Most recruits to the Russian Army during the Napoleonic Wars were either serfs or peasants. Both had a hard life working as subsistence agricultural labourers, and serfs were little more than slaves, almost entirely at the mercy of their master. Yet even for such people, entering the army was usually seen as a punishment and something to be greatly feared. Life in the army was tough too, but they would also be away from everyone they knew for the enlistment period (25 years) and there would be a high probability of not surviving until their service had expired. With such a large reservoir of manpower to call on, Russian tactics famously sacrificed lives much more readily than in other European armies, yet the soldiers suffered this treatment with a stoicism foreigners found remarkable, and no enemy, be he Ottoman or French, could afford to underestimate what these stubborn and long-suffering men could achieve for their Tsar.
Strelets have made many sets such as this where most of the figures are in more or less the same pose, and the ‘shoulder arms’ pose is very appropriate to formed troops on the Napoleonic battlefield. All the men hold the musket against their left shoulder, as they should, with small differences being in the position of the arms and the details of their dress. Two figures in the lower row have their muskets on their right, showing them to be NCOs of one sort or another (the differences were in lace, so undetectable at this scale), and the four command figures are also standing still. The drummer is standing (but not at attention) and holds his sticks in his hand, but is clearly not actually beating his drum, and the flag-bearer has the colours uncased, but there is apparently no wind to reveal the flag in all its glory. The two officers are also standing, and would work in many situations, including addressing their men or watching events from a distance (although they would have been much more appropriate for the battlefield if they had been mounted). So whether on the parade-ground or waiting to move to battle, these are useful and well-done poses.
The uniform is exactly the same as for the rest of the Russian infantry sets recently released by Strelets. The shako shape with the slightly curved top dates them to 1812 or thereafter, and all other aspects of the uniform and kit agree with this dating. So we see the tall thin plume and the rectangular knapsack worn square on the shoulders. The coat and trousers are properly done, and where the shako is uncovered it reveals the cords and triple-flame grenade badge of grenadiers, which is repeated on the cartridge pouches. Every man has a haversack on his left hip, and a flask attached to his knapsack. One man also carries a hatchet, and all have the bayonet scabbard. The flag-bearer is dressed as an officer, including long-tailed coat and gorget at the throat, and the drummer has the usual swallow’s nest epaulettes and chevron decoration down the sleeves. Both officers look to be very senior, and the first wears the officer’s coat, sash and a bicorn, so looks more than just a field officer. The last figure is even further up the seniority list, for although he wears a simple coat with fringed epaulettes and a private’s forage cap, he has one eye covered and is clearly meant to be none other than General Kutuzov himself (although most pictures do not show him with his missing eye covered like this).
The sculptor of this and the other recent sets in this range is clearly amongst the best in the business in our view and these are lovely figures; slender and well-proportioned, with plenty of detail and nice, expressive faces. You can even make out clearly the decorations worn by the officer at his breast and throat. The muskets suffer some loss of detail, which is unavoidable since they do not directly face the mould, but there is nothing to complain of here. The drooping flag is nicely done, although it may be a little smaller than the real thing, though this is very hard to assess or even notice when it is like this. The drum too is excellent, despite being part of the figure rather than separate, so we cannot fault the sculpting, and although there is a little flash and a slightly tatty finish at the seam, this is not too bad and not down to the sculptor.
The curve of the top of the shako is less pronounced than is sometimes seen on figures, but still looks okay. We particularly liked all the big and little variations, like the figures wearing the 1811 forage cap, and those with a cover on their shako. All have the greatcoats rolled and worn across the body in the usual style, and all have their coat collars open. By 1812 these were supposed to be closed, but it seems few had complied with this change until well after the French invasion and retreat of that year, so this is appropriate here.
So a terrific set of figures once again. Not the most exciting poses ever made, but they are very useful, particularly for wargamers, and the command figures really add much to the set. There isn’t really much more you could have asked for in such a set, hence the almost perfect scores below!