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Strelets

Set 192

French Foreign Legion Desert Patrol

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All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Stats
Date Released 2019
Contents 14 figures and 6 camels
Poses 14 poses, 3 camel poses
Material Plastic (Medium Consistency)
Colours Light Blue
Average Height 22 mm (= 1.58 m)

Review

Some sets make life easy for their customers (by saying what subject and date they are), and some don’t. This is one that doesn’t, so we have to start by fixing a date to these figures. The kepi with the havelock (cover and sunscreen) tell us that these are late 19th century to early 20th, and the pack and three-pouch equipment date them to after 1882. Unfortunately the men all wear half-gaiters, tied up at the side, which were discontinued in 1881, and none have the splatterdashes (used until 1897) or anklets (used until 1914), so we have a conflict there. The capote (greatcoat) that all here wear has a single button on the cuff and no rear vent, so is the 1897 model, which firmly sets the starting date for these uniforms, ignoring the incorrect half-gaiters. As for an end date, well the Havelock fell out of use in the infantry by 1914, and by 1918 a completely different pack was used, as were puttees around the lower legs, so given the gradual introduction of the new colonial uniform from c.1910 we can say these figures are dressed for the period 1897 to about 1912, the classic period for the French Foreign Legion as far as many are concerned.

Having set a date for these figures we have devastating news for Strelets – no legionnaire ever patrolled while riding a camel until after 1945, so right from the start this set has no credibility. Strelets must have known this of course, so we can only assume this is one of those sets where Strelets disregard history and portray something commonly seen in movies and TV. That is an understandable marketing decision, but it does not find favour on this website! The camels in the set are the same as those used in various World War I sets, so while we will ignore them here as useless, our comments on the models can be found in those previous reviews.

Having thrown the camels away, we are left with eight walking poses and six mounted. Taking the foot figures first, they are pretty accurate for our nominated period as already discussed. Every man has the full pack worn before the Great War, with folded veste and spare trousers on top, rolled tentcloth-and-blanket round the edge, and topped with the mess tin. They also have the twin ammunition pouches on the front of the belt, the rear reserve pouch, a haversack on the left hip and water bottle on the right. The water bottle is placed such that it is poorly defined, but looks like the twin-spout version, which is good. The ‘Y’ straps hold all this together, so the kit is fine apart from one obvious absentee – no one has a bayonet scabbard (or bayonet, since none are attached). This should be on the left hip, and would be required equipment for patrol. The double-breasted coat (capote) is well done, but we were surprised to see none of the blue sash that should be underneath the waist belt. A couple of the poses have a very thin something under the belt, which might be a poor attempt at this, but most have nothing, which is a shame.

The mounted men are dressed in the same way as those on foot, but none have a pack. Only two of the poses carry a water container, which seems unlikely to us as even if the kit was stowed on a mule or pack-camel, they would still want good access to this essential item. The man holding binoculars – presumably the officer – has no more kit than his revolver holster and the case for the binoculars. However like the men we wears the full greatcoat, when we would have expected the officer’s tunic. The use of this shorter item in the field was a deliberate move to make the officers look different from their men, but that has not happened here, which we think is a mistake.

When it comes to weapons this set contains a feature which initially confused us greatly. Most have a rifle of indeterminate model, but looks reasonable, but the middle figure in our second row carries a Lewis gun. To begin with, the Lewis gun was a British weapon that first began production in 1913, and only really got going during the War, so completely conflicts with the dating of the rest of the set. The French did buy some Lewis guns, but these were without the barrel jacket and were fitted to aircraft. Lewis guns were not issued to French infantry, nor the Foreign Legion, at any time either during or after the War, so as well as being for the wrong period, this is the wrong weapon for these men. Again, you can find the Legion using this weapon in films, but not in reality, so throw this useless figure away if you want accuracy.

For a set titled ‘on patrol’, the poses make a lot of sense and are well done. The foot figures are basically just walking carrying their weapon in whatever way is comfortable, although those that have not got it slung are presumably anticipating some action soon. The mounted men are equally relaxed, and are in good poses (indeed we wish we could see more like this, since many cavalry sets only depict a full charge).

The sculpting is pretty good, and although some of the arms are a bit short, the proportions are otherwise good and the appearance pleasing. Clothing is nicely done, and the way the havelocks move in the breeze is particularly effective here. The figures have virtually no flash, no any unwanted extra plastic, so well presented too. Should you want to attach the men to the supplied camels then they are a firm and secure fit, so while the effort may have been wasted, this aspect is well done too.

So as the figures are really nice, is there any salvation for the mounted figures? Well for much of this period the Legion did operate mounted units. They rode mules, not camels, and there were two men to each animal. When on the march, one man would ride while the other marched, often in quick time. Every hour the column would halt and the two would swap, thus producing a column that could march much quicker than dismounted infantry. Since these figures all wear stirrups – something you rarely see when riding a camel – they would look good on mules, but of course you need to find suitable mules from elsewhere. As for the camels, well they were used as beasts of burden, so load them up with baggage and they have a purpose again. Also the French did raise camel-mounted units during this period, (méhariste), from indigenous tribesmen, to patrol the southern-most part of Algeria, and these sometimes operated along with the Legion, but were not part of it, nor looked anything like it.

In 1921 some cavalry units were created for the Legion, but they rode horses, not camels, and in any case by the 1920s the look of the Legionnaire was very different to these figures.

When a manufacturer knowingly makes a set based on movies rather than history, we can only judge the accuracy harshly, even though accuracy was not the intention in the first place. It’s like criticising some really old set for inaccuracies when it was only ever made as a toy, but to be consistent we have to judge all with the same criteria. If you want to recreate movies like Beau Geste (1939) or March or Die (1977) then this set is great, but those looking to recreate history will have less to celebrate. Discard the Lewis gunner entirely, and find mules for the mounted men, and you will have some nice figures with only small inaccuracies. The sculpting is good, and the poses relaxed, which really adds to the range of combat Legionnaires already available.


Ratings

Historical Accuracy 4
Pose Quality 9
Pose Number 8
Sculpting 8
Mould 9

Further Reading
Books
"French Foreign Legion 1914-45" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.325) - Martin Windrow - 9781855327610
"French Foreign Legionnaire 1890-1914" - Osprey (Warrior Series No.157) - Martin Windrow - 9781849084222
"The French Foreign Legion" - Harper Perennial - Douglas Porch - 9780060923082
"The French Foreign Legion" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.17) - Martin Windrow - 9780850450514
"The French Foreign Legion 1872-1914" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms series No.461) - Martin Windrow - 9781849083263
"Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981" - Blandford Press - Martin Windrow - 9780713710106
Magazines
"Uniformes (French Language)" - No.35

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