Napoleon was famously a student of artillery as a young man and appreciated the abilities of the arm more than most. At this time France had the excellent Gribeauval system, with standardised components and lighter, more manoeuvrable guns. Napoleon was innovative in his use of these guns, which helped in many of his victories. 1805 was of course the year of Austerlitz, and happily there are now many sets depicting the men of that famous battle. With this set from HaT the all-important French artillery take their turn.
HaT have made many sets of Napoleonic artillery as part of their impressive commitment to the subject, and the usual configuration was that each gun had a crew of six, which is somewhat less than actually served them but was still pretty good, especially compared to some companies that only provided four men per gun. With this set HaT have adopted a four-crew arrangement, following the standard "4 + gun on a base" wargame formula, which is understandable but still a shame. One figure has multiple arm options, which is a positive, but the gun in this set, a 12-pounder, was actually served by eight gunners as well as seven seconded infantrymen to help move it.
This gun is a 12-pounder, about the largest field piece in the French arsenal. In fact this and the 8-pounder are little different in terms of dimensions so the model could serve as either at a pinch, but the larger calibre is certainly the best match. Although inevitably simplified to an extent the carriage is very good, and benefits from being a multi-part construction (see sprue image) rather than a one-piece model. Everything is correctly sized and pretty well detailed, and includes the small ammunition chest that was on hand for emergencies and was stowed between the cheeks of the carriage when on the move.
The crew are all correctly clothed for the date, and all have laid aside their packs and firearms, which is to be expected while serving the guns. The first figure carries a shot while the second is the ventsman as he has the leather stall on his right hand with which he covers the touchhole during loading. The third man is clearly applying the match, while the fourth is the multi-purpose figure. He has arms holding a bucket, handspike and rammer, so can fulfil a number of roles, which is great. Also the separate arms mean the resulting pose is more natural than usual as he holds the rammer or handspike in front of him in a comfortable, natural posture that is hard to achieve with a one-piece figure. All the crew are well posed and completely authentic, and all are posed as they would be at the moment the gun is fired, which means they all make sense placed together.
The sculpting of these figures is good, with all the necessary detail present if not quite as sharp as in the very best sets. Nevertheless everything is well proportioned and all parts fit together well, although both gun and multi-armed man will require gluing. Happily the soft plastic accepts ordinary polystyrene cement very firmly, so that is no problem.
It is particularly pleasing to see one of the larger field guns being modelled, as sets so often default to the smaller pieces. We understand HaT sacrificed figures sprue space to achieve the better, multi-part gun, and certainly the improvement is considerable. As you might expect we would have preferred more figures, but those that model guns with four crew will find everything they need here, so aside from that issue this is a really good product, and of course you can always use the extra arms to make more crew per gun by not using all of the guns.