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R. Connors




Location: Canada
Joined: 24 Sep 2009

Posts: 12

PostPosted: Sun 06 Feb, 2011 2:54 pm    Post subject: The evolution of the sword at war.         Reply with quote

Being weapon freaks, we all think about the different types of swords through the ages. Usually things evolve through the ages to reach an optimal condition for the existing conditions. Wide, thin blades for cutting unarmoured targets. Narrow, thick blades for penetrating armoured targets. Medium hybrids for dealing with both.

The point. Since about the 18th Century swords seem to be exclusively narrow bladed, slightly curved. Sabers or Sabres if you like. Firearms were becoming reliable mainstream weapons at this time. A sword was a backup, yet still mainstream carry. No armour in this period to speak of, though I am sure that thoughtful humans used what their thoughts enabled. So....if the sabre became the mainstream weapon throughout the world, does this mean that it is the epitome of sword evolution for dealing with men in cloth or leather clothing? I know that some of the short swords carried on the traditiion of roman type blades, such as artillary blades. Short naval cutlesses I also am aware of. Yet the slightly curved sabre seems to be the rule. They are not much lighter than a nice longsword, so I am wondering why the long two edged sword reached extinction. I know about cavalry, but still, why abandon that gorgeous type XII a?
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,931

PostPosted: Sun 06 Feb, 2011 5:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unless I have completely misunderstood the inquiry, this is virtually the same question and following discussion from the end of last year.

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=21386

There is some argument that the straight blades continued to be the most effective cavalry sword into the 20th century but the curved swords continued as well. The narrowing of blades in general seems to go back some time but some of the sabres were still quite broad for their length. It would be easier to argue that it was later in the 19th century when curved blades really started to narrow quite a bit. In the end though, it is easy to take virtually any trait out of the context many see as an overall instead of really looking at what swords were expected to achieve. The linked thread may or may not answer your questions but may be a good start.

Cheers

GC
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Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Sun 06 Feb, 2011 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think Glen is correct. My opinion is that the "evolution" of swords from around the middle of the 19th century on is really more about the evolution of the firearm. Militarily swords became less important as weapons as firearms improved. By the time of the American Civil War swords were becoming largely symbols of authority and a means of directing subordinate soldiers.

I was talking to a Civil War reenactor about a huge D handled bowie knife in a local museum and he said that they , swords and bayonets weren't used much as weapons and that forensic analysis of Civil War era war dead revealed that they were mostly either shot or clubbed to death with gun butts and more rarely stabbed or cut.
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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
Joined: 02 Jun 2008

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 238

PostPosted: Sun 06 Feb, 2011 8:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Militarily swords became less important as weapons as firearms improved. By the time of the American Civil War swords were becoming largely symbols of authority and a means of directing subordinate soldiers.


Add to this the inertia of tradition and the appeal of "things that have worked in the past" VS "things whose efficiency is still uncertain". Despite what we are able to see today through extensive study of past wars, this wisdom-after-the-fact wasn't available to those who were calling the shots at the time. Episodes such as Pickett's charge on Cemetary Hill probably show many officers still believed in the charge and the use of cold steel in close combat.

As a matter of fact, as late as 1914 the doctrine of the French army was quite dismissive of firearms efficiency, at least for small arms (despite the existence of very good pieces of artillery such as the 75mm M1897). The French still had front-line cavalry around at that time, too. In L'Art de la guerre, Belgian general Émile Wanty (himself a veteran of WW1 and WW2) explains in detail how despite such clues as the battles of Gettysburg, Gravelotte-St-Privat, and others, it took until something like 1915 for the potential of the firearm to be fully apprehended.

