In 1852 Louis Napoleon (1808-1873) finally achieved his ultimate goal when he became emperor of France in emulation of his famous uncle. Many of the old imperial trappings were returned, and that meant the army must have victories in the field. The Crimean War was the perfect vehicle for this objective, and in general the French army performed well in that difficult conflict, largely ending the war with their brave storming of the Malakoff Heights in 1855. Further success followed in Italy a few years later, but an attempted intervention in Mexico ended in failure and in 1870 the French army was humiliated at the hands of Prussia/Germany. By 1914 their confidence was again high, but again suffered many reverses at the hands of the Germans before holding the invasion at the Marne.
Why, you may ask, have we outlined 60 years of French military activity? Well, because throughout that long period the traditional and conservative French military fielded their troops in an almost unchanged uniform, and that is the uniform we find in this set. The box claims coverage of the Crimean and Franco-Prussian wars, but in fact the coverage is better than that.
At the outbreak of the Crimean War the French uniform was a tunic with shortish shako, but that is not what was worn in the field. Campaign dress was a greatcoat with skirts turned back and a new item, the kepi cap, which had first appeared in 1852 and was based on the casquette d’Afrique. The kepi became a French icon, and this uniform became the classic look for the French, lasting for the six decades we have described. All the troops in this set wear the greatcoat with epaulettes and the kepi, plus baggy trousers tucked in to gaiters. These items varied very slightly over the period, but in this scale the differences are virtually invisible, although the coats here have less than the correct six buttons in two rows down the front. They have a waist belt supported by two shoulder belts, and a cartridge pouch at the rear. Over the right shoulder is a haversack, which partly obscures the bayonet, and over the left shoulder is the rectangular canteen (which was introduced at the end of the Crimean War). The majority of most poses have a peg on the back onto which the separate backpack can be fitted if desired. In the Crimean War such packs and other equipment were rarely worn as the war was a static siege, but for later campaigns such packs are more appropriate. As a result the pack has more of a flavour of 1870 about it, with the rolled tent section, tent poles, mess tin and squad pot. If the pack is not desired then the peg is easily removed from the back of those figures that have it. In short, despite the long period, there are no accuracy problems here.
What did change during this period was the weaponry. During the Crimean War the infantry used mainly the 1842 model firearm, both rifled and smoothbore, while by 1870 the most common weapon was the excellent Chassepot. In this scale the difference is mostly in the lock, and for most people it is too small to notice, but for purists roughly half the poses have the older weapon and half the newer one.
The 14 poses are a good mix, with plenty of firing and advancing figures. No one is reloading their weapon, but there are two poses using their bayonets, both of which are quite well done. Actually they are all pretty good, with a nice expressive officer and a downed casualty – something of a rarity in sets these days. The plastic has no memory, so poses can be changed, although there is relatively little scope for this except for the officer and the last figure on the top row, who could easily be changed to carry his weapon horizontally.
The sculpting is of the usual Emhar standard, which is to say excellent and very finely detailed. The detail is not as deep as in some sets, which is more realistic but does not aid the painter so much, but the weapons are elegantly slender and everything is just perfectly proportioned. The separate backpacks have a peg-and-hole system, but do not attach solidly by themselves and will require glue, which this plastic takes easily and securely. The flash is at an absolute minimum, and the only other assembly is one arm on the first pose in the top row.
Before the release of this set you might be forgiven for thinking French military history ended with the defeat of Napoleon I as there were very few French sets post 1815. This set does much to fill that gap, and therefore provides a vital component for the campaigns we have already detailed. What is more, it is a great-looking set and with no accuracy problems, so definitely one that is worth checking out.