A cavalry charge is a magnificent spectacle, and there has been no shortage of images, films and models attempting to capture the splendour of the scene, as hundreds of men and horses thunder along, making the ground shake and installing fear in their opponents. Such a charge may have seemed unstoppable, but in fact close-packed ranks of horsemen made excellent targets for artillery, and once within musket range, men and horses would fall all around, bringing some chaos to the ranks. The standard response to a cavalry charge was for infantry to form square, presenting a continuous hedge of bayonets that would keep the horses at bay and leave the riders struggling to even reach the soldiers within. If the square held firm, and the cavalry were unsupported, then there was usually not much the horsemen could do, and the best-known example of this is the battle of Waterloo. On that day, thousands of the best cavalry in Europe repeatedly charged the allied position, where much of the infantry was made up of raw recruits with little battle experience. Yet their officers kept them firm, and the result was, as the title of this set suggests, a disaster for the French cavalry, which suffered great losses and achieved nothing except to waste time, which Napoleon could not afford with the approach of the Prussians. Few cavalry sets in this hobby depict anything other than a well-ordered charge – this one from Linear-A brings us closer to the reality.
This is a complex set with many elements, and those are identified by the back of the box (although some strange painting choices there do not help). We will break it down into each type and discuss them separately.
Our first row shows dragoons, with each man having suffered some form of mishap. The first is lying on the ground, clutching at a possible wound to his lower abdomen, and the second should be imagined mounted on the horse to his left. That horse is toppling forward, and the rider is being propelled over the top of the horse’s head as it falls. The last figure is simply a casualty, lying on the ground. All the poses are good, but the falling rider cannot be made to sit on the saddle thanks to the long tails of his coat. However, in this case it does not matter, since he is being thrown out of his saddle anyway, so in fact the effect is really good as he faces the piece of ground he is about to hit very hard. All three wear a uniform of coatee with long tails, cut-away front and simple shoulder straps. The helmets are the usual design, with no plumes, and everything is nicely done. From 1812 the line dragoons began to replace their coatee with the habit-veste, which was closed to the waist and had much shorter tails, but none of these men wear this. It is possible that the old style may still have been worn by a few at Waterloo, but Guard dragoons kept the old style of coat until after Waterloo, so these make perfect dragoons of the Guard. The helmet is more of the style of the line than the Guard, but the differences are small, and in the rush to equip a new army in the runup to the Waterloo campaign such compromises seem perfectly likely. So all of these men are correctly uniformed and in interesting and realistic poses.
Our second row moves on to the figures labelled as carabiniers. Here too we find three poses of men in trouble, starting with the first, who appears to have just landed from a fall and still has one leg in the air (or perhaps still has one foot caught in a stirrup). Beside him, the second figure should be seen mounted on the horse beside him, which is sinking back on its hind legs, and as the man too is leaning backwards, the total effect is of either the rider taking a hit to his body, or of an explosion in front of both man and horse, throwing them backward. Another really well-done pose, as is the last, a simple one of a dismounted carabinier without his sword and holding his arm, again implying an injury there. By Waterloo the carabiniers had much the same short-tailed uniform as the cuirassiers, apart from the helmet, and this is correctly done here, although they do not seem to be wearing coveralls over their breeches, which is a bit of a surprise. The crested helmet is very well done, especially on the second figure, since he almost faces the mould. Because the last man has no helmet, he could equally serve as a cuirassier simply by changing the paint colours, which is useful.
Row three contains the cuirassiers, and here we have one man on foot, apparently in the act of surrendering, and a second lying on his back on the ground. Cuirassier charges are always a popular subject for models, and are something of an iconic image of the battle of Waterloo, so although there have been a handful of dismounted cuirassiers modelled before (Airfix and Esci, take a bow), it is great to see such cuirassiers here. What is more, since he has lost his helmet, the first of them can equally be painted as a carabinier. The uniform is all correctly done for the Waterloo campaign, and we were pleased to see one man still has his musketoon attached to his sling.
