In the early 19th century Russia’s roads were considered poor even by the standards of the rest of Europe, which was a pretty low bar, and when the temperatures dropped and the snows fell they would often be impassable to any wheeled transport, so the use of sledges was widespread amongst all classes. Doubtless this would include the military when the occasion demanded, and by the Napoleonic Wars armies were increasingly operating in all seasons rather than seeking winter quarters when conditions got bad.
We could find no specific information of Russian military sledges, if they even existed, but Russian sledges of the day varied greatly in design. The model in this set is the same as that in all the other Strelets sledge sets, which means we were very unimpressed by both the design and the model. The design is extremely basic, as it consists only of a floor 35 mm (2.5 metres) in length, plus sides that have an open wooden framework. There is no front or back, and no fittings, and this plus the open sides, which lean away from the floor at about 45 degrees, means any passenger would have no protection from the elements or any snow or mud kicked up from the ground. Clearly this sort of sledge is not meant for human transportation, but for the movement of goods, which is a perfectly reasonable use for the Russian Army. Although extremely basic we could find no evidence to prove this was unlikely as a historical design. The horse looks to be quite a poor animal, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and its walking gait is good. It has a simple means of attachment to the sledge which does not include the usual shaft bow or 'arch' which was the norm at the time in Russia.
The figures in this set seem mostly to be involved in the business of feeding the army, but there are some odd poses too which seem to be random additions. The top row has a soldier carrying a woman for some reason, then a cavalryman holding a hare and a balalaika. Next is a man carrying two animals (pigs?) and another with a larger animal over his shoulder. Finally on that row we have what is the only figure in the set that actually relates to the sledge – a sitting man holding a whip.
Row two contains the two nice little vignettes. The first has two men carrying some creature from a pole. Just exactly how the creature has been attached to the pole is hard to say as the bindings on its hooves are below the pole, but the men are both dressed in quite Asian style which suggests they are from the East, possibly the exotic Bashkirs or Kalmyks. The other piece is also a pair, and also includes one of the eastern irregulars, this time with a bow and quiver on his belt. He holds a fowl of some sort, as does the other figure, who is a woman. Whether they are capturing it, attempting to kill it, or perhaps fighting over it we cannot say – all seem reasonable possibilities. Whatever is going on it is bad news for the bird but quite an appealing piece for us.
The third row begins with an officer holding a paper and perhaps directing the work, followed by a peasant with a fork. Then there is another officer holding a stick as if to strike something or someone, but no idea who, followed by what might be a Cossack doing something (our best guess is pushing the sledge, but it could be anything).
That is a pretty eclectic collection of figures, and perhaps the link to the sledge is that they are gathering food with which to fill it. The barrel is the only item provided for it however, so the sledge is largely divorced from most of the figures. Nonetheless these are some very interesting and unusual poses, and generally very nicely done. The sculpting is the usual Strelets fairly rough style, but as the figures mainly wear coats there is relatively little detail to worry about here. The sword scabbard on one of the figures is particularly short, and the man carrying the two animals has an axe with a very bendy handle. Also there is a good deal of flash here, which is unusual for Strelets in recent years. The sledge itself is a basic model, made in the same plastic as the figures and far from a tight engineering achievement. All the parts fit together, but everything has quite a rough look and the result is anything but attractive as you can plainly see.
This is an interesting assortment of figures which are not in battle but are performing a very necessary function for any army - gathering food – and we liked the idea. The sculpting is OK, but the sledge is both quite a poor model and of little apparent relevance to the figures. Not the sort of thing that wargamers are likely to find particularly useful, but this set could certainly be the basis for an unusual diorama, and is something different in a market where it can sometimes feel like there is little being made that has not been made before.