The infantryman that fought for the Tsar during the Napoleonic Wars was a remarkable creature. Some bigoted contemporary commentators saw him as little more than an animal, but he was incredibly resilient in the face of oppression as well as enemy action, stubborn, brave and fiercely loyal to his faith and the Tsar. While he may have been unsophisticated, his qualities made him an excellent soldier, and neither Napoleon nor anyone else could afford to underestimate what he could achieve on the battlefield. For years the role of the Russian Empire in the wars with Napoleon was largely ignored in this hobby, but happily all that has changed, and this set from Strelets is just one of three on the subject to be released at the same time.
Strelets have always been quite variable in the quality of their figures. This is in part thanks to the large range they have created, and the long time that they have been in production. At worst the standard could be very poor, but at best it could be excellent, and this set firmly belongs in the latter category. Everywhere here the proportions are excellent and the sculpting nice and detailed. Heads are the right size, smaller badges are beautifully picked out, and thin items such as weapons are as thin as could possibly be expected. While the pose is simple and relatively easy to reproduce, it has been done with consummate skill and the result is great. If others can produce a slightly sharper result then at any distance the difference is impossible to see, and irrelevant if they are painted, so these are great figures by the standard of any manufacturer. Both the drum and the flag, which can cause problems for sculptors, have been extremely well done here, and look very natural. A visible seam where the moulds meet is to be seen in some places, but in others there is none at all, so good marks for the production quality of these figures too.
The Russian infantryman went through several changes during those tumultuous years in terms of kit and clothing, so there are many ways to date these men. However all you really need to know is the shako most here are wearing was introduced from the early part of 1812, and the forage cap worn by the rest dates from a year earlier, so these men are for the last few years of the Wars, including, of course, the famous French invasion of Russia. All the other aspects of the figures’ clothing and kit are correctly done for the 1812 to 1814 period, so we see tall thin plumes on the shako, a rectangular knapsack and the triple-flame grenade badge. This tells us that all the men here are grenadiers – a good proportion of the total infantry - but with some careful trimming they could be converted into musketeers if desired. The drummer has the usual distinctions of chevrons on the sleeves, wings on the shoulder and his sticks stowed on his cross-belt. The flag-bearer is dressed like most of the other officers, in a coat with long tails and a sash tied at the left. While by this time officers were issued shakos, many still chose to wear the old bicorn, as two here are doing. The other officer has chosen the more comfortable and informal frock coat and forage cap, which in his case also has a peak. Both forms of dress were common, so this variety is good to see. Strangely, the more informal officer wears his gorget whereas the others do not (perhaps to help underline his rank, though gorgets were not always worn by this period).
This is essentially a one-pose set, but the pose is good and very useful. By having the same pose with varieties of clothing and kit, you achieve a more natural overall appearance, which these do very well. The command figures in the bottom row are also standing still, matching their men. The drummer has his drum by his side, but is making no attempt to beat it, and the flag-bearer stands at attention while his flag hangs limply from its staff, an undramatic but very common occurrence of course. Since the flag is limp it is impossible to measure precisely, but looks to be about the right size, and is correctly completed with the spear-head finial.
Strelets said from their early days that they intended to improve until they could be compared with the best, and this is the sort of set that shows they have achieved that aim, at least sometimes. If we had to moan about anything, it is that perhaps the shakos could have had a more pronounced curved to the top, but basically these figures are beautiful examples of the breed and are unblemished by any problems with accuracy, or difficulties with excessive unwanted plastic. Any manufacturer should be proud to match the quality of this set, and we can only hope for very many more of a similar standard in the future.