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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2017 10:17 am    Post subject: Exclusive cutting: Danish saber manuals from 1800's?         Reply with quote

I'm asking this question, since while reading the memoirs of Rasmus Nielsen (Bolteskov) of the 6th Dragon Regiment 3rd Eskadron in the Second Slesvig War 1864 where I found something quite surprising.

The Danish saber was apparently taught very differently from how Germans used it.
Rasmus Nielsen tells us that the Danish Dragoons exclusively used cutting, while the German Hussars used both cuts and thrusts.
Source (page 51, bottom): http://pageflip.dk/clients/c_1/u_7/Bonden_1810792/

Cutting to the head was the prevalent Danish tactics against German cavalry already from 1848 (First Slesvig War) as the German Hussar headgear didn't protect so well against powerful saber cuts (as for instance the headgear the Danish dragoons wore).
Danish dragoons were selected from the biggest and strongest recruits, so they were able to wield the M1843 saber with huge power.
Training started on foot to get the skills and then afterwards moved to practicing on horseback. They trained these cuts several hours each day both on foot and on horse for achieving maximum skill and power with their primary weapon.
Their carbine was only their secondary weapon and rarely used and we only have one instance of them fighting on foot using carbines, which clearly shocked the men when the order came.

The Danish dragoons rode on slower, but steady and powerful Jutland horses that could carry the big men (one Danish officer rode into combat weighing 124 kg), while the German Hussars rode faster, but more feisty full-bloods!

Rasmus Nielsen fought in close combat against Hussars from the 8th Hussar Regiment (1st Westphalian) in a skirmish lasting 17-18 minutes (!) of 4 danish dragoons against 12 (increased later to 15) german hussars at Thorsted 22nd April 1864.

So I had always thought that Danish sword training was more and less the same as the German one, but it is clearly not the case!
So had anyone knowledge of any written Danish manuals on cavalry saber, or was the know-how taught directly from officers to recruits?
How was it in Sweden at this time? Does this Danish dragoon style resembled anything else in Europe?
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Sep, 2017 8:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Reinier van Noort has just researched and published a translation of three 18th-century Scandinavian smallsword treatises:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/reinier-van-noort/sc...16539.html

You might want to ask him if he knows about this kind of stuff. What little I've seen is Swedish and it does have unique elements (especially the copious use of lateral and diagonal footwork as opposed to the more linear footwork of most other contemporary European military sabre styles) but it was still a cut-and-thrust style rather than a purely cutting one.

However, one important thing to keep in mind is that an over-reliance on cutting seems to be a common complaint against beginners in sabre styles that use both the cut and the thrust. Waite spoke about in in English, and Barbasetti made a very similar complaint in Italian.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Sat 16 Sep, 2017 3:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Reinier van Noort has just researched and published a translation of three 18th-century Scandinavian smallsword treatises:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/reinier-van-noort/sc...16539.html

You might want to ask him if he knows about this kind of stuff. What little I've seen is Swedish and it does have unique elements (especially the copious use of lateral and diagonal footwork as opposed to the more linear footwork of most other contemporary European military sabre styles) but it was still a cut-and-thrust style rather than a purely cutting one.

However, one important thing to keep in mind is that an over-reliance on cutting seems to be a common complaint against beginners in sabre styles that use both the cut and the thrust. Waite spoke about in in English, and Barbasetti made a very similar complaint in Italian.


Thanks Lafayette for this information.
Quite interesting that the Swedish style seems to have unique elements (do you here mean for sabre or smallsword or both?). Is this lateral and diagonal footwork somewhat akin to spanish rapier in movement patterns?
But it highlights that the Danish style thus is neither German or Swedish, but its own thing.

The Germans certainly complained against the Danish soldiers cutting to the head (the germans thought it barbaric, whereas the Danish dragoons thought the germans hussars were barbaric, when they often tried to shoot dragoons, rather than fence).

What is interesting is that the Danish style were not a "beginner" style, but one evolved through experience from battle with German and Austrian-Hungarian hussars in the First Slesvig War.
Rasmus Nielsen was trained to use this style by Ritmester Barth himself, who was a war-hero from the major cavalry skirmish near Århus in 1849 and regarded as among the best cavalry fencers in Denmark. Barth ordered his men to cut only towards the head before that battle.

I am a bit uncertain what you meant: Was it that beginners of cut-and-thrust style complained against exclusive "cutters"?
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Tom King




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PostPosted: Sat 16 Sep, 2017 11:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

I am a bit uncertain what you meant: Was it that beginners of cut-and-thrust style complained against exclusive "cutters"?

