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Thread: The 1845 Wilkinson type blade

  1. #1
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  2. #2
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    A good summary, thanks

  3. #3
    I swore never to get involved in any more controversies, but this old and never-ending one I couldn't resist.

    Wilkinson, having no combat experience, was ignorant regarding cut vs. thrust, because he relied on faulty reasoning and the testimony of a few officers who were lucky enough not to have miss-thrust or not to have had their swords get stuck fast in an opponent's body, or who were lucky enough to survive if they did, or whose opponent was instantly disabled. As ample evidence proves, numerous others weren't so lucky.

    That the thrust was more effective in immediately disabling or killing an opponent, at least in so-called "savage warfare", is a myth, as even some proponents of the thrust as Dr. J. J. Cole had to admit; and as most Asians and Africans and many others elsewhere discovered, it was far less risky to cut than to thrust. Besides, to their way of thinking, there was no need to kill your opponent if you could disable him and thereby save yourself from possible injury or death; and when you could lop off heads and limbs with little effort, as Asians and Africans could, you didn't concern yourself with risky thrusting.

    Even if it could be proved conclusively (which it cannot) that the thrust was more effective than the cut, how many swordsmen would have been willing to risk having a failed thrust or a stuck blade? And how many European instructors in swordsmanship ever cautioned their students, that if they used the point, to beware of being injured or killed themselves if they didn't immediately disable or kill their opponent? Most of them, having no practical experience in warfare, taught in theoristic unreality or wishful thinking.

    Finally, why couldn't the official control freaks in the military and others involved in teaching swordsmanship and designing swords allow swordsmen to choose and use whatever swords and techniques they pleased, instead of dictating theoristic and impractical weapons and methods? Simply because that's the nature of dictators! Officers, of course, could choose and use at will; but they were nonetheless intellectually bullied by the so-called authorities and experts; and the poor troopers were stuck with weapons that they frequently found to be virtually useless and with methods that thwarted their natural instinct to cut rather than thrust.

    P.S. Much of the evidence for the above argument can be found in a book that is listed in the Book Reviews section.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-19-2017 at 03:41 PM.

  4. #4
    "A thrust, however slight, produces an immediate effect and paralyzes future exertion." Incredible bunk! Even Burton, a fierce proponent of the point, as well as many eyewitness accounts, debunked this self-serving generalization.

  5. #5
    Would be very interesting to know the identity Henry Wilkinson's correspondent on the NWF.

  6. #6
    And what about a full quotation of the Campaigner's argument in favour of the cut, instead of just a single-sentence dismissal and subsequent b.s.?
    HW's much-touted blade testing was so "extreme" (his word), which may be why the Ordnance Dept. (otherwise clueless) didn't adopt it, that it weakened many blades to the extent (euphemistically known as "metal fatigue") that they bent or broke when used in action. (There is plenty of officer evidence for this.)
    (To be cont'd)
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 12:33 PM.

  7. #7
    The Ordnance Dept. didn't use an ultra-severe monstrosity like the HW "eprouvette" (why a French word?) to test swords, and yet: "Lord Wolseley thought that many of the swords of the pattern now in use have been over-strained by tests" (quoted in newspapers of 1889). Also: "The authorities had often wondered how it came to pass that swords which had passed the test made by the 'sword-smiter', without showing any flaw, would afterwards, in the hands of troopers, sometimes prove faulty, and break or turn in a most unexpected manner." (The Windsor Magazine, 1900.) Did it take a genius to figure that one out?
    (To be contd)
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 12:33 PM.

  8. #8
    Lt. Col. W. N. Lockyer, R.A., Chief Inspector of Small-Arms (in JRUSI, Oct. 1898): "I had for some time been certain that our swords were being over-tested, and many of them much injured before being issued into the Service, as they were subjected to a very severe bending test. Now, though a sword may stand this very severe test once, it runs a chance of being so over-strained thereby and so injured as not to be able to stand anything afterwards. ... I found our tests infinitely more severe than those of any other nation. ... I wrote a strong report on the unwise severity of our tests to Colonel King-Harman, then the Superintendent at Enfield, who forwarded it, fully endorsing my views. Shortly after this the testing of our swords and bayonets was revised, and the tests all modified." For which troopers had cause to be grateful!
    To be contd.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 12:33 PM.

