In the army of Austria-Hungary the grenadiers were a reserve, employed mainly to spearhead a particularly difficult assault or be a tenacious rearguard in retreat. They were specifically forbidden from skirmishing, and were only to be used when required. Qualifications for becoming a grenadier were supposed to include valour and marksmanship, and at least five years’ service, including at least one campaign. These moustachioed men were clearly an elite, as grenadiers were everywhere, and with their tall caps they were an impressive and intimidating sight when they came into action on any battlefield.
The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were to see most units change their appearance more than once over the years, but the Austrian grenadier was remarkably consistent in appearance. They already wore the modern single-breasted coat and tall bearskin cap by the turn of the 19th century, and would largely stay the same throughout the era of Napoleon. Between 1798 and 1805 the cap gained a front peak, which we see on all these figures, and it had the famous ‘armchair’ appearance with the tall front and shorter rear. The back was covered in a decorated cloth which folded over to the right side, but as with previous sets the sculptor of this set has not understood this garment and sculpted a sort of tab that reaches high up the crest. At the end where the cloth is supposed to be, on the right hand side, there was a pompon, but again the sculptor has chosen to be more experimental, and positioned this high on the front, or the back, or just occasionally at the side, though generally not where it should be. One man wears a cover over his cap, and another wears a form of fatigue cap which we have yet to see depicted anywhere else, but cannot rule out as some regiments adopted their own design. The rest of the uniform is better, with no notable errors. Some of the men wear trousers over their breeches and gaiters, but otherwise the men are dressed all alike.
Equipment is the usual panoply for the era, with knapsack high on the back (held by two straps around the shoulders, joined by a third at the chest), and rolled greatcoat on top. A number of tent pegs are attached to the right side of this. The usual cartridge pouch is held on the right hip, but the sculptor has given every man here a haversack on the left hip, an item that was not official and is seldom illustrated, so while not impossible, in our view is much too commonly included on these figures. Also on the left hip is the sabre - a distinguishing mark of grenadiers - and the bayonet scabbard. However only half have any form of water bottle, which seems odd. Since none of the muskets are facing the mould there is little scope for detail here, but they look authentic.
The pioneer, drummer and ensign in the bottom row wear broadly the same uniform as their comrades, with the same features and errors. The pioneer also has the full apron, but shows no sign of a case for his felling axe. The drummer has no cartridge box and no bayonet, and his knapsack sits a lot lower in order to allow him to stow his drum on his back. He also has a smaller apron on the left leg to protect it from the drum. The flag-bearer is similar to the drummer, but does not have the larger epaulettes that help identify the drummer as such. The two officers wear standard officer dress, although their coat tails should extend further than the men’s, virtually reaching the knees, which they do not do here. Both men wear the sash tied on the left, and carry a sword, but neither has a cane, a mark of rank that gradually declined in popularity over the period after 1805. One man is wearing an ordinary hat rather than the grenadier cap, which was relatively common, particularly away from battle, and the other has chosen to provide himself with a pistol in a holster.
The standard of sculpting is about the same as earlier sets of Austrian grenadiers from this manufacturer, which is not amongst their better output. There is a good amount of detail, although none of the men have a badge on their cartridge pouch, and few have a grenade badge or match case on their crossbelt (however both are relatively easy to create with paint). The look is not particularly appealing, and the faces vary greatly, from really rather good to pretty horrible. One man’s right hand is simply a square block, and time devoted to giving the bearskin cap texture would have been better spent giving it a subtle uneven effect, which is how it should look at this scale. The flag measures about 20mm by 16mm, which is 144cm by 115cm, making it rather too small even for the smaller actual examples. On the plus side there is not a lot of flash in most places, although there are a handful of exceptions too.
On the poses there is not much to say. The men are at shoulder arms, but some of those in the second row are taking liberties with the positioning of their arms. The drummer is holding his sticks and has neatly turned his drum on its side, and both officers seem to be fairly relaxed and clearly not at attention. For portraying a unit of men at attention these poses do the job, although as elite troops some might find the shuffling of arms in our second row to be less than impressive.
These men are ‘German’ soldiers (rather than Hungarian) as they wear breeches and gaiters, and have rounded cuffs with two buttons. Also for the purist it should be noted that while the men are largely suitable for the whole of the period 1798 to 1815, none have their hair in a queue, which was only abolished in 1805. Finally, the debate over whether pioneers carried a musket rages on, but as you can see here this one certainly does carry one.
The lack of understanding on some aspects of the uniform has created accuracy problems, and the sculpting is not nearly as fine as most figures produced these days, so even their mothers would find it hard to find much beauty in these men. But if you are just looking for a way to produce a large body of men formed up and ready to move then this set mostly delivers, and since there continues to be relatively few sets for one of the most important of Napoleon’s enemies, this does at least expand the available options.