The coming of more mobile artillery during the 15th and 16th centuries was not entirely welcome to the Swiss. They had built their reputation on massed squares of mainly pikemen, which could withstand just about any infantry or cavalry that faced it. For artillery however, a mass of men was an easy target, and as artillery gradually became lighter and more mobile so their threat to massed infantry on the battlefield became more significant. The Swiss were never leaders in the art of artillery during the 16th century, yet they had to adapt and usually fielded a few guns. These would generally be placed in front of the main army, where they could fire on the enemy until he approached too near, when the gunners would retire and the infantry of both sides would meet.
Those that served the guns were often craftsmen from the towns with some training in how to handle artillery, and were supervised by master gunners. So they were basically civilians hired for the duration, and as such wore civilian dress, although influenced by the military fashions on the time. All the figures here are dressed in plausible costume for the first half of the 16th century, although in general are more restrained than the extravagant costume sometimes seen on pikemen, and particularly the Landsknechts. The only element that might be described as particularly Swiss is the cross emblem a couple of these poses have on their doublets, and the officer has on his coat.
The poses are all pretty good, although we could not decide what the third man in the top row is doing. Having two of the eight poses taken up by the carrying pair means there are fewer to interact with the gun, and certainly there could easily have been other poses such as holding a scoop or handling ammunition or powder, but these are OK. Unlike the corresponding Landsknecht artillery set, some of these could more feasibly be interacting with the mortar, so for example while the match-man holds his match below the level of the gun breech, it is quite close to that of the mortar. With no apparent mortar poses in the Landsknecht set, perhaps this one was intended to be more focused on that weapon so they balance overall. The pair carrying some sort of bag caused us a little concern. Powder was routinely transported in barrels - much more secure than bags tied with rope - and a bag this size filled with cannon balls would be very heavy, so we could not decide what exactly these men were moving, although there is nothing particularly wrong with this interesting pairing.
The gun and mortar are the same as those in the Landsknecht artillery set, so we repeat our comments in that review here. The single gun in this set has a barrel length of 30mm (2.16 metres) and wheels of 18mm (1.3 metres) in diameter, so would today be described as a type of culverin. The carriage has the twin cheek pieces that would be so widely used for such a long period, and the barrel rests on this thanks to its trunnions – an important innovation that was still fairly new in the early 16th century. Although a single piece the carriage is better detailed than some in the hobby, and while still somewhat simplified it is a reasonable design. There is some flash and an obvious seam where the moulds meet, but worse than that is the barrel, which does not really sit on the carriage properly as the barrel is too fat. Partly this is thanks to the spiral design on the forward part, which is perfectly authentic but helps to make sure the trunnions cannot reach their beds in the iron reinforcement, meaning the capsquares could not be placed. On the subject of the spiral decoration, while this and many other forms of often elaborate decoration were not uncommon on gun barrels of the time, here the spiral is very haphazard and looks like it was done freehand by someone without a steady hand. It looks OK in our picture, but in fact it weaves around and is uneven, although admittedly much of this is on the underside.
Next we have the mortar. There are many pictures and extant examples of late medieval and early modern mortars, but most don’t look like this. This has a frame of two curved runners which support lugs extending from the barrel roughly half way along its length, while its trunnions are at the base. Such a device has been illustrated, for example in Funcken, but we could only find one contemporary illustration of this, and that always worries us. The fear is this one source has been used repeatedly by more modern illustrators, making it seem like a normal design, yet the evidence is extremely flimsy. One contemporary woodcut no more proves such a mortar existed than others prove that griffins existed, and with a wealth of pictures showing what is obviously the standard design we were left wondering why RedBox went with this one, even if it turns out to be genuine. It has a calibre of about 3mm (210mm) and a barrel length of 13mm (930cm).
The sculpting of the figures is pretty good, with good proportions and realistic clothing. The details are quite nicely done, as are the faces, although the hands are sometimes unclear. There is a little flash in places, but generally the men in particular are flash-free. The pole being carried by the two men is a separate piece, and this merely rests on each shoulder, so needs to be glued to stay in place. However when done so the result is quite pleasing.
This set basically offers a passable gun and some generic but perfectly useful crew figures, with some possibilities for deployment round the mortar. However it is the dubious design of the mortar that worried us, and even if historically authentic we felt much better designs could have been chosen. With plenty of possibilities for use as various nationalities throughout 16th century Western Europe, this is an interesting and useful set with more good points than bad.