While Napoleon I was in charge, France raised something like 2.4 million soldiers of all types to fight her many wars, and brought the compulsory raising of large numbers of troops to an efficient and industrial level. The elite Guard and the cavalry captured much of the attention, but far more men experienced the wars as ordinary infantry in her armies. After the disaster of the Russian campaign, recruitment was a struggle as the need became more desperate, yet when the emperor returned to France in 1815 soldiers old and new flocked to his banner, and not just the old Guard. On the morning of Waterloo the French Army fielded around 42,000 infantry, excluding the Guard, reserve and those sent under Marshal Grouchy to keep the Prussians away, who took no part. That was more than half the total army present that day, and many of those men had known the glories of earlier campaigns, probably expecting more of the same. Instead they found themselves unable to break the Allied army they now faced, and with the arrival of significant Prussian forces their emperor’s cause was lost forever.
For the most part the figures in this set have been released before in two other sets. Our top row contains the fusiliers, who were released in the set 1815 French Line Infantry Fusiliers Marching, while the next six figures are light infantry who were previously seen in the set French Line Voltigeurs at Waterloo. Both those reviews should be consulted for more detail on our opinion of these figures. Broadly speaking however the four fusilier poses are very good and well-sculpted, though we were disappointed that there are equal numbers of each pose, when the last in the row is the one that would be far more numerous than the rest. However all are valid, so perfectly useful for depicting a formed body of men advancing on the battlefield. The voltigeurs have more poses, which makes sense given their traditionally more open form of battle, although only six is not a lot. They have the same minor sculpting problems around the cartridge box and the bayonet, plus some bigger issues such as missing flesh on some shoulders, and being too tall for such troops. Also they have the gaiters over the knee, which was not correct by 1815, so slipped a little in both accuracy and sculpting.
This present set adds the drummer, flag-bearer and two officers as new offerings, making a more traditional set covering all major aspects of the infantry in 14 poses plus a horse. The new figures are very much in the same style, and indeed originally all came on the same sprue (see sprue image). First of the newcomers is the drummer, who is beating his drum and a pretty good figure despite not having a separate drum. He wears the 1812 imperial livery with chevrons down both sleeves, although he wears the same plastrons as the rest of the infantry rather than the lace bars many drummers wore on their chest. He has a knapsack and rolled coat like everyone else, and a sword, but no cartridge pouch, which is correct. To our eye the drum is a little too small here, and in an effort to avoid excess plastic the sculptor has removed part of this man’s right hip, which leaves an obvious and very ugly gap behind his right hand. Lastly his apron, which was meant to protect his breeches from the rubbing of the drum, stops short of mid-thigh and so is far too short to achieve this aim, making it look silly.
Beside the musician is the flag-bearer, holding aloft the revered eagle. He is correctly uniformed, including his sword, and the only problem with the sculpting is that there is excess plastic behind his left hand, though this is not obvious. The flag he carries is marked with the three vertical bars of the 1812 tricolour, and is very nicely done with a natural feel to the shape. Such flags were about 120 cms square, but to scale this one is about 100 cms square (14mm) plus the fringe, so is still a little too small. However it is very finely engraved, including in wonderful if hard-to-read relief the correct wording indicating that it belongs to the 5th regiment of the line. On the reverse it bears the battle honours of Austerlitz, Jena and Eylau, which is fine although these were not the battle honours of the 5th. Nevertheless a most excellent example of the art of sculpting a realistic and beautiful flag in plastic.
The foot officer in the bottom row wears a slightly battered bicorn, and has rolled his coat or blanket around his body, which was common. He wears a short-tailed coatee and long boots, has fringed epaulettes on both shoulders, and waves a sword in the air while grasping the scabbard. This is a more unconventional pose for an officer than we generally see, but a great one too, so we really liked this figure, as we did his mounted companion. With his long coat tails and gorget, he looks to be doing exactly what such men generally did, which is watch and direct events from horseback. This makes a dull pose but by far the most appropriate one for such a man in most circumstances. He fits the animal perfectly, and the horse is apparently walking, so a fair pose. This is a terrific addition which is all too rare in many sets.
While we have pointed out the fairly small problems with the sculpting in places, overall these are very attractive figures with lots of great detail and in well-chosen poses. There is no flash, and the one small piece of assembly works well. By making separate sets for the ordinary troops the customer does not need to buy more officers or specialists than they need, and for the classic formation of large blocks of fusiliers advancing in column or line with voltigeurs ahead of them, this set offers a lot. Some old sets labelled as ‘Waterloo’ French infantry have had serious drawbacks, and although others are much better, this set is certainly up there with the best so far made.