Napoleon felt his cuirassiers were of greater value than any other type of cavalry, and took 12 regiments on his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Their value was as a heavy blow to shatter a wavering enemy, making them something of an elite amongst cavalry although in Napoleon’s army they were never admitted into the Guard. Their glamour and impressive uniform have made them a favourite subject for manufacturers and modellers, as the list of other sets at the bottom of this page testifies. With this set then Zvezda entered a crowded market, but one that always seems to need more of these famous cavalrymen.
The many sets of French cuirassiers already in existence cover a lot of styles and vary greatly in quality, but Zvezda are usually at the top of the quality pile and these figures do not disappoint. The detail is pin sharp and beautifully abundant on these complex soldiers, with items such as the standard being exceptionally fine (which we will discuss in more detail in a moment). The general proportions are spot on too, with the cuirass making these seem a little more stocky than usual. Zvezda’s past problems with correct sizing might seem to have been reproduced here as the figures are quite tall, but the minimum height requirement for a new trooper at this time was around 1.73 or 1.8 metres (the standard varied), so these are perfect in that regard. With no separate parts these figures are all ready to go, particularly as they lack any flash.
At 19 figures in a box you get a lot of content here, and the eight poses is quite generous too. Since the charge is the most popular pose for cavalry there are several suitable for this, with the swordsmen on either end of our first row being particularly appropriate as both are holding their sabre well forward with a straight arm, as they should. As usual the two-piece mould limits what can be done with this pose, so as with many other sets these men are actually looking somewhat to their right, which is OK but not as good as looking straight ahead. Still the poses are perfectly usable, and the rest of the swordsmen would work well in a melee with other cavalry. The trooper with the pistol is a more unusual pose, but still useful, while the trumpeter, eagle-bearer and officer are all very good (the trumpeter in particular as he is half looking forward rather than to the side as is so often modelled).
None of the horse poses seem to be at the gallop, which is fine as a charge only got into top speed shortly before contact with the enemy. We did not care much for the first horse in the last row, but otherwise the poses are fine, which is far too rare a comment for horses in this hobby. Like the men these are well proportioned and of an appropriate size, and all are correctly equipped, including the officer’s mount in the last row. As usual pegs on the men’s legs fit into holes on the animal’s sides, after being suitably trimmed down, thus ensuring a secure fit without the need for gluing.
The uniform is correct for the claimed period of 1807 to 1815. Details worthy of particular comment include the helmets, or more specifically the crests, which are embossed in all cases. From 1811 plainer and cheaper ones were issued, but these were so hated by the men that the superior older ones were made to last whenever possible, and since the helmet was intended to last 10 years many helmets of this pattern undoubtedly lasted throughout this period. The short-tailed tunics are also right for the period, although it should be noted that the plumes, which every man here has, were often removed or covered when on campaign. The set includes three musketoons which attach to one of the poses. Musketoons were issued by 1812, so potentially every trooper here should have one, although they were not as universal as might be suggested and by making them optional the customer can decide to include them or not as they wish. The musketoon actually attaches to the saddle, and does not really reach the crossbelt by which it was actually suspended. The figure which has been given this weapon also has a bayonet on his sword belt, which is good, but more surprisingly so does one of the other troopers.
Special mention must be made of the standard in this set. By this date there was only one eagle per regiment, but Zvezda have done an outstanding job with this particular model. It is exquisitely engraved on both sides and is correctly scaled at 9mm (60mm) square. Despite the small surface the sculptor has achieved a fantastic level of detail, including all the text that such a standard would have. On the obverse the dedication tells us, in easily readable script, that the regiment is the 1st Cuirassiers (although the sculptor has misspelled the word, probably because there was insufficient room for the whole thing). On the reverse there are two battle honours – Essling and Wagram – which to begin with tells us that this standard was issued on or after 1812 when battle honours were first used (the presence of cravats also confirm this date). The cuirassier regiments that had these two honours were the 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th, which contradicts the regiment number on the other side, although even we can see that it is pedantic in the extreme to criticise this!
Zvezda have avoided problems with moulding the complicated helmet by having all the figures looking to left or right, and unless you want to lose a lot of detail this is the only alternative to having separate heads. However the sculptor has gone to a lot of trouble to make the poses very natural, with many partly turned rather than the usual dead square to the horse that is so often presented. Someone looking straight ahead would have been nice, but that apart this is a great set which cannot fail to delight all the many fans of these impressive horsemen.