Object Title

Infantry Sabre-Briquet

Development

Until 1767 all French infantry carried some kind of sword as a sidearm. In the case of the fusiliers, who made up the bulk of regiments, this was an épée sword, whereas grenadiers carried sabres. Both these swords were of rather complicated construction, and rather long as sidearms when the main weapon was very much the musket and bayonet.

In 1767 the fusilier's épée was abolished, and the infantry sidearm was standardised as a short, flat-bladed and slightly curved sabre-briquet (meaning 'lighter sabre') with a simple and straight stirrup hilt.  This sabre-briquet was not a completely new sword, as it had previously been in use with foreign troops in French service, but was now more widely issued.

This 1767 sabre-briquet stayed in service until 1800, when a widespread reorganisation of French military arms was undertaken. The new sabre-briquet - the Year XI - had a hilt cast in one piece, with a ribbed grip and slightly longer blade. The Year IX  followed in 1802, which had a shortened blade from 59 cm to 54 cm, but was otherwise the same. The final version of this sword to be produced during the First Empire was the Year XIII, which returned to a 59 cm blade but reduced the number of ribs on the grip and simplified the quillon for ease of production.  All three versions, IX/XI/XIII were in service simultaneously during the Napoleonic period.

Use and Effect

This first sabre-briquet was only issued to Non-Commissioned Officers, musicians and grenadiers. With the disappearance of the épée, this meant that the standard line infantryman - the fusilier - no longer carried a sword. Soldiers of the voltiguer (light) company of line regiments had also carried the sabre-briquet until an order in 1807. After 1807, however, many voltiguer companies clearly continued to carry the sabre-briquet, despite the order, as it was deemed necessary to repeat the order as late as January 1815.

In the light infantry regiments the sabre-briquet was more widely carried, with all companies carrying the sword. This might seem to be a contradiction to equip ostensibly lighter troops with additional equipment, but light infantry were also expected to sometimes operate in looser formations without the protection of a closed body of troops. Moreover, their role as marksmen meant they were less likely to fire with a bayonet fixed, as this inhibited loading and reduced accuracy.  As such, light infantry were thought to need a sidearm that could be quickly brought to hand as a personal defence weapon.

However the sabre-briquet's functionality as practical weapon is questionable. The all-brass hilt, whilst easy to produce and requiring no maintenance in the field or protection from the elements, provides a grip that could be prone to slipping in the hand. The thick, unfullered blade makes the sabre-briquet very heavy for a sword of its length, although the all-brass hilt does mean the weapon is not too blade-heavy in the hand. The weight of the weapon would also make it capable of effectively parrying attacks from other edged weapons and its robust construction meant it served well in the various non-combat functions that soldiers put their weapons to, such as an aid for cooking or chopping wood.

Statistics

Blade length 59.8 cm
Country of manufacture France
Date entered service 1802
Overall length 73.6 cm
Weight 905 g

Author

Henry Yallop