Almond Miniatures
Polish “Winged” Hussar, 1643

Almond Miniatures 90mm Kit
Polish “Winged” Hussar, 1643

by Dallas Gavan



The Polish have always been renowned for the quality of their cavalry.  The tales of Polish lancers (“Ulani”) charging German tanks in 1939 are part of military mythology.  In fact there were a number of charges, but it’s believed that in all but perhaps one case the lancers only contacted the tanks after charging through another target.

The figure depicted in this kit represents the Polish cavalry at the peak of their fame.  These heavily armed, and heavily armoured, cavalry were known and feared throughout central and eastern Europe for the ferocity and destructiveness of their charges.  Cavalry like these helped break the siege of Vienna in 1529, expanded the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to include the Ukraine, parts of Belorussia and much of what would later be Prussia.  They fought and defeated enemies as diverse as Cossacks, Turks, Russians, Swedes, Hungarians, Danes, Prussians and French. 

The word “hussar” (Polish “huzarów”), comes from the Serbo-Croat word “husar”, meaning “raider”.  It originally referred to the light, bow and sword armed, cavalry units that were formed by the king of Hungary, after the Serbian homelands were invaded by the Turks in the late 14th century.  They were very effective as scouts and raiders, specialising in skirmishing, raids and as flank and advance guards.  Introduced to the rest of Europe via service in the Austro-Hungarian army, their style of dress caught on and by the Napoleonic Wars the braided jacket (dolman) and coat (pelz or pelisse) and tight trousers of the hussar were found in every army.  They were the showy, archetypical light cavalryman until after the First World War.

The Poles, however, took a different direction.  Their hussars became heavy cavalry by the 1500’s, armed with a long lance, swords, maces and later pistols.  The cost of arms, armour and horses meant that the units slowly became the preserve of the nobility.  The only part of the original Serbian dress they retained was the small feathered wing- which soon grew into the large arched wings depicted in the kit.  Contemporary artwork shows riders with one, two or three wings, some affixed to the rider’s back, others to the saddle.

There’s a lot of theories about what purpose the wings served.  Some sources claim they made a clattering or whistling noise when the riders charged.  Others state they were meant to foil Turkish and Cossack use of the lasso.  However, re-enactors have found that  the wings have so much drag that a rider can only move at the trot or they overbalance.  If attached to the saddle the horse is slowed and will quickly become blown.  Modern belief is that they were worn for show, on ceremonial occasions, and never in battle.

The kit

Unfortunately the sculptor of the Almond Miniatures line, Richard Almond, died suddenly in the late 80’s.  He was only in his mid-30’s and the hobby lost a very talented sculptor.  The kit itself is typical of the very detailed, well animated and excellently moulded white metal he released. In all the kit consisted of 22 parts:

  • Rider’s torso and legs, head, face shield, two “wings” and the arms.
  • Two body halves, head and neck, and tail for the horse (the saddle is moulded on the horse halves).
  • The lance head and pennon as one piece (a problem I’ll explain below).
  • Two reins, two pistol holsters, sabre, sword knot for the sabre, sword and two stirrups (with leathers).
  • And a sculpted-terrain base.

The kit is cast in a softish, lead-based white metal that is easily sanded.  There were minimal seam lines or flash on the kit.  With white metal kits I prefer to solder the parts together, if I can.  Carr’s “70” low-melt solder was perfect for this, but is no longer available.  Some silliness about it being highly toxic and giving off heavy metal fumes if over-heated, or something.  I still have enough left for two or three large kits, then I’ll have to look for an alternative.  If a part needs to be painted before being attached then I’ll use superglue to attach after painting.

The kit went together cleanly, the solder acting as a filler on all but the widest seam (on the horses chest, between the forelegs).  Some quick filing and sanding and the main components were assembled, ready for painting.  I think I remember our esteemed editor, then a RAEME Craftsman production clerk, chuckling as he watched me heat the horse halves by running hot water over the parts, before soldering them.  (Yes, I started this kit 20 years ago- it only took about five years to finish….)

The paints used were enamels for cloth, painted parts such as the lance and wing frames, to pre-paint the horse and for the brass trim and decoration on the armour.  Oils were used for the horse, the rider’s face and hands, leatherwork, the feathers and the leopard skin.  Acrylics were used for the gold edging to the saddle cloth, with Tamiya Smoke was used to shade the armour after it had been burnished with the side of a sewing needle.

The only real flaw with the kit was the soft metal.  The weight of the cast pennon was enough to bend the lance over a few months.  After twice having to re-paint the lance after I’d straightened it, I removed the pennon.  I cut the lance head away, turned down a piece of dowel and made the new pennon from tissue paper, painted with acrylics.  I have built four of Armand Miniature’s kits and, after 20 years, three showed the same problem (this figure, the mounted ADC to Murat and a Marian-period Roman Legionary).  The soft metal slowly bends if there is too much weight on part of the figure.  You have to make sure the kits are sitting squarely on their bases and that there is not too much weight on one side, and the figure is not leaning, or you will have problems.

Almond Miniatures are very hard to find, these days.  There are rumours that they will be produced by various companies, but I have yet to see that happen.  It’s a pity, as they are among the best kits ever produced.


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