Although the six month campaign to expel the French from Egypt in 1801 was a spectacular success for the British Army, it was achieved despite many difficulties, and one of the biggest of those was the cavalry. When shipped to the Eastern Mediterranean, the army had no horses as they were to be provided by the Turks. However when these animals eventually arrived they were far too few in number and of very poor quality, so for most of the campaign the majority of the British cavalry was not even mounted, and those that were used very inferior animals which meant that in a straight fight with French cavalry they always came off worse. The scarcity of mounted cavalry meant the British were often unable to capitalise on successes in battle, but those that were available did useful work protecting flanks and patrolling.
The only British cavalry regiments shipped to Egypt were light dragoons, although there was also a unit of Hompesch’s cavalry (mostly Germans and émigré French), variously described as hussars, light dragoons or mounted rifles. It is the regular British light dragoons that are depicted in this set, and they wear the regulation uniform of short jacket with braiding down the front that was increasingly being influenced by the fashion for hussars. On their head they wear the Tarleton (so have come from Europe and not India or the Cape) and on their feet they should wear normal riding boots, although some look like they may have Hessian boots, which is only correct for the officer. All the various items of kit are correct, and all carry a carbine and pistol as well as the light cavalry sabre, which is fine. The officer figure (last figure in last row) looks to have the sash round his waist and decoration on his breeches, although this is crudely done here. He also has the wings on his shoulders that the troopers correctly lack.
Unlike many other armies, the distinction between the roles of light and heavy cavalry was much more blurred in the British Army, and the horses differed little between them. However as we have said what few mounts were available to the British cavalry in Egypt were very poor specimens, yet the animals on show in this set look no different to any others found in European cavalry. As a result they are really much too big and imposing for most of the campaign, since it was only after the surrender of the large French army in Cairo that good quality horses were available to the British. The saddles and bridles look OK, although the dragoons only had one pistol rather than the two shown here. Also all the horses wear the pointed shabraque, which is quite correct for the regiment but was only worn on dress occasions and would have been particularly impractical in the furnace of the hot Egyptian days.
The poses on offer here are the usual array we find in most Strelets cavalry sets. Some are a little awkward but there is nothing here that looks wrong, and if rather flat they are still all usable. The horse poses are the usual mix of fair and unnatural examples, and all look to be moving at speed, so not ideal for patrol, reconnaissance etc. The sculpting is not great but actually one of the better examples from Strelets, for while much detail is chunky the overall look is a little better than many previous sets. The men fit their horses very well, and there is only a little flash in a couple of places, while there are no separate weapons or other items to put together.
As we have said, the cavalry played a very small part in the Egyptian campaign, but they were there and this set is welcome, not least because it is the first depicting British light dragoons prior to the 1811 uniform changes. The large, sturdy horses would have been nothing but a dream for these men most of the time, although are far more reasonable towards the end when the French sold them theirs. The boots of the men are a small and easily fixed accuracy problem, but the presence of the shabraque is much more difficult as it would be hard to remove. This leaves us with figures that are accurate but horses that are some way from accurate, and should probably be substituted by those with a keen eye for historical authenticity. Otherwise the figures are quite nice by Strelets’ standards, and should be worthwhile for a number of earlier Napoleonic campaigns.