I think he means that beginners favored the cut over the thrust is saber combat, which ironically can negate a lot of proper saber combat (at least in training) focussed on thrusting with a curved sword. Paired with the concept of "put the big guys on horses and teach them to cleave the enemies head exclusively" is an expedient way of turning a surplus of raw recruits into tactically and strategically effective soldiers.
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Mike Ruhala




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Sep, 2017 1:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels, it was a common practice to give lighter weapons capable of complex actions to officers along with more advanced training than what was given to troopers who were taught a reduced set of skills suitable for the heavier weapons they were given. It is very likely the focus on head cuts was a product of such a simplified system of fencing being taught to those troopers. Interestingly we have documents from the 18th century that indicate the swordsmen among the boarders on ships received little or no training with their weapon and almost exclusively targeted their opponent's head in combat. On the bright side the head and weapon arm are the easiest targets to get at in saber or cutlass fencing so that's where most of the action will be anyway. Also, this thing about lateral vs linear footwork is a misconception. Diagonal and lateral footwork is commonplace even in modern electric foil and it's extensively documented in any era you care to choose. What is true is that the military saber manuals are very often only presenting beginner or intermediate level material which can mislead casual readers.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Mon 18 Sep, 2017 11:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Tom and Mike for your replies!

To Tom:" put the big guys on horses and teach them to cleave the enemies head exclusively" is an expedient way of turning a surplus of raw recruits into tactically and strategically effective soldiers."

That is certainly a very valid argument - yet then why did only the Danes do it and not the germans or austrian-hungarians.
In the Slesvig wars the danish dragons basically outfought hussars at most cavalry skirmishes.

To Mike: "it was a common practice to give lighter weapons capable of complex actions to officers along with more advanced training than what was given to troopers who were taught a reduced set of skills suitable for the heavier weapons they were given. It is very likely the focus on head cuts was a product of such a simplified system of fencing being taught to those troopers"

The Danish officer sabre M/1843 was 102 cm long and 958 grams and the trooper sabre M/1843 was 105 cm and 1230 grams. So there were a lighter officer sabre - as you state was a common occurrence.

I wonder though if actually the cause is that the troopers were younger men and more fit, whereas the officers were often older men who had to drill the troopers, but not being drilled hard themselves?!
The Danish officers were generally career soldiers (also some nobles); but I have no idea if they received any officer weapon-training?! Maybe they had to pay for a private teacher, themselves if they wanted to become better?

As for training, the recruits went to recruiting schools and were then afterwards enlisted (if they passed) for a fairly long amount of time, so it wasn't fast learning course that was needed. The dragoons were considered the elite of the danish army.
The dragoons from Funen was stationed in Holsten (Itzehoe) and Rasmus Nielsen were recruited in 1860, so in the war of 1864 he had 4 years of hard daily training with the sabre on horseback! In all he was in the dragoons for 5 years stationed outside his home area.

It doesn't seem that Ritmester Barth did anything but train his men super hard (some of his recruits died during training) and he also trained them in the use of lances and carbines. Lances no longer were used by Danish cavalry, but they were a favourite of Barth, so they had to learn this as well. Ritmester Barth himself used an non-regulation "eastern style sabre" probably for even better cutting ability.

So it does seem to me that both simplicity in training AND efficiency in combat were important components for the choice.
The Danish dragoons believed cutting to be superior to cut-and-thrust when cavalry-fencing against hussars.
Maybe there is an important difference between infantry-fencing and cavalry-fencing? Perhaps the german hussars used cut-and-thrust because it were based on well-regarded and effective infantry styles, whereas in Denmark you chose a unique cavalry fencing style?
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Mike Ruhala




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PostPosted: Mon 18 Sep, 2017 11:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

The Danish officer sabre M/1843 was 102 cm long and 958 grams and the trooper sabre M/1843 was 105 cm and 1230 grams. So there were a lighter officer sabre - as you state was a common occurrence.

I wonder though if actually the cause is that the troopers were younger men and more fit, whereas the officers were often older men who had to drill the troopers, but not being drilled hard themselves?!


Hi Niels,

Well, that's not a likely explanation because it was pretty much normal to find young officers leading troopers. Without bogging everything down by getting too technical about stuff that is really better shown in person than described through text I will say that it's a fact that a lighter sword can be moved around more quickly than a heavy one. Okay, I will bog it down a little. :-)

There's a historical trend that swords intended primarily for fighting on foot weigh between one and two pounds. Swords intended primarily for fighting from horseback weigh 2.5 or 3 pounds. If you put a 2.5 pound sword in the hands of a man bigger and stronger than me he still won't be able to make use of all the complex actions I can perform with a sword that weighs 1.5 pounds. I don't know what all the science behind it might be but it has little or nothing to do with point of balance or any other such thing. Very often our modern swordsmiths will make a weapon and say something like "it weighs three pounds but don't let that fool you, it floats in your hand!" No, it doesn't. :-) There is no secret way to balance a sword to defy gravity or reduce its mass to zero. No doubt the sword feels really awesome when you swing it around, that is a real thing, but ultimately a swordsman must confront another swordsman in combat and there he can't get away from the reality of inertia. For whatever reason even men much larger and stronger than myself begin to noticeably slow down when wielding swords heavier than two pounds, I'm talking about trained and experienced fencers here not just laypersons. There are some who think they perform all these actions with their "military sabers" as they like to call them but when you see them in person you see that their tempo is slow and you'd never buy into their feints or false attacks, you can easily hit them on preparation because they're uncovered for so long, etc. You can overcome this by being super-extra strong, but we're talking like seriously a whole lot more strong... based on what I've seen we're probably talking about guys who weigh a lean and muscular 225 pounds or so and even then only with the proper training and conditioning. I know there were other attempts at recruiting giants, such as the Potsdam Grenadiers.

