It had been a pretty miserable autumn. The bulk of the French field army had spent much of 1805 encamped along the northern coast waiting for the invasion of Britain, but in late summer that enterprise had been abandoned and orders issued to move into Germany to meet a possible threat from Austria and Russia. Thus started the campaign that was to climax with Austerlitz, a battle fought in sub-zero temperatures with frozen lakes. The weather for those months had been particularly bad, and the French infantry were doubtless grateful for their greatcoats, many newly issued by the army for the first time. While many today choose to visualise Napoleonic battles as large bodies of brilliantly coloured troops the reality was often much more shabby, dirty and damp. Therefore sets of figures such as this, with the men all wearing their greatcoats, are a welcome reality check on how many of Napoleon’s soldiers would actually have appeared.
Most regiments in the new Emperor’s army were made up of four field battalions plus one as a depot, and the usual structure for those field battalions was seven companies of fusiliers, one of grenadiers and one of the relatively new voltigeurs or light infantry. With the 18 poses in this set HaT have provided all three types of infantry, With our top line showing the grenadiers, the second holding the voltigeurs and the bottom two having the fusiliers. To the untrained eye there might seem little difference in the appearance of these types of infantry, but it is very good to see all three present.
The five grenadier poses are all wearing a double-breasted greatcoat and campaign trousers turned up at the bottom. Until 1805 there had been no issue of greatcoats to the French infantry, so individual soldiers provided for themselves, with the obvious result of a wide mix of styles. Indeed even after coats were issued centrally there seems to have been no standard style, with both single and double-breasted on show. All those in this set are the same however, and are of a perfectly reasonable appearance. The grenadiers can be identified by the fact that, as an elite, they carry a sabre and bayonet in a combined frog from a crossbelt over the right shoulder, they have fringed epaulettes (presumably transferred from their coatees, which was common), they have a small plume in their hats and a grenade badge on their cartridge pouch (the cartridge box badge is the quickest way to identify all three types in this box). Everything is entirely authentic, but the poses are rather dull, with three marching, one standing and one advancing. We would have preferred a firing figure instead of one of the marching poses.
The voltigeurs in the second row are dressed in similar fashion, including the sabre and fringed epaulettes due to their elite status. Their hats have a different pompon and their cartridge pouch bears the traditional hunting horn emblem. Like all the figures in this set they have no standard water canteen (none was issued), so a variety of flasks and gourds are correctly shown. Again everything is in order, and this time we find a more interesting range of poses, with firing and advancing figures plus a very nice hornist.
The fusiliers take up most of the bottom two rows. They have only one crossbelt (over the left shoulder supporting both pouch and bayonet), and simple shoulder straps and pompons. In common with their grenadier and voltigeur comrades every man has a knapsack, and again they are in quite typical campaign dress. While all the men wear their hair in a queue (a practice starting to decline by this date), only the elites have the moustaches that were obligatory. Only so much can be achieved with six poses, but these are about as well chosen as they could be.
The last two figures are of a drummer and an officer. Both could serve for any troop type and both are really nice. The officer has a curved sword, which implies he is part of a grenadier or voltigeur unit, but officers throughout the ages tended to please themselves and many fusilier officers also carried this weapon rather than the regulation straight-bladed model for the status.
The sculpting of these figures is pretty good. The detail is good and pretty clear, while the proportions are among the best we have seen. There is some flash and in a few places some excess plastic could be usefully removed, but on the whole these are not bad. The standing firing fusilier rather exaggerates his attempt to aim the musket, but for the most part the poses are nicely done.
This is not the most colourful set of figures as the box artwork demonstrates, but they do represent a more realistic image of Napoleon’s soldiers during the momentous year of 1805 and do it pretty well.