The 'Thin Red Line' refers to part of the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 during the Crimean War. On that day the Russians planned to attack the port of Balaclava, thus cutting the British off from their supply line. Their assault came as a complete surprise, and began with a bombardment of a temporary redoubt manned by Ottoman troops. After withstanding the attack for over an hour this redoubt, and the other three in the area, fell to an overwhelming infantry assault. The next obstacle for the Russians, indeed almost the last, was around 550 Highlanders of the 93rd Regiment, along with about 100 British invalids and some numbers of Turks. These were formed into a line and when around 400 or 500 Russian hussars approached they fired two volleys plus a half volley, all at long range, which caused the hussars to depart. There were no Allied casualties and few of the Russians were killed, and it was all over in a couple of minutes, so hardly a major engagement, particularly as the two sides never got to within 200 metres of each other. Nevertheless this action was widely reported in the press and made to seem like a great victory, largely because another action on that day, the charge of the Light Brigade, was so obviously an embarrassing fiasco.
This Strelets set is another of their 'Big Box' affairs, where some new figures are added to previously released sets to create a large themed playset. In this case the box contains sets of Russian Infantry, Russian Hussars and British Highlanders. Since all these sets have been reviewed before we will not consider them again here, except to say that as Russian infantry played no part in this action their presence here is merely to help fill the box. It should be noted however that more recent copies of this box have a different set of Highlanders. These were intended to be Napoleonic, but the sculptor made a number of bad mistakes, so while they are not correct for Napoleonic or the Crimea, Strelets are using them in this set rather than throwing them away.
The new figures are those pictured above, and all represent the Ottoman troops. The Ottoman Empire was no stranger to wars with that of the Tsar, but her armies had gone through many upheavals in the previous half century. Sultan Selim III had tried to introduce reforms into the army and wider society, but met stiff conservative opposition and achieved little. Sultan Mahmud II had much more success, and succeeded in destroying the Janissaries in 1826, which paved the way for the development of a new, more modern army organised on European lines. One obvious sign of this change was the uniform, which took on a much more European (largely French) style. The soldiers in this set are roughly divided into three types of uniform, and the first third are those with this new uniform of single breasted tunic, trousers tucked into boots and the universal fez with tassel. The uniform was simple and practical, and has been well represented here, as has the equipment.
The second third of these figures are wearing a greatcoat, of which many styles were seen on the troops. Many of these figures have a hood, which may be separate or part of the greatcoat; both would be authentic. Turkish organisation and supply was often woefully inadequate and many items of clothing were to be found in use, but these figures all conform to regulations.
The last third wear a more exotic uniform of short jacket and loose trousers, which marks them out as from North Africa. Egypt and the Bey of Tunis, as part of the Empire, contributed troops such as these to the war effort. The uniform style was to be the inspiration for the famous Zouave uniform initially created in Algeria and later copied widely. In addition the style was largely repeated in the mainstream Ottoman army after the Crimean War as it was seen as more Turkish than the European style. The troops manning the redoubts at Balaclava are usually described as Tunisian Militia, so may well have been wearing this uniform.
The final two rows show a number of officers and other figures. Officers tended to wear the modern uniform even if their troops did not, and so it is with all those seen here. The third figure in the bottom row as an attendant for a senior officer (the widely reproduced photograph of Ismail Pasha is surely the inspiration for this figure and the seated officer), and the final figure is an imam.
Although there are 49 different poses the fact that there are three different styles of costume mean many poses are repeated for each style, which is no bad thing. All the usual poses can be found here, and there are quite a large number of marching poses which many will welcome. We particularly liked the man using the butt of his musket (row eight), but all the poses are useful. The pair of a man helping a wounded comrade harks back to the Esci sets and is very nice, while the bugler and drummer and also appealing, although the flag-bearer seems to have quite a small example to carry. The man reaching for a cartridge in the fifth row would not have grounded his musket like that, and the same is true of the similar pose in the seventh row, but there are otherwise no problems in any pose. The officers are particularly noteworthy, with the man shouting being a simple yet very effective pose that is rarely seen in this hobby. The rather splendidly uniformed man on the bottom row holds his long chibouque pipe, while the general's attendant holds another, and the imam is presumably at prayer. Although a few of the poses are rather on the flat side in general they are well done.
Strelets quality has been quite variable of late, but this set is firmly set in the classic Strelets mould. The figures have a fairly chunky feel to them and some items such as swords or the pipes, which should be long and slender, tend to be fatter and shorter. Many of the sword and bayonet scabbards are actually ludicrously short for the weapon they are alleged to be holding. Detail is OK but not intricate, but the faces are nicely expressive and help bring life to the figure. There is virtually no flash so these require almost no 'cleaning' before they can be painted or 'deployed'.
Despite the name the Crimean War extended well beyond the Crimea. In fact thanks in part to the arrogance of the British and French, the Ottoman army had a small role to play in the siege of Sevastopol, being used mainly as labour to dig trenches, carry supplies and so on. However outside the Crimea the Ottoman army was free to face their old enemy on many battlefields, and while the names of Silistria and Kars are not well known in the West they have every right to be represented in this hobby. The Ottoman military machine was very far from perfect but the soldiers were brave when well led and it is fitting that their vital but largely unremembered part in the war with Russia is finally acknowledged with this very fine set.