Despite being one of Napoleon's most ardent opponents, the Austrian Habsburg Empire has received remarkably little coverage in this hobby to date, although Italeri can point to their dedicated if flawed set of some years ago with some satisfaction. Now they have released a second set, and this time they cover the years prior to Austerlitz - from 1798 in fact, when the Austrian soldier started a new phase of changes to his appearance.
1798 saw a number of significant changes to uniform being approved, but it took many years to introduce the new uniform throughout the army and the figures in rows one, two and most of three show the fusiliers as they appeared, in their older uniform, for much of the period. They wear the casquet hat with raised front and pompon on the left side, and the fairly long-tailed coat with four turnbacks and fall collar. These fusiliers are all 'German' (rather than Hungarian) as can be seen by their square cuffs and gaiters, and all carry their knapsack and greatcoat suspended from a belt over their right shoulder. Over the same shoulder another belt holds their sabre and bayonet on their left hip, while the right plays host to the cartridge box. There are accuracy problems, however, although some would consider them minor. First, the coats should have only one shoulder strap, on the left shoulder, and slanted towards the rear of the shoulder - these figures have two perfectly straight straps. Rather more obviously is the size of the hat, which is considerably too large. From the front they look almost like mitre hats, which is a real pity as this is a very difficult thing to rectify (and strangely this is not the first Italeri set to have over large hats). Finally we felt the bayonets were a little too long, although more than one model was in use at the time.
The drummer is correctly done with swallow’s nest epaulettes and no cartridge box, while he has sensibly balanced his load by transferring his pack to his right side. The ensign has done the same and has a cane attached to a button of his coat as a sign of rank. He stands still, and clearly there is not much wind as the flag is decidedly limp. This means that the design - which is engraved where visible - is very hard to make out but looks OK.
1798 saw the appearance of the 'Roman' helmet, as worn by the officer and the first two figures in the final row. Along with the new headwear came a new coat with standing collar, two straight shoulder straps and simpler, more modern turnbacks - all of which has been correctly modelled here. The fairly small knapsack was now held by two straps passing around the shoulder, joined across the chest by a third, and again all is at it should be here. Again there are problems though. First the helmet is rather too large (are we repeating ourselves?), and the peaks seem a little exaggerated too, although the detail on these is fine. That of the officer is particularly large, but some officers deliberately enlarged and altered theirs so here it is no problem. The queue was not abolished until 1805, though there is no evidence either figure here is wearing one. Also both have sabres, an item removed from all fusiliers unless musicians or NCOs. It does seem there were some grenadiers wearing this helmet at some time, but we would have much preferred the sabres be left behind. Another possibility is these are light infantry or jagers, but still the sabre is wrong and the helmet has the wrong badge for such troops. The officer is very nice, with his pistol slung across his back. He has chosen not to wear the common Oberrock coat, but the Esci set provides such a figure.
Finally we find two grenadiers. Their appearance changed less than the fusiliers thanks mainly to the bearskin, which changed only in that a peak appeared during this period (these figures are without a peak). Like the fusiliers they changed coat, and both these figures wear the earlier version, which suffers from the same errors as already described for the fusiliers. Other than the cap, distinctions were the match case on the crossbelt, the badge on the cartridge pouch (missing on these models) and the habit of wearing moustaches, which these both do.
Of the poses we would say they are a fair bunch, although several have a strange tendency to hold their musket with both hands very close to the lock, an unbalanced and unnatural position probably done for the convenience of the sculptor. Many will welcome the two similar fusilier marching poses (the only difference being that the man in the top row has a cane and so is an NCO), although amusingly the man in the second row seems about to loose his musket as it slips off his shoulder. Only two poses for the later fusiliers and the grenadiers does not offer much, but if we had to choose just two poses then a marching and advancing one would probably be our choice too.
We have moaned about the oversized hats but on the whole these are very attractive models executed with plenty of good crisp detail which painters will find easy to follow. Proportions are good too and there is no flash and relatively little excess plastic, although the occasional area without detail betrays where the mould could not reach. Some however will have noticed one big drawback. The fusiliers average 25.5 mm (1.84 metres) in height, which is too much for even 19th century Europeans. The grenadiers average 26mm, which is perhaps not so bad as in theory grenadiers were particularly tall men, but in our view these are really too tall, particularly when the large hats are added (judge for yourself with our comparison page below).
We wonder at the decision to include the two later fusiliers. While they are perfectly appropriate for the advertised period they are available elsewhere and perhaps more grenadiers might have been better as the previous set also contained few of these. While these are all attractive figures Italeri need to keep a careful eye on their scaling, and a little more attention to the finer details would be welcome too. As it is there will be some that will curse Italeri for their mistakes as this set would certainly have appealed to many, but at least they delivered a set of Napoleonic infantry that have mostly never been done before, which is an achievement in itself these days.