In ancient times rivers had been important thoroughfares, but as human population grew and technology advanced roads became the main means of getting about and rivers became more an obstacle. To achieve the greatest flexibility and speed armies had always including specialists to build temporary bridges to cross such waterways, and in Napoleon’s army such Pontonniers were attached to the foot artillery. They finest hour in a mainly unsung story of achievement was the building of the bridges across the Berezina in 1812, thus saving what was left of the Grande Armée at the end of the Russian campaign.
This latest addition to the impressive range of HaT Napoleonic vehicles is a suitably simple affair holding a number of chesses (timbers used to construct the bridge roadway) under a framework that supports a pontoon. This is a hacquet wagon, and it seems that many designs were used, with perhaps no standardisation. We found pictures agreeing with this design as well as others that were different, so this model seems perfectly acceptable but only one of several authentic designs.
Notable by its absence is a team to pull this vehicle. It would have normally required six horses, so we would recommend the HaT French Limber to provide this. The box implies the lack of horses by the usual convention of only showing them in a monochrome drawing, but we would still have preferred to have a full team included for each wagon here. Also missing are any figures. Clearly drivers would come with the horses, and the wagon does not call for a driver itself, but some pontonniers would have been nice. Their uniform was broadly similar to the foot artillery, although their work meant they would often be seen in shirt sleeves or basic working clothes.
HaT have had the foresight to give this model something of the role of the original by allowing the construction of a pontoon bridge. The wooden timbers seen in the body of the wagon are separate slabs, and when fixed onto crosspieces (those shown above the wagon in our picture) which fit onto the pontoon they make a section of a bridge as can be seen here. As with the hacquet itself this makes a good little model that fits together effortlessly despite the usual rather soft kind of plastic used. While such temporary structures were clearly meant to be functional rather than masterpieces of engineering we were a little surprised that the gaps between sections were so large, although not so wide as to lose a foot in them. Thus each box can provide three loaded wagons, three empty wagons with a three-section pontoon bridge, or any combination of these.
While some sources make claims about the precise shape of the pontoons, it seems logical that such things were not absolutely uniform, and certainly everything here follows the most important of rules when judging accuracy, common sense. Although the lack of the drive axle and horse teams will disappoint many this is a well produced model that will add interest and variety to many a Napoleonic army on the march, or indeed a fight around a river crossing.