French artillery had been the best in the world during the Napoleonic Wars, and by the start of the war in the Crimea that was still pretty much the case. The French committed the largest number of men to the allied cause, and of those over 20,000 were with the artillery. The three types of French artillery - foot, horse and mounted - had been split into dedicated regiments in 1854, and of course there was the new Imperial Guard with its own artillery. Much of that was concerned with the big guns of the siege of Sevastopol, but the field artillery too played its part, and it is this that we find in this set.
Guard artillery wore busbys, as did horse artillery, so as there are none of this item here these figures represent the foot artillery. The uniform for such men was set by the regulations of 1846, which speak of coatees and tunics as well as shakos. Such items were not taken on campaign by the infantry, who instead wore the kepi and the capote, but the artillery were specifically ordered to carry both with them to the East. As a result the coatee, with plastron front and short tails, does seem to have been worn on active service sometimes, but the shako never was, with the much more comfortable kepi being the standard for all ranks. The figures in this set all wear the kepi, as they should, but the rest of the clothing is much more varied. Some do wear the coatee, although this has been sculpted with the tails coming round the hips and meeting at the stomach, which is a Napoleonic feature and incorrect for this period. A few wear the capote or the officer’s coat, complete with hood, while others wear the 'veste', a sort of shell jacket that was comfortable and practical when the weather was warm. Some are simply in shirt sleeves, which was common in hot weather, and some officers wear the 'tunique' frock coat (some with epaulettes), which again was common. All the men wear the lose trousers and a variety of boots and gaiters, all of which are authentic. No one is wearing the full pack (which is understandable), but some still have the cross belt over the left shoulder that supported the ammunition pouch. Apart from a couple of canteens that is all of the equipment on show, although the officers naturally carry their swords as well. Therefore apart from the error with the coatees all the costume here is correctly done.
Artillery poses tend to be quite dull because the basic poses for serving a gun were little changed for hundreds of years, but while those classic poses are here we thought the total mix was very good. Some are fairly flat as you might expect, but there are some very nicely thought out figures here, and none of them seem at all incongruous. There are quite a number of officers, and only one man with a match (although friction tubes were appearing by this time), so the balance is not quite what it should be, causing problems in setting up full crews for both the guns.
The gun is a surprisingly decent model. The carriage is largely devoid of detail, as they so often are in this hobby, and there is a certain rough quality to the model, but in general the gun is quite pleasing. Strelets have supplied the barrels with separate muzzles to deliver the visible opening in the muzzle face, which works quite well, and also separate dolphins (the handles for the barrel), which do not work at all because the holes are to the side of the barrel. The two barrels are of slightly different lengths, and presumably represent the 'canon de 12' and the light version.
These are amongst the better examples of Strelets sculpting, with good if chunky detail and some nice faces - the beards and moustaches are particularly effective. There is no flash and the only assembly is for the guns, which fit together quite well, so this is a well-produced set.
Apart from the problem with the coatee these are some nice Strelets figures which are accurate and reflect their subject well. The variety means the customer is faced with mixing men in short sleeves with those in thick coats, which is not that unusual and not too much of a problem. A few more figures would have been nice so we could have had all those officers without depriving the guns, but there is much that is positive in this set.