In a war which many people associate with the machine gun, artillery caused far more casualties and dramatically changed the face of war forever. In theatres where the war was conducted in lines of opposing static trenches, as on the Western Front, it was the big guns that caused the most damage, but where open mobile war was still possible the smaller guns such as those in this set came into their own. The elite Royal Horse Artillery had the task of giving artillery support to the cavalry, and in Africa, the Middle East and the first few weeks of the war in France and Belgium it performed this task admirably. Once static trench warfare developed, it became increasingly used in the same way as the Royal Field Artillery.
The most common gun of the RFA was the 18-pounder, named like all guns after the weight of the shell, but as this is the RHA the gun here is the 13-pounder - almost identical to its larger calibre cousin. The set includes two such pieces, but it must be said these are extremely simplified models stripped of almost all details and far from a good representation. This allows the gun to be made up of just four parts - the gun, axle and two wheels - so it is quick and easy to assemble, but is a very basic representation, though the general shape is mostly correct. The barrel protrudes below the recuperator too much, making it look more like the 18-pounder, but the general characteristics and the size mean it more closely matches the 13-pounder, as it should at this stage of the war.
To move the gun Airfix have happily provided a full 6-horse team and limber. However again this is greatly simplified, being little more than a box on wheels. As with their Napoleonic RHA set, Airfix provided a simplified means of harnessing the team which bears little resemblance to the reality. In this case the rear pair of horses are attached to the limber directly, and the rest are attached via strips that plug into their sides. The front four horses also have a base, but as usual the horses fit poorly in the holes in the thin base, and the same goes for the strips of the harness. Even when glued the model is pretty fragile.
And so to the men themselves. Three men ride the left of each pair of horses, and two more ride on the limber. The riders are all looking in different directions, and all are holding their whips. All are wearing standard British uniform for the very early part of the war, including the stiff Service Dress peaked cap, so they match perfectly the Airfix British Infantry set. These men are also wearing the 50-round bandoliers of rifle ammunition, which was normal, though these are again simplified and should only have five pouches. They also hang very low, touching the belt, whereas the original was quite tight under the armpit. The riders should also have protectors on their right leg to protect them from mishaps, but are otherwise not too bad. The main problem with the two on the limber is they should not be there at all - horse artillery crew all rode their own horses to keep the weight down for the team.
Finally we have the crew - an officer and eight men. For reasons that escape us, only the officer has a base, and while the kneeling and sitting men do not absolutely need one, the standing man does. Perhaps this was to allow them to be close to the gun, but we would have much preferred a normal base which the customer could then trim or remove if desired. All the Other Ranks are in shirt-sleeve order, which is excellent and makes them far more believable than many sets where the crew are in first class parade dress. Most of the poses are of clutching shells, but they look OK when gathered round the gun. Not ideal poses to be sure, but they look very much like a number of images of the action at Nery on September 1st 1914, when some guns were heroically served despite tremendous losses.
Two of the men have very noticeable circular mould marks, which is a shame, and the second figure on the top row is missing part of his forearm, though this is not too noticeable. The officer appears to have a binocular case slung around his neck. All the poses are well proportioned and reasonable.
This set was a real favourite among collectors, partly because it was withdrawn from production quite early on. More recently it was reissued by Hat, so it no longer has the same scarcity value. Despite this popularity, however, it does not hold up well to a close examination. Of course it was always conceived as a toy, and as such many of its 'faults' were simply unnecessary extra work at the time it was made. As a set with a long history, the quality of the pressing varies, though most examples seem to have a lot of flash to remove. Shortcuts like having a hook on the end of the trail to fit into an eye on the limber (the reverse is accurate) add to the problems, and yet somehow this is a difficult model to dismiss. Remarkably the gun and team are still in service with the Royal Artillery today, being used by the Kings Troop for ceremonial occasions such as salutes. It's nice to see such a veteran still going strong, in both full size and model form.