When France found itself at war once more in 1914, the army was far from what the eternally optimistic French people thought it was. Since the humiliations of 1870, political point scoring by politicians and a conservative arrogance by the higher ranks meant the army was particularly old-fashioned, not least in terms of equipment, dress and tactics. However, having at least contained the initial invasion, rapid steps were made to improve matters, and by the first anniversary of the start of hostilities much good work had already been done. For small-scale uncoloured plastic figures the most obvious change was the introduction of a steel helmet - the Adrian - which was officially adopted in May 1915 and appeared in very large numbers over the following months. All these Pegasus figures have the Adrian, so as a starting point are likely to date from mid-1915 to the end of the war.
A closer inspection of these figures reveals that all but the officer wear the very common capote, or overcoat (in this case double-breasted), puttees round the lower legs and ankle boots. This was the usual uniform when in battle, and has been correctly done here in all respects. The men all have the correct rifle equipment, with the three ammunition pouches, and also carry the two-spout water bottle and the haversack. Many, though not all, carry the metal gas mask container (here suspended by cords from the waist belt), which moves the appropriate start date for those figures to late 1915 at the earliest. Early in the war the men usually advanced wearing their packs, but by this stage the pack was usually left behind. Later in the war 'assault order' was a rolled blanket across the chest, but no one here has this either, which is a pity as it would have been more typical for that time (and the set is after all labelled for 1917/18). Also absent is any other form of squad item such as wire cutters.
While there is some flexibility in terms of weaponry, most of these figures will inevitably have rifles. These are long, and with very long and slender bayonets, so very much look the part. For the early part of the war the rifles should be Lebels, which these are not, but in 1916 the better Berthier rifle was issued. These look like Berthiers apart from missing the bulge in front of the trigger where the three (later five) round clip would go. In fact they look most like the very old Gras 1874 rifle, which did see service in the Great War but in very limited numbers. However it is obvious these are intended to be Berthiers, as they should be, and the inaccuracies are so tiny as to defy all but the most detailed examination by the most pedantic of collectors.
During the War the French had one quite good automatic weapon - the Hotchkiss machine gun - and several bad ones. The Hotchkiss is the weapon on the tripod in the bottom row, with the gunner and a second gunner feeding one of the strips of ammunition that it took. As with the rifles this is a highly detailed and slender model that looks really good. The other weapon on show here, the Chauchat, is also a nice model, but represents a much-disliked weapon. Its many faults did not prevent its widespread use, and it was best used with the bipod down, as shown in the very nice piece in the third row. The Chauchat was originally designed to be fired while on the move, rather like the later submachine guns, but this was a very difficult task that was deeply unpopular, although one pose (in the second row) provides the option to depict this, which is OK, although as the bipod is down rather than folded up, perhaps it is just being moved a very short distance. The Chauchat started to appear in quantities from autumn 1916.
The 16 poses provide for a good many ordinary riflemen as well as the more exotic weapons, and the only pose that you could argue is missing is one of a man on the march. However you do get a good number of men firing, advancing and other useful battle poses, so there can be no complaints about what is on offer. The first figure in the second row holds a rifle-borne grenade, which is a good pose, but really all the poses are good, undoubtedly helped by the multi-part feature of many of them. The prone man firing the Chauchat on the raised base is particularly praiseworthy, as are both the machine gun crewmen.
These figures carry on the fine tradition of outstanding Pegasus sculpting, with beautifully proportioned and naturally lifelike figures dripping in all the detail you could want. A glance at the sprue will tell you that many of the figures have separate arms or other parts, which is key to the terrific poses that have been achieved. However we did find that some of these arms did not fit quite as well as they might, and putting the whole thing together was more of a struggle than we have come to expect, including some places where we had to cut down pegs to force a better fit without large gaps at the shoulders. The last figure in the second row, who has a choice of rifle or Chauchat, is however equipped for the rifle, as he would otherwise have the special pouches for the Chauchat ammunition, and should also have a pistol. So offering choices does have its own drawbacks, although again it is hard to complain about choice. There is no flash, and apart from the helmet of the man with the rifle grenade (which has no rim) these are very nicely produced figures if sometimes rather hard to put together.
A couple of extra pieces of equipment would not have gone amiss, some rolled blankets would have been nice and ideally both the Hotchkiss crewmen should have pistols, but unless you are going to get really picky about the rifles this set is entirely historically accurate. The poses are certainly as good as you could ask for, so it is only the difficulty of putting some arms in shoulders that could have been bettered in this generally excellent collection of figures.