Hussars were becoming very fashionable during the 18th century, but when Frederick the Great (1712-1786) came to the throne of Prussia in 1740 the splendid army his father left him had just nine squadrons of them. Frederick set about raising many more regiments and eventually had 10, most of 10 squadrons each. In the three Silesian Wars of Frederick's reign Prussia's hussars would face the originals - the Hungarians in the service of the Habsburg Empire - and come to be seen as more than a match for them. Prussia integrated her hussars into the army much more than did Austria, and these troops proved to be highly versatile, performing tasks from reconnoitering and skirmishing to full blown charges.
The 'Black Hussars' of the title were the famous 'Totenköpfe' or 'Death's Head' regiment, which would later be designated the 5th, and were raised in 1741. Superbly illustrated on the Zvezda box, the regiment was nicknamed for the skull and crossbones on their caps, and was considered one of the best in the army. All the figures in this set have the death's head badge, but happily apart from such a minor detail all Prussia's hussars dressed much the same, with the main difference being the colours of each regiment's uniform.
Some (not the 5th) wore a busby in winter, but most of the time they wore the mirliton cap, as they do in this set. The size of the mirliton changed to some degree over the years of Frederick's reign, but that depicted here is correct for the later period, including the war of 1756 to 1763, and includes the cloth wound round it, which was often worn lose as here. Most of the figures wear the classic dolman jacket, and have a pelisse slung over their left shoulder. This of course is the classic look of a hussar, but some sources suggest the dolman and pelisse were rarely worn together when on campaign. Zvezda have dealt with this by making the pelisse a separate piece for most of the poses, which both improves the look of the thing and allows the customer to have the figure wearing it or not, as the back is perfectly sculpted should you wish to discard the pelisse (although you would have to fill the hole for the peg). Both dolman and pelisse are properly sculpted, with finely detailed braiding on the front and the barrel sash around the waist. The rider's breeches are correctly covered up to the top of the thigh with leggings, and on the lower legs are boots with the lower back, which again is quite correct.
All the men carry the curved sabre suspended from the waist belt, and most have a carbine held by a wide belt over their left shoulder. Over the right shoulder is a much thinner belt which supported the cartridge pouch, which again can clearly be seen on these figures. Officers and NCOs reversed these belts (or often omitted the carbine), yet on the box Zvezda identify the last figure in our second row as being the 'commander', despite him having the pouch belt on the private's right shoulder. We would have thought the last figure in our third row, who has neither belt, would make a better 'commander'.
The poses are beautifully animated and full of life. Many of these men are twisting in the saddle, dealing with foes to left or right, so this is far from the standard rather dull poses where everyone is square in the saddle and either looking directly ahead or 90 degrees to the side. The two poses in the second row, who are leaning across the neck of the horse, are perfect examples of what you don't get from most manufacturers, and of course these great poses are achieved by the use of multiple parts, particularly arms. Whatever your view on such assembly the results speak for themselves, and many of the arms can be adjusted to various angles to further broaden the pose possibilities. The trumpeter in particular is holding his instrument at a far more realistic angle than is normally depicted. Hussars never used firearms in the charge, so the central figure above is skirmishing perhaps, but since hussars did take part in charges all these poses are valid and very well realised.
While we were uncertain of the first horse pose, in general we liked all the animals, and thought them more realistic than many sets seem to manage. They are all fairly active, which will limit their use for skirmishing and patrolling for example, but that is always going to be a problem with only a handful of horse poses available. Their saddlery all looks fine, with the pointed shabraques with the vandyked edges properly done. Our sources suggest the valise on the back of the saddle should be cylindrical, but those here are square, although this is hard to notice as they correctly have the cloak folded on top, and some illustrations seem to suggest the square valise is appropriate anyway.
As ever we can't really fault the sculpting. Hussars have highly intricate uniforms that demand a high level of detail, and these Zvezda figures do not disappoint. All the braiding, the barrel sashes, etc. are very well done, and the moustaches on every man except the trumpeter are clear and looking proud, as are the skull and crossbones badges on the mirlitons. All the sabretaches are, not surprisingly, facing either the front of the back, and all are correctly engraved with the FR monogram. Also factory patterned is the standard, which is the correct swallow-tail guidon with the 'new' pattern and the vandyke edging. However it should be noted that this is only correct up to 1743, beyond which the hussars did not carry standards at all.
If that all sounds like good news then you should know there is one fly in the ointment. Actually it is more like a pterodactyl because for some it completely ruins all the good work. Prussia’s heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and, to a lesser extent, dragoons. By regulation the hussars could not recruit anyone above 165 cm in height, so these were not tall men. Sadly the figures in this set average about 190 cm in height, which is complete nonsense as men of such a height would be considered particularly tall in Germany today and would have been giants in Frederick's day. Even placed next to the ludicrously tall Zvezda Prussian Grenadiers these men are oversized - compare them with the figures from Revell (themselves a little too tall) and the latter look like children. The horses too should be somewhat smaller than those here, although that is less critical.
Great figures, lovely poses, but put them with any true 1/72 scale figures and they just look silly. Not only have Zvezda made a set with little regard for the claimed scale on the box, they have made sure these will not mix with the small but very useful range from Revell, which is a tragic waste. We dropped these figures two points for being the wrong size, but some customers will probably drop a good many more points than that. We'll say it again - a tragic waste.