The 1807 French invasion of Portugal, through a compliant Spain, had been intended as a relatively short operation to enforce the continental blockade of British shipping, but the resistance of both Portugal and Spain, coupled with considerable assistance from Britain, turned it into a long drawn-out war of attrition that Napoleon himself would later call his 'Spanish Ulcer'. It tied down large numbers of troops Napoleon could have used elsewhere in Europe, and it rapidly gained a terrible reputation within the French Army as one of the worst postings, where victories never seemed to lead to a final decision, supplies were always short, and every moment was spent in fear of ambush or attack from guerrillas and civilians. Although many sets of Napoleon’s French infantry have been made before, none have been focused on the Peninsular War until this one, so does it match our hopes for such a set?
The year 1807 saw a reversion of French infantry uniform back to blue from a short-lived experiment in white, but in style it was already quite settled and would remain so for most of the campaign. Soon all infantry would be wearing the shako rather than the hat, which here has been given the pompon as was normal. All the men here have chinscales - an item only officially introduced in 1810 but actually adopted much sooner, so is fine on these figures. The shakos all have a diamond plate on the front, and are uncovered. The blue coatee with tails reaching to the knees is regulation, and the tails have the false turnbacks reaching short of the bottom, as was the fashion until after 1810. The open front with lapels and the waistcoat are all fine, as are the trousers worn over the gaiters that was normal campaign wear. All the uniforms here are as per regulation for the time.
As regards kit, these men have a single crossbelt over the left shoulder which supports both the cartridge pouch and the bayonet, so they are fusiliers, which were the majority of the line infantry. Most have a pack with rolled greatcoat on top and for some reason a spare pair of shoes attached to the back - by no means impossible but a strange feature to include on every figure. Every man has an identical water flask, but no such item was issued to French infantry, so they made their own arrangements and utilised a wide variety of vessels as a result. The man biting at a cartridge in our third row has very obviously got a sword on his left hip, so is presumably a sergeant or NCO. However if this were the case then he would usually have a combined sabre/bayonet frog on that hip, not the usual fusilier bayonet this model displays.
Reading the above two paragraphs might make you think that these figures are largely accurate, but there is a catch. The often desperate supply situation in Spain and Portugal, coupled with the frequently harsh weather and higher priorities elsewhere in Napoleon’s plans meant that all authorities agree the French infantryman rarely if ever presented so neat and regulation an appearance. The shako was usually covered, the coatee put away and just the waistcoat worn as a short jacket (or just a greatcoat), and overalls of all sorts, often very loose, worn on the legs. This presents us with a problem we have with perhaps the majority of sets we review on this site - the figures may match regulations and some contemporary illustrations, but in reality the men presented a much shabbier and 'un-uniform' appearance. Now many people prefer the neat and tidy figure often offered, and those with a care can do much with knife and paintbrush to make their figures more believable, so generally we accept the somewhat idealised appearance. With the French in the Peninsula however the contrast between the ideal and the reality is so strong that we find it impossible to do so here. These figures make no allowance for the difficult conditions, and while it is true that sometimes French soldiers would dress in their best uniforms before going into battle, there must be a lot of doubt as to how representative these figures are of the real thing. Since all the figures are largely regulation or follow common practice, you could justify an accuracy score of 10, but to accommodate the commonly accepted appearance of these troops you could equally justify an accuracy score of just 1 or 2. In the end we split the difference, so some will think us generous and some will think us hard - ultimately it is up to each of us to decide if these figures match our own expectations for the subject.
Having got the tricky subject of accuracy out of the way we can turn to firmer ground and consider the poses. The eleven soldier poses here are a mixed bunch, and include two different standing firing poses, which is no bad thing as the ideal French battle formation was a firing line of three ranks. The advancing poses are OK, as is the bayoneting figure, although he is rather dramatic and would make more sense reaching over some obstacle. The man nonchalantly walking with musket at the slope on the left shoulder attracted our attention for all the wrong reasons as we felt this was a largely wasted pose; a pose with musket held upright as seen in so many other sets would have been much more useful and authentic. We liked the pose biting the cartridge, but the man falling wounded is not particularly convincing to our eye. The two men kneeling are most likely to be skirmishing - acting as light infantry - even though they are actually fusiliers. In fact this was not that unusual - at times whole regiments acted as skirmishers, regardless of whether they had the label of voltigeur or not, so while these men are not in formation they could still be on the battlefield, or perhaps in some action against irregulars such as street fighting.
As gentlemen, officers would normally be mounted when in battle, so we welcome the mounted officer here. His pose is a bit stiff (although the bendable plastic offers some hope of improvement) but he is correctly dressed and even has a gorget at the throat, which was generally worn on formal occasions rather than in battle. He also sports a medal on his chest, so perhaps this is an officer with a penchant for display - officers generally pleased themselves on such things, despite official disapproval. His horse is excellent, standing still while his master surveys the scene. Such a good pose is achieved by having the animal in two parts, and it looks very good as well as being correctly saddled etc..
Emhar figures are always beautifully sculpted with plenty of even the finest detail, although that detail is not particularly deep so some care needs to be taken when painting. However everything looks very natural, so every figure is a little work of art and an object lesson in how to make a figure seem realistic (i.e. not flat) despite being moulded as a single piece. The only assembly is the addition of packs for the marching figure, which is done to avoid losing detail on the pack. This assembly requires gluing, but the plastic takes normal cement exceptionally firmly so this is an easy task. The mounted officer sits astride his horse very easily too, but while the sculpting is great the mould-making is not the best. There is some flash here, which is noticeable in a few places, and a couple of the fixed bayonets in particular are really not well defined - look at that on the wounded man for example.
In our view these figures work better for other theatres of war (i.e. the 1809 war against Austria) rather than the Iberian Peninsula because of the issues with their neat appearance, but we have already discussed that at some length. Not all the poses are great, and while the sculpting certainly is great the mould sometimes lets these figures down. So this is a very mixed bag, and how well it is received will partly depend on what people want from such a set. Although they are certainly nice and mostly useful figures for the Napoleonic Wars, our hopes for a definitive set of Peninsular War French infantry are dashed for now.