“If they were not as disciplined and trained as dragoons, and not as strong and robust as the cuirassiers, the hussars were the most dashing…”
The fourth in my Napoleonic Cavalry series depicts a Prussian regiment; the 1st Life Hussars (in German: Erstes Leib-Husaren-Regiment).
They were popularly known as the Death’s Head Hussars (Totenkopf-Husaren) as a consequence of their macabre iconic badge. Waterloo 1815 is an Italian manufacturer who has produced two excellently sculpted sets of Prussian hussars, one of them specifically depicting the two Death’s Head regiments. Dressed all black with a skull symbol on their headgear, they made a grim and fearsome sight and were said to strike some fear into their opponents.
As beautifully sculpted as the set is, the figures notably lack the carbine which would have been standard issue. Also, I believe that the hussars would have worn either the dolman or the pelisse, but not both as depicted. With such great sculpting as this, I can easily forgive such oversights. They would have usually worn an oilskin over their headgear but this set allows us to see the shako and death’s-head badge in all it’s glory.
Another issue encountered was the inclusion of a flag which the Prussian hussars would never actually have carried into the field. Consequently, I embarked on my very first tentative ‘conversion’; namely removing the flag with a scalpel and bending the redundant arm into a more realistic position (see pics below). I was pleased with the result and so repeated the process for both the second flag bearer in the set and the extra trumpeter too.
So this set is something of an attractive fantasy in some regards; with the wildly flowing pelisses worn over the shoulders and those shakos left uncovered. In my painting, however, I often like to depict figures at their glittering best and am happy to sacrifice a little authenticity for some pristine glamour. I must say that I really enjoyed painting this set from start to finish. The black uniforms made for a pleasant change to other more colourful regiments and, I say again, the sculpting was wonderful. With another set of Prussian hussars to go from ‘Waterloo 1815’, I’m very much looking forward to painting those too.
For now, bring on the Prussian Death’s Head Hussars!
Biography: 1st [Death’s Head] Life Hussars (Prussia)
On 9th August 1741, the Husaren-Regiment Nr. 5 (von Ruesch) was formed by Frederick the Great and was commanded by Colonel von Ruesch, from whom it took its name. It was active during the Second Silesian and 7 Years Wars and managed to distinguish itself in both. It continued to adopt the names of succeeding colonels (as was customary) until the 1806 Jena Campaign by which time it was known as Husaren-Regiment von Prittwitz.
By the time of the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, the Prittwitz Hussars were the only remaining Hussar Regiment of the Prussian army still at full strength, thanks in part to not participating in the disastrous Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. In 1808, two “Life Hussars” regiments were then formed out of this von Prittwitz predecessor, divided into two regiments of four squadrons. Awarded Guard status (hence “Life” Hussars) they reported directly to the king himself. The nominal head of the regiment from 1808-1840 was therefore King Friedrich Wilhelm III.
The regiment was involved in a large number of engagements during the Napoleonic period, including notable battles of Eylau in 1807, Großbeeren and Leipzig in 1813, but were not present at the climactic battle of Waterloo. Notably, at the 1807 battle of Heilsburg, it captured the eagle of the French 55th regiment of the line. The regiment eventually entered Paris at the conclusion of the victorious 1814 campaign.
Their badge (the Totenkopf) continued in use after the Napoleonic Wars, both by German troops in the Great War and also certain SS troops during World War II. As such, adopted by the SS, the intimidating skull and cross-bones,the scurge of many a Napoleonic battlefield, finally found expression in what was perhaps its most sinister role.
Notable Battles: Eylau, Heilsburg, Großbeeren, Leipzig.