  9. #9
    There are many more 19th-century quotes similar to the above, but they will suffice as representative examples.
    Finally, note the words "may be relied on for correctness and quality" in the Wilkinson weapons ad. Well, here's just one of many examples of that "correctness and quality", from Capt. B. A. Combe, Brigade-Major of Cavalry, writing from Afghanistan in 1879: "All the pistols have arrived, and I sent Wilkinson a cheque yesterday for the amount of his bill, telling him at the same time that the finish and general turn-out of the weapons was not at all creditable, considering the very high price charged. They were evidently made in a hurry, and not nearly so well finished as one bought last year by one of our youngsters."
    To be contd.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 12:34 PM.

  10. #10
    P.S. Add inefficient and insufficient record-keeping to the mix, as those attempting to identify sword owners have discovered to their dismay, with exorbitant prices for potentially worthless weapons.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 12:36 PM.

  11. #11
    P.S.S. All edits to the above posts were intended to let the evidence speak for itself; so if anyone is offended, blame the evidence. Anyway, enough is enough!
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 12:41 PM.

  12. #12
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    I have Wilkinson swords dating from the 1840's to WW1 and I find none wanting in finish or quality. Blades are proved find internal flaws.
    When regiments took it upon themselves to reprove trooper blades they bent them too far, too often or both. Because blades failed by multiple proofs is no indication of quality, they are not truck springs designed to constantly flex past a certain limit.
    I think taking one or two period complaints by an individual officers does not prove that Wilkinsons made a lesser product. On the contrary we find many Wilkinson swords that have seen battle and over 100 years later are still in fighting order.
    Complaints of price seems odd, what do they compare a Wilkinson sword price to? Many 1000's of officers purchased Wilkinson swords and were satisfied. When you depend on a sword to save your life what should one pay? Not all blades were made equal.

  13. #13
    I don't dispute that W. made good swords; but based on evidence, I do dispute that their ultra-extreme testing method was beneficial.
    What is your evidence for "one or two period complaints"? Mine indicates that there were more than that! Besides, not every complaint about anything ever survives even if it was ever recorded; but you can bet that if there are at least three complaints about anything, there are probably more if they involve the same defect or whatever.
    I don't know if W. swords were overpriced as compared to others, but there seems to be general agreement that they were above average in price because they were generally touted as better made and more reliable than others.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 05-20-2017 at 01:31 PM.

  14. #14
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    I wouldn't go as far as saying Wilkinsons method of testing as ultra extreme. They tested the spring steel of the blade to set limits and gave a baseline for testing.
    Beneficial yes, this bending test would find any weakness in the steel or imperfection in critical areas and tested the tempering. If the blade stayed bent it did not pass.
    An early form of quality control since steels in their day could not be guaranteed as we take for granted today. X marked on the blades ricasso the side tested.
    Wilkinsons knew that further bend testing can and did create weakness in the blades steel (metal fatigue) and this was well illustrated when some regiments decided to do their own unofficial testing. Some "unofficially" tested trooper swords in combat would fail, but was no fault of the sword but the previous unofficial testing that weakened them.
    Above average price for an above average sword!
    Complaints? When you have officers you will have complaints. Always some who do not know the physical limitations of a sword, or themselves.

  15. #15
    I respectfully suggest that you read what the Wilkinson "eprouvette" did to blades - a far more severe test than that used by the Ordnance Dept., which was manual, and even that was considered excessive by Lockyer et al. So, if the Wilkinson test was "beneficial", why wasn't it or a similar method adopted by the Govt.? The answer is obvious! However, I see that this discussion will lead nowhere but agreeing to disagree. Cheers!