I would guess it has something to do with some kind of squaring effect, such as a relatively small mass squared is still a pretty manageable number but raise it a bit and you start hitting numbers that are quickly not so manageable. Sort of like the square cube law I guess but this is an intuition, I am a swordsman not a scientist. :-) Anyway our ancient ancestors were well aware of this fact and frequently paired their 2.5lbs swords with shields or bucklers when fighting on foot, adding a second weapon allowed them to perform two actions at once and therefore remain competitive. Come to think of it rapiers were commonly in that weight range and frequently were paired with daggers for the same purpose. Longswords are a hack, they might weigh 3 or 4 pounds overall but that's shared between 2 hands so the effective weight drops to 1.5 or 2 pounds, right in the sweet spot. This is not coincidental. Swords much heavier than this, like the montante, gave rise to specialized systems of fencing unique to them.

...besides, when officers were drilling their troops they typically were given wooden sabers to demonstrate with. :-)

Quote:
The Danish officers were generally career soldiers (also some nobles); but I have no idea if they received any officer weapon-training?! Maybe they had to pay for a private teacher, themselves if they wanted to become better?


I don't know in the specific case of Denmark but I do know the common practice was hours and hours of fencing instruction every week for officers, some would be sent off to special fencing schools for weeks or months and then return to their units to share what they learned plus the regiments generally employed their own fencing masters. Troopers got some training too but surprisingly most of it was solo drilling probably for the same reason I mentioned above, you generally won't be doing any kind of complicated fencing from horseback.

Quote:
As for training, the recruits went to recruiting schools and were then afterwards enlisted (if they passed) for a fairly long amount of time, so it wasn't fast learning course that was needed. The dragoons were considered the elite of the danish army.
The dragoons from Funen was stationed in Holsten (Itzehoe) and Rasmus Nielsen were recruited in 1860, so in the war of 1864 he had 4 years of hard daily training with the sabre on horseback! In all he was in the dragoons for 5 years stationed outside his home area.


That makes sense to me for troopers. I've seen old videos of some of the last of the horse cavalry doing drill where there was an apple on a post, they'd ride past and cut it to demonstrate timing and accuracy. In the majority of cases that's pretty close to what a trooper would be called on to do in battle.


Quote:
So it does seem to me that both simplicity in training AND efficiency in combat were important components for the choice.
The Danish dragoons believed cutting to be superior to cut-and-thrust when cavalry-fencing against hussars.
Maybe there is an important difference between infantry-fencing and cavalry-fencing? Perhaps the german hussars used cut-and-thrust because it were based on well-regarded and effective infantry styles, whereas in Denmark you chose a unique cavalry fencing style?


Yes, I think efficiency was a large part of it. That's efficiency in training, efficiency in combat and efficient use of the trooper's work day. As far as the Germans go I know the common saber systems of this era were Franco-Germanic so I imagine they retained the thrust because it was just part of the system. I'm trained in such a system and it's simply normal to me but I also got the equivalent of an officer's training and a friend of mine from an Italian lineage has described the simplified system that was taught to Italian troopers to me. It wasn't a totally different style than the officers, it was more like a less complete training course that dispensed with all the actions that were unlikely to actually be used in combat from horseback by troopers armed with heavier weapons that weren't suited to the actions anyway. The troopers course was footwork, molinets, chambered cuts, parries, two sfzori, and thrusts. The officers got additional training in feints, actions on the blade, actions in tempo, etc.

So to sum it up I don't want to give the impression your Dragoons were getting inferior training, on the contrary it sounds like they were running a training program very similar to what all the major powers were doing at the time. There's also nothing wrong with the simplified trooper training, it's all bread and butter techniques every swordsman would use regularly. I've won saber tournaments using mostly those techniques. Advanced techniques don't really make you a better fencer all by themselves, they're just extra tools you use to tackle special problems and often aren't as easy to pull off so you have to be a good fencer to use them. Heavy swords aren't bad either, they're just best used with specific sub-sets of techniques and tactics.

Anyway, hope this helps! :-)

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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Sep, 2017 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Ruhala wrote:
Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

The Danish officer sabre M/1843 was 102 cm long and 958 grams and the trooper sabre M/1843 was 105 cm and 1230 grams. So there were a lighter officer sabre - as you state was a common occurrence.

I wonder though if actually the cause is that the troopers were younger men and more fit, whereas the officers were often older men who had to drill the troopers, but not being drilled hard themselves?!


