The classic image of the French infantryman during the First World War has him wearing the greatcoat or capote with the front skirts held back, and for the most part that is exactly how he appeared. Every set of French infantry made prior to this one reflects that appearance, and so they should. However the French soldier was also issued with a tunic, and this was much worn when out of the line, so is commonly seen in studio portraits. When in the front line however the capote was the norm, and ironically when the tunic was worn it was often under the capote for added warmth in the coldest of weathers. Nevertheless the tunic would sometimes be worn by itself when in action, in particularly hot weather, and this was more commonly seen in the last year of the war, when ‘assault order’ meant some men preferred the lighter tunic that gave more freedom of movement. So while not the traditional appearance, this set brings us an alternative view of the French infantry not seen before in the hobby.
The standard tunic issued from 1915 was single-breasted, with a standing collar, double rear vents and two pockets on the skirts. The smaller details did vary sometimes, but the tunics all these figures wear are correctly done and appropriate. That of the officer is different in that it also has two breast pockets, and the collar seems to be of the stand-and-fall type, but as officers had their tunics privately tailored such variations were common and this one is as likely as any other.
The rest of the uniform worn by these men also matches the standard issue from 1915. All wear the ‘Adrian’ helmet (even the officer, which is great to see), and all the men have suitable trousers, puttees and short boots. Instead of puttees the officer has what seem to be leggings with front and rear seams over short boots, which may be unusual but cannot be dismissed.
Another suggestion of the later-war light assault order is the fairly minimal amount of equipment with which these men are burdened. All have the twin ammunition pouches attached to the waist belt each side of the buckle, plus a third in the middle of the back. Each man also has the bread bag hanging on the left hip, and the water container on the right. The latter is pretty vague in shape, but should be the two-spout model worn at the time, and would pass as the two-litre version, which is correct. Apart from the bayonet scabbard hanging beneath the bread bag this is all the kit on display here, which is fine for most of the men, but the second figure in our third row carries a Chauchat light machine gun, so he should be quite different. He should have pouches shaped for the semi-circular magazines of his weapon, and likely to have a backpack with more magazines. He might also have a pistol for self-defence, but instead he has none of these things, just the ordinary kit seen on his comrades, which makes little sense when he has no rifle. Since the set also lacks the number two crewman who should also be carrying ammunition, this means this figure has just a single magazine for his automatic weapon, and so is of little use to anyone. While this man lacks the correct kit, we were amazed to see that all the figures here lack any sort of gasmask, which would surely be unthinkable by late 1915 and so a poor omission here. The officer has just a pistol holster (in an odd position behind his back) and nothing else, including no apparent source of ammunition for his pistol, which also seems unlikely.
Most of the men carry a rifle, which should be either the early 1886 Lebel or the later Berthier, but here the sculpting is too indistinct to be able to tell which it is, although the length suggests the older, longer rifle, which is less likely by later in the war. The Chauchat already mentioned is not a great model but easily recognisable, so is adequate.
The poses all suggest moving forward rather than defending a trench, although firing the rifle while advancing was often discouraged as it was considered to slow the momentum of the advance with little chance of hitting a target. However most of the poses are advancing, often with head down, which we like to see in sets of this period. The quality of the pose is variable, but one that catches the eye is the first in our second row. Clearly not running, yet with one leg high in the air, this apparently strange posture reminded us of photos of soldiers stepping over low obstacles such as wire as they moved, so in those conditions the pose makes sense. However it makes no sense in any other situation, so is a less obvious choice for a pose in our view. The man next to him looks conventional enough in our photo, but seen from other angles he leans to the left enormously, which is just plain weird. The pose holding the Chauchat is correct because the weapon was always intended to be fired from the hip whilst on the move like this, although in practice this was not an easy thing to do. However as already observed the problem with this pose is that there is not a second of a man moving next to this one, with many spare magazines, ready to reload the weapon each time it exhausted its maximum capacity of 20 rounds. The gunner does have the strap across the back with which he supports the front of the weapon, but by himself he is contributing little to the action.
The standard of sculpting is reasonably good but the detail is a bit soft and there are more specific problems. One of the firing figures has lost most of his left hand, and the shape of the helmet is not always quite as it should be. Rifles are not well detailed, and the bayonets are both fatter and rather shorter than the very long and slender original, although admittedly this would be very difficult to faithfully reproduce in this scale (yet some have!). Speaking of bayonets, we were surprised that not all the men have their bayonet fixed, but those that do have it as an extension of their barrel rather than offset, so another problem with the sculpting that is not apparent from our pictures. Generally flash is light, but in a few places it is more noticeable. However the sculptor has made a good job of avoiding excess ‘hidden’ plastic without making the figures seem seriously flat.
While we will always want to see sculpting of the highest possible standard, many will find these figures to be reasonable, although the bayonets in line with the rifle barrel do seem like a shortcut too far. The poses are good for advancing, but not defending, and while the pose is valid we would have got rid of the high-stepping figure and provided the Chauchat gunner with his absolutely essential reloader. The mistakes with kit and the lack of gas mask containers are a pity, so while the uniform is accurately done this is one of those sets where you have to overlook the little errors in order to accept the whole.
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set, he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.