Sweden’s Charles XII (1682 – 1718) was well aware of the value of artillery in his battles, but he also favoured rapid manoeuvre and surprising his opponents with unexpected appearances, and as the slowest arm of the army the artillery, or at least the heavier guns, made such tactics more difficult. The debate continues as to the impact of the Swedish artillery, given these difficulties, but undoubtedly it featured in all his major battles and was a vital part of any Swedish army of the time. Having already produced their very good Russian Artillery of Peter the Great much was expected of Zvezda with this companion set, and to a considerable degree both sets should be considered together when wishing to set up any artillery unit of the period.
As with the Russian set there is a lot in this box. Naturally we begin at the top with the crew figures, of which there is a very healthy eight plus an officer. For the most part the poses are very good - excellent even - and generally very natural and lifelike. Exactly what the first figure in the first row is doing is hard to say as, although you can’t see it in our picture, both his raised hands are facing left, which is not anatomically difficult but very odd. This and some others of the figures have separate arms to achieve a better stance, which is fine although we found these very tight and quite tricky to push home all the way, leaving a quite ugly gap at the shoulder. Still there is no need for any glue, and with a little filling and painting the result will be very good.
Their costume is the standard military garb of the age with the large-pocketed coats showing no sign of turnbacks, making them particularly suited to the early and middle years of the Great Northern War, before such things came into fashion. All the men have swords, which was regulation (if not always achieved), and some carry extra items like a flask or a musket. All the major artillery tools are present, with figures carrying a powder ladle, a small linstock (which apparently denoted a gun captain), a ramrod and a sponge/mop as well as shot and a cartridge. Everything here is accurate, even down to the neat wig of the officer and the unfettered locks of the rest of the men.
For quality of product Zvezda have matched their customary high standards with excellent detail that is lovely and sharp, while the proportions are perfect as always. Areas such as the always-difficult tricorn hats have been superbly done, so our compliments to the sculptors here. Assembling the arms takes a bit of effort, but there is no flash and the result is very pleasing. So far so good.
With the officer is a somewhat redundant outrider, who is present only because of the very clever design of the sprues. Unnecessary he may be but there is always room in the spares box for extra figures, so no complaints from us. Beside him are the obligatory bucket and powder barrel, which comes complete with the cover that hopefully protected it from stray sparks and other mishaps.
Now we come to the guns, of which there are an impressive five. All are made up of multiple parts, which is the usual Zvezda style and means the detailing is far superior to other, simpler models. The look of the guns is great and everything fits together with satisfying ease to create some lovely little models. Our comments in the Russian set about fixed wedges forcing the barrels to have little or no elevation applies here too unfortunately, which seems an unnecessary oversight in an otherwise well designed set, but hardly a show-stopper.
The main field artillery made use of 3-, 6- and 12-pdr guns, while infantry had their own regimental guns of 4-pdr calibre. There was much debate at the time, and thereafter, on the ideal design of a gun, and in particular the length and weight of the barrel for a given weight of shot. Some countries attempted standardisation but there was no international agreement on such things, and unfortunately we have not managed to find any specific information on Swedish guns of the early 17th century. However the contemporary French Vallière system specified a barrel length of 285cm for an 8-pdr, and this seems fairly typical, although several countries were also experimenting with lighter, shorter barrels, particularly Sweden itself (and the French, who had an 8-pdr of only 162cm in length). Looking at the two guns in this set (and ignoring the short howitzer for a moment), the barrel on both is about 27mm in length, which equates to almost 2 metres. This would seem a fair size for either the 3- or 6-pdrs, so in the face of no absolute evidence to the contrary these seem fine. The single gun at the start of this row has a wider barrel and is mounted on a larger carriage, so should be the 6-pdr, while the more numerous middle gun would be the 3-pdr, or perhaps even the 4-pdr regimentals (although a shorter barrel might be better for these). The last gun is a howitzer, which with a barrel length of almost 15mm is perfectly sized. It rests on a noticeably shorter carriage, which is fine although some were mounted on standard gun carriages instead. So, still all good news so far.
We will consider the limber and wagon in the bottom two rows together because there is some interchange ability here. On decent roads a 3-pdr gun could be pulled by just two horses, but for the larger guns, or when the going was difficult (as it so often was), four or more would be necessary. Equally wagons would have more horses the larger they were, or if the circumstances demanded it and the teams were available. Both the limber and wagon in this set come with a single pair, plus one second pair which can be hitched to either, as we have shown in our picture of the limber. Really the team of four would be needed for the 6-pdrs, but the size of the wagon suggests that too would need at least four, so while the choice of team size is with the customer there would ideally be enough horses for two teams of four. Having said that the limber, wagon and teams are all superb. The limber is of standard design and perfectly done, while the wagon matches extant examples of Swedish ammunition wagons in design and again is faithfully reproduced here. The wagon has a removable lid which reveals the ammunition laid out inside, and with everything being virtually snap-together the wheels actually rotate and the wagon pivots about the front axis as no glue is required. As we have said, four or even six horses would be preferable for a wagon of this size, but otherwise we couldn’t wish for more.
That’s the lot, and what a lot there is too. When you consider the elements included in the Russian set, such as the galloper gun and the small ammunition wagon, these two between them cover the early 18th century artillery remarkably comprehensively. Better yet they do so with some superb workmanship and attention to detail that cannot fail to delight all those with an interest in warfare three hundred years ago. Each is superb in itself and as a pair they must be the definitive word on the subject in this hobby.