When France went to war in August 1914 her cavalry wore spectacular but completely out-dated uniforms that had changed little since 1870 and would have been very recognisable to anyone who had served in the armies of Napoleon I a century before. However once the fighting began common sense was finally allowed to prevail, and a number of temporary changes were made to mitigate some of the worst problems while work was accelerated on a more modern uniform. The new uniform reached the cavalry in mid-1915, by which time the static trench system had become well established and the long-cherished role of the cavalry was seen to be largely redundant. Many cavalry regiments were simply converted into infantry (in all but name), yet large numbers of horsed cavalry were retained in the hope of exploiting a breakthrough. For most of the war then French cavalry looked like the figures in this set, as they continually strove to repel the invader from their country and from Belgium.
The 1915 uniform was much the same as that of the infantry, as both were issued tunics and greatcoats along with the trousers and Adrian helmet. The infantry almost always were the greatcoat, but the cavalry often wore the tunic, and that is what these men are wearing. With its standing collar this has been properly done here, as have the trousers and short boots covered by leather gaiters. The helmets look great and the various items of kit are all correct too. One item that did raise concerns was the sword everyone here wears. The officer has his on his left side while the troopers have theirs on the right. Some sources claim only the cuirassiers had the sword on the right side, and since these are not cuirassiers (no cuirassier ever carried a lance), it should be on the left. However there is some disagreement on this point, and some photos seem to show lance-armed cavalry with the sword on the right, so it is probably fine as it is here.
The saddle and other equine equipment looks OK too, although not everything is here, notably the leather pouches on the front of the saddle and extra saddle bags. The rolled blankets and coats shown at the front and back of the saddle are separate items, as are the bandoliers that were commonly carried round the horse’s neck when on duty. These are the same animals as used in the HaT sets of Turkish and British cavalry, so like them there are no reins, and we thought the basic anatomy of the animals was not the best. Some of the poses too are a little odd but nothing too bad.
We have already talked about the swords, but clearly the primary weapon for these men is the lance. Like many other countries, France insisted on many men carrying lances, and by 1914 these had been issued to many dragoons, as well as some light cavalry hussars and chasseurs, so since there were no distinguishable differences in uniform that is what is depicted here. The lances are fine, and all the men also carry a carbine, which one man holds. The officer has been given a sword and a revolver, so all the weaponry is accurate.
The poses may seem a bit unimaginative, but that is largely down to the choices we have made for photography. The first and fourth figures come complete, but the rest have separate right arms with which the pose can be altered. We chose an upright position for the two separate lancer figures, but you could just as easily have them leveled or somewhere in between, and equally the officer’s separate sword arm could be placed much lower than we have done. The third man is holding his lance very low down the shaft, which looks very odd in our photo and little better if moved to the horizontal, so we were not so keen on that arrangement. Other than that, since these men are lancers we thought the poses were fine and workmanlike, which is what many customers want rather than dramatic action poses - and remember there were very few opportunities for lancers to be involved in any dramatic action by this period anyway.
Sculpting is pretty good. Detail is everywhere very deep and clear, so should be very easy to paint. The bandoliers for the horse’s necks are very vague, however, but the lances are nice and slim, there is no flash, and no unwanted plastic between parts the mould cannot reach. The equipment being attached to the horses is not the best of joins, although it works well enough, so this is a very decent piece of work.
Photos of French cavalry from 1915 onwards show them on guard duty, patrolling and reconnaissance, where the lance would be held upright like this and the back straight, while the horse does no more than walk. These figures don't look like they are in combat, and to be honest nor should they, so this set delivers a realistic collection of France’s much loved cavalry as they struggled to find a role for themselves in a modern, industrial and increasingly mechanised war.