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Old 6th December 2020, 01:54 AM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default British pipeback parabolic blade saber c. 1801

This saber is what I believe is British, and possibly one of the many variations of the M1796 stirrup hilt sabers for light cavalry of this period, and most likely for an officer.
It was featured in an article on M1796 sabers in Denmark around 20 years ago which concerned the numbers of variations in these swords.

In the 1790s, Henry Osborn of Birmingham teamed with a British cavalry officer named LeMarchant to develop the first regulation patterns for the British cavalry known as M1796.

While the blades seem to have had a number of variations, some with 'pipe back' (many of these had the stepped back yelman point), and even cases of 'yataghan' type blades, this is the only version I personally have ever seen of a 'shamshir' type blade with this pipe back . Typically the M1796 had what s known as a 'hatchet point' which was a radiused point rather than sharp tip .

Also unusual is the deeply canted hilt which is a characteristic I have only seen on certain type of shashka from the Caucusus regarded as 'Mingrelian' if memory serves.

What is known of this period of sword development in England is that numerous variations observing other sword forms from various nations were considered. Possibly the Caucasian types might have been noted?

I would be curious to know if others here have seen similar examples and thoughts on this anomaly.
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Old 6th December 2020, 02:27 PM   #2
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Hi Jim,
I would have designated this a Flank Officers sword of the Napoleonic era rather than a cavalry sword. The curvature of the blade and the canted hilt would suggest to me that this is the more probable attribution.
My Regards,
Norman.
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Old 6th December 2020, 04:05 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Norman McCormick
Hi Jim,
I would have designated this a Flank Officers sword of the Napoleonic era rather than a cavalry sword. The curvature of the blade and the canted hilt would suggest to me that this is the more probable attribution.
My Regards,
Norman.


Hi Norman,
Thank you, and that has always been a consideration given the dramatic curve of several, I think of one 1803 lionhead with such a blade. I wonder what the purpose ? might be? The Napoleonic era was such a fashion parade, especially with the 'hussar' phenomenon, and any dramatic effect seems to have been almost a contest.
'Mines curvier' ! etc.
The huge drags on the scabbard chape were for the low slung sabers to make noise as the hussar swaggered, the tall shako's for addition of height to look more formidable etc.

I cannot imagine a pragmatic reason for such curve unless perhaps more cutting surface in closer quarters?

Best
Jim
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Old 6th December 2020, 04:37 PM   #4
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I suspect flank officers were more likely to get into hand-to-hand combat with no time for fancy duelling, so lots of slashing at close range.

Pipe backed blades are notoriously bad cutters as the spine tends to stop any further downward progress of the cut. Surprising to see one in flank officers form. This one would also be rather useless for giving point.

Impressive tho.
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Old 6th December 2020, 05:21 PM   #5
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I've read that pipe backed blades that cuts were hampered by the pipe back but I have not seen any real testing to confirm this. The pipe back possibly 1/4" wide and rounded may not slow the cut as much as some perceive. The blades are quite thin and can be razor sharp and you are cutting in about 1" before the pipe back would contact the target. There may be Youtube videos using such swords to evaluate cuts? Being thin blades they would be more likely to break during use.
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Old 6th December 2020, 08:08 PM   #6
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Old 6th December 2020, 10:02 PM   #7
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A side note in nomenclature. British models were prefixed with a p. p1796, etc. I'll let the gods debate the scope of flank officer swords but my understanding is that the term accommodates both the less curved and more curved blades, p1796 type hilts and the later 1803 hilts. I am now curious how the term "flank officer" was coined and used by the British army, or indeed if it is a more modern affectation.

That is a really early looking pipe back. I thought that those blades in England arose in the 1820s.

