Sunday, 24 August 2014

The 9th French Cuirassiers – 1812

The 9th Cuirassiers.
Figures from Perry - flags GMB.

It is not without a considerable measure of respect that I now humbly touch on what I, and many other period enthusiasts, regard as holy ground - French Cuirassiers.

A wall of metal and a thunder of hooves.

I can still recall the moment and place when I as a 10 year old kid got my first look at these awe inspiring riders. It was in a toyshop with my grandmother, who bought me the 54 mm Airfix plastic French Cuirassiers kit. Now anyone wargaming the Napoleonic period in the late 70ies or 80ies will remember this box. There was something unmistakably majestic about the figure on the box. A feeling that a unit of these riders could invincibly smash through anything the enemy would possibly field. A feeling of adoration that still stays with me today whenever I encounter these gallant riders, with their characteristic horsehair adorned helmets and shiny heavy duty cuirasses. 

The classic Airfix kit that sparked my fascination.

A natural choice for building a collection of Cuirassiers would be the Perry Heavy Cavalry plastic box, and I’ve had a few of these slumbering in a dark corner of my closet since Salute 2012, so it was about time to get on with them.

One of the troopers before basing.
Shows the musket thus dating the unit at 1812 and forward.

I’m aiming at 4 large units, which for my collection means 12 figures per unit. I’ve decided to spiff them up with a few of the metal casualty poses, to generate more animation than the boxes offer. 

In 1812 the 9th Cuirassiers held the following battle honours on their flag: Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Eckmühl and Wagram. During the Russian campaign the 9th received 2 “Sabre of Honour”, and at Borodino they were part of legendary French cavalry commander Nansouty’s 1st Corp, forming a part of Murat’s Cavalry Reserve. 

Cuirassiers saluting their Emperor before the charge.
The battle of Friedland 1807.

The French Cuirassiers played a key role and formed the brunt of several mounted and very bloody charges on the entrenched Russian artillery and infantry on the Great Redoubt during the afternoon’s fighting at Borodino. Not only at The Moskova but certainly in most of Napoleon’s campaigns, the Cuirassiers were called upon to preform the most difficult and toughest of charges. A role in which they specialized, and often acted as a heavy “snow plough” bearing down on the enemy’s infantry, shaking the very ground with a thunder of hoofs as they charged home. They were formidable in this role, and the heavy elite of their time.

It would take considerable discipline for an 
infantry unit to stand and receive a charge like this. 

As a testament to their ruthless efficiency, a Russian infantry Corps of 30.000 men lost 33% of it’s strength by just one single charge of the French Cuirassiers at the Battle of Montmirail in 1814. 

Regimental colors with battle honors.

In 1804 French cavalry counted 12 of these Cuirassiers regiments, which were lovingly referred to by the rest of the army as “The Big Brothers”. With their heavy double plated cuirass, they were the hammer and the chock troops of the day. Armed of course with their heavy cavalry saber, they also packed two pistols, and from 1812 even a musket with bayonet. 

The Great Redoubt at Borodino 
after the charge of the heavy cavalry.

Under the heavy cuirass the troopers wore a dark blue habite-veste with cuffs and turn backs in regimental colors, as were the tags edging the chabraque made from sheep’s wool. These colors would be red, purplish dark red, yellow and a light rose color. The standard breeches were from light sheep’s skin or on campaign protective riding pants, buttoned in each side.

Cuirassiers charging at Eylau 1807.

The trumpeters would be dressed rather lavishly and with no apparent restrictions up to 1812, when an Imperial decree ordered them into habite-vestes of complimentary colors (the Funcken plates show green yellow and rose), no cuirass and white horses hair in their helmet.

Awe inspiring film clip showing 
the true punch of a Cuirassiers charge.

I will leave you with this short clip from the 1994 movie Colonel Chabert. It shows the “Eagles of Eylau” –the French Cuirassiers as they charged into the Russian line. The mere sound of a distant thunder of hooves building up can give me goose bumps – imagine being an enemy infantryman on the receiving end of such a charge!

Thank you very much for reading!


