After the glorious reign of Catherine the Great (ruled 1762 to 1796), Russia suffered under the reactionary and at times insane rule of her son, Paul I, but after his murder in 1801 Russia under Alexander I returned to playing a major role in Europe. During the first 15 years of his reign the new Tsar saw his enormous armed forces participate in many campaigns, including full wars against the Ottoman Empire (1806-1812), Sweden (1808-1809) and Persia (1804-1813). However it is the wars against France that are best remembered today, and while the events of the disastrous French advance upon and retreat from Moscow in 1812 have captured the public’s imagination, another major campaign was that of 1805 to 1807, which began with the Battle of Austerlitz and ended with the Treaty of Tilsit. With many sets already produced for the 1812 campaign by various manufacturers, this product from RedBox is one of a series depicting the earlier and equally important period in the Wars of Napoleon.
The box for this set tells us these are musketeers, which is to say ordinary infantry rather than any sort of elite body. It also gives us a nice precise date range of 1805 to 1808, so in looking at the details of these figures we can test that claim. Working from the top down we start with one of the most important aspects of their appearance – the shako. For ordinary musketeers the shako first replaced the bicorn hat in 1805, and it was given a cockade badge at the front, above which was a pompon and tuft. All of this we find here, and properly done too, so 1805 is indeed the earliest date for this uniform. All the men’s hair is dressed with a queue, which is correct for 1805 but was abolished for the men the following year (but remained optional for officers until 1809). The coat all are wearing is well done with the two rows of buttons down the front and the short tails behind, and the cuffs with flaps and three buttons. On the legs all wear breeches and boots with the proper ‘V’-shaped slit in the back, so for 1805 these figures are correct, as they are for the whole period if you remove the queued hair. Wearing boots rather than shoes and gaiters means this is winter uniform, as might have been worn at Austerlitz, for example.
For kit the men have a cartridge pouch with circular badge on the right hip held by a belt over the left shoulder, and a waist belt which supports the scabbard for their infantry sabre. Interestingly they all also have a bayonet scabbard beside the belt. Generally it is thought bayonet scabbards are not widespread in 1805, when the infantry had the bayonet always fixed to the musket, but they became more common in later years, so this is another aspect that seems to have changed over the course of these three or four years. Also to be found on each man is the correct cylindrical valise, carried here by a strap over the right shoulder, and with a mess tin strapped to it. Each man also has another roll beside the valise, which is the greatcoat. Before 1805 this was carried on the regimental wagon, but by this time the men carried it themselves, in this manner.
The muskets the men carry look conventional for the time, and as the Russian Army carried many different models of musket at this date these would be quite acceptable, although all have barrel bands when the common Russian model of the day had none. All have the slightly curved sabre, and all have the bayonet fixed, which as we have said is good.
Exceptions in uniform and kit are naturally to be found in the four command poses in our bottom row. The first man is an NCO, distinguishable partly by his holding his musket on the right side, and partly by the cane attached to a button on his coat. Most musketeer NCOs carried a halberd, but this man is carrying a musket, possibly rifled, as did four NCOs per company (an NCO with a halberd can be found in the Guard set). However he has a pouch on the right hip like that of the men, when it seems they actually had this at the front of the waist belt. Next we have a fifer, holding his fife and equipped with its case, but otherwise having only a sword as kit. His uniform is like that of the men but has six lace chevrons down each arm, ‘wings’ on each shoulder and lace loops on the breast of his coat, all of which are correct. He has shoulder straps on both shoulders, but some sources say fifers only had one on the left shoulder (and drummers on the right), although this is a pretty minor detail. The flag-bearer is like the men but has no firearm, pouch or scabbard, and while he does have a sword this is much shorter than we would have expected.
Finally the officer has a coat with longer tails, and a waist belt holding a full-length sword which looks good. He also wears a sash which unfortunately is tied at the right when it should be at the left. He wears an enormous gorget which is nevertheless accurate, and holds a spontoon which was the usual weapon for junior officers, which must be what this is (more senior officers carried a cane instead). Finally he has the old bicorn hat with cockade and plume, again correct for the period, so everything is fine apart from the sash.
The quality of sculpting is very good, with nice detail everywhere and good work done on faces. There is no flash on the main figures, but we found a little on the command figures, especially round the officer’s spontoon. Also there is some plastic between musket and man on a couple of the poses, but no more than you find on many such sets. However the officer’s spontoon is quite a bit shorter than the actual 240cm it should be (including the head), and the flag staff is also much too short, being about 30mm (216cm) in length without the finial when it should be a full metre longer. Also the flag, although limp, is only about 15mm (108cm) by 12mm (86cm) when it should be 142cm square at this period (or at least 126cm square if the old 1797 pattern).
We thought all the poses looked very natural, and exhibited good general proportions. The range of firing, loading and advancing poses covers all the basics, although we were not convinced of the need for two marching poses, even though one is stiff and formal while the other is more relaxed. There is not a lot of action in these poses, which of course is exactly what you would expect in troops that fought mostly in large formations, so wargamers will probably be the most pleased by the offerings here, but everything is perfectly appropriate and usable and very nicely presented.
Officers started getting shakos from 1807, and the following year the cylindrical valise began to be replaced by a more conventional rectangular knapsack, so the dating of these troops is exactly right. The various errors with the command figures will cause problems for the purist, especially as it would be a considerable struggle to remove the provided flag and replace it with a correct paper alternative. Nevertheless the sculpting is very good and the mould equally well done, and the poses are an unexciting but appropriate mix of useful positions with a fair array of command poses to complete the picture. This is a long-awaited addition to a little-visited but important period in the history of the Imperial Russian Army, and in many ways it was worth the wait. However the problems with the command figures do dampen the enthusiasm a little, and spoil what could otherwise have been a great set.