Hi Niels,

Well, that's not a likely explanation because it was pretty much normal to find young officers leading troopers. Without bogging everything down by getting too technical about stuff that is really better shown in person than described through text I will say that it's a fact that a lighter sword can be moved around more quickly than a heavy one. Okay, I will bog it down a little. :-)

There's a historical trend that swords intended primarily for fighting on foot weigh between one and two pounds. Swords intended primarily for fighting from horseback weigh 2.5 or 3 pounds. If you put a 2.5 pound sword in the hands of a man bigger and stronger than me he still won't be able to make use of all the complex actions I can perform with a sword that weighs 1.5 pounds. I don't know what all the science behind it might be but it has little or nothing to do with point of balance or any other such thing. Very often our modern swordsmiths will make a weapon and say something like "it weighs three pounds but don't let that fool you, it floats in your hand!" No, it doesn't. :-) There is no secret way to balance a sword to defy gravity or reduce its mass to zero. No doubt the sword feels really awesome when you swing it around, that is a real thing, but ultimately a swordsman must confront another swordsman in combat and there he can't get away from the reality of inertia. For whatever reason even men much larger and stronger than myself begin to noticeably slow down when wielding swords heavier than two pounds, I'm talking about trained and experienced fencers here not just laypersons. There are some who think they perform all these actions with their "military sabers" as they like to call them but when you see them in person you see that their tempo is slow and you'd never buy into their feints or false attacks, you can easily hit them on preparation because they're uncovered for so long, etc. You can overcome this by being super-extra strong, but we're talking like seriously a whole lot more strong... based on what I've seen we're probably talking about guys who weigh a lean and muscular 225 pounds or so and even then only with the proper training and conditioning. I know there were other attempts at recruiting giants, such as the Potsdam Grenadiers.

I would guess it has something to do with some kind of squaring effect, such as a relatively small mass squared is still a pretty manageable number but raise it a bit and you start hitting numbers that are quickly not so manageable. Sort of like the square cube law I guess but this is an intuition, I am a swordsman not a scientist. :-) Anyway our ancient ancestors were well aware of this fact and frequently paired their 2.5lbs swords with shields or bucklers when fighting on foot, adding a second weapon allowed them to perform two actions at once and therefore remain competitive. Come to think of it rapiers were commonly in that weight range and frequently were paired with daggers for the same purpose. Longswords are a hack, they might weigh 3 or 4 pounds overall but that's shared between 2 hands so the effective weight drops to 1.5 or 2 pounds, right in the sweet spot. This is not coincidental. Swords much heavier than this, like the montante, gave rise to specialized systems of fencing unique to them.

...besides, when officers were drilling their troops they typically were given wooden sabers to demonstrate with. :-)

Quote:
The Danish officers were generally career soldiers (also some nobles); but I have no idea if they received any officer weapon-training?! Maybe they had to pay for a private teacher, themselves if they wanted to become better?


I don't know in the specific case of Denmark but I do know the common practice was hours and hours of fencing instruction every week for officers, some would be sent off to special fencing schools for weeks or months and then return to their units to share what they learned plus the regiments generally employed their own fencing masters. Troopers got some training too but surprisingly most of it was solo drilling probably for the same reason I mentioned above, you generally won't be doing any kind of complicated fencing from horseback.

Quote:
As for training, the recruits went to recruiting schools and were then afterwards enlisted (if they passed) for a fairly long amount of time, so it wasn't fast learning course that was needed. The dragoons were considered the elite of the danish army.
The dragoons from Funen was stationed in Holsten (Itzehoe) and Rasmus Nielsen were recruited in 1860, so in the war of 1864 he had 4 years of hard daily training with the sabre on horseback! In all he was in the dragoons for 5 years stationed outside his home area.


That makes sense to me for troopers. I've seen old videos of some of the last of the horse cavalry doing drill where there was an apple on a post, they'd ride past and cut it to demonstrate timing and accuracy. In the majority of cases that's pretty close to what a trooper would be called on to do in battle.


Quote:
So it does seem to me that both simplicity in training AND efficiency in combat were important components for the choice.
The Danish dragoons believed cutting to be superior to cut-and-thrust when cavalry-fencing against hussars.
Maybe there is an important difference between infantry-fencing and cavalry-fencing? Perhaps the german hussars used cut-and-thrust because it were based on well-regarded and effective infantry styles, whereas in Denmark you chose a unique cavalry fencing style?


Yes, I think efficiency was a large part of it. That's efficiency in training, efficiency in combat and efficient use of the trooper's work day. As far as the Germans go I know the common saber systems of this era were Franco-Germanic so I imagine they retained the thrust because it was just part of the system. I'm trained in such a system and it's simply normal to me but I also got the equivalent of an officer's training and a friend of mine from an Italian lineage has described the simplified system that was taught to Italian troopers to me. It wasn't a totally different style than the officers, it was more like a less complete training course that dispensed with all the actions that were unlikely to actually be used in combat from horseback by troopers armed with heavier weapons that weren't suited to the actions anyway. The troopers course was footwork, molinets, chambered cuts, parries, two sfzori, and thrusts. The officers got additional training in feints, actions on the blade, actions in tempo, etc.