  1. Beautiful painting, love the uniform and the life you paint into the horses!

    1. Thank you very much Ray, those Perry minis does make painting easier I tell you. Yeah, the Cuirassiers are a personal favorite, love the uniform, very iconic for the Napoleonic era I think.

  2. Inspiring riders, you've said it!
    Another fantastic post, write-up is really nice, illustrated pictures and movie excellent...and of course a beautiful paintjob on this glorious unit!

    1. The "Grand Frères" in all their splendor. No French army without them right? I'm very happy you liked the post Phil, thanks a lot for those kind words :0)

  3. They are gorgeous, the horse carrying the colours in simply brilliant!

    1. Thank you very much Michael! We're dealing with the usual suspects here: Perry minis and the Foundry paint system helped along with washes from Warpainter, hard to go wrong then.

  4. Wonderful painting and a great sense of action! A real nice write as well btw.


    1. Thanks a lot Christopher, happy you enjoyed the read. I'm also quite happy with the animation of the wonderful Perry Plastic kit, the horses are very nicely sculpted. And then one can always mix in some of the nice metal casualty cuirassiers for that extra drama of charging the Great Redoubt at Borodino.

  5. More handsome work, Soren! Your painting makes the colors and contrast really pop.

    I began with the Airfix HO/OO, 1/72nd scale Napoleonics and I painted many of the Airfix cuirassiers. Never tried a 54mm figure.

    1. Ah, I remember that range. I think my first Airfix 1/72 was Washington's infantry for the AWI - you know, that picture with the red vests under the dark blue jackets and a soldier kneeling in the foreground?
      Anyway, nostalgia is a wonderful thing, especially since things have really moved forward so much these last 10-12 years. Thanks for your kind comment above, it's very appreciated after more or less a week at the painting table with these minis!

  6. Beautiful brushwork - they look like they charged right out of the painting. I had that Airfix kit, but alas never got around to building it. Best, Dean

    1. Thanks Dean, really appreciate it! The Perry plastic box is a lovely starting kit for any 28 mm heavy French cavalry project, the horses are exceptional. Like you, I only barely got started on that 54 mm kit, and I've been searching my attic for any trace of it, but it seems time (and countless moves since) have swallowed it up. However I did find all my old 1/72 Revell SYW mins, might post a few of those just for the nostalgia of it!

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words Stephen! Someday we simply have to arrange an 1812 game and get our two collections together on that extra large Borodino gaming table that I imagine in my dreams :0) This year at Salute I bought the Grand Manner gun bastion, so give me time and I'll have that painted up for a perfect Borodino Great Redoubt!

  8. Another great read with beautifully painted miniatures!

    1. Cheers Mattias, glad you enjoyed the posting!

  9. Replies
    1. Thanks Johnny, happy to see you come by for a read and a comment!

  10. A wonderful looking unit Søren, very imposing with lots of lovely details.

  11. Thank you very much Jonas, appreciate the visit and your kind comment!

  12. A great post once again! Love your painting, especially how you did the bronze on the helmets.
    The cavalry casualties look very dramatic, can't wait to see how you painted them up.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Rens, the helmets are Foundry bronze washed with Warpainter's dark tone wash and then highlighted with a color mixed from 2/3 bronze and 1/3 silver.
      I'm hoping to get that second line done quite quickly, even though things are stacking up at the old painting table as usual. Thanks for your visit!

  13. Wow they look great! I can only hope I can come close to your paining skills once I get my Austrians in. I look forward to a game with these and some Austrian cavalry.

    1. You're very kind my friend, and I'm glad you decided to join this project! The Austrian infantry will look amazing in their white uniforms and their hussars are just spectacular! From what I've seen so far, I'm sure we have some great Third and Fifth Coalition wargaming ahead of us!

  14. Superb painting, four units of these is going to look fantastic.
    Great blog.

    1. Thank you very much for the visit and the kind comment SW - I do look forward to adding an extra row including some of the Perry metal Cuirassiers casualties. It will certainly add to the feeling of a clashing unit and the visual drama!

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