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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....
In mid-June 1900, allied forces in northern China were vastly outnumbered.
In Beijing there were 450 soldiers and marines from eight countries protecting the diplomatic legations. Somewhere between Tianjin and Beijing were the 2,000 men in the Seymour Expedition which was attempting to get to Beijing to reinforce the legation guards. In Tianjin were 2,400 Allied soldiers, mostly Russians.
All of these forces were menaced by thousands of Boxers, members of an indigenous peasant movement that aimed to end foreign influence in China. The Qing government of China was wavering between supporting the Boxers in their anti-foreign crusade or suppressing them because they represented a threat to the dynasty.
A few miles offshore in the Yellow Sea were a large number of Western and Japanese warships.
On June 15, Chinese forces deployed electric mines to prevent the Eight-Nation Alliance from sending ships to attack.
With their supply and communication lines to Tianjin threatened, the commanders of the ships met on June 16. Control of the Taku forts at the mouth of the Hai River was the key to maintaining a foothold in northern China.
Vice-Admiral Hildebrandt, from the Imperial Russian Navy, through Lieutenant Bakhmetev, sent a message to the commander of the forts, who then sent a message by telegraph to the Governor of the Province, stating that they would "occupy provisionally, by consent or by force" the Taku Forts and demanded that Chinese forces surrender the forts before 2 am on June 17.
Of the Allied countries represented, only the United States Navy’s Rear Admiral Louis Kempff demurred, stating that he had no authority to undertake hostilities against China. However, Kempff agreed that an ageing American gunboat, the Monocacy, could be stationed near the forts as a place of refuge for civilians in the vicinity.
It was an audacious demand by the foreign sailors.
Only ten ships, including the non-combatant Monocacy, could cross over the banks at the river’s mouth to enter the Hai River – two hundred yards wide— from where the four forts could be occupied or assaulted.
Only 900 men could be assembled to undertake the operation. By contrast the Chinese soldiers and sailors in the forts and on several modern gunboats docked along the river consisted of about 2,000 men. The Chinese also began laying mines near the mouth of the river and installing torpedo tubes in the forts. In the evening of June 16, the foreign warships began entering the river and taking up their stations from which the Taku Forts could be occupied or assaulted.
The Chinese did not wait for the expiration of the deadline but opened fire from the forts with every single gun at the Allied ships simultaneously.
The Russian gunboat Korietz was heavily damaged in the opening salvo.
The Monocacy, despite its distance from the battle and the assurances of its officers to the 37 women and children aboard that they were “in a position of absolute safety” took a Chinese shell in its bow which hurt nobody.
The attack on Taku by the Allies influenced Empress Dowager Cixi's decision to support the Boxers.
The Allies stripped their ships of crew and mounted a ground assault on the Northwest Fort.
200 Russians and Austrians led the way followed by 380 British and Italians with 300 Japanese bringing up the rear. The British and Italians then led the way on the assault of the North Fort which was soon captured. Two forts remained on the south side of the river...
The battles between the Colonial powers and the Chinese Boxers + regular Imperial soldiers are a very colourful topic to model.
There is still a lack of figures for that conflict. While there have been two sets of Boxers, there are very few regular Chinese soldiers. That's a pity, because they used a most interesting mix of traditional and modern equipment and uniforms.
The Red Box series of Boxer Rebellion figures has drawn much flak but some sets are not that bad at all. Some others like the German and Japanese sets need replacements, though. Many figures could be used for other conflicts, e. g. new Japanese and Russian figures could double for the War of 1905 and WW1.
So bring on some more figures for the Battle of the Taku Forts, the Sieges of Peking and Tianjin!
yes, Strelets and others, make the Qing (China last dynasty) army.
The 1900 Boxer Rebellion is one of my favourite topics. It has all the trappings of "romantic" warfare because of its exotic locations, clash of cultures as well as for the first time ever a large multi-national effort to overcome one enemy. And the movie 55 Days at Peking will remain an absolute classic, despite its poetic license in presenting the Western powers as the good guys... Diana Preston's book on the topic is foundational and anybody interested in the topic should read it. It reads like a novel.
As for the figures I think that today's standards have evolved so much over the past years that we're really ready to have a new version of the Red Box sets. I have the figures at home and, really, they are not a great bunch, for many reasons. The sculpting is poor, the size too small and the details all but absent. One needs a lot of imagination (which we all have I'm sure....) to use them. Conversely, while the figures for the Western powers are quite poor, those of the Chinese boxers are rather OK.
At the same time they are all we have at the moment, and I do hope that either Red-Box themselves or perhaps even Strelets will take the baton and revisit this fabulous period of the world's history.
Cheers to all