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Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"

Posted by Madnumforce 
Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 02:32AM
Beside billhooks, you may know I'm a fan of european swords and saber. That's pretty vague, I know. I have some deep interest in french swords and sabers of the 18th and 19th century especially. One of the most common saber in France, and still used today (by the Garde Républicaine, for formal reception of national and foreign VIPs), is the 1822 light cavalry saber, from which your US 1860 heavy cavalry saber is a direct copy. One of the most striking features of this saber is the blade style: "à la Montmorency". This kind of blade is rather unique: like most sabers of the time, it's got a "pan creux" (we could roughtly translate "hollow side" ), but what's very distinctive is the narrow and deep partial fuller near the spine:

Historically, this blade style has a quite extraordinary story. I first began to be used by the Montmorency's Dragons during the 1710's. It was a custom order from the Count Choiseul de Beaune, then in charge of these Dragons, and was made at the Royal Manufacture of Klingenthal, just created. For a while, it stayed quite obscure, but by the 1780's, this kind of blade just began to flourish, for civilians and military alike, sometimes even replacing the regulation blades. It was one of the most common type of blade during the french Revolution (starting in 1789), equipping crude war-time production, until everything got settled properly, around the revolutionnary years IX and XI (1801-1803). It was already the start of Napoleon's career. The Montmorency blade style didn't become a regulation pattern then.

But in 1822, there was a new reform, and it was decided to put an end to the extreme diversity of weaponry, and to make only a few patterns for multiple kind of regiments. That's how the 1822 light cavalry saber was created, but also the 1822 line cavalry saber (called "Bancal", which is an old french word for curved, as line cavalry traditionnaly used straight blades; the saber itself is a bit longer, a bit stiffer, and most of all has a four bars hilts, while the light cavarly model has a three bars hilt). With the advent of both these patterns, the Montmorency blade style became predominant.

I've always considered Montmenrcy blade quite wierd, with their partial fuller, and it was a mystery to me how such an obscure blade could have become in one century the most widespread and only regulation type for the cavalry, still in use today. I considered it was a whim, such as the 1831 infantry gladius, that was both too short and too heavy, and that many soldiers were finally selling for food, tobacco or such. But the 1822 was appreciated. I was puzzled. Until I read a phrase mentionning the fuller was in the forte of the blade. A lightbulb just switched on in my brain. A conventionnal blade (of the time), with only a "pan creux" (hollow side), has only the rigidity given by the edge where the hollow meets the spine, while with a Montmorency blade, there are two stiffening edges: one where the hollow meets the fuller, and one where the fuller meets the spine. At the cost of only a few extra material and weight, the blade is stiffened and renforced in the part that takes the most stress in combat!

Sometimes, we just aren't bright enough to understand the engineering genious there is behind some traditionnal designs we don't understand yet. Field exeprience, either military or civilian, is extremely valuable, and we should never overlook something that has been around for over a century.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/11/2013 02:39AM by Madnumforce.
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 03:45AM
Well I think it's basically the same problem as with I beam flexion.

Most of the stress will concentrate on extremities (top and bottom). Compression on top, traction on bottom.
The fullers are meant to lighten the blade.
The blade ("vertical"winking smiley width will like act as an arm lever for efforts.
So it makes sense to have the blade wide and have thick extremities.
I guess the general logic would be something like.
=>Let's make top slab thicker. =>Let's counterbalance the added weight with another fuller.
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 04:08AM
Thanks Madnumforce for sharing. An interesting article.

The thing you describe is called a rib or strengthening rib. It is used to make a design constructively lighter without it weakens to much, or, make a design stronger without adding to much weight.

Actually, the I beam as described above is stronger and can bridge a longer distance then a fully square beam, who would start to bow under its own weight if made to long.
Nowadays ribs are used in almost any construction or design. Buildings, furniture whatever you can think of. You must have plenty examples in your house.

You can find them as well in older straight razors and bigger knives. Some people had the impression that it was a 'blood slit' mentioned to let the blood spray out more easy after stabbing. Something that would be not the case though.

I agree completely with the last sentence where you describe the value of looking to old designs to see how they solved issues in those times and why.
That is not the same as saying that old designs or techniques are always better than new designs though. Using modern techniques could easily improve the design from such sable in all perspectives.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/11/2013 04:21AM by JBN.
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 04:31AM
Of course it's the same principle. The good idea with the Montmorency blade is to have a stiffened/strengthen blade only in the forte, as it's also heavier (compared to a conventionnal hollow side grind). In comparison, for exemple, the model 1845 infantry NCO saber has both a full lenght hollow side, and a full length fuller (but the blade is also shorter and thinner). And the An XI light cavalry saber (typical of the napoleonic era) has no fuller at all. For the Cuirassiers (they used straight blade sabers), the model An IX didn't even have hollow sides (full flat grind, we would say today), but the An XI model is an improvement, as it has two hollow sides (which makes a central edge/ridge). The introduction in 1822 of the Montmorency blade on the regulation sabers, both for the light and heavy/line cavalry, is quite noticeable.
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 05:00AM
Do you have more pictures of these sable types for comparison?
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 05:31AM
I could, but right now I have to go working. I'll scan my documentation when I come back.
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 09:37AM
This is great info Mad. I am very interested in the French sabre & cutlass designs, although I would like to see one converted into a wood processing tool. I believe you have disagreed with this notion in the past.
Re: Case study: "lame à la Montmorency"
May 11, 2013 05:50PM
I was looking at my documentation, and just realised there are way too many interesting weapons... so for now, here are three light cavalry regulations models. First, the An XI:

And then the 1822 (curved blade) and 1882 (straight blade):

But Chasseurs had their own saber, Hussars also, and Carabiniers, and Cuirassiers, and Artilleurs, and Grenadiers, and... it goes on and on and on. The 1822 was the first real try to reduce the number of regulation models. In comparison to the light cavalry saber above, here is the line cavalry saber, nicknamed "bancal":

What? It looks exactly the same? You fools! Look closely: it's a four bars hilt, while the ligth cavalry is only a three bars hilt. The blade is also a tad longer: 97cm vs .92cm. And now the saber it replace, the An XI (full flat grind) and An XIII (double hollow side) line cavalry saber:

Just as a reminder, the revolutionnary year 9 (An IX) is 1800-1801. You can see the variety of hilt and blade styles there is in less than a quarter of a century (but what a quarter!). But one of the most common feature of the sabers of that era is the grip: a wood core (often beech), with a cord wrapping, then a glued layer of leather, and a brass filigree. It's quite simple to do, and it gives a grip you wouldn't imagine: it almost hurts the hand!

By the way, Chum, none of the sabers illustrated here could ever be used to chop wood. It just doesn't have the heft, in fact it would even send the schock back into your arm. It's hard to explain... but it's a prupose designed weapon. What could be used as a tool, and in fact was designed for field/camp tasks, is what we call the "briquet" (Germans call this kind of saber "Faschinenmesser", fascine knive), a small infantry saber with a cast brass hilt and a FFG blade. The most common of all is the An XI model:

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/11/2013 06:12PM by Madnumforce.
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