The last years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th saw the French attempting to consolidate their possession of Algeria, quelling disturbances and gradually pushing further south into the Sahara. With numerous clashes big and small, the Foreign Legion found plenty of work patrolling and policing this enormous and unwelcoming landscape; work that was often frustrated by rebels fleeing into neighbouring Morocco when they approached. In 1907 French forces moved into Morocco, and the Legion had a new arena for their activities, but the story was much the same – very long periods of marching in harsh conditions with minimal resources, only occasionally punctuated by local battles that were often against very superior numbers and did not always end well for them, though many courageous acts were added to the legend of the Legion in those years.
As so often we will begin by dating these uniforms, although our introduction will have provided a strong clue on this. The men all wear the Model 1897 capote, or greatcoat, which has no rear vent, and where visible they also have the M1900 leather anklets which laced up the front and were first issued to the Legion in 1903, so this marks about the earliest date for these men. Over the next few years the 1903 colonial dress gradually began to appear, although the more recognisable blue capote remained in use almost up to the start of the Great War in Europe, so we have dates of about the decade following c.1903. As such the uniform here is mostly correct but with two rather important exceptions. The first is that none of the men wear the blue sash round the waist and under the belt. This was a proud mark of the legionnaire, and should be here. Also by 1903 we would have expected all the men to carry the Lebel rifle, and to have the corresponding straps and pouches, which met at the back in a ‘Y’ arrangement. All here pass over the shoulders and go straight down at the back, which is wrong for the period. Other elements of the kit look fine - twin pouches at the front, single one at the back, haversack on right hip, bayonet on left – but amazingly not one man has a water bottle. Such an item was absolutely vital in the field, and would not have been discarded before action or anything else, so this is a serious omission here and very hard to see how it could have happened.
The set speaks of ‘in attack’, and this really means moving forward, which is what most here are doing. There is just one man who has raised his rifle as if to fire, and even he is moving forward at the same time. So this is a pretty good array of advancing poses, though occasionally a good pose is achieved at the expense of extra ‘hidden’ plastic, as in the first pose on the top row. Despite appearances, the first man in the second row is not missing a leg; he just has it tucked under his coat as he runs, which would seem to be very fast judging by the angle at which he leans. Our only real quibble is with the first man in the bottom row, who is waving his arms about for no apparent reason, so not a pose we liked. The officer at the end is nice and dynamic too, although this has been achieved by having him hold his sword tight across his chest, so it looks better in our photo than it does in the flesh. Also we have to wonder at his choice of drawing his sword and holding his revolver in his left hand. Generally we assume having two weapons is not a good idea as each distracts from the other, so we would have preferred one or the other, not both. While not the usual wide variety of battle poses you would expect in a standard, general set, as a collection of just advancing troops this works well.
The quality of sculpting is very good, with good definition in all the usual high-detail areas, although we thought some of the turnbacks on the coats were not convincing. Proportions are good, and the poses are all quite natural and realistic. Only the poor bugler has been given a full pack, but we were more concerned by the banner hanging from his bugle, which is surely a parade affectation not likely to be seen near any action. This man is also battling to keep his rifle sling on his shoulder as he plays, and it is a battle he is clearly losing as it is virtually off the shoulder already. There are a handful of areas of unwanted extra plastic, and there is some flash, which we might describe as ‘average’, which means it is on most seams, but not particularly intrusive and some may feel it not necessary to trim.
As the kepis with sunshades and the large blue coats gradually disappeared, these men mark the end of the period when the iconic uniform was in service. By the start of the Great War the colonial army, including the Legion, had fallen in line with the other powers, and adopted an inconspicuous and practical uniform that made more sense but just doesn’t have the same appeal for most people. The various problems with accuracy, particularly the missing water bottles, are a great shame for this set as the sculpting is generally good, as are the poses. Even for those that are fans of the romance and adventure of the Legion (despite the grim reality), this set is somewhat disappointing.