When Napoleon committed his Imperial Guard to action on the evening of June 18th, 1815, he was playing his last card, and it failed. The reputation of the Guard was unequalled - it had never been defeated in battle - yet it could not rescue the deteriorating situation. As a result, Napoleon lost France and the Imperial Guard disappeared into history and legend, only to be remembered and commemorated in many ways, not least in 1/72 scale plastic figures.
It is perhaps surprising that Airfix left this set until quite late in their range. However what they produced was a very nice collection of figures, with many of the same figures appearing in the 1/32 scale set. The 16 poses include some very welcome pieces such as the drummer and porte-Aigle, both of whom are standing watching rather than on the march, which is an unusual choice of pose. The officer is much more animated, as are several of the men, though there are also several who seem to be on guard or in camp rather than in battle. The man sitting and holding his head in his hands is particularly unusual, and could be a casualty or simply relaxing in camp. While the generous number of poses is welcome, many are not suitable for battle.
The detail on these models is excellent, allowing us to examine every aspect of the uniform. The bearskin has a grenade on the rear patch, which was introduced in 1808, and the turn-backs on the tails continue to the bottom, which feature first appeared in 1810. However the tails themselves are long, hanging to the knees, which suggests a pre 1810 date. Details such as the vertical pockets and the design on the cartridge pouch are well executed without being so deep as to be exaggerated. The guardsmen wear gaiters to above the knee, and are basically in full dress except for the lack of the cords and a plume on the cap. The Guard are known to have worn full dress in several of their actions, though this is unlikely at Waterloo. The inclusion of a guardsman in greatcoat is a nice touch, particularly as he appears to be on guard duty, although many guardsmen fought at Waterloo in their greatcoats.
The arms and equipment are OK, though no-one has a canteen or water bottle of any sort (these were never official issue, but everyone provided themselves with one). Also there is no evidence for the spontoon, which is presumably meant to be carried by a sergeant, so this figure is not useful. The flag has not been engraved with a design, but is in any event limp and the far more important eagle is present, and the drummer has an authentic-looking drum (all too rare a feature for some manufacturers). The officer's sword suffers from poor plastic flow and is too short in some pressings of this set.
By the last years of the Napoleonic Wars the Imperial Guard was a huge organisation, but the bearskins with front plates show that these men are grenadiers of the Old Guard, the most famous and prestigious of the Guard infantry regiments. This is a really good set, well sculpted and with plenty of detail, though it does suffer from flash around many of the figures. The man walking and carrying his musket on his right is not on the march as he should be carrying it on his left, and holding it by supporting the trigger guard with an arm on his chest. Our complaints about different timelines for the uniform are all pretty minor and shouldn't detract too much from the set. However Waterloo is probably the least appropriate of the actions for these men as they are far too smart. All the men have the required queue, moustache and sideburns, and really do look the part. This is an example from when Airfix were at the high point of their production standards, and remains a popular set even today, decades after it was first made.