Back in the Dark Ages, when several weeks might pass without a single new set of 1/72 scale plastic figures reaching the shops (1985 to be precise), Esci produced a rather fine set of Napoleonic French cavalry – ‘Polish Lancers’. Today we wade waist deep in sets of Napoleonic French cavalry, but back then this set, while not without its faults, was a great addition to the available range. The trouble was it was very limited, with very few poses, so ever since there has been a cry for something of similar quality but with more poses, and (at least in the view of many), the figures should be wearing their spectacular full dress. This set from Strelets is not the answer to those calls.
We have to say straight away that these figures look awful. In fact, with their flat and relatively featureless appearance they reminded us of those first type Airfix sets, and that is not a happy comparison to make. The clothing has little in the way of folds and the faces, where they exist at all, are pretty basic too. Fundamental human anatomy has been seriously compromised here, with some arms that are simply in positions unattainable by the species. Example one is the man on the bottom row firing his pistol, who has managed to have the full length of his arm flat against his chest. No one has shoulders that will permit that, so why not model it with the elbow sticking out as it would have to? Example two is worse. The man drawing his sword on the bottom row manages to reach much the same distance on his left side with both arms, despite both being almost straight. Therefore his right arm must be about 50% longer than his left. As well as being an unnatural pose it just looks plain silly.
There’s more, but you get the general idea. Happily the figures are largely free of flash or excess plastic, but there is one more feature of the sculpting that is worthy of note. Some of the figures have their heels so close together that when they are put on the horse their legs are forced apart so much that they 'hover' some way above the saddle. Again it looks silly and we would have thought fitting man to horse would be a basic requirement for a cavalry set, yet these are the lucky figures. For the rest the legs are so close together that not only do they fail to touch the saddle when forced on they are also likely to 'ping' straight back off, and it would take some serious filing and gluing to make man and horse stay together. Actually pinging cavalrymen is quite a fun game, but on balance not an impressive feature. We want more quality and less fun!
As can be seen several of the poses are much the same as each other. This is no bad thing, and it is common in sets of lancers for all the weapons to be either fully up or fully down. This is a difficult weapon to model and it has only really been done well in the superb Emhar Charge of the Light Brigade where lancer arms were separate and arms could be bent to any position. Effectively the two main poses are fine, and the idea for those in the bottom row is OK too although, as we have said, the execution is poor.
For those who have been calling for the full dress uniform this set delivers exactly that. The men all wear the standard Polish-style uniform of both the Polish and Red lancer regiments with uncovered czapska (including parade plume) and apparently uncovered breeches. The aiguillette is correctly on the left shoulder and the fringed epaulette on the right (apart from the officer, who correctly has these reversed). Of course this was not how these men appeared on campaign, but some like the splendour of the full dress and this is the first set of these men to have such a uniform, which is modelled accurately.
In considering the weapons we have to return to the standard of sculpting. None of the men have a carbine (which was standard issue), nor apparently the crossbelt to accommodate it or the bayonet scabbard that should be beside that of the sword. As can be seen many have the lance (only the front rank had the lance in the last years of the Wars) which scores over the old Esci set in that it is a good length at 36mm (2.6 metres). However the pennant is strangely narrow yet thickly wrapped round the lance, which is itself quite thick and unable to fit the ring hands of the Esci figures (which we realise is not a requirement but would have been nice). Lacking a carbine the secondary weapon for these men would have been the sabre, and all have the scabbard for this, but fortunately all the scabbards are empty. Why is this fortunate? Well most of the men seem to be holding the top of their scabbard to their stomach, since if left alone it would be much further down the leg. Held in this position the hilt of any sword would at least be pressed painfully into their lower abdomen and probably be disembowelling them. Lucking there is no sign of any hilts anywhere.
Strelets horses have never been particularly realistic and these are no different but at least all the saddlery looks OK. The shabraque is correctly shaped, although again on campaign this was often turned up to protect it or even left off entirely.
For a well-documented subject such as this there is no excuse for making accuracy mistakes, and if you assume that the lack of swords and carbines is deliberate to make the sculptor's job easier, and that the full dress uniform was a conscious decision, then Strelets have at least achieved accuracy. However the quality of these figures is as bad as anything produced in recent years and a comparison with the 25-year-old Esci alternative (see below) pretty much speaks for itself. A very weak effort indeed.