Hussars in Russian service dated back to the 17th century, for although Russia could call upon large numbers of irregular light cavalry from the Cossacks, the need for more regular units of light cavalry was recognised. Their traditional roles of reconnaissance, escort and harassment were put to particularly good use during the French retreat of 1812, when hussars contributed greatly to the French misery.
This is another in the growing number of sets made by Strelets depicting troops in relaxed poses, perhaps waiting to engage in battle or simply on parade in peacetime. The troopers holding a lance have little choice but to sit tight and wait, but the rest are occupying themselves as best they can. Several are examining their weapons, and one is taking a swig from a bottle. The officer is smoking his pipe, so everyone has the air of relaxed and perhaps rather bored men who are nonetheless mounted, and so presumably waiting for something to happen – something any soldier in any age can recognise. We thought all the poses are very nicely done and looked perfectly natural.
The front rank of a Russian regiment often carried a lance, which is why we find a number of such weapons here. The other troopers in this set carry a carbine or musketoon, and while it was not always the case that hussars carried such a weapon, some certainly did. Here it is carried from a belt over the left shoulder, which is correct, and there is a cartridge pouch on a belt over the right (except for the lance men, who have it on the left). Everyone has a sabre of course, and the sabretache, and also a pair of pistols on the saddle.
The uniform can be dated to between 1812 and 1816 because of the shako with cords and thin plume. The plume was full dress wear, as was the pelisse when worn on the shoulder like this. It seems the hussars did sometimes wear full dress when in the field, but apparently never the plume, though it is easy enough to remove this, and Strelets are to be credited with providing it for those that want it. Most seem to wear overalls, which was campaign dress, but a handful appear to have their breeches and boots visible (it is unclear), so this does seem a bit of a mix of full and campaign dress, though not necessarily unlikely for all that.
Strelets are on top form with some of their recent sets of Napoleonic cavalry, with wonderful sculpting and such precise detail as only the hussar uniform can demand. Everything is perfectly proportioned, and even the slung pelisse is very realistic. If we had to criticise then we would say the curve of the Russian 1812 shako is not as pronounced as it should be on some, but that is all we could come up with on some marvellous sculpts.
As with other sets, we were less impressed with the horses here. This is partly because these are the same animals as are to be found in several other recent Strelets cavalry sets, and to our eye they are not the best examples. As has been said elsewhere, we found the shape of the animal rather dumpy and poorly defined, and the animal leaning down to graze clearly cannot reach the ground, so his neck is too short. The saddlecloth and valise are correct for these troops, but a couple of the animals lean alarmingly to the left, which is very odd. They suffer in comparison with the men, although we have certainly seen worse animals made in this hobby.
We have expressed disappointment with these horses before in other sets, and unfortunately another regular criticism we have of Strelets will also have to be repeated here. This set includes a man holding an infantry flag, which would never have happened in real life. Some hussar regiments did have standards of a sort, but these were probably not taken into the field, and anyway they were nowhere near the mammoth size of this example. Anyone trying to control such a monster while riding a galloping horse deserves our sympathy, but in truth this pose is nonsense and cannot really be saved for any other purpose, so again an incomprehensible error that Strelets seem happy to keep making.
A much more positive aspect of some Strelets sets are the bonus figures, and here we find a jolly pair singing and dancing, both in peasant costume, and one wears a peaked cap. It’s a very unusual piece, but a great little addition which speaks volumes about how varied the range of available figures is becoming these days. The gentleman holding a child is much more sober, and probably more useful if not so much fun, and the same goes for the lady at the end, who has her hair tied up and wears a suitable dress for the period. They would make a nice family group watching a column, and seem to be pretty generic for any Europeans of the day.
The only real problem with this set is the wasted man with the flag, as even the horses are perfectly usable. If these men are on campaign (as the title ‘in reserve’ might suggest), then they would have been better either wearing or discarding the pelisse. In fact there was an order stating that those armed with the lance should never wear the pelisse over the shoulder like this when operating against an enemy, since this could potentially interfere with the wielding of this long weapon, meaning the lancers here must be away from battle. Generally however we loved the sculpting of the men, and also their poses – the trumpeter with his trumpet slung across his back and holding his shako on his lap was a particular favourite, but with much strong competition. The fit of man with mount is absolutely perfect, and we have not mentioned flash because there is hardly any to be seen. Those with a penchant for converting will find such a full set of hussars most useful for many roles, so with only a couple of blemishes this is a set that is elegant to behold and also very practical.