Thread: why sabre ?
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Old 27th March 2005, 07:06 PM   #24
Jim McDougall
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Originally Posted by tom hyle
Note the types of this evidence; the experts all agree, or experts refer to other experts; nothing empirical. Note their own citation that bad cutting was the problem with cutting.

Please note that the material I have presented here is not intended to be considered 'evidence'. The cited data consists of narratives of either participants or observers reflecting actual situations or events and their observations on the effectiveness of the swords in combat. I do not think that these are necessarily 'experts' especially not in 'empirical' study, but professionals stating opinions. As I noted, the data presented was anything but empirical as the results would have been seriously flawed by the qualification or lack of, with the participants using the weapons studied. This was the reason I mentioned the lack of training data.

We have been discussing the advantages of the cut vs. the thrust in either fatality or serious wounding of combatants. I think it would be extremely difficult to conduct traditional 'empirical' study on this particular topic as it would require human victims. I think the only instance I can think of with this type of rather horrific result would have been early Samurai who actually tested blades on human flesh.

The closest thing we have to empirical study on this subject would have been the evaluatory observations of various military or fencing proponents of developing more effective use of the different weapons. These consist of assorted papers and essays discussing mostly sword or blade dynamics and again, remain a matter of opinion and most certainly not empirical tests.

One of the best known instances of this may be seen with Maj Gen. Gaspard Le Marchant, a British cavalry officer who is credited with promoting and finally designing the famed pattern 1796 light cavalry sabre and installing it as one of the first official regulation patterns. He was considered a brilliant professional soldier, and died in a charge at Salamanca, Spain on 22 July, 1812. While a gallant and proficient cavalryman, he was considered a "Scientific Soldier" (title of his biography by R.H.Thoumaine, 1968).
He was clearly a proponent of the cutting sabre and based his theories and design on observations in actual combat, especially those of Austrian cavalry in Flanders 1793. The bulk of notes and memoirs are unpublished (most are in the National Army Museum in London).

Sir Richard Burton, an accomplished swordsman and professional soldier who is of course well known for his "Book of the Sword" (1884) among may other achievements, notes "...there is no question of superiority between the thrust and the cut". He uses fencing technique and diagrams to illustrate that the delivery of point has distinct advantage in time and distance over and opponent using the edge, which requires the distance of an arc rather than straight line (op.cit. p.127). He notes however that human nature instinctively will tend toward the cut or strike than the trained thrust. I think this was also mentioned in one of the items mentioned in my previous post which noted inclination to 'wild' cutting in excited situations.
Sir Richard also placed his thoughts and ideas in writing, matters of opinion and observation, clearly not 'empirical' study. It is interesting to note how by this time in the 19th century, various 'design' issues on cavalry swords and complaints had led the general opinion toward the thrust and away from the cut. The deadly results seen in the Napoleonic wars of the thrusting swords of the cuirassiers remained strongly considered, and in the Crimea, British cavalry attempts at slashing at the heavily bundled and greatcoated Russian troopers were useless. Again, hardly empirical study but extremely clear results brought to discussion by professionals considering practical application for weapons in critical situations.

It must be remembered also that the debate of cut vs. thrust had a great deal to do as well with a degree of social status. The officers were from families of rank and nobility and of course highly trained in the dexterity of fencing. This of course taught the thrust, considered artistic and proper, not to mention its mortality.
Conversely, Asiatic and Eastern European horsemen had quite a different perspective, "...the kindjhal was used slashingly. The 'cut' was 'de riguer'. To kill with the point lacked artistry. Weapons were a cult as dear as honour itself". ("The Sabres of Paradise" , Leslie Blanch, N.Y.1960, p.6, discussing the use of edged weapons in the Caucusus).
It would seem that even artistic or chivalrous merit must have had a degree of consideration in the many heated discussions concerning the design and style of the swords of the 19th century, and the stubborn adherence to such tradition would have made any serious empirical study impossible.

Thus, the merits of cut vs. thrust must be considered primarily subjective and a matter of professional opinions rather than empirically proven conclusion. The last official regulation cavalry swords were the British M1908, followed by the U.S. Patton M1913, both thrusting swords and considered the final and ultimate cavalry swords. While the British swords did see combat, the Patton swords never did, and production on them ceased in 1919 . I was once able to handle a British M1912 officers version of the 1908, in visiting a British Brigadier who had carried it in a cavalry charge in the Northwest Frontier in 1932. It was a beautifully balanced weapon, but seems not to have actually seen use as the charge was a bit of a rout. In retrospect I wish I could have asked more on 'how' it was to have been used.

As I have noted, as far as I know there have been no specifically designed studies or empirical tests to measure cut vs. thrust as applied to sword design. While uncertain of Eastern European or other countries attention to this topic, there are probably literally tons of papers concerning the never ending complaints on swords and other weapons in British records. Brian Robson in "Swords of the British Army" presents well referenced notes that cite many of these resources in discussions on the development of many of the official patterns. Most of these records are held in the National Army Museum in London and several other official offices, and Mr. Robson deserves high praise for his tenacity in the research he accomplished in these very intimidating archives.

Best regards,
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