Cheers
GC
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Old 7th December 2020, 02:17 AM   #8
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I did see Matts video on these after posting here. I could not find any cutting videos with this blade type.
The Royal Armouries have some good swords but I find many listed have no photos, typically described as the ones I would like to see.
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Old 7th December 2020, 03:08 AM   #9
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G'day Jim,
That is a very interesting sword. I haven't come across that combination of canted hilt and pipe-back blade before. Normally these canted hilts are associated with flat, unfullered blades. I have two of these, one maker marked to a tailor Maullin and Co and owned by an artillery officer and the other brass hilted example by Osborn and Gunby. Both of mine have 69cm blades. How long is your blade?

I have done a bit of research on the earliest British pipe-back swords and the earliest dateable ones I have found are circa 1798-1800. By 1815 they were very common for officer's swords. The earlier ones tend to have very fine cutting edges. Looking at your photos, your example appears to have a very pronounced secondary bevel on the cutting edge, indicating a heavier blade.? To me this probably dates it closer to 1820 than 1810.

I think this style of sword could have been carried by an officer of just about any branch of the army ie infantry, cavalry or artillery.

Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 7th December 2020, 01:32 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce
G'day Jim,


I think this style of sword could have been carried by an officer of just about any branch of the army ie infantry, cavalry or artillery.

Cheers,
Bryce



Hi,
I would suspect there is indeed merit in this. Styles seem to have been somewhat fluid in some cases although the more flamboyant curves appear to be particularly associated with those blades attributed to 'flank officers'.
Regards,
Norman.

P.S. Jim, it might be helpful to know the length of the blade.
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Old 7th December 2020, 03:03 PM   #11
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Thank you guys for these great entries and observations! I apologize for not providing dimensions in this, I dont have the sword at the moment but will get those details asap.

As noted, it does appear the 'pipeback' did become more popularly known in 1820s and notably present on many of the 1820s period officers swords.
I think, as Norman has just noted, the 'officer' denominator illustrates the key factor that officers tended to traverse various branches of service and units.
Many officers might be in cavalry unit at one time, then transfer into infantry or artillery with trading of commissions.

In most references I have seen, it does seem that officers were not expected to participate in regular combat activity, but primarily to direct forces. Obviously, this seems unlikely to be a standard as combat circumstances could render it necessary to defend oneself as required.

I am not sure the interference of the ramrod back preventing a through cut is a deterrent for its viability as a blade feature. The typical cut with these curved blades is more 'draw cut' I would think rather than the chopping action of the heavier and hatchet point blades of the more common 1796 blades.

I personally agree with the observation this is likely an early example of a saber among 'test' patterns c. 1800, and quite possibly even a prototype using the ramrod back. As I had mentioned, Osborn was using various types of swords, including tulwars and shamshirs as test models, among others.
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Old 7th December 2020, 03:33 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce
G'day Jim,
That is a very interesting sword. I haven't come across that combination of canted hilt and pipe-back blade before. Normally these canted hilts are associated with flat, unfullered blades. I have two of these, one maker marked to a tailor Maullin and Co and owned by an artillery officer and the other brass hilted example by Osborn and Gunby. Both of mine have 69cm blades. How long is your blade?

I have done a bit of research on the earliest British pipe-back swords and the earliest dateable ones I have found are circa 1798-1800. By 1815 they were very common for officer's swords. The earlier ones tend to have very fine cutting edges. Looking at your photos, your example appears to have a very pronounced secondary bevel on the cutting edge, indicating a heavier blade.? To me this probably dates it closer to 1820 than 1810.

I think this style of sword could have been carried by an officer of just about any branch of the army ie infantry, cavalry or artillery.

