Towards the end of 1813 France’s prospects were bleak indeed. Her Grande Armée had been all but destroyed in the 1812 Russian campaign and further defeats in 1813 meant the country faced invasion by multiple armies. Yet still Napoleon worked to build a new army, and part of that was to be three brand new regiments of light cavalry attached to regiments of the Imperial Guard. These three regiments, each theoretically of around 1,000 men in four squadrons, were named the Eclaireurs de la Garde Impériale, commonly known in English as Scouts of the Imperial Guard (but not, until now, as ‘Guides’). Each regiment was attached to a different existing Guard cavalry regiment, and each had their own distinctive uniform. The figures in this set depict the second regiment, which was attached to the dragoons and therefore became known as the Scout-Dragoons. The regiment was brought into existence in December 1813, and sent troops both to the armies facing the invasions and to defend Paris. Never at full strength, the few who served with the army found themselves in many furious engagements as the Allies battled towards Paris that winter, but ultimately even Napoleon could not prevent defeat and the last action of the Scout-Dragoons was in March 1814, shortly followed by their effective disbandment. They must therefore count as one of the shortest lived regiments in any French army.
The haste with which these men were raised and the lack of resources casts some doubt as to how well dressed these soldiers would have been, but these figures follow the regulation uniform, which resembled that of the mounted Chasseurs of the Line. The shako was unusual for the time, slightly tapering towards the top, but the rest of the uniform was fairly standard. The shakos in this set do not seem to taper, and are missing the cap lines that ensured they were not lost, while all the men wear buttoned overalls over their breeches, despite the fact that in reality overalls were not worn. In all other respects however these figures seem accurate.
Despite being attached to dragoons it was the lance that seems to have been the main weapon, and four of the poses in this set are so armed. However these should not have any pennons, which were not carried at the time (although it is easy enough to trim these off). The rest of the figures are using swords, carbines and pistols, which is fine.
The poses are surprisingly stiff and lacking in much action. Usually we bemoan the wild poses in light cavalry sets as these men were primarily used for reconnaissance, but during their brief period of existence these Scouts were engaged in several charges, so for once some energetic charging poses are just what is required. However even those apparently charging are doing so with a straight back and giving no impression of urgency or movement. Also it must be said that this small unit never had an eagle, so trim this and the flag off to create another lancer instead. In general however we thought the poses were a reasonable choice but poorly brought to life.
Perhaps as a result of the lack of resources at the time, all scouts had a simplified harness and nothing under their saddle but a basic blanket. Sadly every horse in this set has a full shabraque – an item that only officers might hope to sport – so effectively making the horses unusable for these men. The poses could have included a standing pose (even these men sometimes stood still) although some of those poses we do have are less than realistic.
These are relatively simple uniforms for the period and these figures have the requisite level of detail but unlike so many Strelets set they have particularly fine items such as swords and scabbards which are surprisingly long and thin, by which we mean much closer to the correct proportions than usual. The lack of life in the sculpting has already been noted, but from a technical point of view this sculpting is not bad at all. Several figures have ring hands for separate lances and sword provided, and all these fit well, but the figures are just a shade too tight on the horses, causing them to hover above the saddle rather than sit on it.
It is perhaps a sign of the recent flood of Napoleonic sets that manufacturers are looking to depict increasingly obscure units such as this, but of course no customer is going to complain about that. Although these men were few in number and only existed for about 10 weeks they played their part in the attempt to defend France, and these figures are nicely done if lacking much life. The pennons and flag can be resolved but the horses are a serious error, but if suitably trimmed and mounted on someone else’s horses then these are quite smart figures.