  16. #16
    P.S. In support of my use of the objectionable "ultra-severe", I herewith quote from the Scientific American of May 17, 1884, which, after describing the British manual method, adds the following: "A method of testing swords much more severely, and in a way certain to be uniform, is afforded by a machine now in use by private manufacturers of the best goods, but it has not been adopted by the Government." Indeed, I've never read any description of the W. method that considered it merely equally as severe as the manual method, but always as more severe.

  17. #17
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    Wilkinsons tested privately purchased officers swords as part of its sales advertising while attempting standardized testing.
    Ordnance dept. purchased swords for troopers of cavalry and bought from several makers. Why they didn't use Wilkinsons eprouvette? Trooper sword blades are heavier and therefore stronger than officer sword blades on average. The test may have been pointless in this case? Of course the "manual test" was never identical from one to the next so it never gave a precise indicator of proof.
    What's that about "hero"in missing post? Wilkinsons appears to be a good as maker as Reeves, Mole etc.
    I really don't know what the disagreement is. Testing, severe or not? Any answer will be opinionated, I don't view Wilkinsons test excessive, and you may think it is, really doesn't matter. The test did not destroy such a high percentage of blades to be considered too harsh. I know if I relied on a sword blade I'd want the toughest balanced by its weight.
    This post was about the 1845 p Wilkinson blade, though previous makers did design the blade profile. It was adopted by the British army and all makers used this pattern

  18. #18
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    I was hoping we're not stuck on a descriptive word such as "severe" The word was used to impress prospective purchasers of swords in the past.
    Today testing stress limits of steels is just a necessity of manufacturing.

  19. #19
    From "Testing Bayonets and Cavalry Swords", Scientific American Vol. 54, No. 12 (20 March 1886):


  20. #20
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    I don't really understand what the assertion/contention is above regarding Wilkinson's testing.

    Yes Wilkinson tested swords and threw away blades that did not pass the test - this was one reason for their high end product cost.
    So-called tailors' swords are often junk in terms of blade quality and were often not tested - period sources note this. Clearly someone who expects to use a sword does not want one that has not been tested!

    I have personally straightened many bent antique blades and I can say with commitment that Wilkinsons are among the hardest to straighten, because they are made of higher carbon (1%) steel and often hardened to a higher degree than other blades. I have had so-called Tailors' swords that came to me slightly bent and which I straightened in a matter of seconds by hand... They were soft.

    Cavalry trooper swords vary HUGELY in blade quality because 1) they were mass-produced by varied makers and 2) they were often abused for years by privates.

    In regard to the cut vs thrust debate:

    This debate is as old as swordsmanship. It doesn't matter whether you look at 16th and 17th century soldiers and fencing masters (see George Silver or Joseph Swetnam), or 19th century soldiers and fencing masters.

    We are certainly not going to conclude whether cutting or thrusting is better here, after hundreds of years of expert disagreement!!!

    The fact is that most swords throughout history are cut and thrust blades. Most swordsmanship systems, from any part of the world (Europe, India, Japan etc) use BOTH cuts and thrusts. The Japanese sword is famous for cutting but is also used to thrust. The Indians have swords designed for both cutting and thrusting.

    Thrusts are more fatal in general (whether today or then) and much harder to medically treat - they also have longer reach and penetrate clothing and armour more easily. Cuts can be safer to give and may sometimes have more stopping effect, but they require a sharp edge applied skilfully and cannot get through most types of armour or even thick clothing.

    Regarding 19th century evidence of the effects of thrusts - in fact there are dozens and dozens of examples in period sources of people getting stabbed by a sword, spear, lance or bayonet and going straight down, without further resistance. Just as there are examples of people fighting on after being wounded (whether from cut or thrust). We can't really take an overall conclusion from the available evidence - there are lots of examples of both thrusts and cuts finishing fights, just as there are examples of both not finishing fights.

