When swords stop being useful as primary weapon?

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,930
Dispargum
#11
I thought most cavalry by WW1 had gone to lances.
In the 19th century lancers and sword cavalry existed side by side. I've never heard of swords being replaced by lances.

Checking my sources on Omdurman I see that I should not have mentioned that battle as evidence of swords since that charge was made by the 21st Lancers.

However, here's a reference to a new model British cavalry sword in 1908, the model used in WW1, so even at that late date the British Army was not getting rid of its cavalry swords and was in fact still acquiring new swords.
Pattern 1908 cavalry sword
 
Likes: Belgarion
Nov 2014
1,592
Birmingham, UK
#12
As usual I'd have to caveat my appalling memory but IIRC a famous WW1 cavalry charge by australian cavalry was carried out by lancers

Edit, a quick search suggests I was wrong and the Beersheba charge I was referring to was carried out by light horse. In fact wiki even suggests they were mounted infantry wielding bayonets! Wow
 
Jul 2016
9,306
USA
#13
In the 19th century lancers and sword cavalry existed side by side. I've never heard of swords being replaced by lances.

Checking my sources on Omdurman I see that I should not have mentioned that battle as evidence of swords since that charge was made by the 21st Lancers.

However, here's a reference to a new model British cavalry sword in 1908, the model used in WW1, so even at that late date the British Army was not getting rid of its cavalry swords and was in fact still acquiring new swords.
Pattern 1908 cavalry sword
Was that their primary weapon? I thought SMLE were, and the swords were just for very specific tactics, specifically charging down a routed enemy.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,930
Dispargum
#14
Was that their primary weapon? I thought SMLE were, and the swords were just for very specific tactics, specifically charging down a routed enemy.
You might be right as to primary weapon, carbines starting no later than the Boer War and possibly earlier. All I can say is that swords were not completely gone in WW1.
 
Oct 2011
191
Croatia
#16
In the 19th century lancers and sword cavalry existed side by side. I've never heard of swords being replaced by lances.

Checking my sources on Omdurman I see that I should not have mentioned that battle as evidence of swords since that charge was made by the 21st Lancers.

However, here's a reference to a new model British cavalry sword in 1908, the model used in WW1, so even at that late date the British Army was not getting rid of its cavalry swords and was in fact still acquiring new swords.
Pattern 1908 cavalry sword
Question was about swords as primary weapons... IIRC, some types of heavy cavalry in 16th/17th century or so did away with lances and utilized swords instead - not sure how that worked though. EDIT: Those were cuirassiers, and even then I think pistols may have been primary weapon, not sword.
 
Feb 2016
4,342
Japan
#17
The sword was not really a primary weapon for very long.

For the Romans I suppose it was one of their weapons. But the spear was the primary weapon of most people.

Even in the medieval period, knights favored pole axes, maces and axes and the commoners carried spears/halberds .... though swords were carried as back up weapons by most types.

It’s only really in the cavalry were it becomes the prime weapon from around the 1600s to the 1890s.

In WW1 cavalry, at least in British service, primary weapon was a rifle, and had been since the end of the Boer war. A cavalry regiment was expected to be as proficient with its firearms as an infantry unit.

Most of them DID still have a sword, and lancers did still have the lance.. but how often these were carried varied... some were used in combat for sure.
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
#18
Other than Romans and certain types of cavalry, swords were used by other infantry. The thing is, most armies didn't and don't rely on a single type of weapon, or a single type of troop.

In classical times, I believe there were other troops who fought with a sword and javelins. It seems like the sword and a large shield were used to aggressively close with the enemy after throwing javelins. Most infantry of the time would carry short swords specifically to defend themselves if their spear broke. I suspect a lot of warfare at the time would eventually come to be fought at very close range.

In medieval times a "long" sword, was a sword designed to be used with two-hands. Long-swords and other two-handed weapons were in common use because armor had become so advanced the infantryman no longer needed a shield for protection. These swords were long enough to essentially be polearms. Men who used these large swords would generally carry a shorter sword as a backup weapon. Most famously, some of the German Landsknecht mercenaries used the massive Zwiehander (This is just German for two-hander).

I suppose swords only stopped being used as a primary weapon once firearms came to predominance. However, they were never the most common weapon.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2017
708
United States
#19
Even for the Romans, both early and late Roman armies used spears as primary.

I’m not sure when the Hastati and Principes switched to swords, but by the 3rd or 4th century I think the spear was once again standard. Same for Byzantine armies I believe.
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
#20
Even for the Romans, both early and late Roman armies used spears as primary.

I’m not sure when the Hastati and Principes switched to swords, but by the 3rd or 4th century I think the spear was once again standard. Same for Byzantine armies I believe.
I think they switched during the late republic after witnessing the use of Iberian swords from Carthaginian Mercenaries. The first standard issue Roman sword was the Gladius Hispaniensis. The link claims it, "became the standard sword of of Roman Legionaries from the 2nd century."
 

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