The army of the Habsburg Empire, though often referred to as ‘Austrian’ for convenience, was made up from all parts of the empire and included many nationalities. Language was a major problem as not everyone in the Austrian Army understood German, but essentially the Army was split into two sections. The first were the ‘German’ units, which included not only Austrians and Germans but also units raised from much of the Empire such as the Netherlands, Italy and Poland. The second were the ‘Hungarians’, which included Croatian and Transylvanian units as well as Hungarian. Matters got still more complicated when defeats caused the Empire to lose territories, and thus recruiting grounds. Yet this complex organisation managed to achieve much in the many wars against first the republic of France and later imperial Napoleonic France, and had a big part to play in the eventual defeat of Napoleon at the end of the Wars.
By the end of the Wars the Austrians, like almost everyone else, were wearing shakos, but for many of the crucial years earlier in the period the infantry wore a sort of helmet with a crest and a woollen top. This is the helmet that would mark these men out at such battlefields as Marengo and Austerlitz, and this is the helmet we find on all these figures. Although every man is facing the mould, the sculptor has done an impressive job of detailing these helmets, including the crests, and they look good here. All of them have both a chinstrap and secondary, ornamental chin scales at the back of the crown, which are known to have existed, but may not have been common, and may have been mainly an affectation of the officers. The coats are the rather modern single-breasted type closed to the waist and with short rear tails. The standing collar is open to reveal the stock, and the cuffs are plain. Every man wears gaiters that stop short of the knee, showing these to be ‘German’ troops as described above, but everything here is correct for the period from 1799 (when the helmet started to be issued) to around 1809, when the helmet is known to have still been worn in the field. However as none of the men have a queue, this small detail technically makes them appropriate only from 1805.
The equipment of these men is also standard for the period. The usual but in this case rather large cartridge pouch on the rear of the right hip is fine, and the water bottle on the opposite side is also present, but none of the men seem to have a bayonet scabbard on the left, which should be visible. All have a knapsack on the back, quite small and low down, as was common, and tied with the usual three straps. Rolled on top is the greatcoat, which also sits quite low. No man has any extra items such as shoes or tent pegs attached to the pack.
The positioning of the muskets inevitably means the mould can give them very little detail, but every man has his bayonet fixed, yet this is really badly done with no real form to it and simply an extension of the barrel itself, coming to a point.
The poses are simple but authentic, and while they don’t offer as much variety as some other sets with more choice, they largely cover the basics and so deliver on the promise of the set title. The sculpting is rather variable however. While some areas are well done and nicely detailed, the water bottles at the back are very vague, and we have already pointed out the really quite terrible bayonets. Other areas like the hands are also quite poorly defined, and one man’s right foot merges into his base. The water bottle and cartridge pouch cause a considerable amount of excess plastic round the back of the figures, and there is a fair amount of flash too, with some quite ugly mould lines where the right arm is bent across the chest. The proportions are good overall however, so this is a quite inconsistent package in terms of quality.
While we felt the five poses in the ‘action’ set were far too few, at least the four here cover the much simpler subject a great deal better, and the poses themselves are fine. The variable sculpting and sometimes really poor detail does detract from the total effect though, especially when examined close up. So this set does the job, and could make quite an impressive body of men marching forward, but is best seen at some distance!