The Hussite wars coincided with significant developments in the art of artillery. Gunpowder guns had appeared in the 14th century, and by the start of the Hussite period, in 1419, a few were beginning to be made with smaller, lighter barrels that meant they could be more easily moved and even potentially used on the field of battle rather than simply as siege machines. Although they were light they were still not particularly mobile, however, but the favoured Hussite tactic of building a defensive position (made of wagons) and then waiting for the enemy to attack them meant they could place the guns between the wagons and let the enemy do the moving. By around 1430 some of these guns were being mounted on wheeled carriages, and this finally produced what we today would recognise as field artillery.
Heavier guns, naturally mounted on larger carriages, were termed houfnice, or howitzers, while smaller pieces were termed tarasnice after the table or wooden stand on which they were placed. The size of the barrel on the artillery piece in this set is somewhere between the two, but from the generally light carriage we would label this piece as a tarasnice, and so eminently suitable for placing between Hussite war wagons. The general design is reasonable although somewhat simplified; in particular there is no apparent means of adjusting elevation. Rather more significant is the choice of solid wheels. Spoked wheels are always shown on contemporary illustrations, and had clear advantages over such heavy wheels as these, and since we could not find any illustrations showing solid wheels we must conclude that they are an error here. Leaving that aside however this is a simple but appealing little model, with the barrel at approximately waist height. The parts go together well enough but will require gluing.
The five crew for each gun are pictured in the first row, and have much to recommend them. The first man carries a cleaning rod for clearing the barrel, while the second carries a match. This is an iron hook with the tip made red hot so it will ignite the charge. The brazier accessory shown in the second row is for keeping the match hot, and this would have been attended by the third figure, who holds a set of bellows to keep the brazier going. The fourth man is carrying some form of cannon ball. The fifth, the master gunner, is clearly in charge and doing what so many small plastic officers are made to do, and that is indicate (we assume) the general direction of the enemy. Not an inspired pose by any means but it works well enough, and much the same goes for the rest of the poses, although they have been properly equipped for the time period and ordnance in question. With no expectation of meeting the enemy all these men are in civilian clothing, which is fine, and many have the purses and daggers that they would habitually carry everywhere anyway.
The sculpting of the figures is a considerable improvement of previous RedBox sets, and is in much the same style as many Orion sets. Detail is pretty good but the poses are still a bit flat and not quite as natural as they could be. With simple costumes there are not demanding figures for the sculptor, although we were not particularly pleased by the faces, but the men are generally fine in all but a close examination. There is a certain amount of flash, although less than in many older RedBox products.
The other accessories are a powder barrel and something that looks like a bird’s nest with three very large eggs, but is presumably a small supply of cannonballs. Placed together, these figures, gun and accessories make a very acceptable scene, and the first man’s cleaning rod could easily be converted into a ramrod, so all the basic functions are covered quite well. The simplified gun carriage, and in particular the solid wheels, are the weakest element of this set, but apart from that this is a quite reasonable collection of models that depict an important and innovative part of Hussite warfare.