Like all the great powers, France had ended the Great War with a large and powerful artillery, but a mixture of political turmoil, economic depression and a genuine desire to have no more wars meant that by the time war broke out again in 1939 much of her artillery was more or less as it had been twenty years earlier. There had been new guns, but the majority of the artillery was unchanged, or had merely been given metal wheels and tyres to allow motorised transport. Although by now quite out-dated, France continued to rely heavily on the old Canon de 75 modèle 1897, since surpassed by guns of other countries. In the end however it could not stop the German invasion of 1940 and subsequent defeat of France.
The choice of poses for an artillery crew depends partly on the gun being served, particularly its size, but from the look of these poses it is the 75 that is most likely to be in the mind of the designer. We have several men holding rounds of suitable size, plus a fairly generic pose at the end of the top row. The first man in the second row is probably pulling a lanyard, although he is using his right hand when it was normally the left hand which did this. Next we have an officer who is in charge of the gun and holds binoculars so as to see the fall of the shells, followed by a man sitting, probably on the limber or a support wagon or lorry. Even in 1939 much of the French artillery was still pulled by horses, so the last figure is an outrider for such a team. Apart from the unusual lanyard man all of the poses are good and suitable.
At the start of the 14-18 war the French uniform had been very old-fashioned, and this was true also in 1939, when the infantry habitually wore a greatcoat. However the artillery usually wore their tunic, or vareuse, which most of these figures wear. The style is correctly done as far as we can make out, with a stand-and-fall collar, and the helmet worn by all but the officer is also quite good. Another old-fashioned element by this date is the puttees that all the crew wear, so no problems with the uniform. The officer has an open-neck tunic, breeches and long boots, all of which are correct. Our guess is he is wearing a kepi, which would be very odd as this was almost never worn in the field. However if this is a kepi then the shape is poor, with a very thin peak and an odd, high crown.
Personal equipment for the artillery was much like that for the infantry, and these figures have rifle ammunition pouches, haversack, gasmask bag and bayonet, which is all correct. However they also have a rear ammunition pouch – something that was withdrawn in the mid 1930s, and we were also surprised that no one here has a water bottle. The officer has a case for his binoculars and another for his maps, plus gas mask bag and holster for a pistol, so he at least is properly equipped.
These figures are quite nicely proportioned, but lack a lot of detail, which is vague and indistinct even when it is here. Some of the faces are quite poor, so these are not great to look at close up. There is very little flash, and no more excess plastic than you would expect with these poses, which require no assembly.
The extra wheels allow the customer to upgrade their model of the 75 (75mm Cannon) to one that might have been used in 1939/40. Not all such guns had their wheels replaced like this, but this is a good idea. Since each sprue only has one wheel, the four in total are only enough to upgrade one gun and limber, but this is still a useful extra feature that helps to make the figures as useful as possible.
Combined with the existing HaT sets of artillery crews for early and late World War I, this set really adds to the very good coverage of the famous 75, which is great. The range of poses is quite good, and the additional figures for the team (not yet made as at time of writing) plus the newer wheel add value. A pity then that the sculpting is not so good close up, making these useful figures rather than desirable objects in their own right.