So to sum it up I don't want to give the impression your Dragoons were getting inferior training, on the contrary it sounds like they were running a training program very similar to what all the major powers were doing at the time. There's also nothing wrong with the simplified trooper training, it's all bread and butter techniques every swordsman would use regularly. I've won saber tournaments using mostly those techniques. Advanced techniques don't really make you a better fencer all by themselves, they're just extra tools you use to tackle special problems and often aren't as easy to pull off so you have to be a good fencer to use them. Heavy swords aren't bad either, they're just best used with specific sub-sets of techniques and tactics.

Anyway, hope this helps! :-)


Thanks Mike for your very in depth explanation.
Would be very interested if anyone knows about what kind of sword-training Danish cavalry officers got?
A possible lack of manuals could simply be that the officers taught the troopers from what they already knew themselves, yet Danish soldiers were literate (Rasmus Nielsen learned German while stationed in Holsten by reading books he bought in Itzehoe), so a fighting manual could have been useful.

So the Danish M/1843 trooper sword of 2,75 pounds (1250 grams) is definitely on the heavy side, but not to heavy for a cavalry sword.
It seems to me that the Danish dragoons very much trusted in the armour (thick clothing and helmet).
Rasmus Nielsen and his fellow dragoons had their uniforms totally shredded during the Thorsted fight, but weren't seriously injured. At least 3 germans had received serious headwounds from the Danish sabres and was lying on the ground.
So perhaps the Danish style was very aggressive (perhaps trained to ignore certain kinds of attacks against themselves) going again and again for the head, forcing (if it worked) the opponent into defensive stances and mindset?
Since the Danish cavalry sword was on the heavy side starting more sophisticated fencing with the german hussars might actually have been to Hussars advantage if they had lighter blades?!

So your Italian example is very interesting as it raises the question: Was the Danish trooper training a watered down version of the officer training (if such existed for Danish officers) OR did the troopers get taught a specific "trooper system" (likely evolved specifically to fight german hussars).
For the Germans (and perhaps Austrian-Hungarians also participating in the First Slesvig War) then a cut-and-thrust system simply continued over from foot-usage to cavalry usage?
Do you know any other European power using a cutting-only trooper system?

PS: I have just read article stating that the debate whether to cut or thrust also existed among Danish officers as it did elsewhere in Europe. So the design of the M/1843 is apparently a compromise-sword with only a slightly curved blade.
So the First Slesvig War in 1848-51 apparently birthed the system of only cutting to the head and then it was taught by the officers to the recruits before the Second Slesvig War in 1864. So interestingly this sword was not a dedicated cutter, though it still performed very well in that role and is probably the most famous of the Danish sword models.
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Mike Ruhala




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Sep, 2017 9:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

Thanks Mike for your very in depth explanation.
Would be very interested if anyone knows about what kind of sword-training Danish cavalry officers got?
A possible lack of manuals could simply be that the officers taught the troopers from what they already knew themselves, yet Danish soldiers were literate (Rasmus Nielsen learned German while stationed in Holsten by reading books he bought in Itzehoe), so a fighting manual could have been useful.


The usual practice is you got some training from the national military academy then extra instruction from your unit. There's a tendency in the modern community to try and treat fencing manuals/treatises as the true sources of the system, in fact a lot of people even call them "the sources." In reality that's not how they were viewed by the ancient masters who, in nearly every case they commented on the subject, opined that it's difficult or impossible to write meaningfully about fencing and it's much better taught directly from teacher to student. The books are really just meant to serve as reminders and guides, help organize things for instructional purposes, etc. It's the same with the military saber manuals and that's why they often only talk about beginner or intermediate level material, they're just a teaching aid meant to go along with a real live fencing master. My guess is the Danes had manuals that roughly outlined the training the troopers received but I won't see them because of the language barrier. If they didn't have the manuals that would be surprising but I can see how it wouldn't have been critically important either and there was at the time an ample supply of fencing masters who would have handled the real instruction.

Quote:

So the Danish M/1843 trooper sword of 2,75 pounds (1250 grams) is definitely on the heavy side, but not to heavy for a cavalry sword.


Yes, they aren't meant for a lot of fancy swashbuckling but they are well suited to the task they are truly designed to handle.

Quote:
It seems to me that the Danish dragoons very much trusted in the armour (thick clothing and helmet).
Rasmus Nielsen and his fellow dragoons had their uniforms totally shredded during the Thorsted fight, but weren't seriously injured. At least 3 germans had received serious headwounds from the Danish sabres and was lying on the ground.
So perhaps the Danish style was very aggressive (perhaps trained to ignore certain kinds of attacks against themselves) going again and again for the head, forcing (if it worked) the opponent into defensive stances and mindset?
Since the Danish cavalry sword was on the heavy side starting more sophisticated fencing with the german hussars might actually have been to Hussars advantage if they had lighter blades?!


