Under the keen eye of Gustavus Adolphus (ruled 1611 to 1632), Swedish artillery was the best in Europe. Numerous developments, including better standardisation of calibres and better tactics to integrate actions with the rest of the army, gave Sweden’s artillery a great advantage on the battlefield, which would be put to good use in the Thirty Years War, which Sweden entered properly in 1630. However, as far as is known not a single leather gun was ever deployed by Sweden or anyone else during the Thirty Years War. Leather guns were experimental weapons which varied in composition but were a relatively thin copper tube/barrel which was reinforced by coiled rope, canvas or plaster, and then encased with a covering of leather for protection. The aim was to make the gun lighter and so more mobile, allowing it to be moved around a battlefield so it could be used far more than the heavy, existing guns. The resulting weapon was indeed lighter and an improvement, but it quickly overheated, distorting the barrel, reducing accuracy and potentially pre-igniting powder, destroying gun and crew. The first were used in 1627 during the Swedish-Polish War, and the last two years later during the same conflict, but the experiment was a failure, hence their abandonment before the war in Germany.
So, Mars have invented the notion, presumably to make the set seem more useful, but we now need to look at what the box actually offers. What we find is the usual Mars formula of a gun with six crew poses, multiplied by four per box. Taking the figures first, some of them have a rather old-fashioned look to them, with costume that seems more for the end of the previous century, though of course in reality some people dress in an old-fashioned style, so not really a problem. The short tabard worn by the figure in the second row catches the eye, but otherwise the only feature of note in the costume is the false sleeves worn on a surprising number of the figures.
The poses present no real surprises, though there are questions raised. Our top row shows a man using a ramrod, one holding a linstock (on which the match was held) and a third just holding his hands together. Our guess is this man is supposed to be holding a ball, though there is no evidence of it here, and if it is there then it must be pretty tiny. The second row starts with a man holding a prepared charge (powder in a bag or sack), another with a withered right arm doing nothing in particular (presumably in charge of the crew) and a third holding up some sort of dagger (or a really badly modelled vent tool perhaps). Apart from the man with the dagger, who is not impossible but begs the question why is he holding it upright like this, the poses are reasonable choices.
So far we have tried to be positive, but this is a Mars set after all, so there must be negatives; boy are there negatives! First of all, the sculpting. Mars sculpting is never appealing, and these are as bad as any. While the folds of the clothing are not too bad, details like the tools are very poor, though otherwise these figures make no great demands on finer detail. However even the less-fine detail is poor – exhibit A – faces. Some have no face, and amusingly even the person painting the figures for the box couldn’t rescue those with no face. The first figure in the second row has no face and also no hands, surely a serious handicap when serving a gun. Were it not for the painted examples you wouldn’t even have known what he was doing. Most others have hands that have virtually no depth – look along the item they are holding and the hand is virtually flat. On the plus side there is almost no flash on the figures, but frankly the minus side is enormous. Ugly, and often not even recognisable as human.
Believe it or not, it gets worse. Having said that leather guns were never used during the Thirty Years War, we have some good news – there are NO Swedish leather guns in this set! Reading the title you might be forgiven for expecting some, but it seems Mars did at least realise the absurdity of the subject before they designed the contents, and instead went a different way. Actually they went two different ways, because each sprue here has a carriage plus a choice of two gun barrels, as pictured in our third row. The first barrel is a fairly standard type of about 30mm in length, which probably makes it a 12-pounder. At this time Sweden standardised their guns to just 24-, 12 and 6-pounders, and this barrel looks reasonable for the middle calibre. Certainly no one ever made a ‘leather’ gun anything like this size, even as an experiment, but that means it is useful for ordinary artillery. The second barrel option is a different story. If you have not seen a twin-barrelled gun before there is a reason. We could find no evidence that they were used on campaign by the Swedes. However, they certainly did exist (there is one to this day in the West Highland Museum as it was made in Scotland), but come under the ‘unusual’ category to say the least, and must have been rare or non-existent on a real battlefield. In fact the surviving one made in Scotland is a ‘leather gun’, but such a weapon was never used by the Swedes in the Thirty Years War.
So, a rough but acceptable medium-calibre barrel can replace the interesting curiosity alternative, though there are still issues. First, the carriage, which is conventional in design, is rather too short for this length of barrel. Second neither the 12-pounder nor the curiosity actually fit the carriage. Both have a peg underneath, but there is no hole in the carriage, so as it stands they sit in mid-air above the axle. There is a small indentation, presumably to show where the hole should go, but no hole. Our first thought was this was amateurish, but in fact even an amateur would check their kit fits together before sending it out, so it is not just incompetent but lazy too. You can of course remove the peg so the barrel fits, but what was the point of the peg in the first place? Laughable. Also, the wheels need a lot of work on enlarging the hole before they will fit on the axle. Barrels and carriage have a good deal of flash, so it is a large task to put together one of these guns. Oh, and by the way, notice that the longer barrel is also bent. This is as it is on the sprue, not just deformed through taking a battering.
Ignoring the curiosity, we would have liked to have seen some 3-pounder regimental gun barrels in this set, which would closely resemble the experimental leather guns and would have been very useful as they were an important part of the Swedish artillery strategy, closely supporting the infantry wherever they went. The 3-pounders (sometimes also called 4-pounders, though they were the same thing) easily justify being made, and had they been a part of this set then it would have had something to offer customers. Indeed some contemporaries who knew no better confused the regimental guns with leather guns, since the latter were famous, and you can find websites today that repeat that basic error!
While our expectations from Mars are never high, what we have here are some really badly sculpted figures, a curiosity that never fired a shot for the Swedes (though potentially may have been used in tiny numbers by the Poles or the Scots), and a bent 12-pounder barrel on a small carriage with loads of flash. It’s not much!