Saturday, April 19, 2014

The whistle sword

The history of man is one of progress and invention to suit demand.   Man was cold, so he learned to use fire. Man needed to move loads and travel far, so he invented the wheel.  Man was tired, so he domesticated animals to assist him in work and travel.   Man needs a cell phone that can perk coffee, make poot noises and report the weather in 80  different countries, so he.......Well, you get the picture.  

Historical weapon development follows the same pattern.  Stones and clubs gave way to spear and atlatl. 

Bronze weapons were replaced by iron, which was replaced by steel.  Gunpowder led to firearms which changed the world.  The arms race never stops. He who has the best weapons has the best defense -- as some theorize. 

The 19th century saw much sabre rattling amongst European nations. Smaller conflicts would later cumulate in the fiercest and most senseless of wars, World War One.   This late 19th century arms build up resulted in one of the strangest weapons, to me.  The whistle sword.  

This Prussian cavalry officer' sword, intially developed in 1852 and carried through World War One, serves two roles:   (1) it is the officer's edged weapon; and (2) it is the officer's took with which to signal his troops. 

I do not own one of these unique weapons, but have had the opportunity to view one up close.  It is a beast. 

It is made if steel. The blade is very long and substantial, as would be expected of a heavy cavalry sword.  It's guard is full and provides complete hand coverage. At the base of the grip is a leather finger loop, which is intended to provide the swordsman with additional control over the blade. This sword is not a nimble fencing blade.  I don't really see the benefit of the finger loop, but cudos for the design thought. 

The quillion is the thing of real interest here.  For those that do not know, the quillion is found on the top forepart of the sword's guard. It'll extends out over or upward from the spine (top) of the blade. It's purpose is to stop an opponent's blade from sliding down and onto the swordsman's arm.   On this sword, the quillion is a whistle. 

An officer needs to signal his men in a method that may be heard over the din of battle. Trumpets, bugles, fifes, drums, bugles and whistles were used throughout the ages for this purpose. What is a bit perplexing about this sword is not the incorporation of the whistle, but it's placement.  Bringing it to your mouth, especially on horseback, must have been a challenge.  As stated above, the blade is very long and heavy.  Further, the location of the whistle would require some pretty strange wrist and arm contortion if the officer wanted to keep his hand on the grip while blowing the whistle.  Makes me think that it was probably a better idea to just give the officer a whistle on a lanyard affixed to his uniform. 

Prussia is not the only nation to have this idea.  My online research turned up another whistle quillion sword.  Someone tried to give the utterly useless US pattern 1860 staff and field officer's sword some battlefield value by putting a whistle on its quillion.   

I have placed the Prussian whistle sword on my list of swords to one day acquire. I've seen a few for sale, but not many.  Even with the whistle, I'll pass on the US 1860 staff and field.