Whatever your primary interest - the ancient world, Napoleon's adventures etc - there can be no denying that these figures, and the men they represent, are a spectacular sight. The famous Polish winged hussars impressed almost everyone who saw them, and the terrifying effect of these men charging towards you with long lances and tall feathers can hardly be imagined today. Poland-Lithuania was a major power in the 17th century - the period covered by this set - so these men saw service in many battles against many foes, but are perhaps best remembered in the West for their triumph at the siege of Vienna in 1683.
Although winged hussars in Polish service can be dated to the later 16th century their appearance changed over time. This is apparent in the 'wings', the feathered decoration that most strikes the viewer. In the early part of the 17th century such wings were only attached to the saddle, but during the 1640s it seems some were connected to armour. This practice appears to have disappeared quickly, only to return with vigour in the 1670s. All the figures in this set have their wings attached to the back of their armour, making them best suited to the last quarter of the century, which includes Vienna of course. This was also the period when the hussars reached their peak, and thereafter began a long decline.
There is debate over how much such wings were worn on campaign and in battle. Certainly accounts exist of them being worn on campaign, but they must have been very prone to damage and bad weather so may not have always appeared on the battlefield. However it is thought that their main purpose was to intimidate any opposition (particularly horses), and the romantic in all of us would like to think they were always worn in battle. Zvezda have provided some examples that are straight and others that are curved at the top (on two of the figures there is a choice of styles), and of course should you choose to have some wingless hussars you can always leave the wings off entirely, although you would then have slots in the back which would need filling.
Enough of wings. What about the rest of them? Well apart from the trumpeter these are all magnificently armoured, with even the minor decoration engraved with authentic designs. Many wear animal pelts which were a common sight on such men - that of the rotamaster or commander still retains the animal's head. Everything matches well with available evidence, although we would say that these are clearly front-rankers, that is the most wealthy or best equipped men. Those in the rear ranks would have had less armour and made a rather less impressive vision. Apart from that observation we would say these are entirely accurate.
The principal weapon was the kopia lance. Here two poses have this couched while a third holds it upright. The lance is about 58mm (4.2 metres) in length, which is a good length, and is correctly modelled with the spherical handguard. All the lances also have a long (40mm) pennant, which is enormous yet certainly existed. Logic would suggest that in battle much smaller pennants would be used to avoid fouling on their own horses, and doubtless some smaller pennants were used, but perhaps these larger examples were also used to add to the terrible vision these men presented to their enemy.
Once the lance was broken or lost the hussar had to have a secondary weapon. This was the sabre which the third figure on the top row is using and which all the poses possess. In addition many of the horses have the extremely long koncerz sword below the saddle, an unwieldy weapon which is being used by the second figure in the top row. This was almost a lance substitute, and difficult to use in close combat, but good to see it here. Finally all the horses have a brace of pistols, which is again correct.
We seem to have discussed accuracy at great length, yet the conclusion is everything here is fine. This applies equally to the horses, which again are particularly richly decorated so match well with their impressive owners. All the poses are good too, and are well proportioned.
Unlike the Orion set we find a good many men using their lance here, while those with the sword are also very useful. A large number of the man with lance upright and pennant flying high, suitably painted, must be an amazing sight on any table. However there is a problem with the main charging figure (first on top row). He is holding his lance over the neck of his horse, pointing it considerably to his left. The correct charge position was straight ahead, like the charging figure in the second row, so while not an impossible pose we felt there should have been only one of this one and three of the better second pose. Otherwise the flag-bearer, trumpeter and rotamaster are all very good, so given the number of poses available we felt the pose choices were very good.
Naturally such complex figures were never going to come in a single piece, particularly with Zvezda making them. Levelled lances and all wings are separate, but apart from that there is no assembly, so both the swordsmen are moulded at an angle to avoid separate arms. Naturally too all parts fit together very well - in fact almost too well as the fit is sometimes very tight and needs some patience. Being Zvezda we find pegs on the inner legs of the riders, which are as useless as in previous sets. Cut them off and you find riders that fit their allotted horses perfectly - leave them on and prepare to be frustrated. Finally of course these figures are beautifully crafted, with great detail and no flash anywhere.
At last we come to the end! What we are saying is, this is another great set. The flag and pennants all have a Knight's Cross emblem engraved on them, which is authentic but we would have preferred plain to allow other possibilities, but apart from the wayward lancer there is nothing much wrong with these figures. Orion made a great set of these hussars, and this one from Zvezda matches it, even down to the men being much the same size. Fans of these particular troops have been spoiled indeed.