When Frederick of the house of Hohenzollern became the second King of Prussia to bear that name in 1740, he inherited a well administered and prosperous country with a fine army. Over the next four decades and more he repeatedly used that tool to further his country's interests and make Prussia into one of the major powers of Europe. Much has been written on the success of the Prussian Army under their famous monarch, but prior to the release of this set there had been very few sets of figures representing them at this scale. This set of Grenadiers from Zvezda is their first for the Seven Years War, and takes as its subject the cream of the Prussian infantry - the grenadiers.
The typical Prussian infantry regiment of the time was made up of two battalions of six companies each, five of which were musketeers or fusiliers and the sixth were grenadiers. In time of war the two grenadier companies in a regiment would leave their parent organisation and join with two from another regiment to form a grenadier battalion of about 700 men. As in all armies the grenadiers were expected to be the best of the infantry, often used in the most hazardous of tasks or to spearhead an assault.
Frederick took exceptional interest in his army, but he was little interested in uniforms, so for the whole of his long reign the appearance of his men did not change greatly. The figures in this set are wearing the standard uniform of the time, being a coat cut quite tightly with fairly short tails, below which is a waistcoat. Breeches and gaiters covered the lower limbs, while the famous mitre cap, the only significant difference in appearance between grenadiers and other infantrymen, crowned the head. On these figures the mitre front plate has a basic eagle design which is perfectly valid but understandably the easiest pattern, with many others being far more complex. All the men have the long pigtail down the back (which was artificial if nature would not oblige) and their hair is curled at the temples, while every face sports the obligatory large moustache.
Equally accurate are the various items of kit with which these men are burdened. All have the cartridge pouch on the right hip and both knapsack and bread bag on the left. However there is no sign of the metal water flask that should also be in this position. Every man has his sword by his side, but there is no evidence of a bayonet scabbard. True for most of the reign the soldiers always had their bayonets fixed, but it seems they still retained their now redundant scabbard nonetheless.
As usual with Zvezda we have a good many infantrymen plus a few officers and other special troops. Here all the poses are quite valid, although we were surprised at the large number of kneeling firing figures. Prussian infantry usually fought in three ranks, with the front rank kneeling before giving fire. Therefore it would make sense to provide more standing firing figures (for ranks two and three) than those kneeling in the first rank. Having nine standing firing and six kneeling would have made more sense here. All the poses are well done, and as can be guessed from our pictures many are achieved with separate arms (which we will discuss later). The last figure in the second row is labelled as a Feldwebel, which equates to a company sergeant-major. As an NCO he carries a half pike, a weapon more useful to keep order in the ranks than to threaten the enemy. On the bottom row there is a fifer and drummer, of which each grenadier company had two and three respectively. Next there is a flag-bearer and finally an officer. This man is correctly wearing a tricorn, as did all officers regardless of the designation of their men, and he also has the gorget round his neck and the sash at his waist which were the symbols of his rank. Here he has discarded his spontoon in favour of his sword, and is apparently leading his men on in a slightly unusual pose.
The flag-bearer gets a paragraph of his own, which is often a bad thing! This man is carrying a colour which measures 17mm (122cm) wide and 22mm (158cm) high. The height is good, but the colour should have been square rather than this strange rectangle. The flag itself is engraved with a fairly typical infantry design, but only on one side. On the other the engraving is completely different and depicts a colour of a garrison regiment. At the very least this would have confused the men, and of course it is nonsense. Prussian flags were painted on the cloth and the paint soaked through, so the design on one side was the mirror image of the other (e.g. the eagle always looked away from the staff). Certainly this duel-regiment flag never existed, which makes us wonder why Zvezda bothered to engrave a design in the first place. One further fact should be noted here. None of the grenadier companies carried flags, whether merged into their own battalions or as part of their parent regiment. The only exceptions were the 6th regiment Grenadier-Garde-Bataillon, which was a permanent regiment of grenadiers yet did carry colours, and possibly some battalions of the 15th. However the flag here is not correct for the 6th regiment (neither side!) as it carried the FWR cypher in tribute to Frederick William I. As a result this figure, regardless of the shape and design of his flag, is little use to anyone (unless you are recreating the 6th regiment, in which case you must ignore 'both' flag designs as well as the shape).
We expect nothing less than excellent detail from Zvezda, and once again this set delivers. The faces are very lifelike, the brandebourgs (lace bars) on the coats are sharp and clear and the texture of the calfskin knapsack is perfect. In a couple of places detail is lost where the area is not facing the mould, but these are few. The figures have no flash and no excess plastic, but as usual this is achieved by making many of them multi-part. It is reasonably easy to see which figures have separate arms from our photographs, and this is because the fit is not what it might be. To be honest some of the arms are so tight that they are a real struggle to fit inside the holes, so while a fitted arm will never need glue it is hard work putting a whole box of figures together. Also some of the joins are quite poor, with a noticeable gap between shoulder and arm, although careful trimming would solve this at the cost of even more time spent in assembly. Snip and play these figures certainly are not. The reloading man has his ramrod some way from the muzzle of his musket, which is not apparent from the front (as in our picture) but looks odd from any other angle.
There is one other unsavoury characteristic of this set - they are all giants. At an average of 1.87m tall they would tower over most ordinary men, and so while Zvezda print "1/72" on the box they seem to pay little attention to that standard inside. Ah you might say, were not grenadiers taller than average anyway? Sadly the answer is no. In the Prussian army, unlike many others, grenadiers were selected for their toughness, reliability and experience rather than size, and were no taller on average than any other soldier of the time. But what of the legendary Giant Grenadiers you might say. Those were basically freakishly tall men that Frederick William, Frederick the Great's father, 'collected' and uniformed as grenadiers. They were for show only and not combat, and when he gained the throne Frederick disbanded them as useless and a waste of money that could be spent on real soldiers, although the more useful ones were retained in new units.
Although these are beautifully sculpted and mostly authentic it is the negative aspects of this set that seem to come to the fore. You will need some dedication (and time) to put these models together, and certainly if you want a seamless result, but their excessive size makes them difficult to use along with other, better-sized figures, although ironically they match perfectly the ugly but equally oversized Prussian figures from Revell. It is always a pity when so much good work is spoiled like this, and we can only hope that future Seven Years War sets from Zvezda appear in the correct scale as such sets are certainly needed.