Object Title

Pattern 1899 Cavalry Trooper's Sword

Pattern 1899 Cavalry Trooper's Sword


This sword was the last attempt of the British Army to equip their cavalry with a combined cut and thrust sword. Since 1853 all cavalry, both Heavy and Light regiments, had been equipped with a universal cavalry sword of the same basic form. The blade was slightly curved with fuller running three-quarters of the length of each side. The final, unfullered, quarter of the blade was doubled edged and spear-pointed. This blade form remained unchanged, despite 50 years and six different patterns. The first modification was to replace the three-bar hilt with a sheet steel bowl guard with a Maltese Cross pierced in it. In 1899 this too was changed to a larger plain bowl guard. From 1864 until 1890 a lighter, more manoeuvrable sword was sought, but when this proved deficiently weak, thicker, shorter blades with shallower fullers were reintroduced. However, these weighed more than the patterns that had been deemed too heavy some 25 years before.

Not surprisingly therefore, the story of the Patterns 1853-1899 is largely one of complaint. From the Crimean War to regimental testings to the Mahdist Wars, the overall reports on the performance of the British cavalry sword is one of dissatisfaction and failure. The Pattern 1899 was the heaviest of this family of swords and although its thick, short, blade meant it was unlikely to break in the rigours of mounted combat, it had its own share of faults. The desire to avoid a repeat of the press reported 'sword scandals' of the 1880's of trooper's weapons breaking in hand-to-hand combat meant though the Pattern 1899 was undoubtedly robust, it was clumsy and ill-balanced.

Use and effect

The Pattern 1899 was the standard service cavalry sword of the Second South African War. Although by this time the sword was more of an auxiliary weapon, with the rifle as the cavalry's main arm, it failed to be serviceable even in this marginalised role. On the few occasions that the British cavalry were able to close with the Boers, the Pattern 1899 sword proved defective. Colonel Robert Baden-Powell thought 'the present sword a perfectly useless weapon' and Major-General Sir John French, later commander of the British Expeditionary Force, remarked that the sword was 'the very worst that could be used by mounted troops.' With an overly long, round grip and centre of balance far towards the point the sword required immense strength to use and was liable to turn in the hand, meaning the blade would not bite home. The Marquis of Tullibardine, commander of the Royal Horse Guards, thought this meant 'no one could possible use [the sword] without falling off if he really cut with it'. The Lieutenant-Colonel of the 18th Hussars described its failings at the Battle of Talana Hill:

'A party of about 20 Boers were charged by half a squadron, 18th Hussars, the two parties met at full gallop and the Hussars did their best to cut down the enemy, till the latter threw their rifles away. The result was one man killed by a point and about eight wounded but none appeared to be much cut about and I believe more damage would have been done had the men be armed with heavy sticks.'

By the time of the First World War the Pattern 1899 was no longer issued to the regular cavalry. Although in the early months it was still in service with the Yeomanry, until sufficient numbers of the Pattern 1908 sword could be produced. However, despite its reputation as one of the worst cavalry swords ever in service with the British Army, there were some who were reluctant to see it replaced. At Cerisy, August 28 1914, Captain Bryant of the 12th Lancers, seven years after it had been withdrawn from service, was still 'using the old cutting sword' and claimed that 'well sharpened' he slew five of the enemy with it, his sword going 'in and out like a pat of butter.' Nevertheless, most cavalrymen were pleased to see the back of the Pattern 1899, and were only thankful to it in so far as its failing finally led to due care being spent on the design of its replacement.


Blade length 85 cm (33.5 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1899
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield
Overall length 1.02 m (40 in)
Primary operator Britain
Weight 1.24 kg (2 lb 12 oz) (without scabbard)


Henry Yallop