The saber has always been an important and major piece of weaponry for the cavalry, often pushing the lance into second place. Even with the advent of firearms, the cavalry was still side armed with a saber right into the 20th century and saber fencing kept their skills honed in.
A saber doesn't need ammunition, it is permanently loaded, although its range is somewhat limited.
( Note: Saber is the U.S spelling, as used on this page, whereas Sabre is the U.K spelling )
Below is depicted a Greek cavalry trooper from 1940, he is armed with the 7.35mm Mannlicher-Carcano M1938 carbine & the all important Light Cavalry Saber.
U.S 1860 PATTERN HEAVY CAVALRY SABER
Below is shown the insignia of the US 7th Cavalry that is forever emblazoned on their uniforms, the insignia is of two crossed 1860 pattern heavy cavalry saber's in their scabbards.
At the start of the American Civil War in 1861, there were two types of saber issued to the Union 7th Cavalry, the light cavalry saber and the heavy cavalry saber. The light cavalry saber became quite popular as it was well balanced and easy to wield but the heavy cavalry model was quite unwieldy and soon became known as "Ole Wrist Breaker"
However, it was a very superior weapon, with its 36 inch blade, that offered longer reach advantages over most other saber's.
Basic specifications: Overall length : 41½ inches. Blade: 36 inches. Blade Thickness: 1/3 inch. Weight: 2.68 lbs
The substantial weight gave it the leverage to crush bones and sever limbs or even slice a head open with a single blow. The brass hand guard had three strong brass bars to protect the hand and the grip was wire bound leather and capped with a sturdy pommel.
With the saber sheathed in its robust double ringed, steel scabbard, it could be attached to the troopers belt or saddle for quick retrieval in battle.
1830 PATTERN NAPOLEONIC SABER
The Napoleonic wars between 1799 and 1815 is where the cavalry saber really made a name for itself, it had a long curved blade that was relatively light and easy to wield in battle.
The saber was a very efficient weapon that was used by both officers and troopers either mounted or on foot. It must be said though that when used by a mounted trooper charging down on the enemy the saber became a much more fearsome weapon than if used by a trooper on foot.
Napoleon's troopers carried one of the finest saber's on the battlefield with their 1830 model, it was produced in a modern factory that was dedicated to producing saber's and nothing else. The Napoleonic saber was perhaps the finest cutting edge weapon of its day.
The entire saber was 39 inches long and was of medium weight at 2.35 lbs with an extremely well balance 33¾ inch long moderately curved blade. The blade thickness was just over ¼ inch wide and proved to be very resilient to bending. It was the troopers favorite chosen weapon and one that he was glad to have as it had formidable cutting and slashing properties also delivering a good lethal straight thrust action.
This saber became so popular that word spread on both sides of the Atlantic and it actually equipped soldiers on both sides during the American Civil War, 31 years after its introduction. It has a close resemblance to the US Cavalry 1860 light saber but its cross section and over all design is slightly more advanced making it a far superior weapon for the cavalry trooper.
In its general overall appearance, it very closely resembles the United States 1860 Light Cavalry Saber. However, this design is slightly different and makes for a far more effective and durable weapon. The thick, moderately curved blade is forged out of 1055 Carbon steel and features a long, wide fuller and a very sharp, practical point.
The handle was wrapped in a tough durable black died leather with a large smooth brass stud, Like the 1860 U.S saber there was also a strong triple bar brass hilt, this saber however had an extended hilt bar for extra protection. The scabbard was usually highly polished and had twin belt rings for attaching to the belt or saddle fixture.
1796 PATTERN LIGHT CAVALRY SABER
The 1796 pattern Light Cavalry Saber was used primarily by the British Light Dragoons and Hussars along with the King's German Legion light cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. It was adopted by the Prussians as the 1811 pattern or Blücher saber and was used by Portuguese and Spanish cavalry.
The military training syllabus of the British cavalry focused specifically on slashing at the head with maximum force for instant incapacitation or death and secondary to slash at the arm holding the opposing sword to incapacitate the enemies physical ability to fight.
The French, however, trained their cavalry to focus on the thrust in attempt to have an instant kill, all of which the saber was more than capable of achieving.
From 1796 and onwards this 2.13 lb saber with its ¼ inch thick and 33 inches long blade became the mainstay for the British and Prussian troopers. The sword with an overall length of 37¾ inches was more notably used in the Battle of Waterloo by troopers under general Blücher.
Below is pictured an officer of the IXth British Light Dragoons with his 1796 pattern saber drawn, as envisaged by the artist, Charles Hamilton Smith.
The symmetry of the blade had its origins from the ferocious Indian Talwar sword, and it was hated by the French who allegedly protested against its use due to the horrific and destructive wounds that it inflicted on those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end.
Below is pictured an Indian Talwar, (sometimes written) Tulwar sword. The blade geometry of the Tulwar is almost identical to the 1796 cavalry saber.
The 1796 saber was a truly devastating sword in that it could shear off an arm or leg with a single strike, it could also decapitate with just as much ease. The 1796 saber was adopted by the German Cavalry who continued to arm their troopers with it right up to the late 1900's and even then they did not relinquish it easily, but times moved on and so did the saber.
The 1796 saber was usually issued with a superbly finished scabbard with black leather stretched over its robust steel sheath with a highly polished steel cap on the end.
THE CIVILIAN PATTERN SABER
The civilian saber was an even lighter version of the standard issue military light saber at just over 1½ lbs or a full lb lighter than a military saber, the rest of its specification is equally reduced.
Blade Thickness: ¼ inch. Blade Length: 31½ inches, 5 inches shorter than a military saber. Handle: 4 inches, 1½ inches shorter than a military saber. Overall length: 35 ½ inches, about 7 inches shorter than a military saber.
Civilians admired the saber but did not want to carry around a big cumbersome saber that was generally carried by troopers on horseback. Even the so called light saber of the military was too big and heavy for every day carrying so there had to some modification and the result was the civilian saber.
The civilian saber was now the size of the common short sword and fitted into a scabbard that had a spring loaded locking mechanism and a single hand guard bar or knuckle bow that offered at least some protection in a sword fight. It could be worn more practically on the belt specifically the lighter 'baldric' belts that civilians used at that time.
The civilian saber actually proved to be quite an efficient weapon, so much so that it was adopted by military officers as a practical dress sword. It became so popular that even today the civilian saber or variations of it are carried by officers, mainly because it is light and easy to wield in combat situations.
All of the Saber's on this page apart from the Talwar and duelling saber have been show-cased from Cold Steel Inc and can be purchased from their online store. Saber's cost about $400 and make great show and conversation pieces for collectors and military enthusiast's alike.
Page created August 17th 2009. Updated November 15th 2012