Popular history tends to concentrate on the successes of those who are considered high achievers, and Napoleon Bonaparte is certainly one of those. That is not to say that such men never experienced failure, and in Napoleon’s case Egypt was just such an episode. Originally sold as a vague threat to British India, in the event the French army with which Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 had its hands full dealing with the local and Ottoman forces sent against it, along with the usual natural hazards of the area. After a year Napoleon felt he needed to be back in France for political reasons and abandoned the army, which then fought and suffered for two more years before finally surrendering and being evacuated back home. While the wars of Napoleon have been heavily covered by this hobby, the campaign in Egypt, exotic though it is, has received scant attention until now, with this set of line infantry and a companion set of light infantry from Strelets changing all that.
The troops that originally landed in Egypt wore their normal uniforms with no particular regard to the conditions they faced. For the infantry this consisted of the usual long-tailed coat or habit with waistcoat, breeches and gaiters that extended above the knee. On the head was the usual bicorn. This uniform soon became very badly worn, and in August substantial changes were made, while in the following month a new leather helmet was ordered. Of course it took some time for these changes to appear in the ranks, so for the first few months of the campaign, which included the famous Battle of the Pyramids, the original uniform, in varying degrees of degeneration, was retained. The figures in this set wear that uniform, with some signs of wear and tear already visible such as the variety of gaiters and stockings, breeches and trousers. Another sign of their change in circumstances is the fact that some have acquired gourds for water – the infantry were not supplied with any canteen, despite this being such an essential piece of kit in Africa, so had to purchase gourds and other vessels from the locals. Some have packs and some do not, and the bicorns tend to be at all angles (though doubtless this was true in reality too), but everything here is apt for the opening months of the campaign.
Every man has a sword and bayonet in the sabre-briquet on the left hip, which identifies them as grenadiers. Although many grenadiers were supposed to wear bearskin caps it is small wonder that the bicorn was much preferred by many in the Egyptian heat, however as grenadiers these should have a plume. Also no man has fringed epaulettes, so these are grenadiers but missing some of the grenadier features. By the same token they could pass as light infantry, except that none have the shorter light gaiter, and again the light infantry had drooping plumes in their hats. Perhaps it was intentional, but these are a sort of cross between grenadiers and fusiliers.
The sculpting bears all the hallmarks of Strelets, with exaggerated detail and some quite stunted elements. The sword and bayonet in particular are very misshapen and mostly well below the necessary length, but in general we felt these were a little below the average for a Strelets-sculpted set. There is no flash, and the choice of positions means there is no excess plastic, so apart from some bayonets with a tendency to curl the production qualities of these figures are good.
The choice of poses does deliver a lot of quite flat examples, but as you can see above the set includes all the usual firing, advancing and marching figures that most will find quite satisfactory. It is nice to see 14 poses in a Strelets mini-set, and the only pose of any particular interest – the last figure in the bottom row – is actually one of the better examples of bayonetting figures, which are notoriously difficult to do well. Despite the enhanced number of poses there are no officers, musicians etc., although the officer in the light infantry set would do for the line too.
This is not an outstanding set in any respect, and indeed some liberties have been taken with the identification of the type of infantry these men represent, but as usual Strelets have delivered something that is usable for the intended purpose though not pleasing to the eye.