On horseback there just isn't usually going to be time for a whole lot of fancy fencing actions. You basically have enough time to strike one cut and if it misses or is parried you'll be able to recover just quickly enough to protect yourself from your opponent's riposte as the two of you ride past eachother. In this scenario the heavier sword isn't really at a disadvantage against the lighter one. A lighter officer weight weapon in the hands of a fully trained swordsman really shines when the scenario keeps you and your opponent in reach of eachother for, oh I don't know, maybe 5 seconds or more. This could happen on horseback if for some reason you and other rider were unable or unwilling to ride past eachother and of course this happens a lot on foot. It is well known that the clothing and equipment worn by soldiers in this era were resistant to sword cuts but I don't think they'd rely on that except as a last resort.

Quote:

So your Italian example is very interesting as it raises the question: Was the Danish trooper training a watered down version of the officer training (if such existed for Danish officers) OR did the troopers get taught a specific "trooper system" (likely evolved specifically to fight german hussars).
For the Germans (and perhaps Austrian-Hungarians also participating in the First Slesvig War) then a cut-and-thrust system simply continued over from foot-usage to cavalry usage?
Do you know any other European power using a cutting-only trooper system?


Well, it's important to not get caught up in turning historical fencing into some kind of exotic martial art because really it wasn't. Pretty much all saber systems in Europe were made from the space pieces, they were just assembled slightly differently according to personal, regional or national custom. In turn these pieces themselves aren't really saber-specific, they were already hundreds of years old in the early 19th century and many of them apply to other swords as well with minor adjustments owning to differences in specific weapon configurations. So that's a long-winded way of saying there probably wasn't some special, different trooper fencing style they were just using the techniques and tactics that were most advantageous with their specific swords.

There is some debate whether the earliest origins of these techniques and tactics were for mounted combat or combat on foot, that would have occurred sometime in the very remote past but either way we know there are many commonalities between mounted and foot combat and have been for essentially as long as we have clear records. We don't really know the precise origins but we do know that the standard practice by the 19th century was to first train your cavalry on foot and then teach them how to apply that to combat on horseback. It would have worked the same for the Germans as the Danes in this regard, or the Italians, French, etc. There probably was some kind of culture reason for the difference in the training but I'm not really sure what it was. I am told German officers in this era didn't really mingle with their troops very much so I doubt there was any special effort on their part to give their troopers training more similar to their officers. I do know that at least some of the cavalry swords used by Germans during this period were substantially lighter than the Danish trooper saber you describe so it might just be that the Germans were teaching their troopers more stuff because their weapon was suited to it. The Danes might have simply taken an approach more like "well, we'll just use big swords wielded by big men to straight up lop the heads off our enemies and dispense with all this complicated nonsense we probably won't get a chance to use anyway!" :-) There's actually some precedent for this in Nordic culture, I know the Finnish battlecry was "hakkaa paalle!" which means "strike them down!" and the Swedes had something very similar.


Quote:

PS: I have just read article stating that the debate whether to cut or thrust also existed among Danish officers as it did elsewhere in Europe. So the design of the M/1843 is apparently a compromise-sword with only a slightly curved blade.
So the First Slesvig War in 1848-51 apparently birthed the system of only cutting to the head and then it was taught by the officers to the recruits before the Second Slesvig War in 1864. So interestingly this sword was not a dedicated cutter, though it still performed very well in that role and is probably the most famous of the Danish sword models.


It then seems possible that Danish troopers were taught a system similar to the Italian troopers but perhaps the Danish dragoons were especially fond of head hunting so it stands out in a non-technical source. As I mentioned previously it is known that boarders preferentially targeted the head with their cutlasses, so much so that during the war of 1812 the American navy equipped its ships with special helmets of iron strips and hardened leather called boarding caps.

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Niels Just Rasmussen




Location: Nykøbing Falster, Denmark
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Sep, 2017 5:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Ruhala wrote:
Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

Thanks Mike for your very in depth explanation.
Would be very interested if anyone knows about what kind of sword-training Danish cavalry officers got?
A possible lack of manuals could simply be that the officers taught the troopers from what they already knew themselves, yet Danish soldiers were literate (Rasmus Nielsen learned German while stationed in Holsten by reading books he bought in Itzehoe), so a fighting manual could have been useful.


The usual practice is you got some training from the national military academy then extra instruction from your unit. There's a tendency in the modern community to try and treat fencing manuals/treatises as the true sources of the system, in fact a lot of people even call them "the sources." In reality that's not how they were viewed by the ancient masters who, in nearly every case they commented on the subject, opined that it's difficult or impossible to write meaningfully about fencing and it's much better taught directly from teacher to student. The books are really just meant to serve as reminders and guides, help organize things for instructional purposes, etc. It's the same with the military saber manuals and that's why they often only talk about beginner or intermediate level material, they're just a teaching aid meant to go along with a real live fencing master. My guess is the Danes had manuals that roughly outlined the training the troopers received but I won't see them because of the language barrier. If they didn't have the manuals that would be surprising but I can see how it wouldn't have been critically important either and there was at the time an ample supply of fencing masters who would have handled the real instruction.

