All the men have the army rifle kit of two ammunition pouches on a waist belt with supports, and a bayonet by their side, but they otherwise lack any packs, canteens or bread bags that they would normally be issued with and might expect to be carrying most of the time. They should be carrying a Mannlicher rifle, but as we have said whether they are or not is anyone’s guess. The officer is also correctly attired, with his single-breasted jacket and appropriate peaked cap, waving his sword in the air with perhaps more of a chance of using it in anger than he might ever have expected.
The sailor’s uniform was white in summer and blue in winter, but the cut was the same for both so these figures can be painted either way (for the hot Chinese summer whites were worn as shown on the box). It is always nice to report good historical accuracy and good choice of poses, but the general quality of these figures lets them down badly, and to get the best out of them you will need to spend a lot of time with knife and paintbrush.