French artillery in the Great War was dominated by the 75 mm Mle 1897. When it was adopted in 1897 this French-developed gun revolutionised artillery by combining many recent innovations to produce a gun that could fire much more rapidly than anything that had gone before, thanks mainly to a system of absorbing the recoil without moving the carriage, ensuring the gun did not need reaiming after each shot. This introduced a new breed of ordnance, the quick-firing gun, and it instantly made every other field artillery piece obsolete. It was a fantastic weapon, and the French were justly proud of it. It first saw active service in China in 1900 and proved to be excellent against mass ranks of men in the open. France idolised the gun, and went to great lengths to keep others from learning its secrets.
By the coming of war in 1914 the 'Soixante-Quinze' was still a great weapon, but by then most of the major powers had developed their own quick-firing weapons with similar performance. In the early months of the war the gun served very well, but once the war settled down to the trenches, and the need was mainly for heavy bombardment of enemy positions, the 75 was out of its depth. Nonetheless vast numbers were made and used by the French army during the conflict, and it remained the most important piece of field ordnance in the French armoury for many years.
The centre-piece of this set is of course the famous gun itself. The model is built with just five pieces, so is very quick to assemble. Naturally there has been much simplification here - the breech and muzzle-rollers in particular - but in general this gives a good overall impression of the gun with sufficient detail to keep many happy enough. The fairly soft plastic is not ideal for such constructions, but the parts mostly fit well, although gluing is necessary throughout. The exception is the shield, which fits onto two pegs which are slightly too far apart, requiring a little cutting back to make the fit work. In general however this is a very nice model.
The caisson for the weapon, which is also included in this set, was itself an unusual design. It was moved as shown above, but placed on its side when in action to act as a sort of cupboard from which the ammunition was drawn. The model here is correctly done, down to the 72 compartments in which the shells were placed. The 'lid' of the caisson comes as two separate pieces, which means they can be attached open as we have shown it, or closed if on the move. However the 'hinge' is just a tiny knob of plastic so again gluing is necessary, especially if the lid is to be open. However again the model is accurate and nicely done.
The foot figures represent the crew, and are in various poses. The drawing on the box shows the first figure holding a shell, but his hands are in fact empty (perhaps ready to take the spent shell case after firing?). Others are handling shells or presumably working the gun and are a fair choice. The officer figure is apparently holding something like a map, or perhaps dispatches, and he also holds a pair of binoculars. However these would not be in order to see the enemy, but to see the most obviously missing pose in the set - the forward observer. Since it was usually not safe to be in sight of the enemy, such field guns were positioned behind cover, and therefore needed someone further forward who could see the target and report back on how well the shots were landing. This was a crucial member of the gun team, and their absence here is therefore to be regretted.
The mounted figures have no obvious purpose here as the set does not include any horses. However HaT will make the horse team as a separate set which will then give these men their raison d’être, allowing the customer to decide whether or not they wish to pay for teams of horses, which is a smart move in our view.
The crew are labelled as 'late war' for two reasons. First, they all wear the famous Adrian steel helmet, which first appeared in 1915. Second, they all have a gas mask slung around their necks. French gas masks took many forms, but this seems to be the M2, which entered service in April 1916. This would normally be kept in a bag or tin, so the fact that everyone has it at the ready on the chest suggests they think a gas attack could be imminent. However the norm would be to have the mask safely packed away, so we would have preferred not to see the masks.
The sculpting of these figures is generally not bad but the poses are a bit stiff and unnatural. Detail is hardly an issue on such simple uniforms, but the folds in the clothing are not especially convincing and the outriders' legs are rather thin and overly long. The faces are pretty good and there is absolutely no flash, so these serve their purpose well enough.
Doubtless there are much more complex and highly detailed hard-plastic kits of this famous gun on the market, but if you need numbers of the weapon along with their crew then this set produces some very acceptable artillery. A couple of separate shells would have been a nice extra, especially since one man is empty handed, although the shells that there are seem rather too short to us. Still this is a decent set for a very important part of the French army in the later years of the Grande Guerre.