While the sight of a massed formation of men advancing steadily with bayonets lowered would have been impressive by any standards, the fact is that bayonet fights were rare in the Napoleonic Wars. Bayonets were useful as anti-cavalry weapons, and had many uses around camp, but most bayonet charges caused the already-shaken opposition to retire before contact was made, assuming those advancing with the bayonet were not themselves shot to pieces. Thus it was more of a psychological weapon, persuading an enemy that retreat or flight was better than meeting the bristling hedge of blades. This was very useful of course, and some armies like the Russians and Prussians mandated fixed bayonets virtually all the time. The Bavarian drill book was fairly typical, and stated that a bayonet attack was to commence at 200 paces, but the weapon was only to be fully lowered ready for action at between 10 and 20 paces. It was probably hoped that by then the weapon had already done its job and the day had been won.
The majority of the figures in this set are pictured in our first two-and-a-bit rows. All are advancing with musket tipped forward, although not yet at the stage of having the bayonet at the horizontal. They are all small variations of the same basic pose, but some are holding their musket with their left hand very low down, close to the lock and the right hand. This makes them easier to sculpt and mould, but is not a stable or comfortable way to hold it.
Of particular note is the high number of casualty poses here – no less than four. The first is lying on his back, but is not convincing as neither his legs nor his right arm are touching the ground. Instead he seems to be rigid, resting on the pack he still has on his back, and so far from natural. The second downed man is somewhat better, but he too is strange because although he rests on his side, his right leg is stuck in the air rather than touching the ground. You might choose to mould the terrain to compensate for these features, but when laid on a flat surface they look absurd. The man dropping his musket as he lurches forward is much more believable however, and the fourth man is placed such that his body has hit the ground, but his limbs have yet to, making an unusual and innovative pose which works well. We like to see casualty poses because they are an inevitable part of any battle, but not ones like the first two that defy gravity.
The second man in the last row is simply waving, and it is tempting to think of him as an NCO. However he does not have the cane that would have identified him as such, so is exactly the same in appearance as the rest of the men. It is a bit of a random pose for a soldier, but we have no problem with this, especially when Strelets have made so many other poses, both in this set and others. Next we have a drummer, on the move and clearly beating his drum. Although the position of the drum is awkward, this is otherwise a pretty convincing pose which we liked. The man carrying the flag pretty much speaks for himself, and finally we have an officer presumably in charge of the whole thing.
Those looking for a precise date for these figures will need to know 1808 and around 1812. 1808 was the year the knapsack started to be carried on the back, supported by two straps around the shoulders, as modelled on almost every man here. 1812 is cited as the last year because the officer in this set has a sash round the waist, which in that year was replaced by a gorget at the throat. However for the men their appearance remains valid for the rest of the Napoleonic Wars. Most wear the characteristic Raupenhelm helmet, which is nicely done here, although they all lack a plume (which is fine as only some elites wore this) and a cockade and tuft on the left (which is an error as all ranks had these). Two of the poses wear the fatigue cap, which resembled the French bonnet de police, except here it does not because it has been given almost no crown, so is a poor model. The coats with standing collar and short tails look fine, although as most of the poses are not facing the mould there is little detail on the men’s chests. Some have the breeches and gaiters visible, but many are wearing trousers over these. The officer differs by the increased size of his helmet crest, the long tails on his coat and his sash, although the latter is quite thin and looks more like a belt to us. Drummers usually had swallows nest epaulettes, which this one lacks, although at least one regiment went without them, so the figure is unusual but not impossible. He would have had chevron decoration on his sleeves, which has not been sculpted on this figure.
Kit includes the aforementioned knapsack and the obligatory cartridge pouch on the right hip. Some but not all have a water bottle, and some have a haversack, which was not part of the usual equipment so is really too common here. All have a sabre on the left hip, and some also a scabbard for the bayonet.
The flag, which is reasonably open and so easy to measure, is about 18mm by 20, which is to say 130cm wide and 144 tall. The real thing was about 170cm square, so this is noticeably too small, despite not looking too bad at first glance. It is quite nicely animated, however, and the staff has correctly been given a spearhead finial. A little of the flag is attached to the man’s helmet, but it would not be too much effort for the flag to be substituted by a paper flag, should that be desired.
Sculpting is mostly very nice, with clear detail on equipment and helmet as well and good faces and hands. Since most of the poses do not face the mould, there has been loss of detail on the fronts of many, and some of the arm positions are a bit awkward as the sculptor wrestles with the problems of such a pose in profile. Occasionally things can get a bit vague, such as the cuffs on some, which cannot be explained by the mould. We also thought the officer’s sword was rather puny, and a good deal shorter than the scabbard where it is kept. There is a little flash, but in places there is excess plastic hidden from the mould, and also a sort of rough finish to some of the seams, which makes the figures seem a bit untidy.
The best thing about this set is the detail of the sculpting. There are errors in accuracy, but nothing glaringly obvious, although even subtle errors are a shame. The poses we thought were reasonable, up to the job but something of a compromise, and the two downed casualties have not been thought through. Still this is a fair addition to the Strelets range of Bavarians from Napoleon’s time.