The Napoleonic Wars saw the revival of the lance as a weapon of war, and in 1811 Napoleon ordered the creation of nine regiments of lancers after seeing the weapon used very effectively in the hands of Poles. Although originally conceived as suitable largely for reconnaissance and escort duties, the value of the lancer soon meant they were employed in more aggressive cavalry duties, and in time all Western states would also introduce lancers. Many such lancers took their cue from the Poles when it came to appearance, not least in the French Imperial Guard, but these line regiments were entirely dressed in the French fashion and served faithfully until Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815.
We will start our review with the poses, because there are two main areas to highlight in this regard: the individual stances and the mix in the set. We thought the individual poses were excellent. The three trooper poses in the top row are all using their lance in energetic and combative ways, either thrusting at an opponent at their level or one on the ground. The first figure is in more of a general charge pose, which of course is very useful, so all these poses are great. The second row has the command figures, starting with a man carrying the eagle, followed by a trumpeter and ending with the officer. Unlike the troopers, which are wonderfully three-dimensional (and so hard to photograph), these command poses are much more staid, but still entirely appropriate for their role in the battle. The officer waves his sword in the air, but has been distracted by something on the ground to his left, and the trumpeter is in the classic pose of holding his instrument to the side. So, no problems with the poses on offer.
Where the poses are more of an issue is in the numbers provided. Like other sets from this manufacturer, you get a number of identical sprues, so identical quantities of each pose. As you can see, this set includes three trumpeters, three officers and three eagle-bearers, plus nine actual troopers. That is a massive imbalance, and something we have complained about before. Perhaps that had the desired effect, because although this set still has this problem, Waterloo 1815 have apparently added an extra sprue of each since the box refers to 12 figures when there are actually 18. The imbalance is still there of course, but at least you could argue that you are getting nine troopers, plus as many standard-bearers, trumpeters and officers as you could want, which compares much more favourably with other sets of 12 or so figures, so the company deserve much credit for that.
There is one further point to make before we finish on the theme of poses. As you can see, the eagle-bearer has a cupped hand for the separate eagle, which makes a lot of sense as it means you can have the flag flying naturally behind the man (if he is moving, as he must be on these horses), rather than unnaturally fluttering to the side as some sets provide. That is fine, but surely they could have added a simple extra lance to the sprue so this man could also be used as an ordinary trooper? Apart from the lack of a carbine this man would be fine as a trooper, and there is plenty of space for an extra lance, so this really easy little step could have made the set better for virtually no more effort or outlay. Other manufacturers provide this sort of flexibility and added value, so we wish the same could have been done here.
Like the poses, the sculpting is very good too. Detail is everything you could want and very clear and sharp. Facial expressions are perfect and everything is well proportioned. The men sit on their mounts very well, and the lances are beautifully slender and straight. Lancer poses are always difficult since they are so hard to mould in a single piece, so here all three trooper poses benefit from separate lance or right arm. We found this fitted very well and does not even need gluing for two of them, although the third man in the top row certainly does need gluing. Nevertheless the results are excellent and well worth the effort of assembly. Better yet there is no flash, nor any unwanted plastic anywhere, so another very professionally produced product.
The horse poses are another matter. All have their problems, and none are particularly realistic. The same poses keep turning up, presumably because they are relatively easy to mould, but other manufacturers have made far more believable equine models before now so these really should have been better.
There is very little to say on the accuracy of the men other than it is spot on. They wear the habite with closed lapels, overalls on the legs and the crested helmet that characterised their appearance throughout the four years of their existence. This was a slightly modified dragoon uniform, betraying their origins, and has been well portrayed in this set. The men all have shoulder straps rather than fringed epaulettes, so are for a centre company rather than an elite one, although the epaulettes on the officer mean he could pass as such an elite lancer who has lost his lance and drawn his sword. All three troopers have a well-done carbine hanging from a belt, and while the trumpeter and eagle-bearer correctly lack this weapon, they still have the button on the cross-belt indicating the carbine belt; this of course is so simple to remove that is barely qualifies as a mistake. The trumpeter does not wear the imperial livery (with fringed epaulettes), which was introduced from 1812, so he is more appropriate for the first months of the existence of these lancers, or for the Hundred Days campaign (Waterloo), when there was not time to reuniform such men in imperial livery. The eagle (meaning the staff and flag as well as the finial) is properly done, although the flag itself is 10 mm wide (72 cm) and 7 mm high (50 cm) when the real thing was square and 55 cm or 60 cm (depending on the date), so this one is a little off. The flag has a very shallow engraved design which is of the pre-1815 pattern with triangles in the corners and an eagle in the centre. A coat of paint will easily smother this so you can add whatever design you like.
Apart from the poses the horses look OK with the correct saddles and bridle, except that the sculptor seems to have exaggerated the size of the sheepskin, creating a sort of woolly shabraque on two of the three animals, which should look like the excellent Rava box illustration. However there are contemporary illustrations that do seem to show the larger size, so although this is not reproduced today we cannot be sure that it is wrong. The third horse, with the cloth shabraque, is appropriate for the officer and properly done (though there are six of this and we only have three officers).
One further thing needs to be said about this set, and that is about the lances. Thin and beautifully done as they are, they are very fragile on the sprue and we found a great deal of care was required to extricate the lance in one piece. Since the plastic is quite hard, these snap easily, and the couched lance in particular had, at least on our example, an added weakness where the lance meets the elbow. This added greatly to the time it took to put everything together, and there is a danger of some items being pre-broken on the sprue, especially as the box is somewhat stuffed with more than the expected number of sprues.
In many ways this is a great-looking set with expertly-sculpted men in natural and useful poses. The pennants curve and flutter in a beautifully natural way, and fine elements like the detail on the helmets has been really well done. The horses are a let-down, however, in both pose and (possibly) the sheepskin, and are responsible for most of the points lost in the scores for this set. The difficulties with handling the lances means this set is harder work than some will find comfortable, which is a shame. However if you remove these troops from the sprue with care, and mount them on someone else’s French light cavalry steeds, you will have a highly attractive set of French cavalry that caused a particular dread in infantry everywhere.
Note: We are told that some copies of this set have four of each sprue in the box rather than the three we found in ours, but we have also heard of sets being sold with just two of each sprue. Since the box rather confusingly mentions just 12 pieces, perhaps this lower level is what is intended, so all we would say is beware, the quantity in the box may vary considerably!