Despite having an enormous part to play throughout the Napoleonic Wars, there have been an absurdly small number of sets representing troops from Russia. The situation is much improved now, with HaT filling many of the gaps, but at the time of release this was only the second Napoleonic Russian set ever made.
Like the Esci set, this set represents Russian Grenadiers, though these date from before the shako depicted in the Esci set was introduced. During the period named on the box, 1806/7, grenadiers were having their rather old-fashioned mitre hats replaced by shakos, but by 1807 the Pavlov Grenadiers had yet to receive theirs. After their gallant conduct at the Battle of Friedland, this regiment alone was allowed to keep the mitre, so on the face of it these figures could be used to depict this regiment for most of the Napoleonic Wars.
The subject chosen is very unusual, and they must rate amongst the most spectacular and colourful infantry of any army in that most spectacular and colourful of conflicts. Italeri provide 15 poses, with every one beautifully animated and detailed. Italeri is one of that rare breed, a company that got the sculpting quality right straight from the start (although sadly some much later sets were to be of poorer quality). The boy playing the fife is a particularly nice touch, but all the figures are attractive.
For some, that might be enough, but where Italeri did fall down was in doing their homework. While overall these figures might look authentic there are some aspects that are not well done. Most obvious is the knapsack, which looks standard enough, but in fact Russian troops of this period usually wore a cylindrical valise-type bag over the back (introduced in 1802 so certainly universal by 1806), with the mess tin strapped more or less on top. These figures wear a rectangular affair that only started to be introduced in 1808. Also, most Russian infantry of the time had no bayonet scabbard; instead they kept their bayonets permanently fixed to the musket, yet these figures have the scabbard, and in many cases have the bayonet in it too. The Russians abandoned forming the hair into a queue in 1806, so since all these figures have one they cannot postdate 1806 except for the officer, for whom the queue was optional. We also felt that the officers boots were too short as they should be almost to knee height, though that is not too difficult a problem to rectify if painting. What painting cannot rectify however is the officer's headgear, which from the available evidence seems always to have been a simple bicorn or, later on, a shako, but probably not the mitre worn by the men.
For reasons unknown musical instruments seem to pose a particular challenge for many manufacturers, and Italeri got it wrong in this instance. The drummer, who has an unconvincing arrangement for the strap of his drum, is in any case carrying an instrument that resembles a toy, and is certainly much smaller than should be the case. The boy fifer, though a nice piece, is managing to play the instrument on his left side. This would have been impossible for any but the very simplest of penny whistle, and since it would have been rather better than that, it should be pointing to the right and not the left.
So, we have a technically very nicely done set, but one that is unnecessarily spoiled by poor research. The icing on the cake is the two marching figures, both of whom have their muskets on their right side whereas all the evidence we could find points to their using the left shoulder. We can think of no good commercial reason why any of these mistakes were made as none seem to make the sculptor's job easier, so this is simply a sloppy piece of work on the part of the designer. With so few Russian figures around when these were released, Italeri had a chance to really set a high standard for those that dared to follow, but as it is they passed that opportunity by with a lot to spare.