Although the greatcoat might seem like an obvious item to issue to soldiers, at the turn of the 19th century French soldiers were only given one if they were on sentry duty or otherwise exposed to a particularly cold environment. This did not preclude the individual providing his own, and the regiment could also produce them if it had the necessary funds. Many such garments were really more of a manteau, little more than a large shaped blanket which usually had no sleeves but was good for wrapping round the body (obviously not ideal in the middle of a fight of course). Increasingly these are described as ‘with sleeves’, and the Guard had what we would recognise as greatcoats, including sleeves, from early on, but it was only from 1806 that such an item became widespread issue to non-Guard infantry. By the difficult days of 1813 and 1814 it was often the only element of uniform some newly-raised recruits received. If by today’s standards it may not have been the best defence against the cold and rain, for the infantry of Napoleon it was better than nothing and most welcome as the temperature dropped.
The early greatcoats or manteaux varied greatly in all respects, but as they became regular issue their design was standardised to a degree. The figures in this set all have a double-breasted version which falls to about the knee and so is typical and a good choice. Later models were sometimes smaller and only single-breasted, especially in the last desperate months of the empire. The coats of course obscure most of the uniform, but enough is visible to identify these men better. All wear campaign trousers, as was common, and all wear a shako, an item first issued very early in the century to light infantry and generally to line infantry from 1806. Here each has a tall plume at the front-centre which suggests an elite unit (either grenadiers or voltigeurs from 1804), but this could be cut down if required. All the shakos also have full cords, an item of dress uniform but sometimes seen in the field, and all have a badge at the front, although this is too indistinct to make out even the basic shape, much less any detailed specifics.
The equipment consists of the cartridge pouch held by a belt on the right hip, and a combined sword and bayonet frog held on the left. This too tells us that these men are grenadiers or voltigeurs, and the identification is completed by the fringed epaulettes every man has on his greatcoat. Each man also has a knapsack, which is correctly sculpted with the three straps at the back (for some reason there are eight per each five-man sprue). This item, together with the pouch, is a separate piece that fits onto a peg on the individual’s back and looks good. Each pouch has the rolled bonnet de police underneath, and every man has some form of water container too. We feel this non-regulation but necessary item is too frequently missed on model figures, so it is good to see all have one here. Like the uniform, all the kit here is authentic and typical.
The range of poses is quite clearly very limited as there are just three of them in this small set of only 20 figures. The first pictured above is a man holding his musket by the butt against his left shoulder, named ‘portez vos armes’ (or shoulder arms). The second is the most important as he is walking like the first but holding the musket by cradling the lock against his left forearm, which was ‘l’arme au bras’ (or support arms), and was the usual pose when on the march or manoeuvring in battle. The third figure is standing with musket resting on the ground to his right side (‘reposez sur vos armes’ or order arms) with heels together and toes apart, so at attention. No combat poses, and the box art misrepresents what poses it contains, but all the poses are correctly done and would be useful.
The sculpting is nice but the detail is soft and vague, so the shako badges are poor as we have said, and there are no fingers to speak of on the hands. However from any distance such things would disappear, and the general proportions are good, so for many these will suffice. Flash is present but low-level, and there is no extra plastic. However we have heard reports that some copies of this set have a lot of flash, and even some incomplete castings, so beware. The packs will need to be glued to the backs of the men, and the medium-consistency plastic is of the traditional type which does not work well with ordinary poly-cement.
To state the obvious, this is a very small set both in terms of the number of figures and the number of poses. While the few available poses are all perfectly accurate, and well-chosen, those looking to create a battle scene will find little or nothing here of value. For depicting men in formation and on the move this set delivers the basics, although no variety. The uniform and equipment is perfectly accurate, and while detail is vague the proportions are good and the mould fairly clean, at least on our example. With a much more limited scope than the set title suggests, these figures cover just one aspect of the Napoleonic French infantryman, but do it quite well.