In 1804 each battalion in the French army gained a new type of company, voltigeurs (literally 'vaulters') by the simple expedient of redesignating a fusilier company. In this company were supposed to be the lightest and most nimble men - men of courage and ability who were physically too small for the grenadier company, and their role was to act as light infantry, skirmishing and screening the rest of the battalion. This might seem strange as there were already whole light infantry regiments, and the creation of voltigeurs applied also to these, but in truth line and light regiments frequently took on each other's roles and the distinction was more cosmetic than practical. Right from the start these voltigeurs were considered an elite, like the grenadiers, and it is these men that are the focus of this set.
As we have said, voltigeurs existed in both line and light regiments, but the only differences between them were in uniform. Light infantry usually wore pointed cuffs, as shown on the box art, but all these figures have square cuffs with a three-button flap, as per the line. More obviously, light infantry wore short gaiters cut to resemble hussar boots, including a small tassel at the top, while the line wore gaiters to above the knee, so the short gaiters worn by all in this set suggests light infantry. In fact cuff design varied between regiments, but the gaiters are more conclusive, so this set contains voltigeurs for a light infantry regiment. The light infantry ranked above the line, so considered themselves something of an elite. Since voltigeurs were an elite troop type themselves this set is really the elite of an elite!
The box claims the set covers the period 1805 to 1813, and it is spot on. The men wear the pre-Bardin habit-veste with fringed epaulettes, the afore-mentioned short gaiters and a shako with a long plume. The tails of the habit reach to only the mid thigh, which is unusually short but not unheard of. The cuffs are not the usual pointed type, but are very faint and could easily be painted out if desired. The shako has the plate, cockade and plume at the front, which is fine although earlier these were to the left side. In 1811 plumes were abolished except for senior officers, so if required these can easily be snipped off to leave a pompon. All shakos also have full cords, which partially hide what looks like an eagle plate - a non-regulation design which was quite common. These figures would have been more appropriate for a campaign if they wore trousers, which would also have meant they were suitable for both light and line regiments. They all carry a sabre - an item that was carried until its abolition in 1807, but the majority seem to have ignored this order and continued to carry it throughout the period.
Voltigeurs had drummers and cornets, both of which are represented here. They wear the same uniform as the men although swallows-nest epaulettes would also have been appropriate. The two corporals (last figure in second row and first figure on bottom row) are also dressed in the same manner, and only distinguishable by the chevrons on their lower sleeves and the poses. The officer wears a habit with longer tails and a fringed epaulette on the right shoulder only. He has a rolled blanket or coat slung across his body and protected by a cover, and may be wearing a gorget. His sword scabbard hangs from a waist belt under the coat, apparently from a frog but strangely sticking out. Full marks for accuracy.
The poses are not particularly extensive but are perfectly good as far as they go. As befits skirmishers firing poses dominate but the rest are OK too. Only seven troop poses and two standing firing ones, but all are quite usable.
The sculpting is excellent, but perhaps not quite up to the best Zvezda has produced. In some places the detail is a little vague - for example the turnbacks cannot be properly made out and the NCO with the fanion has suffered from being moulded side on, but don't let that put you off - these are still very nice indeed. The plumes are slender and excellent, but be warned that where they attach to the shako is (correctly) thin, and this is a weak point that will break easily under stress, such as when being cut from the sprue as the plastic is quite hard. All except the officer carry a full 1806-pattern backpack which is a separate piece that is carefully labelled to match each pack with the correct pose. In most cases these attach securely without gluing but on a couple gluing is required. One NCO has a fanion in the end of his musket (a fanion was a company marker), and this has been engraved on both sides with a suitable design, although others existed and we would have preferred it to be left blank. Still by snipping it off and trimming the chevrons you gain another trooper pose. Flash is minimal so as usual this is a very well engineered product.
A typical light battalion was divided into 6 companies much like the line, with one of carabiniers (aka grenadiers), one of voltigeurs and the rest chasseurs (aka fusiliers). This is an excellent addition to the French light infantry, and our only complaint is that the cornet looks rather large - more like a French horn as might be found in an orchestra. Nevertheless another recommended product from Zvezda.