Original French WWI Model 1874 Steel and Brass Cuirassier Helmet with Horsehair Tail

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. This is a wonderful French Model 1874 Cuirassier Helmet, with steel skull, brass comb embossed with beaded fluting and terminating with the head of Medusa, and black horse hair mane. The brass helmet plate is embossed with a star flanked by what appears to be sun rays, with brass bound front and back peaks. It still retains the left leather backed brass overlapping acanthus leaf chin-scales, which are still fully intact, though worn. The right chinstrap is missing. The left side of the skull would normally bear a red feather plume with black base knot, but the plume for this helmet is missing. Part of the top of the comb is missing and the medusa on the front is misshapen and bent.

Original leather liner still intact and fully attached but worn. There also is a number 56 stamped on the back of the helmet under the horse hair, which may be the size. Overall condition is fair. An impressive display piece in any collection!

A resurgence of armored cavalry took place in France under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, who increased the number of armored regiments from one to, ultimately, sixteen (fourteen cuirassier regiments plus two Carabiniers-à-Cheval regiments).

During the first few decades of the 19th century most of the major states of Europe, except Austria which had retained its armored cavalry, readopted the cuirass for some of their heavy cavalry in emulation of the French. The Russians fielded two divisions
of armored cavalry, but most other states armored a few senior regiments: Prussia three regiments, the Kingdom of Saxony three, the Kingdom of Westphalia two, Spain one (Coraceros Españoles) and the Duchy of Warsaw one. The three Household Cavalry regiments of the British Army (1st and 2nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards) adopted cuirasses shortly after the Napoleonic Wars as a part of their full dress uniforms, but never had occasion to wear the armor in battle. However as late as 1887 these regiments were still wearing cuirasses on maneuvers in "field day order".

Cuirassiers were generally the senior branch of the mounted portion of an army, retaining their status as heavy cavalry—"big men on big horses". Their value as a heavy striking force during the Napoleonic Wars ensured that the French, Russian and Prussian armies continued to use cuirassier regiments throughout the 19th century. The Austrian cuirassiers were abolished in 1868.

For reasons of climate and cost cuirassiers of the 19th century type seldom appeared outside Europe and Latin America. However Ranjit Singh's Sikh Army (the Khalsa) of the 1830s included two regiments of cuirassiers equipped and armed in French fashion. Four hundred carabinier cuirasses were imported from France while helmets and uniforms were manufactured in Wazirabad.

Franco-Prussian War

The last occasions when cuirassiers played a major tactical role as shock cavalry wearing traditional armor, was during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The French cuirassiers numbered 11 regiments at the outbreak of war but had not seen active service since the Battle of Waterloo. A brigade comprising the 6th and 9th Regiments had served in the Crimean War but had not actually encountered the enemy. Accordingly, the prospect of action against the Prussian Army, which included 10 cuirassier regiments of its own, was seen as an opportunity for a strongly traditional branch of the French cavalry to prove its continuing relevance. In the event, in a series of massed charges against Prussian infantry and artillery at Froeschwiller and Rezonville, the French cuirassiers suffered very heavy losses for little return.

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