A Spam's questions on the evolution of the British cavalry sword/sabre

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by warmonger82, Jun 16, 2011.

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  1. I've been doing a spot of reading on the British cavalry of the 19th century and one question keeps coming to mind why in God's name did Horse Guard's ever see fit to discard the 1796 light cavalry sabre? It seemed to be perfection itself with regards to slicing capability. What replaced it in cavalry service? Was the pattern 1822? And why did the design of British cavalry sabres seem to change so often in the years in between Waterloo and Mons? I believe that the US cavalry kept the same knock off of the French 1820 pattern saber from 1840 until 1913 when we adopted the Patton Saber, a knock off of the Pattern 1908 Cavalry Trooper's Blade. I'd love to hear your comments on these weapons, especially the 1853 and 1885 patterns.

    PS Here's a link from a Canadian company that sells Indian reproductions of historical military swords

    British Swords and Sabres (Army, Royal Navy, and Scottish Swords)

    and another for a discussion on the American sabers of the same era
    SBG Sword Forum • View topic - US Cav Saber M1840/1860 Windlass et al
     
  2. Well, I can't really give you a comprehensive reply at the moment but here are a few things:

    1) Pattern changes often occurred because the British Army spent about 300 years arguing furiously over which was better, cut or thrust. This is one of the reasons for the often weird design of British swords; throughout the 19th Century, we kept trying to field a sword that could do both, and usually wound up fielding a sword that did neither with particular distinction.

    2) Pattern changes also occurred when any "significant" change was made to any part of the sword; for instance, the P. 1796 was replaced by the P. 1821, but the only major change between the two models was the replacement of the knucklebow guard on the '96 with a three-bar guard on the '21. Likewise, the P. 1853 was replaced by the P. 1864; the blades remained pretty much identical (right down to their moderately useless round grips) but the '53's three-bar guard was replaced by the pierced bowl guard found on the '64.

    3) Progress in chemistry, metallurgy and manufacturing processes tended to suggest improvements to sword design, as did comments and requests from serving cavalry units. These improvements, when applied, were sometimes found not to be so beneficial as had been initially supposed; for example, the swift replacement of the P. 1882 sword was caused by that type's frequent failure under stress, a problem which afflicted also its successor, the P. 1885. The '85's problems were eventually attributed to (among other things) a combination of excessively stringent tests during manufacture, which introduced metal fatigue (a problem compounded by unofficial, regimental tests); a lack of standardisation in the composition of the blade steel; an over-reliance on human skill in the forging and tempering of the steel; and the propensity of water quenching to produce cracking within the blade.