In-Box Review
Méhariste: Saharan Camel Corps
Compagnie Saharienne Groupe De Combat France
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Compagnie Saharienne
Groupe De Combat France, Infanterie Coloniale 1939-1945
Series: Armée Francaise “39-45”
Item: 144

Méhariste, Saharan Camel Corps
Méhariste is a French word that roughly translates to camel cavalry. The word is most commonly used as a designation of military units.

France created a méhariste camel corps as part of the
Armée d'Afrique in the Sahara in 1902, replacing regular units of Algerian spahis and tirailleurs earlier used to patrol the desert boundaries. The newly raised Compagnies Méharistes were originally recruited mainly from the Chaamba nomadic tribe and commanded by officers of the French Affaires Indigènes (Native Affairs Bureau). Each company of Méharistes comprised six officers, 36 French non-commissioned officers and troopers, and 300 Chaamba troopers. Their bases were at Tabelbala, Adrar, Ouargla, Fort Polignac and Tamanrasset.

With their local tribal links plus mobility and flexible tactics, the
Compagnies Méharistes provided an effective means of policing the desert. A similar camel corps was subsequently raised to cover the southern Sahara, operating from French West Africa and falling within the Armee Coloniale. From the 1930s onwards the Meharistes formed part of the Compagnies Sahariennes which also included motorised French and (from 1940) Foreign Legion units. Following the establishment of a French Mandate over Syria in 1920, three mehariste companies were organised in that country as part of the French Army of the Levant.

During World War II Mehariste companies organised as "nomad groups" saw service against Axis forces in the Fezzan and southern Tunisia.

At the end of the war the
Compagnies Sahariennes resumed their role as desert police. The Sahara remained relatively quiet during the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) but there was one instance, on 17 October 1957, where 60 meharistes near Timimoun mutinied and killed their eight French officers. According to differing reports the mutineers either were able to join the rebel ALN or were caught in the open desert by French fighter aircraft and destroyed.

The camel mounted units were retained in service until the end of French rule in 1962. The locally recruited meharistes were then disbanded while French personnel were transferred to other units.

Uniforms The
Compagnies Meharistes wore flowing coats (gandourah) of either white for Arab or blue for Tuareg troopers, with turbans, veils and wide black trousers (seroual). Two red sashes were worn - one wound around the waist and the other crossed on the chest under red-brown leather equipment of traditional Saharean pattern. A khaki field dress of similar cut was also worn.

French personnel wore light blue kepis. All ranks were normally bare-footed when in the saddle, in order not to harm the sensitive upper body of their camels. The saddlery and other leather equipment was of local design and often elaborately decorated.

These troops were associated with the French Foreign Legion.

For further reading with excellent color illustrations you can access a history of Armée d'Afrique 4th Part The Native Troops through the link "Click here for additional images for this review," below.

Heller released several small (3-4 figures or people with animals) sets of 1/35 Second World War French soldiers in the 1970s. This set of Saharan Camel Company troops feature good molding and detail.

Armée Francaise “39-45” was Heller’s 1/35 series of Second World War French subjects. I do not know how many sets there were although box art advertisements show several continental and colonial subjects: (Those with an asterisk wear Free French uniforms)
    1. 25mm Anti-Tank Cannon Model 1934
    2. 2éme D.B. (I)
    3. 81mm Mortar crew*
    4. Assault troops*
    5. Chasseurs Alpins (Reviewed here at KitMaker)
    6. Frogmen in a rubber raft (WW II?)
    7. Gnome-Rhone Motorcycle
    8. Hotchkiss machine gun crew
    9. Moto Gnome-Rhone ET Sidecar Military Cycle
    10. Sahara Camel Corps
    11. Stretcher bearers*
    12. Groupe Tabor

Heller also combined this kit and other sets to make diorama sets, including the diorama set "Koufra."

Several 1/35 WW II French tanks and Wehrmacht figure sets were also created. I read that these models now belong to Italeri and SK Models.

The models
Heller packed three sprues with 36 parts (The kit states 50 pieces) in a plastic bag, held inside an end-opening box. The parts are cleanly molded without many troubling seams, sink marks, ejector circles, with some flash. Molding varies, generally about as well molded as the Chasseurs Alpins set, yet they compare to contemporary Tamiya figures of the era. Big connectors join the parts to the sprues and pose the risk of damaging the parts when removing them.

Each meharistes is built with separate legs, two-piece torsos, separate arms and a separate head. Headcover is also separate except for the Keffiyeh. These models are proportional, posed and detailed at least as well, if not better, than contemporary Tamiya figures.

Uniform details such as belts, harnesses, rank and unit insignias of Compagnie Saharienne are molded on. While no detail for the various unit insignia of the corps is molded, rank of the Capitaine is molded on his sleeves, while none are on the mehariste.

Individual Cartouchière ammo pouches are provided, as is a baïonnette, Mousqueton Berthier 1892 M.16 carbine, and a Etui PA 35 pistol holster. The carbine has 'soft' detail. Heller includes a base.

The camel has good detail.

Instructions and painting
A folded instruction sheet displays a single exploded diagram for the assembly of each figure. It is printed in French, English, and German.

Twelve Heller paints are referenced, including two custom formulas to mix. However, unlike Italeri and Tamiya models of the era, no attempt was made to guide modelers in creating insignias.

While Tamiya was the leading 1/35 figure maker in the 1970s, Heller and other model companies filled the void of overlooked subjects that are not American, British, German or Russian. This Heller model set is of similar quality to 1970s Tamiya figures in the molding and detail department.

Softer detail and lack of any insignia information for model painters are my gripes.

I am otherwise impressed with this set and equally interested in sampling more of these sets. Happily recommended if you can find this set.

* Wikipedia. Méhariste. [Web.] 28 February 2013.

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: Fair to good detail and molding.
Lows: Softer detail and lack of any insignia information for model painters are my gripes.
Verdict: A commendable set of unique WW II French army soldiers and a camel.
  Scale: 1:35
  Mfg. ID: 144
  Related Link: History: Les Compagnies Sahariennes
  PUBLISHED: Jul 10, 2013

About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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