Most wars tend to be remembered for particular battles, while the decisive element is often overlooked. Such is the Crimean War, which was overwhelmingly about one thing - the siege and capture of the Russian port of Sevastopol. Sieges are rarely exciting, and it is natural that everyone, including model manufacturers, tend to concentrate on famous episodes when the action moved quickly, but the story of the war would certainly not be complete without the big guns that pounded Sevastopol for months on end. As the major partner in the allied army it was the French that played the biggest part in the siege, but the British too brought their big guns and participated in the remorseless reduction of the town’s defences as well as the six major bombardments that would eventually lead to its fall.
Since our first few pictures are of the crew we will begin by discussing them. All belong to the Royal Artillery, which is a particularly significant observation as we will discuss shortly. They wear the uniform worn for most or all of the war, which for the majority is the coatee with long tails - a very old-fashioned style by this date. All had two rows of buttons down the front making it a double-breasted garment, but unfortunately all the figures here have been given a single row of buttons down the middle, apart from the fourth man in the top row, whose buttons follow their own unique course. The rest of the coatee looks OK, including the length of the tails, the cuffs and the fringed epaulettes on both shoulders. By regulation the artillery wore a shako almost identical to the infantry 'Albert' shako, but very soon after landing these were put in store and the men fought the war in the more comfortable forage cap with no peak but a central button on the top. Happily many of these figures wear this, but there are still three gunners who wear the shako, which is regrettable. We always like to see gunners in their natural state - in shirt sleeves as they do their hot work, and two of these figures are dressed this way, which must have been a common sight. One man wears an interesting single-breasted tunic – perhaps the sole representation of the new uniform issued very late in the war, but while we usually like variety it seems a bit odd to have just one figure like this.
The men correctly have a waist belt which carries their bayonet, and a shoulder belt over the left shoulder that supports their ammunition pouch. Knapsacks were usually left with the wagons, so it is good to seen none here. The rest of the kit was made up by a haversack and canteen, but these make only a partial appearance here, although given that these men are largely static it is easy to imagine them laying aside some items when in action.
The two officers offer a pleasing choice of uniform items. The first, waving a sword in the air, wears an elaborately decorated frock coat and a peaked forage cap, while the second wears a coatee much closer to the real thing than his men, as well as a poorly modelled shako. Both men have the proper sword suspended from a waist belt and a sash tied at the left side, which is correct. As always officers were more inclined to depart from regulations, but both these men are fairly accurate and quite smart. The problems of British supply, particularly during the first winter, are well known, so a considerable range of winter clothing would have been perfectly appropriate, but as they are these figures are not too bad apart from the mistakes already mentioned.
Our first thought on the poses is that there are not nearly enough of them. Depending on circumstances, it could easily have taken twice the 14 men included in this set to serve the three guns that are provided. The poses include some fairly generic artillery examples, and many are quite reasonable, but given the guns in the set some came as a surprise. The first figure in the second row holds a short ramrod - clearly far too short for the gun, so this must be for the mortar, although mortar sponges were usually a little fatter than this. Equally his neighbour carries a scoop, and since the guns used prepared charges and only mortars used loose powder he too must be for the smaller weapon. This leaves us wondering why there are no gunners really suitable for the big gun. No one is carrying equipment suitable for its use, and even the firer holds his match too low down for it. As a crew for the mortar these are fine, but not good enough for the big gun.
And so we come to the guns themselves, and to begin with there is the large gun on the left of our picture. The text on the box implies this is meant to be a naval gun, and indeed the Royal Navy supplied many guns to assist in the siege. These included some enormous 64-pounders, but what we have here is smaller than that. It looks too large for a standard 18-pounder, so is probably either a 24- or 32-pounder (or the equivalents). Its muzzle has a strange bulge that much exaggerates the reinforcement on the real thing - as illustrated on the box itself - but of more interest is the carriage. This is either a naval carriage or a garrison standing carriage - both seem to have been used for these guns in the lines around Sevastopol. However if it is as the box suggests a naval gun then we feel entitled to ask where are the crew? The navy guns came with their crews, so the complete absence of seamen here suggests they are Royal Artillery guns. Many such guns are shown without the trucks (wheels) on the carriage, and since these are separate they can be omitted if preferred, and it would be a fairly simple task to fashion a rear chock carriage too.
There were no heavy howitzers in the British siege train at Sevastopol, so mortars played a very large part in their stead. Both 10 inch and 13 inch types were used, but by the size this model must be the 10 inch version. This is a simple but reasonable model, and again while we have pictured it with the supplied trucks these can and generally should be left off.
The guns are quite simple but fairly well done, while the men display the usual Strelets rough finish and out-of-proportion details. There is some flatness to some of the poses, and some detail can get a bit vague in places, but as usual there is no flash anywhere. We found the guns fitted together well enough although the trucks took a lot of filing and pushing before they would go on. Still at least they won’t be falling off again.
The field artillery played little part in the Crimean War, but the siege artillery, including the naval guns, had a huge part to play, so this is a great addition to the range. However the quality of the figures is not so great, and the lapses in accuracy are a shame too. A second sprue of the figures would have been an improvement in our view, and ideally some more naval-looking gunners, although what we have here is reasonably serviceable, and the figures could also be used for field artillery if the necessary guns are found.