Debate continues to rage over the health of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, when there were still successes to counterbalance defeats like the famous failed attempt to take Vienna in 1683. Ottoman artillery had been about the best in Europe in the late medieval period, and despite a later reputation for a decline in the quality during the early modern period, the evidence suggests that it remained on a par with that of Western Europe even after those powers closed the gap. Throughout Europe the trend was towards lighter, more mobile guns that could be used in field battles rather than just sieges, and it seems that the Ottomans appreciated this as much as anyone. Indeed it has been suggested that the Ottomans deliberately left behind their heavier guns so as to improve the speed of their armies, which perhaps helps to explain the lack of heavy guns at Vienna in 1683. Nevertheless heavy guns continued to be important as the siege remained a key element in warfare at the time, and this unusual set from Mars provides us with just such a heavy gun – something that has been largely lacking in the hobby thus far.
We will begin by focusing on the gun, for it is indeed a big one. The barrel is about 50mm (3.6 metres) in length, and the carriage about ten per cent longer still. The wheels are 20mm (1.44 metres) in diameter, so reach the chin of the crew, with the rest of the carriage in proportion. This is certainly a lot bigger than the pieces we usually find in artillery sets, and it seems pretty accurate too. The carriage is actually somewhat shorter than we would like – a length of about a third more than the barrel was normal for this size of gun – but it is still an impressive weapon. Made with the usual four pieces (barrel, carriage and two wheels), we found the wheels impossible to place on the axles, and rather than spend much time widening the holes to make them fit we dramatically reduced the axle ends to achieve the same effect. Generally the detail is pretty reasonable for such a basic model, though the lunette (the hole to hitch the gun to a limber) fails to go right through, and so is pointless here. The wheels in particular are very firmly attached to the spure, and take a lot of removing and trimming, but in general there is not a great deal of flash and the finished model is reasonably pleasing.
The six figures seem to fall broadly into two categories – those that are artillerymen and those that are not. Our top row contains the recognisable gunners, with figures holding something we could not comfortably identify, then a swabrod and finally a powder scoop. The first implement might be a cloth attached to a pole for cleaning, so is not necessarily pointless. The poses are nothing particularly special but are not too bad either. If the first man is used as a matchman then the tip of the ‘match’ is not far short of the touch hole, so as crew figures these are not bad. Their clothing is of course civilian but matches well with Turkish fashion of the time, although of course they need not actually be Turkish themselves. The sculpting is pretty basic however, with rather rough poses and a quite unattractive style to both clothing and men – faces and hands in particular are poorly done. On our example there was a huge amount of flash on the second figure, but much less on the others, so again it looks like there is an element of luck as to how much flash you find on your copies. However in general the figures are not pleasant to look at.
The second row seems to have little to do with artillery. Certainly the last figure is supposed to be someone in command, and works equally well for artillery as any other unit. He holds what we imagine is supposed to be a sword in his hand, but is not in an active pose, which is fine. The other two are certainly much more animated as they are waving swords in the air. Both wear helmets and mail armour – something the infantry had largely abandoned by the 17th century, yet they surely must be infantry. This begs the question of what they are doing in a set of artillery, and it does mean we do not have figures handling the necessarily bulky ammunition, for example. As sculpting they match the rest and are pretty poor. The rounded blade of both swords reminded us of child safety scissors of the modern era, and do nothing to give these men any appearance of menace. On the plus side our examples had very little flash.
Also of note is the separate shield found in the second row. From the box artwork we understand this is intended for the second pictured swordsman, though there is no means of attaching shield to man. Instead there is a lump of plastic on the back of the shield which seems to actively inhibit the joining of the two pieces, so some careful gluing will be required here. The shield itself is of classic East-European design, and was widely used in the Ottoman Army, so is perfectly authentic for the period.
While opinion remains divided on the worth of Ottoman artillery during this century, there is no doubt that such heavy guns, even if more often left behind during dynamic campaigns, were a key resource for a siege and perhaps even for the opening bombardment of a battle. Their absence during the siege of Vienna was lamented even at the time, so their worth was fully appreciated in the right circumstances. With so few sets of heavy guns yet made this one, though far from an outstanding model, still provides a useful component, and we are glad to see it here. The crew, or perhaps we should say half crew, and not good and fail to impress partly thanks to their quality and partly to the lack of some key individuals. The presence of a couple of swordsmen wearing armour from the previous century is baffling, so we thought the gun reasonable if difficult to assemble, while the figures ranged from disappointing to irrelevant. Not a particularly positive impression for a not very pleasing set.