During the Napoleonic Wars Britain was primarily a naval power, and her biggest influence on the struggle to avoid French domination of Europe was to provide vast loans and subsidies to allow other European countries to resist. However when British infantry did fight in the field their discipline and tenacity were much admired. If circumstances allowed, the favoured British tactic was to form up on one side of a rise in the ground with the enemy on the other. The enemy, in column formation, would then advance up the slope towards the unseen British troops, and as they reached the crest they would find the British drawn up in a firing line, two ranks deep, ready to give an immediate volley from every gun. The surprise, and efforts to reform into a line, plus the dead and wounded, would cause great confusion in the enemy, and the British would then charge with the bayonet, hopefully sending the enemy into a confused retreat. Although not always possible, this tactic often proved very effective, and allowed success against superior numbers.
The two main theatres of operations for the British infantry during the Napoleonic Wars were the Iberian Peninsula and Belgium in 1815, and like most sets this one is aimed at the latter, the Waterloo campaign. The specific items that date these figures are the shako, later known as the ‘Belgic’ shako, and the forage cap, both of which were introduced formally in 1812. The rest of the uniform matches this time period exactly, including the coat with short tails (and tufts on the shoulders, denoting a centre or battalion company) and the campaign trousers. The men all wear full kit, as they should when in action, so they have a cartridge pouch on the right hip and on the left a haversack, water bottle and bayonet scabbard, all of standard design. On the back all have the square knapsack with blanket rolled on top and mess tin strapped to the outside. The sergeant has a sword and a sash, and the ensign the same but none of the private’s kit. The drummer has the usual distinctions, so every figure here is correctly dressed and equipped for the period 1812-16.
At this time the British used several models of musket all known colloquially as ‘Brown Bess’, which were between 140 and 150 cm in length (not including carbines or rifles). The muskets carried in this set are 17.5mm long (or occasionally less), which scales up to 126 cm. Thus all of them are rather too short, and it shows. A further feature that helps to make them seem too short is that not a single figure has a bayonet fixed. As we have said, the bayonet would routinely be fixed when in action so as to follow up on the initial volley, or indeed to defend against attack, particularly from cavalry, and it even helped to counter the natural inclination of the soldier to aim high, so every man here should have the bayonet attached, and by not doing so this seriously reduces the value of the set. Given the propensity of Strelets to use reenactors for their boxes, we wonder whether they sometimes take their cue on accuracy from the same source, and of course reenactors will sometimes not fix bayonets because of the safety issues involved!
A major feature of this set is the number and variety of poses. 21 poses is good by any standards, especially when the subject is so specific, and 14 of those poses are all in the act of loading or firing their weapon. The variety is very good, particularly the fact that not everyone has their musket levelled – a problem that greatly occupied officers at the time. All should have the left foot forward, but one man here (third row) is the opposite. Given that the line would be well closed up, giving relatively little room for adjusting your stance, we wonder if this is a likely pose, although of course in other circumstances such as skirmishing it would be fine. Most of the rest of the poses are of casualties, and while it is unusual to find so many in a single set, the relative lack of such figures generally means these are very welcome. Naturally when a man is hit his body can take any form as he falls and when he comes to rest on the ground, so there are no right or wrong poses here. However the man on his back is obviously resting on his knapsack, yet both his arms are hovering well above the ground, which looks very odd. It is particularly unusual to see a sergeant and a drummer amongst the casualties, but there is no reason why not so again a nice idea by Strelets.
The set is amongst the best of the Strelets sculpting, with great fine detail and good proportions. However there are still problems, mostly concerned with the musket. Apart from being too short, they have a lock which is reasonably well done, but some lack a trigger, and all have no attempt at showing detail on the barrel. This leaves the musket relatively featureless, which is a shame. The sergeant’s spontoon is well done and of a good length, and the drum is also well made, but we were not so happy about the flag. This has been sculpted almost flat, which will make it easier to paint but not particularly natural to our eye. Also it is to scale about 130 cm tall and 144 wide, making it a lot smaller than the correct dimensions of 183 cm tall and 198 wide. The fact that the man’s shako and sword arm touch it will mean it is extremely difficult to substitute a paper alternative.
For a set of men that are clearly in action we wondered why there were so many wearing the forage cap. The shako would certainly be the required headgear for such men, and while it is conceivable that the occasional lost shako might be replaced by a forage cap during battle, there are far too many here to be explained in this way. Past Strelets sets depicting men on parade have used the forage cap, and this is fine, but for a battle set this makes no sense to us. This, combined with the rather poor musket and the complete lack of fixed bayonets, are major problems with this set, and the accuracy score has suffered accordingly. Despite the mainly good sculpting, complete lack of flash and the wide range of firing line poses, this set has suffered from bad design decisions which have harmed much of the good work done here. It is such a shame to see a handful of bad choices spoil what could have been a great set, but given the difficulties of fixing the problems, this is not a set that we can recommend.