Officially created in 1804 and 1805, voltigeurs were light infantry which had actually been around well before these dates. The plan was that they were smaller men, more nimble and trained to act as skirmishers or otherwise help support the main body of the infantry, which would be fusiliers and grenadiers. Since they were considered an elite, membership provided a privileged status for those too small for the grenadiers, at least in theory. The typical French regiment in 1815 had several battalions, each comprising six companies – four of fusiliers, one of grenadiers and one of voltigeurs. Voltigeurs would often be seen deployed in front of the main line, sniping at the enemy to keep them at a distance and perhaps inflict a few early casualties.
These figures are supplied already cut off from the sprue, so initially it is not apparent that there are only six poses on offer. That is not a lot by modern standards, though at least the whole set is devoted to this one type of infantry; the first for the Waterloo period. The poses are of men firing, loading and moving about, which covers the usual activities when such men are acting as skirmishers on the battlefield. Plenty of other poses could have been done, but with only six to play with we thought these were quite well chosen. The man kneeling while reloading is unusual because this is no easy task to perform, but since these men were often relatively close to the enemy, and not in formation themselves, the benefits of keeping your head down as you reloaded are easy to see.
The uniform of the ordinary infantry (fusiliers) at Waterloo has been detailed several times on this site, and it was little different for the voltigeur companies. The basic ‘Bardin’ coatee of square lapels and short tails as introduced from 1812 is worn by all these figures, although we would have liked to have seen some wearing trousers, as was common practice by this time. Had they been wearing trousers then we would not have been able to tell that the gaiters here are very long, reaching to well above the knee, which was incorrect by this stage as regulations stated they should be below the knee. The shako worn by these men has the upper and lower reinforcement, often coloured yellow for such troops, along with chevrons on either side, which is correctly done here. They also have a pompon with a tuft on top, which again is accurate. The official shako plate had an eagle over a semi-circular plate with the regimental number, but when the King returned to France in 1814 the eagles were snipped off, and by Waterloo it is likely few had been replaced, which leaves just the plate as shown on all these figures. Other distinctive features for voltigeurs included the sword/bayonet combined frog which they carried on a belt over the right shoulder, which is properly done here, though one man is missing the bayonet scabbard. They also have fringed epaulettes on the shoulders – another sign of their elite status seen on these figures. Kit was much the same, though the cartridge pouches on these figures are all much too small, being only about 2 mm square when they should be twice as wide.
The sculpting is on a par with other recent releases from this company, which is to say mostly very good. Detail is clear and we liked the very natural appearance of all of them. Having said that the detail does occasionally fail, so for instance all of the fringes of the epaulettes are modelled smooth here, and the cuffs are very vague too. More obviously three of the poses have a dramatic loss of flesh around the left shoulder, which you cannot see on our photos but looks very weird from the other side. The only assembly is for the kneeling loading man, who has a separate knapsack to attach. All the men have this item, but only this one pose has it separate, though as he has the necessary straps this is not really optional. There is no peg or similar guide to attachment – you simply glue it to the man’s smooth back, so use a strong glue. Generally there is little flash or excess plastic, though this does vary.
So the sculpting is pretty good, as are the poses, though more would have been nice. The figures average about 1.75 metres in height, which is acceptable for the general male population of the day, but the voltigeurs were supposed to be a maximum height of 1.6 metres, making these rather too tall. To what extent this height restriction was observed we cannot be sure now, but it is worthy of note. The figures look good and are usable despite the niggles over points of accuracy, so despite the annoyances this is a set we liked.