When Italy entered the war in May 1915 it was a considerable surprise to many Italians. While the Triple Alliance with Austria and Germany was widely unpopular, many felt Italy was better off neutral than becoming involved in the war, yet others saw in it an opportunity for territorial gain at the expense of Austria and her empire, and welcomed the new conflict whole-heartedly. In 1915 Italy’s cavalry had a fine reputation, but the trench warfare on the western front in France had already shown how irrelevant cavalry had become, and Italy’s main effort would be on the mountainous north-eastern frontier, hardly promising territory for horsemen. Initial optimism about a quick victory inevitably soon evaporated as the fighting turned into largely static siege warfare from trenches, and her 30 regiments of cavalry saw little mounted action. Before long many cavalrymen were dismounted to bolster the infantry, as in the armies of other belligerents, although on a handful of occasions, especially in the Balkans and at the end of the war, the mounted arm still played a role.
Every man in this set wears the Adrian-style helmet, which was introduced in April 1916, so setting the dates for this set, as their appearance did not change again before the end of the war. They also wear the cavalry version of the tunic with the standing collar, shoulder straps, concealed buttons down the front and a half-belt at the back. On the legs we find breeches (retained even when serving on foot) and leather gaiters (which were replaced when on foot), so these men are all correctly dressed for mounted duty. The most visible item of kit is the M1897 bandolier across the trunk with the twin pouches, and every man also has a flask hanging from a strap over the right shoulder, as well as a pistol holster on the right hip (actually attached to the bandolier). The figure holding the sword also has a small map case, suggesting he may be an officer. It is pleasing as always to report that every aspect of the uniform and equipment is correct here.
As can be seen, four of the five poses are empty-handed. The set comes with an array of separate items, which include swords, lances and carbines to fill those hands. All the weaponry looks authentic, so the lances are of the correct M1900 model design, although it is worth noting that the blue pennons all of them have would only have been attached for dress occasions, so should be trimmed off for battle scenes. The sword is correctly done, and the carbine is clearly the Mannlicher-Carcano M1891 cavalry carbine, with its folded bayonet tucked out of the way. Also included is what is effectively a lance with a small flag on it. It is highly doubtful that such a flag would have been carried into battle like this, but as it is an optional extra this causes us no problems. In addition, the flag has a design engraved on it which we could not identify, although in truth we suspect it is a half-finished rendition of the Royal Army national flag, but poorly done if so.
The poses of the men stand or fall on the weapon they are to be given, for which each has a cupped hand. This allows a good deal of scope for variation, although not all the weapons make sense on all of the poses. Also, such assembly never results in as convincing a model as the man already holding a sword, who clearly grips it in a way the rest never can. It is notable that three of the poses are holding the weapon pretty high, which does not work well with the lance, and means none of the poses are in relaxed or formal positions. So as with so many sets of cavalry, all you can realistically depict with these figures is a full-on charge such as is so beautifully illustrated on the box, which is hardly a typical event for cavalry in World War One. It looks dramatic, and is clearly what the designer wanted to achieve, but some customers will have reservations about this approach.
If there is any doubt about what exactly the human poses are doing, then the horses will dispel that, because they are very clearly at full speed in a charge. The first pose, with no hooves on the ground, is one we liked, but the second has legs at quite unnatural angles. Both are nicely sculpted, and look to have the correct arrangement of bridles and saddle. We note that both have the shaggy bearskin rear of the shabraque, which David Nicolle in his Osprey book claims was “…peculiar to officers”. However there are so many photos showing this feature that we are of the opinion that it must have been more widespread than that, although certainly not universal. Each horse has a hole on the left and right of the saddle, and these are for the holstered carbine and sword scabbard shown in our bottom row (either showing or missing the hilt, depending on what the man is carrying). The pegs on the back of these items are much smaller than the holes, so gluing is essential (the carbine went on the right of the saddle, the sword on the left).
The style of these figures and others from the same sculptor is one we very much like. To us the proportions are very natural and the detail nice and clear. The carbines are beautifully detailed, making identification easy, but everything here is really attractive, and we appreciate the collection of different lances, even though most will probably remove the pennons anyway! The men sit well on the horses, which are themselves well-balanced on their small textured bases. As already mentioned the saddle accessories are not a good fit (which hardly matters), but the weapons fit the cupped hands reasonably well, although this is never a convincing model in our view. There is a bit of flash to be removed, but nothing too irritating, so again good marks for the quality of sculpting and production.
These are really nice figures, well-made, and the separate weapons add some flexibility, though at the cost of some fiddly assembly and a basic fit. There are no accuracy issues, so in many ways this is an excellent set which is reflected in our scores below. The main worry is how rarely if ever such men engaged in a full charge during the war, and so how relevant these figures are to the historical reality. For some perhaps that matters little, and they will be getting a great set that is very exciting, but we thought the inclusion of a less combative pose, plus a correspondingly passive horse, would have added much to the value of this set.