In the later medieval period gunpowder made a significant impact on European warfare, and the 17th century saw that process continue. However if you were standing on any battlefield during the first half of that century, perhaps during the Thirty Years War, then the enemy artillery would probably not be your main concern. Guns, particularly the larger ones, were difficult to move and slow to fire. They were often used for an initial bombardment of the enemy, but found it difficult to react to events by moving and selecting a new target. There were instances during this period when artillery did make a big difference to a battle, and no army would be without some guns, but this was mainly a period of development for the weapon that would only begin to dominate the battlefield many years later.
Although other enemies needed to be faced by the Habsburg Empire, the first half of the 17th century was dominated by the Thirty Years War, for which there are already several sets of artillery. None of them have a gun like this, however, because this is a particularly large and impressive piece of ordnance. The barrel measures 42mm (just over three metres) in length, not including the cascable, and the carriage is 52mm (3.75 metres) long, with wheels 19mm (140cm) in diameter. This makes the weapon either a culverin or a saker, although such categorisation was far from rigid at the time so is not particularly meaningful. What is meaningful is this is one of the biggest of the field guns, yet still manoeuvrable enough to be used on the battlefield as well as in a siege. The long slender barrel is really nicely done here, with very good decorative detail and a neat casting. The carriage follows the classic design, with twin cheeks and suitable cross-pieces, and given the usual restrictions for a one-piece model the detail and proportions are pretty good. The size is appropriate for such a barrel, as are the size of the wheels, which snap-fit over the axles and are well detailed. However we found there needed to be a lot of coaxing to get the wheels to fit - enlarging the central hole was required to make it happen. Finally a separate wedge is provided, which is indeed the method used to raise and lower the barrel, although if you choose to use the peg and hole provided to fix it to the carriage then that functionality is of course lost.
Moving on to the crew, there are six poses engaged in a variety of tasks, or more accurately holding the tools of their trade, but not really doing a lot. First is the man holding the linstock, a staff on which the slow match was attached which was used to ignite the charge and hopefully fire the gun. He is clearly not doing this at the moment, but instead watching events. Next to him is a very relaxed gunner holding his powder scoop, which was the device used to deliver the powder into the barrel. We would observe that this implement is 31 mm in length, and so unable to reach the end of the 41 mm barrel. Whether this mattered or not we do not know, because once the powder was introduced into the barrel, it would be rammed down with the ramrod, so perhaps did not need to be the full length of the barrel. Again, this man is not actually using his scoop, but watching events.
The third figure holds something we could not positively identify. It is a staff with a bulbous end apparently covered in material. Depending on what that material is, this could be a sponge or a ramrod, although both essential tools are held by other crew in this set. It is unclear what Mars were intending with this item, but as it is only 24mm in length it would not serve well as either a sponge or ramrod for a 41 mm barrel, so we are left guessing about this one. Last figure in the top row is the master gunner, for he holds in his right hand the dagger-like stiletto which was used to measure the bore of the gun, and so assess the ammunition required. In his left hand he holds something poorly defined but probably a ramrod, used to ram home the charge, wadding and projectile prior to firing. In this case we again observe that the ramrod is 25mm in length, while the gun barrel is about 41 mm, making this tool quite useless for this gun.
The second row begins with a man holding a sponge, which was used to clean the barrel and extinguish any lingering embers before more powder was added. Once more, with a length of 27mm it could not reach the full length of the barrel, so would not be safe to use on this gun. The final figure is kneeling next to a small barrel with a cover over it. This would have held powder, and the cover would have been treated hide or similar, used to protect the powder from any disastrous stray sparks. Since the barrel or keg is quite small, this may be the finer powder used to ignite the main charge, rather than the coarser charge powder itself. The man’s arms are not clear, but he does not seem to be doing anything in particular.
All the crew wear typical costume of the period, and there are no accuracy issues here. We were pleased to see at least some of the men in shirt sleeves, since serving a gun was hot, physical and dirty work, so it makes sense that the men were often informally dressed like this. The third figure in the top row has something odd on his head, for it has a ridge down the front but nothing anywhere else, so we could not decide if the sculptor was intending a rather odd helmet or an equally unlikely hat. However the main feature of these crew figures is no one is doing anything. All hold their various implements, but no one is using them, nor looking like they are about to. Only the fourth figure has any action about him, and he is waving his stiletto in the air, which makes for a very odd pose. It seems likely that this set was inspired by an illustration in the Osprey Men-At-Arms book listed below, in which case he is supposed to be pointing to a target, but this has been lost in a rather poor transfer to the plastic figure. Indeed the position of this figure is weird, with shoulder thrust forward but head held back, though the rest of the poses are much more natural - static but natural. Most artillery sets provide figures all doing their job at the same time, so perhaps this set, where no one is actually doing their job, is a deliberate and not unwelcome strategy by Mars.
The quality of the sculpting largely speaks for itself, as always. While the gun is quite good, the men are fairly poor examples of the species. Detail is often a bit basic and can be quite confused, while the faces are not great and the creases in clothing unconvincing. There is a noticeable amount of flash, though in most places this is not too bad, but between the legs of the first figure in row two there is a huge block of rough plastic, as if the mould-maker only half finished his task. That apart, by Mars standards this is not too bad a set, although the level of flash varied greatly between sprues even in our single reviewed set.
While the style and quality of this set marks it out as made by Mars, there is much here that could be useful. If the figures are no beauties, then they are at least accurate (apart from the short tools for the provided gun), and in poses that were actually far more common than the brief 'doing' poses most artillery sets offer. The gun wheels in particular take a lot of removing from the sprue, so there is much work still to do in terms of improving the quality of production, but this does deliver a useful gun and some useful figures with applications far beyond just the imperial Habsburg Empire.