Quote:

So the Danish M/1843 trooper sword of 2,75 pounds (1250 grams) is definitely on the heavy side, but not to heavy for a cavalry sword.


Yes, they aren't meant for a lot of fancy swashbuckling but they are well suited to the task they are truly designed to handle.

Quote:
It seems to me that the Danish dragoons very much trusted in the armour (thick clothing and helmet).
Rasmus Nielsen and his fellow dragoons had their uniforms totally shredded during the Thorsted fight, but weren't seriously injured. At least 3 germans had received serious headwounds from the Danish sabres and was lying on the ground.
So perhaps the Danish style was very aggressive (perhaps trained to ignore certain kinds of attacks against themselves) going again and again for the head, forcing (if it worked) the opponent into defensive stances and mindset?
Since the Danish cavalry sword was on the heavy side starting more sophisticated fencing with the german hussars might actually have been to Hussars advantage if they had lighter blades?!


On horseback there just isn't usually going to be time for a whole lot of fancy fencing actions. You basically have enough time to strike one cut and if it misses or is parried you'll be able to recover just quickly enough to protect yourself from your opponent's riposte as the two of you ride past eachother. In this scenario the heavier sword isn't really at a disadvantage against the lighter one. A lighter officer weight weapon in the hands of a fully trained swordsman really shines when the scenario keeps you and your opponent in reach of eachother for, oh I don't know, maybe 5 seconds or more. This could happen on horseback if for some reason you and other rider were unable or unwilling to ride past eachother and of course this happens a lot on foot. It is well known that the clothing and equipment worn by soldiers in this era were resistant to sword cuts but I don't think they'd rely on that except as a last resort.

Quote:

So your Italian example is very interesting as it raises the question: Was the Danish trooper training a watered down version of the officer training (if such existed for Danish officers) OR did the troopers get taught a specific "trooper system" (likely evolved specifically to fight german hussars).
For the Germans (and perhaps Austrian-Hungarians also participating in the First Slesvig War) then a cut-and-thrust system simply continued over from foot-usage to cavalry usage?
Do you know any other European power using a cutting-only trooper system?


Well, it's important to not get caught up in turning historical fencing into some kind of exotic martial art because really it wasn't. Pretty much all saber systems in Europe were made from the space pieces, they were just assembled slightly differently according to personal, regional or national custom. In turn these pieces themselves aren't really saber-specific, they were already hundreds of years old in the early 19th century and many of them apply to other swords as well with minor adjustments owning to differences in specific weapon configurations. So that's a long-winded way of saying there probably wasn't some special, different trooper fencing style they were just using the techniques and tactics that were most advantageous with their specific swords.

There is some debate whether the earliest origins of these techniques and tactics were for mounted combat or combat on foot, that would have occurred sometime in the very remote past but either way we know there are many commonalities between mounted and foot combat and have been for essentially as long as we have clear records. We don't really know the precise origins but we do know that the standard practice by the 19th century was to first train your cavalry on foot and then teach them how to apply that to combat on horseback. It would have worked the same for the Germans as the Danes in this regard, or the Italians, French, etc. There probably was some kind of culture reason for the difference in the training but I'm not really sure what it was. I am told German officers in this era didn't really mingle with their troops very much so I doubt there was any special effort on their part to give their troopers training more similar to their officers. I do know that at least some of the cavalry swords used by Germans during this period were substantially lighter than the Danish trooper saber you describe so it might just be that the Germans were teaching their troopers more stuff because their weapon was suited to it. The Danes might have simply taken an approach more like "well, we'll just use big swords wielded by big men to straight up lop the heads off our enemies and dispense with all this complicated nonsense we probably won't get a chance to use anyway!" :-) There's actually some precedent for this in Nordic culture, I know the Finnish battlecry was "hakkaa paalle!" which means "strike them down!" and the Swedes had something very similar.


Quote:

PS: I have just read article stating that the debate whether to cut or thrust also existed among Danish officers as it did elsewhere in Europe. So the design of the M/1843 is apparently a compromise-sword with only a slightly curved blade.
So the First Slesvig War in 1848-51 apparently birthed the system of only cutting to the head and then it was taught by the officers to the recruits before the Second Slesvig War in 1864. So interestingly this sword was not a dedicated cutter, though it still performed very well in that role and is probably the most famous of the Danish sword models.


It then seems possible that Danish troopers were taught a system similar to the Italian troopers but perhaps the Danish dragoons were especially fond of head hunting so it stands out in a non-technical source. As I mentioned previously it is known that boarders preferentially targeted the head with their cutlasses, so much so that during the war of 1812 the American navy equipped its ships with special helmets of iron strips and hardened leather called boarding caps.


