While Cossacks had long used the lance with great skill, the Russian army saw its first genuine lancer regiments when two were converted in 1803. More followed over the next dozen years, following the general European trend to have more of these horsemen, which could be so effective against infantry, particularly if disordered. In Russia’s case there was a good supply of the traditional specialists in this mode of fighting to fill the ranks - Poles and Lithuanians.
Perhaps the first thing to grab the attention when this box from Mars is opened is how few lances there are. As can be seen from our photographs there are precisely two lances, both for one pose which is holding the lance near the base and out to the side while still facing forward. It’s a pretty awful pose, not least because this is not how the lance was held or used, although it also just looks completely unnatural. The lance is guided by a groove along the right arm, which forces it to be held in this odd position. A similar device was used in the comparable Strelets set, but their pose was infinitely better than this. So, with only one lancer pose, and a largely useless one at that, there remain four poses with sabres and one using a carbine. While it is certainly true that not all lancers actually carried a lance, and once the lance was lost or broken the sabre was the natural alternative weapon, we still find it incomprehensible that so many poses are using a sabre. The first figure in the second row has a cupped hand into which one of the illustrated separate items can be placed, and both the guidon and the sabre make sense here, although the carbine seems much less natural. Only flankers carried carbines by 1812, which does justify the last pose in this set. However we were very unimpressed with the poses as a whole.
Not surprisingly Russia kept to the traditional 'Polish' style when designing a uniform for these men, with the instantly recognisable czapka and kurtka. All these figures have the correct uniform, although some items are not particularly clear. Some of the figures may have their czapkas under a cover (it is very hard to tell), but some definitely do not, yet none have a plume attached. Plumes may well have been removed when on campaign, yet we would have preferred them to be present so the customer could decide to keep or remove them as they wished. On the whole though there are no accuracy problems, apart from the fact that it would seem no uhlan regiment carried a flag, making that particular accessory redundant.
These are far from attractive figures. Although detail is mostly present the sculpting is often vague and some items have very poor proportions. Scabbards are short and hitched too high, coat tails are in some cases ridiculously short, and some blobs are virtually impossible to identify. The separate weapons are poorly defined and, in the case of the sole lance, very obviously bent (and also lacking any sort of a pennant and with a misplaced hand loop). There is a great deal of flash on virtually all seams of the figures, so they will take a great deal of time and patience to rescue if they are to be painted or examined at anything closer than arms length.
The horses do little better, with some uninspiring or simply unnatural poses. All do at least have a fair representation of the correct harness, and they do have the correct shabraque with the rounded and monogrammed corners. However many of the men are much too tight a fit on the saddle, causing them to rise well above it, so again a halfway decent figure will only be possible with some careful filing.
If the lack of lances is the first impression then there is plenty more to disappoint the viewer. Technically the production of these figures leaves much to be desired, which when combined with the other issues rather wastes the apparently good research that went into their uniforms.