I also think this matter of tradition, inertia, and in a more general sense, military culture, explains why no 19th century officer carried a Viking-type sword on the field despite such a blade's efficiency as a cutter against lightly armoured targets. If one only analyses military matters as a matter of pure logic and efficiency, he won't be able to understand much and will probably end wondering why Rome didn't drop an A-bomb on Carthage (okay, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but still). Military matters, as any human matter really, don't exist in a vacuum, nor do they follow a nice timeline of unbroken, constant, logical progress. Therefore I would be very wary of seeing the 19th century's ubiquity of sabres as proof that these were the epitome of sword evolution.
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,931

PostPosted: Mon 07 Feb, 2011 7:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Simon,

Quote:
also think this matter of tradition, inertia, and in a more general sense, military culture, explains why no 19th century officer carried a Viking-type sword on the field despite such a blade's efficiency as a cutter against lightly armoured targets.


Aside from that the English 1796 heavy cavalry sword blade was more a single edge sword (but some back edge), these were not entirely unlike a viking cutting sword while still being useful in the thrust, Here on a 19th century Americanized officer hilt (shown as well in the previous thread).

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/download.php?id=31673

The op may regard the above blade as similar to the cutlass and artillery swords mentioned as not qualifying but surely of the same cutting capability of the older viking blades.

To the massed ACW cavalry charges, they appear to have been few and far less noticible during the war overall. An interesting note though that some preferred the big straight blades like the 1854 dragon sword (also posted in the other thread).

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/download.php?id=31617

There were definitely European influences in preferences as some officers on both sides of the conflict came from continental military backgrounds. A pair for comparison in that while Sigel was arguably not a cavalry man, he was still apparently as fond of big straight swords as von Borke.

Considering the Federal use particularly of horsemen as mounted infantry (further adopted overall by the confederacy), as opposed to line cavalry action, we can also look to artillery of all types and disease being the most responsible for casualties during the ACW.

These anecdotal notes in no way dismiss that cavalry and both straight along with curved swords persisted into the 20th century.

Cheers

GC



 Attachment: 30.87 KB
Franz_Sigel.jpg
Federal officer Franz Sigel

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VonBorcke.jpg
Confederate champion Heros von Borcke
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R. Connors




Location: Canada
Joined: 24 Sep 2009

Posts: 12

PostPosted: Fri 18 Feb, 2011 7:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thank you Mr. Cleeton and others, but especially yourself Glen. I apologize for not searching. I'm one of those idiots who sits in front of a computer drinking beer, and thinks that my brilliant thought has never been considered before. Even I have a hard laugh over that. There is little that has not been said (excepting new tech.). You have made me think, and you have once again gone out of your way to provide information, for which I deeply thank you. When you bare the bottom, we are discussing a sharp piece of steel with zero moving parts. Providing that the metallurgy and heat treatment is correct,...well...the result is an instrument that will cleave you and/or stab you to death, plus be resilient and finely balanced, (physically and harmonically...both are physical) and hold an edge. Nothing technical about this FINISHED instrument other than that, excepting the shape or geometry that has changed throughout the ages. It has always done the same thing... kill or wound a human. I really don't believe that an unarmoured human would notice the difference between any of the sharp blades from whatever era. (excepting the quickness of death or destruction....a severed limb compared to a nearly hacked off limb). Now a thin, broad bladed cutting sword may dismember you more easily than a narrow thrusting sword, but without armour you are in trouble regardless. You get severely cut or stabbed...you usually die. Just wondering why they stuck with the single handed, mostly single edged sabre after the firearm saga. I think the development ceased with the need. There was no more need for development...just something that would shed blood when needed. The focus on bladed weapons diminished with the firearm, so they just stuck with the current tooling. Moderate deviations considered, I would say that the thrust prevailed in desperate times...which is why the officer blade was often narrow and straight in the very late 19th C. and early 20th c. Seldom in use, but when required, usually a quick stab or thrust to the abdomen. Just my obscure thoughts...but I like to read others, since I am VERY often wrong in thought. Sorry for not searching once again. Thanks for those pics. Glen. I really do enjoy your efforts both here and on SFI.
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