Artillery at the start of the 18th century was slow, cumbersome and could easily be lost on the battlefield, yet it was also indispensable to any modern army, and at the start of his reign that is what Peter I of Russia wanted above all else. Peter’s reforming zeal, taking a backward state like Russia and forging a major European power, has since become legendary, and in the major reforms of the army the artillery received special attention. It took a long time to train the men and improve the guns, but Peter’s artillery was to play a major role in many of his victories, most notably that at Poltava, where it was decisive.
The first thing to say about this set is also the most obvious after looking at our pictures – you get a great deal for your money here. As with previous artillery sets Zvezda have proved themselves to be masters of this type of miniature, taking a lot of trouble to deliver something vastly superior to the usual gun plus a few crew repeated several times that we are familiar with from most manufacturers. To begin with then we will detail exactly what comes in the box.
Our first few rows show the artillerymen, including an officer figure. Beside him is a draught horse which, since it is not attached to any burden, might seem superfluous, which it is. The usual Zvezda method of providing three sprues of one type plus a fourth of another has cleverly been used to deliver all the parts necessary for this set, but a small number of items (mostly small components) are repeated in excess of the need. This horse is the only major such piece, and the packaging points out that it is unused, but nonetheless it is perfectly good and could be put to use by those skilled and imaginative enough to wish to do so, so we have included it here.
Moving down the rows we next find the first of the guns. On the left is a 6-pounder gun, and on the right a howitzer of half a pud (which was 20 pounds). Below them there is a 3-pounder gun, followed by the same weapon being drawn by a two-horse team. Further down still we have a limber, and finally an ammunition wagon.
Looking in more detail at the crew figures, they all wear the relatively simple uniform of the day, which was much the same as the infantry (except of better quality), with the tricorn, coat and stockings being the only major visible parts. The officer has much finer clothes, but is ultimately only dressed as a gentleman of any European nation of the time would be dressed. All the clothing is authentic, as are the belts etc. Several of the figures have a musket slung across their back, which is something of a surprise. Artilleryman were certainly issued with muskets, but when actually serving the guns they would have put such an encumbrance to one side rather than carry it like this.
The men carry most of the normal tools of their trade. Clearly visible are the ramrod and ladle, while the two middle figures in the top row are carrying ammunition – roundshot and a pre-prepared charge respectively. The first figure in the second row is holding a powder horn, which would be used to fill the touchhole before firing, while the third looks to be holding one of the powder-filled tin tubes which were also used to prime the guns, although this could also simply be a tool to prick the powder bag inside the barrel and therefore make the piece ready for firing. The last man in this row holds the linstock (which is particularly short in this case), holding the match with which the gun was actually fired.
The other figures look to be man-handling the piece or aiming it, and the total set of figures are a really good representation of an artillery crew. All the poses are excellent, and have mostly been achieved in the usual Zvezda fashion of having separate arms. Indeed the first three figures in the top row are all the same basic figure but with different pairs of arms, and the same is true of the first three in the row below. We found some of these arms rather tricky to attach, although in some cases you can also adjust the angle of the arms to provide some variety of pose. The sculpting of these figures is great, with the ornate officer in particular being a miniature work of art all by himself. However on the down side some of the figures do have areas where detail disappears, despite the separate parts. Nevertheless this is still a very high quality finish for the most part, and certainly compare very favourably to the output of most companies.
The 6-pounder gun is the largest piece here, and has been brilliantly fashioned out of many parts, allowing a much better level of detail and sophistication than simpler models can offer. Even small details have been considered, like having the muzzle of the barrel separate so as to have a hole. As with all the assembly in this set the various parts go together with absolute firmness and you will barely have to reach for your glue at all. One feature that has been missed, however, is the pair of ‘dolphin’ handles on the gun barrel, which are represented by a slight ridge instead. We felt that this could have been something a bit more substantial, and therefore realistic, much as has been done in other Zvezda artillery sets. However the only real problem with this piece is the elevation of the barrel. This was controlled by placing a wedge under the breech, and for some reason this wedge, or quoin, is pegged into the gun and therefore fixed. This matters because, as it stands, the barrel is quite horizontal, which is perfectly possible but does not allow for any other angle. The solution is to trim the pegs off the wedge and reposition it further back, which is very little work but should surely have been designed like that to begin with.
