When French forces departed for the invasion of Egypt in 1798 they included 100 guns (60 field and 40 siege) as well as about 1650 artillerymen. Some were left to garrison the newly conquered island of Malta, but the rest moved with the army to take part in the campaign in Egypt and later Syria. Since few horses could be brought from Europe local animals were used, and the artillery supported the army well until the French were forced to evacuate Egypt in 1801.
This set contains two guns with a combined crew of 14, all in different poses, which is a very respectable number. All the usual poses are to be found, with men holding ramrods, buckets, ammunition, matches, powder and handspikes, plus officers sighting a gun and observing the target, and there are also two men man-handling the guns. All of these look reasonable and allow the owner to have two crews at different stages of the firing process, which is always welcome. The second figure in the second row has a separate handspike, but otherwise the figures require no assembly, although relatively few seem particularly flat and none are inappropriate.
The two guns are inevitably simplified and a bit rough but still reasonable models, having the double-cheek carriages of the Gribeauval system. The gun barrel is about 28mm in length, which at a scale just over two metres implies these are 8-pounder weapons. The barrel has a separate piece for the muzzle, which allows for an indentation to suggest the bore of the gun, which is a nice touch. The carriage is 39mm long, which equates to about 280cm and is the correct size for an 8-pounder gun, although it is missing the second pair of trunnion slots used when a gun of this weight was being moved any distance. The wheels are almost the right size, so everything here suggests an 8-pounder, which is perfectly suitable for the Egyptian campaign.
Although they were in Egypt for only about three years the uniform of everyone in the French army underwent several changes as it adapted to the hot and hostile environment and suffered from poor resupply from home. Where there is significant elements of a uniform on these figures they wear the long-tailed coat and bicorn hat that they wore when they first arrived, Later innovations like the leather helmet and the single-breasted short-tailed habite-veste are not in evidence here, making these men better suited to the early months of the campaign. However there is a great deal of improvisation here, with men in all sorts of orders of dress, and often quite a lot of undress, as we find men in shirt sleeves or stripped to the waist, wearing caps of various sorts, sun-shields and other items, some of which are civilian in nature. Coats are often unfastened, hats are not at the regulation angle, and the whole group have a scruffy and unkempt appearance which must surely have been much closer to the real appearance of these men as they toiled under the North African sun. Those wanting troops in neat and tidy regulation uniforms will be disappointed, but we felt this mix of practical attire really worked well and we applaud the level of credibility these figures have.
The sculpting is not to the taste of many as usual, with a quite unpolished appearance and some exaggerated items and details. The sabre-briquet some of the men carry and the sword of the officer are both absurdly short and also too wide, making them look silly, but this is the most visible feature of this style. The man with the separate handspike has very poor hands with which to 'hold' this, but the guns are relatively easy to put together with all the parts fitting well, and there is no flash anywhere.
One further observation concerns the ramrod in the top row. As can be seen this is a crooked ramrod, which was used for light 4-pounder guns and some horse artillery pieces. Since the guns here are 8-pounders and the men all belong to the foot artillery, this type of ramrod seems out of place, although it could be an emergency measure and in any case some deft work with a knife will quickly remove the crook and leave a very satisfactory tool. Although the sculpting is not good and the figures are not attractive, we felt the variety of poses and the generally dishevelled look of the men were real positive aspects of this set, and while we would have liked to have seen more of later elements of the uniform we still thought this an entirely reasonable and interesting collection for Napoleon’s adventure in Egypt.