Hi Mike.

I have tracked down an old Danish book from 1932, that might have some information. It states that it includes fencing at the military schools, fencing for privates ("menige") and civilian fencing ("private"). Unclear whether it says something about these things for the Slesvig Wars or just what the military was doing after WW1?
See: https://books.google.dk/books/about/F%C3%A6gtningens_og_Duellens_Historie_i_Danm.html?id=qBQ_MQAACAAJ&redir_esc=y
So I will try to get that.

Denmark got its first Military Academy in 1830 [Den Kongelige Militaire Høiskole - today Forsvarsakademiet].
I actually found the original plan for it here with the curriculum by F. C. von Bülow, for anyone interested.
See: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hwp89m;view=1up;seq=9
I can't seem to find anything on actual fencing - so maybe future Danish officers were expected to know it already or learn it privately?
Since the book from 1932 apparently does mention fencing at the military schools, maybe it was included at a later date.

So if Denmark didn't have (cavalry-) fencing manuals up to 1864, it is certainly true that it wasn't really needed as you had a lot of veterans from the war 1848-51.

From what I read about the dragoon and hussar fights is very much that the Danish dragoons on many occasions charged into the hussars, but then fought swirling their horses around whilst chopping amidst the hussars. So a shock-charge followed by fairly stationary hand-to-hand combat swirling around with the horse. I haven't read about any Danish dragoons charging past hussars, to then reverse and charge back.
Danish dragoons were specifically trained to swirl their horses around in the midst of combat using only their legs, so they had both hands free to chop or grapple.
The german hussars generally wanted to avoid being "pinned", so they had space to use their pistols - especially trying to get around the danish dragoons so they could shoot them from behind. That forced the Danish dragoons to swirl their horses around to keep as many hussars pinned around them, not giving them time to get good aim. The hussar pistols were a much greater threat than their lighter swords, which had a very hard time bypassing the dragoon armour.
The Danish dragoons often reported that the german hussars generally didn't have the training in controlling their horse with their legs only. So they had to have one hand on the reins and then chose either sword or pistol. So to defend against cuts to the head, they had to use the sword; first when they could disengage, they could change to pistol and aim.

Edit: It seems that during the First Slesvig War the Prussian and Austrian-Hungarian hussars were ordered to "Shoot or Stab" - "Schiessen oder stecken". Totally in contrast to the Danish "only chop for the head".

So what you are saying are basically all fighting systems in (Western?) Europe share the same basis - but the specific sword-model in question actually dictates what techniques from the broader corpus are especially emphasized (= simplified) when training troopers. The Danish dragoon style not being exotic at all, but just specializing in a narrow field, for efficiency, to fight a specifically known opponent.
The Danish dragoons did learn their techniques on foot first, and then trained them on horseback. So it seems likely that cavalry sabre fencing is evolved from infantry sabre fencing.
The headhunting could very well be a Nordic thing. Laughing Out Loud I know these famous finnish words!
Dragoons are after all named after their carbine, but for the Danish dragoons close-combat sabre fighting was all that mattered, and they only very rarely used their carbine at all (there are a few exceptions though). Generally only one suppressing shot fired while charging in gallop for the initial shock effect. The Danish dragoons generally didn't hit anything with their carbines, but it didn't seem very important to most of them either. The fencing and the headhunting was all that mattered.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 1:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:
Thanks Lafayette for this information.
Quite interesting that the Swedish style seems to have unique elements (do you here mean for sabre or smallsword or both?). Is this lateral and diagonal footwork somewhat akin to spanish rapier in movement patterns?


For sabre. And no, they're not Destreza. Check out the two "Instruktion i sabelfaektning" documents from HROARR here: http://hroarr.com/manuals-books/old-manual-se...piers-etc/


Mike Ruhala wrote:
Also, this thing about lateral vs linear footwork is a misconception. Diagonal and lateral footwork is commonplace even in modern electric foil and it's extensively documented in any era you care to choose. What is true is that the military saber manuals are very often only presenting beginner or intermediate level material which can mislead casual readers.


I'm not talking about subtle lateral or diagonal shifts to make use of the full width of a 1.5m piste. The Swedish sabre manual for training on foot (linked above) shows much more radical traversing footwork in conjunction with hanging parries. Of course, the rest of their footwork is still fairly linear and conventional, but it's really interesting to see these somewhat unique features for such a late date.


Tom King wrote:
Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

I am a bit uncertain what you meant: Was it that beginners of cut-and-thrust style complained against exclusive "cutters"?

I think he means that beginners favored the cut over the thrust is saber combat, which ironically can negate a lot of proper saber combat (at least in training) focussed on thrusting with a curved sword.


Yes, that's exactly what I meant. Both Barbasetti and Waite strongly believed that the most effective way to use the sabre was as a cut-and-thrust weapon, and they complained that beginners were thus fighting inefficiently by only using the cut and neglecting the thrust.
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