Britain’s cavalry did not enjoy a good reputation during the Napoleonic Wars, particularly with their own commanders. Wellington once said he considered his own cavalry inferior to that of the French “…for want of order”, and that was the point. The heavy cavalry were brave but suffered from a lack of training, which meant they had to learn much of their trade when on campaign. Far worse, they were arrogant and had little discipline, so when they charged an enemy they often chased them for kilometres and turned a success into a disaster as they were either absent for the rest of the battle, or were caught and broken by fresh enemy troops. Waterloo was a classic disaster for the heavies, but their reputation went back much further than that. In the Peninsular war the heavy cavalry were little represented for much of the time, partly because of this reputation, and partly because the terrain often did not favour massed cavalry action. Nevertheless heavy charges did occur such as at Salamanca in 1812, so a set of British heavy dragoons for the period was long overdue.
We will get straight to by far the most obvious characteristic of this set, which is the vast difference in the size of the figures. This is evident in our photo, with the figure on the left being about 23.5mm in height and the two on the right about 21.5mm. That is a difference of 14cm (or five inches if you prefer), which is certainly within the natural variety of human heights then and now, but it means the smaller men are only 155cm tall, which was small even at the start of the 19th century, and particularly for heavy cavalrymen, who were supposed to be the bigger, heavier men. Worse yet, the proportions are the same, so not only is the man much smaller, but so too is his sword and equipment, which cannot be explained away. So our stated average height is pretty meaningless here, and in our view the two smaller figures are much too small for heavy cavalry.
Regardless of the reason for the problems with sizing, we were not particularly impressed by the sculpting either. The detail is there generally, but everywhere it is quite soft and vague, although painting can remedy that. Two of the hats in particular have mostly or completely lost their feather plume, which may well have been true in real life, but we would have preferred all having them so the customer can choose to distress or remove them as they wish. The particular disaster with the sculpting is with the separate arm on the last figure. As you see, this man has a choice of three right arms, and a hole in the arm fits over a peg on the body. However the peg is too low, and even if you place the arm where is should go both arm and shoulder have a rounded edge which means there is a large gap all-round the join, which looks terrible. The peg and hole do not in any way make a firm fit, so this must be glued and, for the perfectionists, considerably moved and filled too, so it is just a mess. The figures have a moderate amount of flash, and the lower part of the hat at the rear means there is excess plastic between hat and neck, but otherwise the simple pose avoids such material.
We say pose in the singular because three of the four figures here have the same pose. They hold their sword up in line with the centre of their body (and the split of the mould), in a pose that is not the worst ever seen but not the most natural either. The fourth man, holding sword in two positions or a carbine, certainly brings some variety if you can accept the effort required to put him together, but why only one basic pose, and a really flat one at that?
The two horse poses are actually very good. So many cavalry sets attempt (with varying degrees of success) to show charging animals, but here we have one animal walking and one at the trot, which are less dramatic but much more useful poses (by this time heavy cavalry did as much scouting and guarding as any light horse). The musculature of the animals is pretty good, except for the front leg of both, which are straight, featureless and seem to have been forgotten below the knee. This is very strange, but mars an otherwise realistic horse. Note however that the practice at the time was for cavalry horses (except for the Household regiments) to be docked, not full-length as here. The men sit on the horses easily (even the midgets), but there is no grip so they will need gluing. The saddles look okay, as does the folded blanket underneath them, the rolled cloak at the front and the valise at the back.
The men all have short hair (i.e. no queue), which dates them from 1808, and with the introduction of the helmet from 1812, these give us the dates for these men, so basically for the Peninsular War. They wear normal uniform of 1796 jacket closed to the waist and with short tails and no lapels. They have shoulder straps and plain wings, which is correct, but no one is wearing gauntlets. Overalls such as pictured on the box artwork became increasingly common during the period, but these men have their long boots visible, which are correctly styled with ‘hollowed out’ knees (i.e. cut away at the back). The hat is something of a contentious issue. Certainly the cocked hat was regulation wear, and normally it was worn with the cock to the front and the fan at the back. Here however the men all wear theirs fore-and-aft, which has been suggested was common practice when in action. However other sources say this impractical and by then old-fashioned piece of headgear was often ditched altogether and the practical fatigue cap worn instead, particularly as the hat quickly lost its shape after rain. No one can be sure today, so the hats here are probably a fair compromise, particularly as many modellers prefer the smarter, ideal appearance rather than the often sloppy and unappealing reality.
Equipment is fairly standard, and properly done on these figures. Over the left shoulder there is a belt that holds both the cartridge pouch and the carbine, suspended under the right arm. On all of these figures the carbine is a separate piece (pictured before the first man) which fits well onto a peg on his right hip. This causes loss of detail on the carbine, but is an effective way of attaching it. Over the right shoulder are the straps for the haversack and water bottle, while the sword is supported by a waist belt. There is no sabretache, which is correct.
The main weapon for such men was of course the sword, in this case probably the 1796 model. This was a heavy straight-bladed weapon that was badly balanced but could be fearsome in trained hands. It’s blade alone was 89cm in length, which in our scale is a little over 12mm, but the larger figures here have swords with a blade of only 10mm, and their diminutive comrades have blades of only 9mm, so far less intimidating. The carbines already discussed lack some detail but are of the correct size, and should be attached with muzzle pointing down. There is no sign of a bayonet scabbard on any man.
So there has been much to say about this set. The uniform is accurately done (or at least as accurately as anyone can know today), the poses of the men are okay but flat and monotonous, while the horses are pretty good. The sculpting is mostly good apart from the front leg of the horses, but in creating the moulds the detail has got soft and the sizing is all over the place. This seriously reduces the appeal of this set, and the temptation is to discard the two undersized figures, particularly the one with the dreadful separate arm arrangement. This leaves you with two decent but identical figures on two animals with one crippled leg each, so hardly one of HaT’s better efforts.