My book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques is available from Paladin Press. This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Swords Ruined by "Torture Tests"

The following is an excerpt from an article titled "Swords and Bayonets," written by Lieut.-Col. W.N. Lockver, R.A., which appeared in the Journal of the Royal United Service Institution and was reprinted in the Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, 1899. Lockver argued that the tests performed on swords manufactured for the British army were subject to unrealistic torture tests that were in many cases damaging the blades. As information pertaining to swords is so often applicable to knives, I thought I'd post it.
In the year 1887 Messrs. Kirshbaum and Co., of Solingen, were making 1885 pattern cavalry swords for us, and swords for many other European nations. I am aware that there was a considerable outcry as to our obtaining swords and bayonets from Germany, and that to this fact were attributed by many the causes of complaint which had arisen in regard to these weapons in our service. I am satisfied that this idea was entirely groundless. Solingen had been for centuries the manufactory of swords for the greater part of Europe, and for the excellence of the weapons produced could not be surpassed; while we had certainly then, as now, not more than two or three manufacturers in England who turned out swords in any quantities.
 1885 Pattern Cavalry Sword
An extraordinary idea was at this time generally prevalent, which was that no matter what test or treatment a sword was subjected to, under no circumstances should it take a permanent bend or set. Nobody seemed inclined to complain should the blade break—that proved that it was "good steel," but if it retained a bend, under any circumstances, it was at once put down as no better than "hoop iron." Notions had evidently changed from Shakespeare's time. He tells us that on Henry V. 's return from France, his Lords desired him—

"To have borne
His bruised helmet, and his bended sword
Before him through the city."

They evidently thought that having a "bended sword " was a credit to a soldier, as proving the good use to which he had put it. If they had lived in 1887 they would have had the maker and the inspector—especially the inspector—hanged.

It must be remembered that a sword is after all a bundle of longitudinal steel fibres, and if it is bent beyond its "limit of elasticity," if of high temper, some of these fibres will break; if the bending is continued the sword will snap in two. In the same way, if the sword is of low temper, the fibres will bend when overstrained and not recover their straightness, and the sword will remain bent.

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.

On one of my visits to Solingen, I had an opportunity of comparing the various tests to which the swords of different nations were subjected, and the result was that I found our tests infinitely more severe than those of any other nation. Our view-room at Solingen was known as the "Chamber of Horrors," and this was at the very time when the responsible authorities were being clamorously assailed for not insuring that our weapons were sufficiently tested. On my return on this occasion 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, so that those to which each description of sword or bayonet was subjected should be well within the limits of elasticity of that particular weapon.

Swords and bayonets have suffered much, and much trouble has been given by amateur testing, and it would surprise you to hear some of the severe strains that these unfortunate weapons have been expected to stand.

Soon after the sword and scabbard was first carried attached to the trooper's saddle, the following incident occurred: A trooper dismounted, and allowed his horse to get away; it lay down and rolled in the hard road over the sword and scabbard. The very natural and certain consequence was that the sword and scabbard was so bent that the sword could not be withdrawn from the scabbard; there was a considerable fuss about it, and it was said that our swords and scabbards ought to stand this test; all I can say is that they don't and never will. I could recount several similar cases.

Again, on several occasions complaints have been made that swords have been notched at drill, and on inquiry it has been found that one man held a sword while another cut at it. Now, when the edges of two swords meet violently in this way, one of them must be damaged, and the weapon that will stand this test has yet to be invented.

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