Object Title

Pattern 1908 Mark 1*, Cavalry Trooper's Sword

Pattern 1908 Mark 1*, Cavalry Trooper's Sword


The failure of the Pattern 1899 sword in the Second South African War provoked the establishment of committees and trials to arrive at an improved sword for the cavalry. Whereas previously, swords had been designed by cutlers, and submitted to the military for regimental trails, the design of the Pattern 1908 would take an altogether more scientific approach.

In 1903 a special committee was formed, including such distinguished cavalry officers as General Sir John French and Major General Douglas Haig, which dismissed the Pattern 1899 sword and, in a break from a tradition of over 50 years, determined that the new sword should have a straight and narrow, t-sectioned blade for thrusting. 200 experimental swords of this type were made and issued to cavalry regiments for testing in 1904. Although largely well received, there were still those of influence (notably Colonel Napier, the Inspector of Gymnasia and Captain Hutton the sword and fencing expert) that objected to a pure thrusting sword. This saw further experimenting along cut and thrust swords of the old style which, not surprisingly, were found unsatisfactory.

In order to move forward, a new committee was established under Major-General Scobell in 1906 which consisted of a range of regimental officers who had a wealth of experience in mounted swordsmanship. Their remit was to decide upon a sword for the cavalry that was primarily for thrusting, and to devise accompanying sword exercises. The committee examined 16 patterns of sword, including experimental types and cavalry swords in foreign service. After much deliberation the committee decreed that the sword should be as the 1904 experimental sword, straight and narrow, but with a chisel edge so it could be used, on occasion for cutting. The sword makers Wilkinson and Mole produced a total of four experimental swords and, following some modifications, one of Moles was taken on for further trials. 500 swords were ordered from both Mole and Wilkinson, and sent for trails to regiments in Britain and India.

The changes between this experimental 1906 sword and the final recommendation of 1908 were only minor, and finally the British cavalry had a sword that was perfectly suited for shock action. The Pattern 1908's ergonomically sculpted grip, weighted pommel and thick, stiff, spear-pointed blade made it the perfect sword for delivering a thrust when mounted. Despite the scientific nature of the sword's development, it still needed formal approval from Edward VII to enter service. The King thought it was a 'hideous' weapon and it took Generals French and Haig to convince him to do so. Even then, the King insisted that the new sword only be carried on active service, with previous types retained for ceremonial use.

The great design success of the Pattern 1908 inspired George S Patton's design of the U.S. Model of 1913 Cavalry Sword.

Use and effect

The opening weeks of the war saw cavalry at the forefront and ample opportunity for the Pattern 1908 sword, and its officer variant the Pattern 1912 to be tested in combat. It was with a sword of this type that the first British kill of the War was made, by Captain Hornby, 4th Dragoon Guards, in a skirmish with the German 4th Cuirassiers.

Hornby had followed the new drills where it was stated:
'In the charge against both Infantry and Cavalry, each man should ride at his opponent at full speed with the fixed determination of running him through and killing him…Hand and arm simply directing the point…the impetus being sufficient to drive the point home'

In the Eastern theatres of Syria and Palestine there was much more occasion for mounted shock action, throughout the whole War. However, against a moving target executing the new drills could be difficult in practice, despite high levels of training. At the highly successful charge at El Mughar, 13 November 1917, Captain Bulteel of the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry stated:
'Blown and galloping horses are not exactly "handy", so it was nearly impossible to get at a dodging Turk. One missed and missed again until the odd one wasn't quick enough'. However, when contact was made it seems the new sword and drill performed admirably:
'In just such a case the hours of arms drill paid off for instinctively one leant forward and remained so, to offset the jerk as the sword comes out - in fact, precisely as one had been warned'.

The success of cavalry in Syria and Palestine, even led to the Pattern 1908 being issued more widely, to mounted rifle brigades. It was reasoned, especially after the heroics of 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, using the bayonet in lieu of swords, that the issue of swords would enable mounted units to act with greater determination and speed in the attack, as opposed to dismounting and fighting with the rifle alone. In the closing stages of the War in the East this decision was proved right numerous times. One such occasion was at Jenin, 20 September 1918, where Australian Light Horse, newly equipped with the Pattern 1908 captured a large Turkish force at sword point.

Although the development of the tank saw cavalry eventually disappear, this was not a quick transition. The last time British sword armed cavalry were deployed on active service was in the Second World War, against the Vichy French in Syria in 1941. Today the Pattern 1908 is no longer issued as a combat weapon, but is still carried ceremonially by cavalry regiments of the British Army.


Blade length 89 cm (35 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1912
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield
Overall length 1.08 m (42.5 in)
Primary operator Britain
Weight 1.347 kg (2 lb 15.5 oz) (without scabbard)


Henry Yallop