When France went to war in 1914 she thought she was well prepared, but that illusion was quickly shattered by the German army. A mixture of patriotism and clinging to tradition (plus no small measure of simple politics) meant the French infantryman went to war in a desperately old-fashioned uniform which looked good on parade but was all too easy for the enemy to see. Thousands died, in part as a result of this stupidity, and by 1915 improvements were already being introduced in a panic. Most obvious was the Adrian helmet, so these figures are only suitable for the first few months of the war, but those were months with many interesting battles, and until this set came along no one had depicted these troops.
HaT have made quite sufficient sets to know the sorts of poses customers want, and when enough are included in the set they usually hit the mark. This is true here, where the 15 poses are a good selection of action poses plus plenty of copies of the marching figure which is always so useful. The good number of advancing poses reflects well the French tactics early in the war, before static trench warfare settled down, and almost all the poses are quite realistic. The man holding ammunition for the machine gun does so in a quite strange manner, and we would have liked to have seen him actually feeding the gun, but apart from him the poses are all good.
The sculpting is OK but lacks some detail in places. The material is a fairly soft plastic, which works without problems for the figures but proves to be a poor choice for the machine gun. The legs of the mounting are very thin, as they should be, and we found them bent on the sprue. Straightening them, and keeping them straight, is a very tricky process. However other items such as rifles and bayonets do not suffer in the same way, and with very little flash these figures are well produced.
All except the officers wear the M1877 capote as they should, which HaT have made correctly apart from adding a long middle rear vent reaching to the waist, which is wrong. At the back of the coat the arrangement of the buttoned-back skirts is varying but not always well done, with some being too close together. The rest of the double-breasted coat is OK but lacks some details, so for example there are no tabs on the shoulders, and for the marching figure at least we would have expected to see the rolled shoulder straps that appear on the box artwork but nowhere else. The men all have fairly full kit, but the knapsack is noticeably thinner than it should be, the water bottle is incorrect (it should be the double-spouted M1877 model), and all are missing the rear ammunition pouch that should be on the belt. The simplest of weapons, the officer's sword, seems too short to our eye, but the most sophisticated, the machine gun, looks like the M1907 St Etienne - a poor weapon but a standard French machine gun of the day so quite appropriate here. This too has been fairly well done but with some minor problems of detail.
This is quite a nice looking set but we would have preferred that HaT stuck to the typical appearance of the poilus. Still these are good poses that are well animated, and while you may not find a use for four officers and four senior officers there is still plenty that can be used. A worthwhile set for the most fluid and arguably the most interesting period of the war on the Western Front.