The Austrian army enjoyed a good reputation after the successes in Italy in 1848/9, but ten years later Sardinia was ready once again to try and expel Austria from her Italian provinces, and this time she would receive French help. The war of 1859, known by several names including the Second War of Italian Independence, would see Austria face Sardinia and France in battles such as Solferino, where 100,000 Austrian troops faced larger Franco/Sardinian forces (the largest battle since Leipzig in 1813). Austrian defeat would herald a massive leap forward in the eventual unification of Italy.
It should be said right from the start that these figures are far from ideal in terms of accuracy. Some things we thought simply unusual, such as the lack of shako covers and the trousers worn over the gaiters rather than tucked in to them or rolled up, but other problems are much more serious. To begin with, the shako is too tall, and should slope down gently towards the front, not be level or slope up as happens here. In 1859 the men wore the kittel, a kind of working tunic which was not originally intended for front line duty, but while it is correctly shown here as double-breasted there are too few buttons (perhaps indicative of sculpting such small items in this scale) and the standing collar seems too low. All have a cartridge pouch which magically hangs in the small of their back - the crossbelt that should support this on the right hip is missing in all cases apart from the drummer, whose belt is present but supports nothing. The troops should have another crossbelt over the right shoulder which supports the bayonet scabbard, but again, no one has this vital piece of equipment, nor for that matter a canteen. Also missing is the small cap pouch which would have been held where the two crossbelts crossed on the chest. The foot officer carries a straight sword when it should be curved, and the drummer should have the traditional wings on his shoulders rather than the ordinary infantry straps. Most Austrian troops carried the Lorenz rifle-musket, but although this did have three bands holding the barrel to the stock, they were not spaced as shown on these figures. On the plus side, half the men wear their greatcoat rolled round the knapsack and half wear it rolled across the shoulder, the latter being authorised as the weather got warmer during the year.
We have saved the worst accuracy problem until last. The flag that has been included in this set has been engraved on both sides with an eagle design, making it unsuitable for use as the Leibfahne. It is approximately 80cms tall when it should be 130cms, and 94cms wide when it should be about 160. In short, it looks pretty pathetic. The design, which is the same on both sides, is interesting. It shows the eagle of the Austrian Republic, created in 1919. In its talons it holds a hammer and sickle, symbols of the workers and farmers of the new republic, and beneath it there is a broken chain, added to mark the 'liberation' of Austria from the Nazis in 1945. Needless to say this is nonsense for 1859, and should show the Habsburg double-headed eagle wearing a crown and holding a sword and orb. The finial is also the republican Austrian eagle, when it should be a spear head type design. The only thing to be done is to cut off the flag, and the eagle finial, and add a paper one of the correct size and design. Such a shame that extra effort was made to produce something that is so obviously wrong.
To our eyes the poses are none too great. The principal problem of course is that there is four of everything, so 10% of the men are carrying a flag, 10% a drum and so on. Of the few poses of ordinary infantrymen most are concerned with a firing line, so little use if you want your troops to advance, march or just stand awaiting orders. There is a lot of stiffness in these poses, with very straight arms such as that of the dismounted officer. The rearing horse would not be our first choice for a mounted infantry officer either.
The sculpting leaves something to be desired as well. Detail is actually pretty good and quite clear, and there is no flash worthy of the name, but we did not care for the style of these figures, which do not look particularly realistic. The mounted officer fits his horse very well, and both stand OK despite the apparent small base.
These are 'German' troops (as opposed to Hungarian), and the Austrian infantry was always going to be the most important for the campaign of 1859. All the more disappointing then that they turn out to be so poorly researched and not well sculpted. Regardless of their republican flag these troops were amongst the finest the Habsburg Empire could field, yet there is nothing fine about these models.