After the Treaty of Paris (1808), which severely limited the size of the Prussian army, there were six regiments of dragoons, each of four squadrons which in time of war had a maximum of 150 sabres each. Once freed of the treaty restrictions, in 1813 a fifth depot squadron was added to each regiment, and in the following year two new dragoon regiments were created, bringing the total to eight. Although much of the Prussian cavalry in the campaign of 1815 was from the Landwehr, four dragoon regiments were in the army sent to meet Napoleon once more, and two arrived in time to play their part in the decisive battle at Waterloo.
We are all used to seeing sets of cavalry with all or most of the figures with weapon drawn, riding horses which are mostly only good for a full-on charge. Dramatic as they were, such charges were rare compared to the amount of time cavalry spent moving about or simply standing waiting, even if on a battlefield. This set from Strelets offers something rather different – cavalrymen mounted up and ready to go, but not as yet going anywhere, and apparently not in a fight. Three are just sitting and doing nothing, and there is a nice little scene with two more where one (a trumpeter) is passing a water bottle to another (third row). However four of the poses are handling their carbine, which suggests they intended to use it, perhaps anticipating a skirmish? Equally, one man has (or is about to) draw his sword, so again this implies he is expecting to use it. That leaves the last two figures in the bottom row. The last is an officer holding a telescope, so useful in lots of situations, plus a figure we can find no use for at all. This is the man holding an infantry standard, which seems to be of a good size and is on a staff 39mm (2.8 metres) in length. The flag is not cased but is tied, but we cannot imagine why any dragoon would ever be holding such a standard. Dragoon regiments had their own guidons, which obviously were far smaller than this (something this size would be very hard to handle on a moving horse), so what the sculptor was thinking here baffles us, but the figure is completely useless. Apart from him however, all the poses are very useful and well done.
Naturally the horses too are pretty inactive. All are standing, and most have all four hooves on the ground. Although standing quadrupeds are tricky to sculpt with a two-piece mould, these have been well done and all the poses are natural, which is all too rare in this hobby. However we were not impressed with the physique of these creatures. They all have a rather chubby, plump appearance as if overweight, and while the Prussian army sometimes struggled to obtain sufficient horses for their cavalry, the chances of finding such overfed animals in use would seem pretty remote to us. The legs in particular are not well defined, and the head has very little shape to it, while the ears are almost indiscernible. The saddlecloth has been textured as if a sheepskin, but it should be of fabric, somewhat larger than this, and in a different, more rounded shape. These horses are the same as those used in the sets of hussars and uhlans, so presumably they are a compromise between the three different types of cavalry, which may explain these faults for the dragoons. Each animal clearly has a brace of pistols at the front of the saddle, which is good, and there is a valise at the back (the shape is round here, but both round and square-ended seem to have been used at the time).
As might be gleaned from our introduction, these men are dressed for the latter part of the Napoleonic wars. Each wears a kollet, which was a double-breasted coat that reached the waist and had short tails at the rear. It has been well represented here, and although the tails are less clear they are of course being sat on and largely hidden by the valise anyway. All wear overalls which have no buttons down the sides, which is correct, and all wear the shako for the period. Some wear the oilskin cover worn when the weather was bad, but those that are uncovered reveal a cockade at the front below a pompon, and cords round front and back. This is a problem as only officers wore such a cockade – the other ranks had a badge of either a star or an eagle, but this is missing here. The box artwork gets this right, and it also correctly shows the shakos with a plume, missing completely from these figures, so this is the main accuracy problem with this set. The shako has no rear peak (some dragoons had one, others did not), and the trumpeter has swallows nest wings as you would expect of a musician. The officer wears the leibrock, similar to the kollet and looking good here.
Many people will probably have expected these men to be wearing the litewka coat, which reached close to the knee. This was normal wear when on campaign, but it seems the kollet might sometimes also be worn on active service. Equally, the shako normally had the cover when on campaign, but because of the poses here, there is no guarantee that these men are on campaign at all. Those with the cords visible on their shako are likely to be on parade, which is why the plumes are a problem (plumes would not have been worn on campaign).
We have discussed the sculpting of the horses, but the men are nicely done. The detail is a little ‘soft’, but good nonetheless, and the proportions are excellent. The men fit the horses extremely well – quite firm but without being difficult – and there is an average amount of flash around the seams.
There are a few more curiosities to note about this set. Nine of the 12 poses have a carbine, but in fact only 20 men in each squadron (usually at least a hundred strong) were issued such a weapon, and while the size of squadrons could vary wildly at different times, particularly when there was no war on, this is still much too strong a representation of the actual proportion. The trumpeter and officer have none, which is correct, and so too does the man with the infantry flag, which does make us wonder if the sculptor thought this was an ensign! The first figure in row two made us scratch our heads too. He seems to be holding his sword, yet he has no scabbard, so perhaps he is holding the whole scabbard (detail not good enough to tell the difference)? If so, he seems to be about to draw his sword downwards, but why would he do this?
So this is an unusual set. It broadly depicts dragoons on duty but not on campaign, in relaxed poses, although for some reason some of them are handling their carbines. In parade dress like this we should see the shako badges and plumes – both shown correctly on the box but not on the figures, which is always irritating. The figures are well done but the horses are disappointing despite the good poses, and the saddlecloth is a compromise and so not entirely correct for dragoons. The set also includes three really nice civilian figures, including two gentlemen apparently cheering, and so presumably saluting the dragoons as they pass by or on parade, confirming the theme of this set. The woman seems to be offering up a drink from her bottle to someone – either the last in row one of the second in row three works well with this figure. Forget the useless flag man and you have a really nice set of cavalry nowhere near any action but in a civilian environment, and while both accuracy and sculpting is a little less than perfect, it is still a very attractive and interesting set with many possibilities.