As with any army at the start of a war, the army of the Russian empire was a far from perfect instrument in 1854. Like the other branches, the cavalry had been developed to present a magnificent spectacle on the parade ground, but had weapons that were poorly maintained, horses that were under exercised and very little appropriate training. When war came the cavalry performed poorly, not least at Balaclava, where their actions contributed to the lack of Russian success. The hussar's most famous exploit, their 'charge' against the highlanders of the 'thin red line', was hardly a glorious episode for them, but it is these men that are depicted in this set.
By the middle of the nineteenth century Russia's hussars still retained much of their traditional and dashing costume, but the practicalities of war meant most wore their greatcoats in the field, and so it is here. All the troopers wear the long coat and shako with its cover in place, which may not be a colourful sight but is at least authentic. On the front of the shako cover the squadron number was stenciled, but on these models this has become a deep 3-dimensional badge. Opinions differ on whether essentially flat decoration should be sculpted on figures, but here it looks very odd and we would have preferred it to have been omitted entirely. The rest of the uniform, simple though it is, is correctly done, with the right belts and pouches as well as nice large cuffs on the coat. The officer, trumpeter and flag-bearer do not have coats, revealing their laced dolmans and, in the case of the officer, the pelisse, correctly hung across the back. The detail on these full dress items is well done, as is the uncovered shakos these men wear. The officer has a carbine, which suggests he may actually only be an NCO.
Strelets have had a tendency to go over the top with their dramatic poses in the past, but they seem to be mending their ways as the choice of poses here is more realistic. The usual selection of sword-waving men are joined by some using their carbines plus the trumpeter, officer and flag-bearer. This last piece has the flag fairly limp, which is much more likely than perfectly flat as is often done.
If the human poses are OK then we were more worried by the horses - specifically the spectacular leap of the first horse in our picture. To achieve this stance and height off the ground the animal is likely to be leaping over an obstacle that is both wide and tall, or else is leaping off a ledge. Not impossible on a battlefield, but much too unusual to justify its inclusion in this set in our view. The rest of the horses are a mixture of galloping and trotting animals, and while not great are adequate for the task. Russian horses of the time were described as little more than ponies, which is not the impression given by these models. Also we felt the shabraque (saddle cloth) seemed too small.
The standard of sculpting is reasonable but nothing more. Proportions seem a little off and the figures have a chunky look to them, with the clarity of detail being only OK. Occasional flat spots don't help, although all the figures are at least free of flash. If not a thing of beauty then at least this set is accurate and with all-usable poses, and it will certainly be an essential component of any model Russian army of this period.