Compared to the glory days of the Napoleonic Wars, cavalry in the later 19th century was struggling to maintain its prestige and relevance. The increasingly effective rifles of the era were making the infantry the dominant element of any army, and the lessons of such wars as the Crimean and the American Civil War were amply illustrating the fact, much to the discomfort of the traditionalists. In Russia these lessons were being heeded, such that from 1871 all dragoon regiments were armed with rifles and began training as mounted infantry, expecting to dismount to engage the enemy. Nevertheless the ability of cavalry to raid deep behind enemy lines and disrupt their operations, as well as the traditional roles of reconnoitring etc., meant they still had a part to play, even if the dramatic charge was becoming a thing of the past.
For a change we won’t be discussing the accuracy of these figures for one very simple reason – we don’t know enough about it to form an opinion. The two references below are far from comprehensive and disagree on several points, and we have not found sufficient other material to make sense of this, so we will have to offer no more than a few observations on authenticity. Some sources show dragoons wearing the common kepi, but these figures have a stiffened peaked cap with a badge on the front, and double-breasted tunics, neither of which were worn by the infantry, which some sources claim the dragoons closely resembled. They correctly wear long boots and all bar the officer and musician are correctly armed with the shortened cavalry version of the rifle as well as a sabre, but lack the bayonet they should also carry. The officer and musician correctly carry a Smith & Wesson revolver, attached to a lanyard tied round the neck, instead of the rifle. Where visible the men seem to have two small ammunition pouches on the left side of the waist belt, which seems unusual and could not be corroborated.
There is more data available on the horses, from which we can confirm that these look to be pretty accurate. The saddles correctly have the triple girths, and have a round valise at the back. There are no shabraques as these were reserved for parades. While the animals are not brilliantly done they do at least all conform to the natural manner in which any horse moves, so represent a quite decent range of plausible poses.
The poses of the men are generally relaxed. Many have their rifles correctly slung across their back, and only one man has drawn his sabre. As we have said such men rarely fought from horseback by 1877, so the non-combative nature of these figures fits the reality well, where they protected flanks, patrolled, observed enemy movements and so on. Some dismounted dragoons such as are illustrated on the box would seem a logical step for this subject, but there are none here.
The customary chunky appearance of Strelets figures such as these means they are not easy on the eye, and while there is detail the smaller items are often exaggerated and confuse the overall picture. The men fit their mounts well, but not quite as tightly as some earlier Strelets sets (which is no bad thing). Both man and horse have virtually no flash, and the fairly flat poses chosen mean there is no extra plastic, no any assembly.
If more information becomes available this review will be updated, but aside from its historical precision this is a fairly standard Strelets cavalry set with intelligent if unexciting poses. Under the circumstances some dismounted dragoons would have made sense, but as mounted men these are very reasonable.