Cheers,
Bryce



These are great examples Bryce. It seems the hilts look slightly canted, and again, something to 'flank' company favor it seems. I am unclear on exactly what the 'flank' company designation entails, but it seems that on the M1803 examples there is a horn device which is used to identify them as such.
Perhaps this might explain the purpose of these units?
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Old 7th December 2020, 09:02 PM   #13
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G'day Jim,
The term "flank company" refers to the Grenadier and Light companies of a British infantry regiment. The Grenadier company, symbolised by a flaming grenade was the largest (and generally made up of the tallest men) company in the regiment. It was used to head up assaults etc. The Light company was symbolised by the strung bugle. Its main task was skirmishing. Traditionally they were arrayed on each flank of the main battle line of the regiment, hence the term. Often the flank companies of several regiments were banded together and used for special missions during campaigns.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 8th December 2020, 11:47 PM   #14
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Here is a British pipe-back sabre circa 1816. It has a heavier blade like Jim's although much straighter. It was made by GS Reddell and is marked to the 7th Hussars, with the initials CJH for Charles John Hill who joined in 1816.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 8th December 2020, 11:55 PM   #15
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To show what I mean by a heavier blade compared to one with a fine edge, here is the sword of Richard Beauchamp of the 16th LD circa 1811. Compare the fineness of the blade edge to the 7th Hussars sword below.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 9th December 2020, 01:45 PM   #16
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Thank you Bryce for the excellent synopsis describing the functions of these units, that helps a great deal in understanding better the pragmatic possibilities possibly considered in the character of these sabers.

Thank you as well for adding other examples of the pipeback, which indeed seem to have been known and used in degree on many officers swords around turn of the century. It is interesting to note the 'step' expanding the tip and incorporated into the 'pipe or rod' on the blade back.
These are of course similar to the 'yelman' on many Islamic sabers and often present on East European examples.

I was once told by a Polish fencing master of arms who deeply studied the history of these sabers, that they often colloquially termed this feature on the blades, 'the feather', as it's purpose was to add weight and impetus to the cut in the momentum.

Again, it would seem that the 'rod' would similarly add weight to the strength of the blow and in a sweeping or slashing cut would not impair it, and bolster the intregrity of the blade otherwise as well.
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Old 10th December 2020, 01:26 AM   #17
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Here is a pipe-back sword which can be positively attributed to a flank company officer during the Napoleonic period. It was made by Prosser and marked to the grenadier company of the 45th Regiment of foot. It is the mameluke hilted one above Beauchamp's sword for comparison.
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Bryce
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Old 10th December 2020, 01:36 AM   #18
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Here is one of the earliest British pipe-back swords I have seen. Made by James Wilkes around 1800. The intent was to make a better cutting sword by giving it a very fine cutting edge, with the pipe-back there to maintain the rigidity of the blade. Note how the "pipe" doesn't continue thru to the point unlike later versions. It also has the same curve as a standard 1796 sabre. Most later versions tended to become straighter, with the obvious exception of Jim's!
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Bryce
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Old 10th December 2020, 08:18 AM   #19
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The wide bladed Prosser (and Wilkes) versions allow for a decent cutting geometry - a finer, sharper edge angle. The narrower the blade, the steeper the angle you need to sharpen it to keep the spine from getting in the way of the stone. You can have a 'razor' sharp edge but if the edge angle is too great, it will not cut well.

The Prosser style blade width allows a deeper slice before the added friction of the spine lessens the cut effectiveness.

The Wilkes version further improves the cut by removing the 'pipe' in the most effective cutting are near the point. Many swords are only sharpened in the first third to half of the blade from the tip, which is where you would normally cut - the rest unsharpened to improve notching resistance during a parry - and the Wilkes tip would allow that part to make a deeper cut after the further section initiated it during a draw cut, or a deeper push cut with the tip initiating.

Bryce, those two swords, Mameluke/1796lc style pipes, are gorgeous. I shall put purchasing similar ones on my bucket list.
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Old 11th December 2020, 02:17 PM   #20
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Bearing in mind an officer of a flank company was expected to skirmish and hence run around a bit more, I wonder if there is a more prosaic reason for these shortish, heavily curved and sometimes pipe-backed swords; which is, they were easier to drag\carry around and a lot lighter than the full scale models.
Best wishes
Richard
PS. I understand the purpose of 'skirmishing' at that time was to observe, annoy, harass and disrupt opposing troops from a distance rather than engage in actual hand to hand combat.
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Old 11th December 2020, 04:25 PM   #21
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The entries here have really been informative and helpful in understanding the function of the 'flank companies' and much appreciated, and thank you guys again!

