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!