It has always been true that armies develop more quickly when they are at war, and especially if they are losing that war. For the Prussians the wars with France from 1792 to 1815 brought very mixed results, including some terrible defeats, but some reformers saw part of the solution in improving and developing what would become the General Staff, and in opening the door to high command to those who showed the necessary aptitude, not just of suitably noble birth. The name of Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst (1755-1813) is forever associated with these improvements, along with that of Augustus Wilhelm von Gneisenau (1760-1831), who lived to see the fruits of their work. Progress was slow and hampered by lack of resources, particularly while the country was occupied by the French, but many have attributed the successes of 1813 to 1815 in part to the improvements in command and control, an improvement that would continue long after the final victory and eventually make Germany a byword for efficient staff work.
To date there have been three sets depicting Prussian senior officers and General Staff during the Napoleonic Wars (see links below). The old set from Strelets shared with Russian figures, and while it offers a lot of poses they are all on foot, which is not how such officers would usually find themselves when in battle or on parade. The Italeri set did better, but was still split with British figures, and had very few officers even then. The HaT set is good, but again only part of the set so very few poses. This is the first exclusively to portray Prussian senior officers, and first impressions are very good. All are mounted, which is very useful, and there is a good spread of poses for different scenarios. Two seem very relaxed – one even puffing away on his pipe – while a third uses his telescope to monitor events. For a command group watching and directing battle or simply on the march, these poses are perfect. The other three poses have drawn their swords, and at least a couple could be in close contact with the enemy. This did of course happen (Blücher’s charge at Ligny being a prime example), but any or all could simply be directing or inspiring their men, so again very useful poses.
The horse poses sadly do not get the thumbs up. These are the same animals that appear in this company’s sets of Prussian Hussars, and are a mixed lot, with the first pictured above being particularly unnatural and awkward. However even if they had been better posed the big problem here is most are either at the gallop or else rearing up. Again, officer's mounts would usually be either standing or walking, and while they could of course be at the gallop, this was rare and so these poses are very inappropriate for General Staff. The one standing pose is fine, but otherwise these seem to match the poses of the officers very poorly, unless you want your senior officers at the head of a charge.
In the early part of the Wars senior officers and staff wore their own regimental uniform, but by 1813 there were a number of forms of dress they could wear as befitted their role. They were still allowed to wear their regimentals, but all these figures follow the regulations laid down for such men. Essentially the difference between generals and officers of various grades, and their staff, lay in small details such as the lace decoration and the epaulettes, but everything here is accurate. The top row all wear the standard coatee with cocked hat and overalls over their trousers. The hat is not covered, and sports a large plume, which is more likely to be seen on parade than on campaign. Equally the coatee, with two rows of buttons on the front and long tails at the back, was more of a full dress garment, but the wearing of decorations such as these figures do was common, and the sash was universal. One of these men even wears an aiguillette, another full dress item probably rare on the battlefield, but the men in the second row are much more utilitarian in their costume. The first wears much the same as those above him, but has a shako with a cover, a more practical choice when in action. The other two men have gone one stage further, wearing the peaked cap, one of which also has a cover. Both seem to wear their überrock, a fully-skirted garment much more like coats are today, and over this both have an overcoat with a cape. Both overcoats are unfastened except at the neck, but these men are clearly dressed for cold or bad weather. Prussia’s most famous general of the period, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819), is famously depicted in such practical clothing, although that is not to say that other officers did not also adopt a similar look. Small variations in the finer details mean all these figures cover the appearance of such men very well indeed.
As we have said, the horses are taken from the previous sets of hussars, and while we understand the appeal of reusing older models in this way, there is almost always a price to pay in terms of how appropriate they are for the new role. We have already commented on the choice of poses, but in terms of saddle furniture these actually work reasonably well. The normal saddlecloth was a bearskin shabraque, which at a pinch these have. Only one of the animals has the brace of pistols that would have been normal, and none of them have the Guard Star that appeared on both the pistol cover and the corner of the shabraque (though this could be painted on). So the match is not perfect, but we have seen plenty worse than this over the years.
The sculpting here is terrific. This company has made some lovely figures over the years, and these are no different. The detail is all there and nice and clear, while clothing is well animated where necessary, such as with the figure raising his sword high in the air. Overall proportions are perfect, and the undemanding poses, though very appropriate for this subject, have been done very naturally. Slender items like the slightly curved swords all Prussian officers carried are really nice, and the only compromise we could spot was the officer wearing his bicorn side to side when fore and aft was the norm for such men. There is precisely zero flash and no excess plastic, and no hint of flatness (apart from the left arm of the man with telescope – an understandable choice). The men fit their horses very easily, and there is no other assembly, so two thumbs up for the sculptor here (at least for the men).
We have covered all the aspects for which we traditionally give a score, so everything should be rosy, but there is one more observation to make, and unfortunately it is a biggie. You may have noticed that the average height of these men, were they to stand up, is 28mm, which equates to over 2 metres in the real world. Very few in Europe today can claim to reach that height, and practically none could do so at the start of the 19th century, so these figures are massively too large. See our comparison below, where you can see they are larger even than the over-sized Italeri figure. So many otherwise excellent sets have suffered in this way, for it makes it difficult for customers to use the figures mixed with others that are of the correct scale. A real shame.
There are so many good things to say about this set; lovely sculpting, perfect accuracy (for the men) and a good range of uniforms and poses to keep most happy. Waterloo 1815 even just about get away with reusing the horses, although the lively poses are at odds with the men riding them. However the size of the figures will be a real disappointment for most, and a show-stopper for some. Two serious problems in an otherwise commendable set, which left us frustrated and will do the same for anyone wanting to expand their Prussian late-Napoleonic command.