    Lastly, let's not forget that experienced swordsmen who actually used swords in combat, did not all agree with each other. Hodson certainly used his sword lots in combat and various sources explicitly state that he used the thrust to finish off opponents. John Jacob equally had lots of exposure to sword combat and was of the opinion that cutting was best on horse, but thrusting was best on foot. Colonel Fox himself beheaded an Egyptian at Tel-el-Kebir with a cut, but was an exponent of the thrust in general. Fred Roberts was clearly a fan of the cut, at least when mounted, because his sword was a specially made curved sabre. In conclusion, we cannot make a sweeping conclusion - different soldiers with experience of actual combat all had varying opinions. Some preferred more thrusting blades, others preferred choppers.

    What we can absolutely say, and bringing it back to my article, is that MOST experienced fighting officers of the second half of the 19th century used the standard 1845 type blade, for a mixture of cutting and thrusting. Hodson stayed with the 1845 type blade and so did Jacob. Their positive recommendation should not be taken lightly.

  21. #21
    Pardon my asking, since I'd like to end this, but what regiments or troopers did "unofficial" testing, and when? According to Queen's Regulations, "Testing weapons of any kind in charge of troops is strictly forbidden" and "All tampering with arms is strictly forbidden. Any damage to arms so caused will be charged against the troops." The duty of regimental armourers was strictly limited to inspecting, cleaning, and repairing (not testing) arms. If weapons were found or thought to be defective, they were either returned to the factory for testing or (if the factory had no room for them) destroyed. Even sharpening of swords was strictly regulated and administered by the armourers and/or their trained assistants. In other words, govt. property was not to be tampered with without official authorization, under penalty of fines, disciplining, and court-martials.

  22. #22
    Another question: Regarding reputed general satisfaction with Wilkinson swords, how many officers ever had occasion or even inclination to use a sword in combat? After c. 1860, when the metallic-cartridge revolver became the average officer's weapon of choice, the answer (according to 19th-century sources) is: Very few. Even before then, it was mostly the cavalry officers who used their swords; but they were far outnumbered by infantry officers, many if not most of whom (according to sources) didn't care about swords or swordsmanship. Would that logically mean that there was a small minority of officers who actually used Wilkinson swords in combat, and that those who were dissatisfied with them were offset by those who weren't? I have a list of 7 officers who are on record as dissatisfied customers. I wonder how many more there are, if any, on or off record?

  23. #23
    Finally (I hope), there was a natural reluctance on the part of dissatisfied customers to make public their dissatisfaction, given Wilkinson's reputation and influence. Example: When it was leaked to the Press (by Lt. Churchill) that Lt. Wormald's Wilkinson "bent double" in combat at Omdurman, it caused quite a stir, resulting in Churchill deleting the incident from the 2nd and subsequent editions of his The River War. A Wilkinson rep responded honestly: "The sword that will neither bend nor break under any pressure has yet to be made." (Incidentally, Wormald gave W. a second chance when the company provided him with a free replacement; whereupon that very sword "buckled" in WW1!)

  24. #24
    Incidentally, in the article referenced by Mr Hopkins, the machine test for British cavalry swords is characterized as "extremely severe", as the description indicates.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    Pardon my asking, since I'd like to end this, but what regiments or troopers did "unofficial" testing, and when? According to Queen's Regulations, "Testing weapons of any kind in charge of troops is strictly forbidden" and "All tampering with arms is strictly forbidden. Any damage to arms so caused will be charged against the troops." The duty of regimental armourers was strictly limited to inspecting, cleaning, and repairing (not testing) arms. If weapons were found or thought to be defective, they were either returned to the factory for testing or (if the factory had no room for them) destroyed. Even sharpening of swords was strictly regulated and administered by the armourers and/or their trained assistants. In other words, govt. property was not to be tampered with without official authorization, under penalty of fines, disciplining, and court-martials.
    Quickly glancing through Robson's "Swords of the British Army" there is reference to the commanding officers of the 11th Hussars and Scot's Greys, in 1854, complaining that the new pattern swords were inferior and 'bent like hoops.' Enfield apparently concluded that the swords were subject to unauthorised and improper tests after issue. There is no mention if the officers were court martialed or fined.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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