Richard, this is a quite reasonably thought out suggestion regarding the sabers often regarded (or specifically identified) as 'flank company'. It does not seem however that the size or length or for that matter curvature was necessarily in mind as far as for officers of these company's. It does remain a plausible concern though, as it does not seem these units fell into any consistent protocol in their activity or manner of function.

It does seem that these are typically officers sabers, and if I have understood correctly in the protocol's of the times, officers were most often mounted.
Obviously that likely was not necessarily the case in 'skirmishing', which falls outside the guidelines for battle in the times.

It seems further that while the M1803 swords were basically 'regulation' patterns, most other sabers deemed possible flank company examples are either other ranks forms (as with my parabolic saber) or other officers forms with blade variations.

I wanted to add here another example of an 'out of character' saber which may fall into this unusual 'flank company' denominator.

It is a garrison type basket hilt of c. 1740s (typically by Jeffries, Drury in London), but here it is found with a M1788 cavalry blade. When I acquired this many years ago, it was suggested it may have been for a flank unit using the old basket hilt, obviously likely in one of the Scottish regiments.
In the 1780s the use of the basket hilt was ceased by infantry (i.e. Black Watch ) and perhaps an officer chose to use this remounted hilt as a fighting sword with curved blade.

It would seem that the flank companies, by their very nature (skirmishing is described as 'irregular' fighting or combat outside normal battle regularities) had a degree of carte blanche in weaponry, particularly the officers.

This thread has become most interesting in looking at the unusual characteristics of the swords that seem attributed to these flank company's.
I look forward to ongoing examples.....and Wayne ....thank you for that excellent description of the dynamics of saber use.

Bryce again thank you for the great examples, and I WILL get the rest of the measurements on this blade asap
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Old 12th December 2020, 03:36 AM   #22
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Finally!

The blade is 32"straight line hilt base to point.

It is 1 1/4 " for 23"

Then drops to 1" @6" from point as it radiuses out to sharp point.

The raised (thickened) 'step' begins 9" from point.
It is almost as if it was intended for armor piercing with respect to the bolstered blade points on Indian weapons such as tulwars.
We can only wonder if there was some imagined intent to piercing mail or thick padding of textile.
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Old 12th December 2020, 08:53 PM   #23
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G'day Jim,
Those sorts of dimensions mean it is just as likely that this is a cavalry officer's sword as an infantry officer's. It is a pity it no longer has its scabbard as this may have given us some more clues. The scabbard may also have given us some more clues as to the country of origin. I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't actually British, or maybe it was made for a British officer serving with a foreign army. The taped grip is unusual for a British sword of this period.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 12th December 2020, 09:11 PM   #24
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Thank you Bryce. I am thinking that given the 'experimentation' convention of the period, there are many possibilities, and as I mentioned the bolstered point (as in armor piercing) is a curious feature on this sharp point. While the British swords being produced in the 1796 patterns followed certain consistencies, the colonial circumstances likely created numerous other influences and requirements.

Although it seems that 'giving point' with curved sabers is not considered likely, it does seem that some cavalry methods (I think of France) did do this with the saber at high tierce with point downward. Perhaps I am misperceiving ths sword position, and it was just a guard position prior to contact.
Best
Jim


Just thought of this Arab sa'if from Hadhramaut, 18th century to 19th, note the silver bandng on the scabbard very similar. The British were of course n Egypt, and Aden in Arabia and Ottoman contact prevalent. Could such a saber (noting the 'armor piercing'feature) have developed around ths time?
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Old 12th December 2020, 10:39 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce
G'day Jim,...or maybe it was made for a British officer serving with a foreign army. The taped grip is unusual for a British sword of this period.
Cheers,
Bryce


Don't forget that the Brit King Georges were also rulers of a fairly strong German state for a while at the time and Brits served their king over there and visa versa.
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Old 12th December 2020, 11:29 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
Don't forget that the Brit King Georges were also rulers of a fairly strong German state for a while at the time and Brits served their king over there and visa versa.


