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During the Napoleonic wars in Europe, many heavy cavalry units still retain the use of armours, for example, French Carabiniers-à-Cheval below,


How effective were these to protect the cavalryman against enemy fire, like muskets or rifles? Did they effectively reduce the casualties from gunfire, or were they just used to protect against non-firearms attack like swords? Or were they just used for ceremonial/prestige reasons?

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As a melee fighter, heavy cavalry would have depended on armor to block melee weapons once they got in range, and that alone would justify its use. As far as effectiveness against firearms the best I've ever found is that quality armor of the time was somewhat effective against small arms and muskets at range, though muskets could easily penetrate at close range. While I haven't been able to find exact distances, I would expect this also gave Heavy Cavalry a range where musket fire was ineffective and they would be able to close before infantry could reload.

Rifles of the period had longer range and took longer to reload, which would indicate they were more effective against armor though it may have been a wash due to longer reload times, but I can't conform that. Rifles and rifle companies were also far less common at the time so the decision to wear armor was likely based more on fighting musket armed soldiers as that was the more common opponent.

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Pure physics. Compare musket with a modern rifle. Which one needs more kinetic energy to achieve given aiming accuracy? What happens with this kinetic energy after hitting the target? – kubanczyk Jan 15 '13 at 12:03
@kubanczyk: kinetic energy allows for range and contribute to damage but has nothing to do with accuracy which are more influenced by rifling and round shapes. Round shapes and material determine what percentage of the kinetic energy of the round is dumped into whatever gets hit by said round. – Sardathrion Jan 15 '13 at 12:58
@Saradathrion Wrong and wrong. – kubanczyk Jan 15 '13 at 18:11
@kubanczyk i don't think you really understand ballistics – Ryathal Jan 15 '13 at 18:20
@kubanczyk I don't understand what you guys are disputing.. – Fitri Jan 21 '13 at 16:24

Just to add a note about cannons: fragmentation is a very common source of injury -- be it wood splinters, bone, rocks, or shrapnel from the shell -- link, graphic images of wounds. This could have impacted the desire to wear armour. However, wikipedia and Body Armor: Cuirass and Helmet seem to indicate that fragmentation/shrapnel was not a factor at all in wearing armour.

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This sounds plausible, but can you please add a source? – Felix Goldberg Jan 15 '13 at 10:37
@FelixGoldberg: Done. Edited the answer as well. – Sardathrion Jan 15 '13 at 12:03
<Hopeless cause> Could downvoters leave a comment as to why they downvoted? This is so, I can improve the answer if possible. <\Hopeless cause> – Sardathrion Jan 15 '13 at 12:53

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