Equipped with heavy, straight swords and wearing armour, cuirassiers are melee cavalry. If the cuirassiers can get in among their foes, then they can do bloody work and have some protection in the fight granted by their cuirasses and heavy helmets. They are rightly feared by enemy infantry, and other cavalry forces are foolish not to treat them with a degree of respect. The price paid for this imposing strength is in speed: cuirassiers are far from swift, dashing cavalrymen. They are heavyweights, and killers.
In many ways, Cuirassiers hark back to an older style of warfare: cavalrymen had always been armoured, until the widespread use of firearms meant that armour was more trouble than it was worth. The magnificence of their appearance, however, added to their worth on the battlefield. Their “Minerva” style helmets merely added to the impression that here was a unit of giants. The effect was intended to be quite intimidating, and it worked: cuirassiers were always big men on big horses, heavily armoured and well trained to use shock against any weak enemy. The French army eventually abandoned the cuirass as an item of field equipment in 1915.