In the late 19th century the two Boer republics in Southern Africa, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (known as the ‘Transvaal’) maintained almost no regular military forces, and relied on calling out civilians as a militia when needed. However they were aware of the hostile attitude of their neighbouring British colonies, and after the farcical Jameson Raid in 1895 they realised they needed better protection. As a result they bought some very good, modern artillery pieces from various European countries, and these included four enormous siege guns of 155mm calibre from Schneider, which were made at Le Creusot in France, and nicknamed ‘Long Toms’. Purchased in 1897, they were installed in four new forts built to protect the Transvaal capital Pretoria, but when hostilities broke out in 1899 they were removed and sent to various sieges instead. In 1900 all four were concentrated for the only time, at the Battle of Bergendal, and after that defeat they were scattered, still being used in the field until their ammunition ran out, at which point they were destroyed to avoid them falling into British hands.
In 1899 the only uniformed forces the Transvaal had were some police and their regular artillery corps, the Staats Artillerie. These were the men that crewed the Long Toms, and photos show them in action wearing their proper uniform, but none of the figures in this set look to be wearing it. However as the war went on the gunners increasingly wore ordinary civilian dress, which in any case was not so different, so this is what Strelets have depicted, although we would have liked to have seen a mix, which does seem to have been common. Everything about the costume here is typical of the Boers, with simple brimmed hats of various styles, jackets and trousers. Three of the men are in shirt sleeves, so could actually have a uniform jacket close by, and one wears a waistcoat, which again was common. A couple of the men have a rifle slung on their back, and several have revolvers or knives on their belt, but there is little in the way of bags or other kit, which is what you would expect of such men, so we have no problems with the accuracy of this crew.
The figures are quite nicely proportioned and with fair detail (not a major issue in this case), although some smaller items are exaggerated (as is often the case with Strelets sets) and the slung rifles are poor. Faces and hands are variable, but the long beards some have are well done and while these figures are not works of art they are not bad either. There is very little flash on them, and no excess plastic, nor any assembly, so not much work is required before the figures are ready for action.
With such a large gun a major task of the crew was to move it into position, particularly after each shot. Two of the poses here are holding the long handspikes which were used for this purpose, and a third holds some sort of long ramrod – presumably to push the shell into the breach, as the gun was not muzzle-loading. The first figure on the top row is likely to be standing on the gun platform sighting the weapon, and holds a device to aid this. Then we have two generic poses (which we did not care for particularly), plus a man holding a slightly overlarge shell on the ground, and finally a squatting man. This last figure is holding out some sort of document (?), and we cannot guess exactly what this pose is supposed to be doing, and so did not like it. However the two men at the end of the second row are very nice, apparently in charge of the whole crew. One is looking at a document and rubbing his chin in a particularly pleasing and natural way.
Lastly we have the gun itself. In the past we have been very disappointed with various Strelets attempts at full kits, which have on occasion been almost unusable, but this one is a significant improvement on those. The sprue and parts are much cleaner than previously, but still made in the same hard plastic, which is a good choice for such kits. We found the parts fitted together with reasonable precision; some work is certainly still necessary, but the basic kit is achievable by any moderately experienced modeller, and someone with the inclination and time could do much with it. Naturally it is simplified to a degree, but the overall effect is pretty good in our view. We thought the wheels were rather flat and thin, and for some reason the peg at the base of the carriage to allow it to be levered is present on the right side but missing on the left. There is nothing of the anti-recoil devices and chocks that were used, and the breach is fairly plain, but for all that we quite liked this model as the basic shapes are fine and the dimensions are all correct too. It is not comparable to the best kits from other specialist manufacturers, but for many it will certainly suffice.
The British were surprised that the Boers managed to use these large weapons in the field, and they certainly out-ranged anything the British could offer. How much of an impact they made is open to debate, but they were certainly the most impressive and intimidating of the weapons in the Boer arsenal. Even if they had not all been destroyed, they would have been of no value in the later, guerrilla stage of the war, but for the early part of the conflict these would have been a rare but inspiring sight. This set from Strelets models this unusual weapon pretty well, and provides a fair crew to bring it to life. A couple of unexplained poses tempers our enthusiasm, and it would have been good to see at least a couple in uniform, but this remains a decent model with a pretty decent set of crewmen to go with it.