Prussian arms, and particularly the cavalry, entered the Napoleonic Wars with a high reputation based largely on the exploits of their grandfathers under Frederick the Great. As so often, this bred an arrogance and over-confidence that contributed to the disastrous defeats of 1806. Few hussar regiments survived those setbacks and the reorganisation that followed, and a new set of regulations effectively demoted the cavalry to a support arm for the infantry, which was premature as at the time the cavalry could still be a major independent force on the battlefield. However none of this seems to have reduced the appeal of the hussars, still in their splendid traditional uniforms and with an air of superiority and glamour other types of horsemen could not match.
In a refreshing change from the norm, the hussars in this set are not in a full charge – indeed they are not even engaged in combat of any sort. It had traditionally been the role of light cavalry such as this to protect flanks, reconnoitre the ground ahead and so on, and while all cavalry were increasingly expected to do this, it remained a major role for hussars, so just about all of these poses could be engaged in this non-violent activity. No man has his sword drawn, and while several have their carbine in their hand, none look like they are about to use it. Instead we see men smoking, taking a drink or just doing nothing in particular. This works equally well as men waiting for the order to go into battle, or waiting to go on parade in peacetime. The one major (and obvious) fly in the ointment is the man holding an infantry flag. Hussars were issued standards fairly late in the wars, but this is clearly far too large to be one of those. We can think of no reason why a hussar would ever get his hands on such a flag, and so this pose is quite useless in an otherwise very commendable and likable selection of natural poses.
The horse poses are equally relaxed, and are exactly the same as are found in the sets of dragoons and uhlans from Strelets. All are standing and one looks to be feeding, which matches the stance of the men perfectly. However the physique of these animals is not well done – they all seem to be very rounded and with little apparent musculature. The shape of the heads too is rather simplistic, as are the tiny ears, done to make the sculpting easier no doubt. Hussars usually had a sheepskin over the saddle with ‘wolf’s teeth’ edging, but these animals all have a larger, more rectangular cloth with no jagged edge, which is not correct. Since the same models appear in sets of different types of cavalry, they are clearly a compromise, so less than ideal for hussars. Also the saddles clearly have pistols at the front, which hussars did not carry.
Prussian hussars wore the traditional hussar uniform very familiar to all students of the period. Shakos had started to be introduced in 1804, but this took years to apply to all regiments, so these figures mainly date from perhaps 1807 or so. Prussian troops wore a cover over their shakos when on campaign, as some here do, but of course these men might not be on campaign, so both conditions are valid. Those that are uncovered reveal a Totenkopf or Death’s Head badge of skull and cross-bones, which identifies these men as belonging to either the 5th Hussars or, after 1808, the 1st or 2nd Life Hussars. While that is very specific, the badge is easy to remove or blur so they could represent any regiment, and those with a cover are already more generic anyway. Above the badge is a cockade, so the headgear looks good. Each man wears a dolman, which has been nicely done with the braiding on the chest. When on campaign the hussars usually wore the pelisse on the body, but for parade it would be hanging from the shoulder, yet only one of these figures wears one at all. Uniform plates generally show them wearing the pelisse one way or the other, but there are some prints (by Knötel for example) that show no pelisse, so perhaps this was preferred wear in warm weather. A barrel sash round the waist and overalls on the legs complete the costume.
The men have been given a carbine apart from the trumpeter and the last man, who could be a suitable officer figure. They also have a belt over the left shoulder that supports a cartridge pouch on the back, and another for the carbine. A sword sits on the left side along with the sabretache, which here has no clear design but is of the correct shape.
These are really well-sculpted figures. Detail on hussars is extensive and for their size these are very nicely done. The braiding is great, but so too are the faces (especially those moustaches) and hands, and we really loved the smaller extras like the pipe one is smoking. Also a joy is the fact that there is very little flash, and that all the men sit perfectly on the horses – tight enough to be a comfortable fit without gluing, yet not so tight that they don’t sit properly on the saddle. All cavalry figures should be this way in our view.
In many ways this is a really great set. We loved the sculpting (of the men, not the horses) and the engineering of the mould, plus most of the poses. There are no accuracy problems apart from the saddle-cloth, assuming the pelisse was not always worn, so the only issue is the waste of the pose holding an infantry flag for no discernible reason. Although the lack of action poses may mean some find less to like about this set, we thought it was a terrific selection really well done, and if the horses could be improved then the men probably cannot, which is quite an accomplishment.