The next row presents us with some lancers. While they were not heavy cavalry like the others, and did not participate in Ney’s major charges at Waterloo, they did see action elsewhere on the battlefield. This set has two poses, the first of which is aiming his pistol to the ground. He is meant to be posed next to the horse, which is lying on the ground with head raised, and he is clearly about to put the animal out of its misery. While much of the cavalry were armed with pistols, it was unusual for them to be used in battle, relying instead on the impact of cold steel. One observer at the time claimed that pistols were mostly used when on sentry duty, and for destroying wounded or diseased horses, so such a figure may have been a fairly common sight. The man next to him is falling on his back, and still has one leg in the air, again perhaps caught in a stirrup. Both wear the uniform worn since the lancers were created a few years earlier, including the short-tailed habit-veste with square lapels, and both have the fringed epaulettes of elite companies. One wears campaign overalls over his breeches, but the other does not, showing the Hungarian knot decoration and his Hungarian boots to good advantage. The helmet too is well done, although both are missing the small rear peak.
The final row shows a pair of Highland infantrymen, who are presumably included as part of the reason for the disaster suffered by the French cavalry. In fact the kilted Highlanders were more heavily involved, and suffered many more casualties, at the battle of Quatre Bras, two days before Waterloo, when again they faced French cavalry, but they still took their place on the quieter, left side of the allied line at Waterloo, and repelled the same foe in the same way. Both men here are correctly done, wear the proper uniform and have the full set of equipment. Those with an eye for detail may like to know that both have a peak on their bonnet, and when looking at their shoulder straps we must say they seem to have something that is a compromise, something that is part tuft and part wing, which is perhaps deliberate to make them work as either centre or flank company men – little work would be needed to clearly mark them out as either. The first man is leaning forward, perhaps looking at one of the downed cavalrymen, but the second is in a much more generally useful pose, suitable for a square, for example. There are many Highlanders already on the market, but there is always room for more, and these are both very useable.
We have already mentioned three of the horses in conjunction with the figures, although there are two of each pose, but only one of each human. The remaining poses are one of a horse at the gallop, and one stopped and bending down to graze (though his neck seems a bit short). So basically these are all spare horses, and of course any scene after a charge would include many riderless horses running about, downed or simply stopped and with no one to tell them what to do next. Most have a sheepskin covering the saddle and a small rectangular shabraque, which makes them quite widely useable for different cavalry types. Horses at anything other than at the full gallop are also fairly rare in this hobby, so these make a great addition and are nicely done.
All of the men in this set make quite high demands on the sculptor in terms of fine detail, and the sculpting largely meets the challenge, leaving us with some good-looking figures. Proportions are pretty good, in a rather solid style, and the sculptor has done particularly well to realise some quite complex poses without the need for any assembly. Cavalry figures are often very flat, but those in this set all look very natural, and should match well with the output from other manufacturers in recent years. The average size is a little on the high side, even allowing for the fact that heavy cavalry often attracted bigger men, but this is unlikely to be noticeable in a diorama that mixes figures from this and other sets. As we have already said, the detail on the helmets is particularly impressive (as are the feathers on the bonnets), even on those men facing the mould, but we were surprised to find that every man – even the Highlanders – wears his hair in a queue. This was not the custom by later in the Napoleonic Wars, but it is a simple job to cut this off with a knife. There is about an average amount of flash here, though some seams are quite clean. Bizarrely, the mess-tin on one of the Highlanders is half missing (the lower half), and the prone third dragoon actually has his arms some way off the ground – prone figures usually have a flat base, but not this man, so he will need to be pressed a little into the terrain to look reasonable.
There are some dramatic poses in this set, and they have been done very well, despite the challenges of the usual production method. Modelling cavalry charges is likely to remain very popular, and any diorama of the allied squares at Waterloo would undoubtedly need both casualties and dismounted men such as these. Had it been us designing this set, we would have skipped the Highlanders and provided a couple more dismounted cavalrymen, since they are still in short supply, but even as it is, this is a nicely produced and very welcome addition to the available range, and a must for any model of a French cavalry charge once it met with some response from the enemy.