Good point Wayne, the Honoverian thing. Many British sword patterns were taken from actual German swords in use in mid 18th c, like the infantry hangers (1742, 1751), Revolutionary war Hessian units etc.
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Old 13th December 2020, 03:44 AM   #27
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G'day Guys,
Just to further illustrate how difficult it is to determine what branch of the army an unmarked 1796 style sabre may have been used in, on page 14 of Richard Dellar's "The British Cavalry Sword 1788-1912 Companion Volume" is an example with a canted grip and short, very curved, 28 inch blade marked to the 13th Light Dragoons. It has a steel mounted leather scabbard and if unmarked would have instantly been labeled a light infantry officer's sabre.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 14th December 2020, 05:40 PM   #28
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Well noted Bryce, and agreed, it is very hard to accurately determine which particular type of unit a sword might have been used in, and likely they sometimes ended up in other types of units. Officers often sold commissions and acquired new in others such as cavalry to infantry or other.

In my post #21, I mentioned a basket hilt which had been mounted with a cavalry blade, but forgot to post photos.

To reiterate, this was an infantry basket hilt, contrary to those well known for cavalry units through the 18th century as favored by dragoons, and with long straight blades.
This type munitions grade basket was produced by London cutlers Jeffries as well as Drury and perhaps others in about 1740s. During the American revolution and after, the infantry other ranks ceased carrying swords, and relied on the bayonet. These basket hilts apparently ended up largely in stores and it is unclear what further use they mght have had.

However, with my example, it was mounted with a M1788 light cavalry blade and when I acquired it about 40 years ago, it was suggested to have been for a flank company officer. For some time that seemed somewhat plausible and it was some time before I saw another also mounted with 1788 blade in the same way.

Could this have indeed been for a flank company officer's use as a fighting weapon? or perhaps for cavalry officers in similar manner? or....further, a naval weapon? (naval officers also often favored cavalry weapons, and not all combative situations with naval contingents were at sea). It is known that in numerous cases, the basket hilt was found in maritime context.

These are questions which typically will remain held secret to the weapons themselves, and we can only speculate. Still certain forensic and other types of evidence can sometimes offer compelling direction to these theories.
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Old 16th December 2020, 05:12 PM   #29
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I hope to attach two pictures showing flank officers and their swords, which seem to be used as instruments of command.
I am not sure their 'fighting qualities' were rated at the time as highly as we would expect them to be.
We must also remember the huge numbers of self-funded militia at this time whom, judging from Jane Austen novels etc. did not, realistically, expect to be called on to fight.
Regards
Richard
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Old 17th December 2020, 01:26 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G
I hope to attach two pictures showing flank officers and their swords, which seem to be used as instruments of command.
I am not sure their 'fighting qualities' were rated at the time as highly as we would expect them to be.
We must also remember the huge numbers of self-funded militia at this time whom, judging from Jane Austen novels etc. did not, realistically, expect to be called on to fight.
Regards
Richard


Great entry Richard! and indeed it is well known that officers used their swords clearly in directing forces and emphasizing commands. However though officers were not expected to be active participants in combat, the dynamics of interaction often left them no alternative but to engage defensively.
Many officers, driven by personal hubris and enthusiasm to motivate their forces were compelled to actively lead their troops.

Officers swords were often of course highly decorated, and regarded as less than combat worthy, but officers would often have secondary 'fighting' weapons which were used on campaign. These were often similar of course to other ranks weapons in general, despite obviously having more leeway in elements and features, such as the blades.
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