The howitzer is on a smaller but otherwise very similar carriage. Again all the features of barrel and carriage are correctly done, with the exception of the same problem with the fixed wedge. Again the barrel is horizontal, which is ridiculous for a weapon that was meant to fire at a high trajectory. The same solution applies, but clearly the designer went astray on this not insignificant feature of the set.
Moving down once more we find the budge barrel where the powder was stored, complete with closure to protect it from stray sparks, and next to that the smallest of the artillery pieces, the 3-pounder gun. Each infantry regiment had two of these pieces, often called galloper guns, to provide close support for the troops. They were relatively light and could therefore be moved with the men, and as a result were not concentrated in batteries like the larger calibres. Once more this is a great little model, and once more the positioning of the wedge forces a horizontal barrel. Although they should be able to elevate, such a horizontal position is more appropriate for these guns as they often fired at very short range. There are in fact three of this gun in the set, but as can be seen the third example is hitched up to a horse in the next row (although you can have it as a separate unhitched gun if you prefer). The trails of the gun took the harness for the animal, and you can optionally add a second horse with handler, as we have done in our picture. The horse is correctly harnessed and attaches in a proper manner rather than the all too common peg-in-the-side method sometimes seen. The harness will need gluing into the animal on this and all the models here, which is the main area where glue will be necessary.
One or two horses were sufficient to move a galloper gun, but the larger calibres required full teams. Our next picture shows a simple limber, with a three-horse team and driver ready to pull one of the larger guns. This is fine, including the peculiarly Russian method of having three horses abreast, but we were surprised that the team was so small. In general a 6-pounder required at least a four horse team, and often more, particularly if roads were especially rutted or the weather bad. The howitzer was a lighter piece, so we suggest that this limber is really only useful for the howitzer. Nonetheless it is again a very nice model.
Finally, after so many words, we come to the last item – an ammunition wagon. Actually this is little more than a limber with an ammunition chest attached, and as such would be more appropriate for immediate support of guns in battle as the main ammunition wagons were larger four-wheeled vehicles with much greater carrying capacity. Still this is another great model and a very welcome addition to the set which is very useful. The ammunition chest has an optional insert representing the compartmentalised interior where the ammunition is held, so if desired the chest could have the separate lid hinged back to show the interior, although we chose the closed option as the horses are, after all, on the move! There is even a little bucket suspended from a hook at the rear.
We have already said a lot about this set, and most of it has been admiration, but there are some concerns too. First, ordinary artillerymen or ‘cannoniers' served the guns while bombardiers served howitzers. Bombardiers wore a version of the grenadier cap, and there are none in this set (although the Strelets set has some), so in fact the howitzer here has no crew. Also the mounted drivers are a worry. At this period, and for decades thereafter, artillery drivers and wagoners were recruited from civilians – contractors who would, or at least should, move the guns wherever the Board of Ordnance wanted. There is no evidence they were given any uniform, and were not under military discipline, so the smartly uniformed drivers in this set are probably out of place. Having said that military uniform of the day was not so very different from civilian fashion, but still we are uncomfortable with the appearance of these figures, who are armed with swords.
In essence then this is a great set but with a couple of issues as we have mentioned, yet undeniably beautifully engineered. It is also a very appealing set and very satisfying to put together, while the guns and men are little different from those of any nation in the Great Northern War, War of the Spanish Succession or other contemporary conflicts. We very much enjoyed putting this altogether, although we are tempted to enquire where the mounted officer shown on the box artwork went? It seems even the best sets could always be better, but overall this one will take some beating.