When British forces first invaded Zululand in January 1879 they had no regular cavalry, and had to rely on local units and volunteers for the vital role of scouting etc. After the humiliating defeats that followed, the British government, which had strongly opposed the invasion, nevertheless felt it had to support the war now it had been started, and sent two regiments of regular cavalry as part of the reinforcements. One of these, the 17th, was a lancer regiment, and they landed in southern Africa in April. Arriving at the front the following month, their main action was the charge at the end of the Battle of Ulundi, where their pursuit of the Zulus turned their defeat into a rout, gaining the regiment the battle honour “South Africa 1879”. By October they were again on board ship, heading for a posting in India, ending a brief but eventful contribution to the war against the Zulus.
As with most British troops sent overseas at this time, the men were expected to fight in their normal home service uniforms, with the one concession to practicality being the issue of the foreign service helmet. The figures in this set are on the face of it correctly uniformed and equipped, and for many that will be plenty good enough. For the pedants out there however, there are a number of really small details which should be mentioned. The clothing itself is fine, with the pointed cuffs correctly done, but the tunic was double-breasted above the waist, and could be buttoned across either way, allowing a choice of the white facing colour, or the blue of the rest of the garment, to be showing. The figures have a definite edge on both sides, suggesting incorrectly that the plastron is a separate piece. Incidentally, ignore the white plastron on the box artwork - in Zululand the men sensibly wore the blue side outermost, so only the piping was white. All the trooper poses correctly have the ammunition pouches on the waist belt, and all have the haversack and Oliver-model water bottle, along with the cartridge box on another shoulder strap. However the sword scabbard is poorly done. The straps from this should attach at the mouth and about a third of the way down, but here they attach at about 20% and 40% of the way down. Also one figure clearly shows the straps outside the tunic, when in fact the sword belt was worn beneath it. Moving to the lances, these are an excellent length and correctly sculpted to show they are made of bamboo, the material used for all of them in Zululand. However while the lances all have the hand strap that was worn to help ensure the lance was not lost, it has been placed well below the midpoint, when in fact it should be at the point of balance (a little above the midpoint), where the man actually held it. Equally the man holding his lance upright is holding it in the wrong place. Finally, there should be a bucket on the right stirrup where the lance can be rested, but only two of these poses possess this.
Every cavalry unit needs its horses of course, and those of the lancers suffered from the long voyage south and the unfamiliar local grass. Those in this set look to be in good nick and nicely done, and the poses are OK too, All the bridle and saddle bits look fine, although there is no mess tin strapped to the valise behind the saddle.
While five poses is not a lot for a cavalry set, HaT have once again gone a long way to make the most of them. The first pictured pose is fine, although as we have said the lance is being held incorrectly. The next two poses have a ring hand into which either a lance or a sword can be inserted. Strictly speaking the poses work better with the sword than the lance, but are good enough with either and we appreciate being able to choose. That choice is still wider with the last two poses, both of which have separate right arms as shown holding a revolver, bugle, carbine and sword. This allows not only a wider choice of weapons, but also some variety in arm placement. The last figure lacks the ammunition pouches on the waist belt, so is suitable for a bugler or officer. It is hard to see what more could be done to maximise five poses, and the result is a very good range of poses which we liked. A lancer holding his lance as if about to strike an enemy would have been welcome, however.
The sculpting is quite reasonable, with all the detail you would want. The separate weapons fit the ring hands well, and although they will need to be glued, attaching the separate arms is not difficult either. The faces are quite good, and we were pleased to see three have some facial hair as it would seem shaving was a rare luxury during the campaign. There is no flash anywhere, and thanks to the various separate parts the figures do not have the two-dimensional look that so many have.
Although these men were not present at Isandhlwana or Rorkes Drift, they were an important part of Ulundi and the final stages of the campaign, and it is good to see them produced in soft plastic for the first time. A lot of effort seems to have gone into this set, and for the most part the results are good. Some really small niggles about accuracy details do not materially detract from the look of these models, and the poses, while not perfect, are plenty good enough for most. It should be noted that this is really a set of 12 cavalry figures (as there are 12 horses), but with a choice of bodies as well as arms and weapons for the men, so the scope for variety is extremely impressive. This is a nice set, well produced, and it fills another hole in the available range of Victoria’s horse soldiers.