Much of Wellington’s cavalry in the Peninsular War, especially in the early years, was made up of light dragoons. Despite their name, their role was much the same as any heavy cavalry, and they were expected to conduct a full charge if required. However their day-to-day concerns focused not on the enemy but on their creature comforts and the maintenance of their horses. Suitable local mounts were difficult to find, yet the perilous voyage necessary to ship animals out from Britain often meant many were lost on route, and were usually in poor condition by the time they arrived. It was common to have many more riders than horses available for duty, yet they played a vital part in screening Wellington’s army and in reporting the movements of the enemy.
We shall start this review by talking about the sculpting and general quality of production, because this has an impact on the other aspects of this set. When we say detail is soft we generally mean it is there but blurred and not sharp, but this set really goes beyond soft as much of it just merges into the rest or is almost impossible to make out at all. Basically everything looks like it is being viewed through frosted glass, so the clothing has no creases or folds, the kit lacks almost all detail and the faces are an almost smooth surface with a nose. The right hands of the two poses with right arm attached are indistinguishable from the sword they hold, and those on the separate arms are little better. As the box art shows us, these men wore jackets with lots of fine braiding on the chest. What we have here are bands of smooth strips across the chest, very hard to make out but certainly no braiding. While we understand that such fine details are virtually impossible to reproduce at this scale, usually some attempt is made, but not here. The helmets are another major challenge for the sculptor, which is why none of the men are directly facing forward, but even so there are areas lacking all detail.
It gets worse – a lot worse. We address ourselves to the two poses with the separate right arm. Each pose has a small lump below the shoulder – describing it as a peg would be a gross insult to pegs everywhere – and each separate arm has a shallow dent – describing it as a hole would be equally rude to holes. In no way do these fit together, generally leaving a wide gap between shoulder and arm, and with such a tiny area of contact that merely gluing would surely not provide a strong-enough bond either. Given the apparent inability to produce a sharp, well-engineered mould, we wonder why HaT embarked on this solution at all, since the result does not work at all.
Looking for something good to say about the sculpting, at least the men fit properly on the saddles. The fit is not tight so will need gluing, but at least that is achievable. The men are all provided with separate carbines, which fit onto a peg (well sort of) on the carbine belt, and while this too is very far from a snug fit, it does at least go on. There is some flash, but generally not a lot, although one of the horses on our example (not pictured) had more.
The first two poses pictured – those with all their limbs supplied already attached – are pretty good, and don’t suffer at all from the flat appearance you often get with cavalrymen. The second two are of course wholly dependent on the fixing of the separate arms, which we have already described. The range of available arms is good as can be seen above, and they do offer the possibility of creating men who are doing something else other than being engaged in a full-on charge. Given how rare such charges were this is great, and had the engineering been good enough to make this work, it would have been a really great way to maximise the poses with some very useful ones.
The horses are the same as are to be found in the corresponding HaT set of British Heavy Dragoons. This does not present any problems as the saddles and other furniture looked much the same at this scale. Both have a simple folded blanket under the saddle, a rolled cloak at the front and a round valise at the back, all covered with a small sheepskin. The anatomy of the animals is well done, except that the front leg of both lacks much definition, which is odd as the other three are fine. One animal is walking and the other is trotting, so much more useful poses than the all-charging selection you so often get, and both poses are quite natural too. It should be noted however that the tails should be cropped, not full and natural as here.
The uniform of the light dragoons was largely set well before the Napoleonic Wars, but as we shall see the one on these figures dates from 1800 to around 1814 at the latest. To begin with we have the helmet, which seems to have had no official name beyond ‘light dragoon helmet’ but which is popularly known both then and now as the ‘Tarleton’. With the leather crown, large front peak and fur crest running from front to back, this was their most distinctive item in the period. On these figures it has been done without a plume, which was sometimes dropped when on campaign, but it is also missing the rosette and ribbons of the turban at the back – instead the crest reaches all the way to the bottom. It appears that they have all been sculpted with chin scales – this is a mistake, as chin scales were not normal wear. Often seen on portraits of officers, this was actually an affectation added by some officers as a fashion statement and not normal wear for the privates.
The jacket is the waist-length dolman introduced around 1800. It had no tails but vast amounts of braiding on the chest as we have already mentioned, and it came to a point at the back which these do not. Also the cuffs should be pointed and elegant in shape, but although hard to see at all, those here are all square and plain. The men all wear overalls, hiding their boots, which is likely to have been common when on campaign. Perhaps understandably, the regiments dressed as hussars tend to take the limelight when light dragoons of this period are considered, but with the provisos mentioned, these are correctly uniformed.
The swords these men carry look good, but the carbines, both slung and held, are largely featureless and simply the right general shape. Each man is correctly equipped with cartridge pouch, haversack and water bottle, the last slung high to avoid excessive movement when on the move. No one wears their hair in a queue, which was a practice abolished in 1808, so for the purists this represents the earliest date for these men. This uniform was replaced from 1812 with a much simpler one that unfortunately followed the French fashion, but it would have taken a couple of years for all personnel to replace their more ornate costume, so these work for virtually the whole of the Peninsular War period.
Much lack of detail can be hidden by a really good paint job, but in this case anyone willing to do that will have little help from these poorly defined models. Should you not wish to paint, and do not wish to view these figures close up, then the major problem here is the separate arms. It is a good idea that can work well, and HaT have made it work in the past, but clearly in this case the technology was simply not up to the job, and you would have to be a dedicated modeller to want to put these together properly. The small accuracy issues are not likely to worry many people, but this seems like much too ambitious a project under the circumstances, and the result is a set that will be very hard to use to the full.