Napoleon must be history’s most famous gunner, and while he did not introduce any significant technical advances into his artillery he changed the way it was used on the battlefield, making it a much more important element of his armies. Zvezda have already produced a set of Napoleonic horse artillery by issuing the Italeri French Line/Guard Artillery, and with this set they add the foot artillery.
Zvezda set themselves a very high standard with their Russian Foot Artillery, but at first glance this set seems every bit as impressive. To begin with there are six gunner poses, all of whom are excellent and very appropriate. The ventsman at the end of the first row about to prick the powder bag is not a pose that has been done before, and while we have seen men using handspikes before, here one man is using two. The latter figure has a separate arm to facilitate the pose, but all the figures have separate knapsacks which peg onto their packs. This might seem to make them optional, but leaving them off would still leave the straps in place, and either a hole or peg in the middle of the back. Still for more experienced modellers this is not a difficult limitation to overcome. Usually artillerymen did not wear their packs while serving the guns because they would obviously hinder movement, and this is even more relevant here as all the packs have muskets slung over them, which would make some actions almost impossible, so we would suggest the packs be left off. All the figures are excellently sculpted with great detail that is clear and sharp. However the man with the handspikes has been moulded in such a way as to lose all detail from his front, so some imagination or a steady paintbrush is required there.
The box claims these figures to be for the period 1810-1815, but this seems to be a randomly selected era which has little to do with the actual figures. They all wear the shako, introduced in 1807, and a long tailed open habite-veste which was worn until the Bardin closed lapel model in 1813. They also have gaiters to above the knee, which again disappeared in 1813, so for the figures a period of 1807-13 is more accurate. Curiously all are in full dress, with full shako ornaments and no sign of campaign trousers, and they also wear the fringed epaulettes, which were not officially sanctioned but do seem to have been worn. The extent to which full dress was worn in battle is a subject for eternal discussion, but we were surprised to see it modelled here.
Another point of interest is whether these figures are line or Guard. The first Guard foot artillery appeared in 1808, and were dressed in identical fashion to the line (for the purposes of such small scale figures at least), until in 1810 they were given fur caps more in keeping with their Guard status. Therefore for this short period these figures are equally suitable for Guard units apart from the minor detail that these figures do not have their hair powdered and in a queue.
Next we find the guns, and these are constructed much like those in the aforementioned Russian artillery set, with no less than 11 pieces making up each gun. This allows considerable detail, which is great, and even means the gun barrel is actually held by the cap squares. As was normal with the larger calibre guns there are two trunnion rests - one for firing and one for transport, but since the whole thing must be snapped together you must decide which position to place the barrel during construction as it cannot be moved afterwards. Each gun comes with a choice of two barrels which are 24mm and 27mm in length, suitable for 8- and 12-pounder cannon.
The set also includes a six-horse team limber. This team is constructed much like the Russian set and some Italeri sets, with many separate pieces to harness each horse. While the result is still inevitably simplified it is easily the most realistic model of this very complicated arrangement, with accurate harness and traces, and is well worth the time required to put it together. Sadly all the left-hand horses are one pose and all the right another, which gives a rather unnatural uniformity to the team, but in every other respect this is a great model. The way it is put together also means it is easy to omit the front two horses, or indeed the front four, in order to achieve whatever strength team is desired. Equally extra pairs could be added easily if required. Excellent.
The real bonus in this set is the caisson, or ammunition wagon. Each gun was assigned several such long thin carriages, which would have stood close to the guns, yet this is the first time such an important item has been produced in this scale. The horse team is identical to that of the limber, and the lid is removable, although no internal detail has been sculpted. As with the limber the detail of this wagon is excellent, even down to the important large spare wheel at the back, but there is one omission as the separate toolbox that sat at the front of the wagon is missing here (a pity as there is room enough on the sprue for this simple item). Doubtless many examples of this set will be sold simply to get hold of this model.
The last component to consider is the drivers. These are six identical poses, holding their whip in their right hand. They too wear the pre-1813 coatee, but this has been given long tails, which is a mistake as every reference we could find for any part of the Napoleonic period mentions only short tails. They also have a full plume and decorative cords on their shakos, both of which were officially suppressed in 1810, but still sometimes worn it seems.
As usual we find ourselves gushing over a Zvezda set, but they do have a knack of providing something extra with these sorts of sets, even though this is larger, and therefore more expensive, than most of the range. Again the engineering is perfect - in putting together all the models pictured above we never once had to remove any flash nor even consider reaching for the glue - an impressive achievement. The long tails for the drivers and the choice of full dress - attractive but perhaps not normal - are the main disappointments, and the packs with the slung muskets should be discarded, but in our view this is another very good set. The careless accuracy problems mar what is for the most part an excellent sculpting job that has been well put together.