- A cutlass drill on HMS Wolverine, 1882
- Training cutlass, late 19th Century
- Training cutlass, late 19th Century
|Type||Sword (short sabre, single-edged)|
|Place of origin||Europe|
|In service||17th, 18th and 19th centuries|
|Used by||Predominantly sailors, pirates|
A cutlass is a short, broad sabre or slashing sword, with a straight or slightly curved blade sharpened on the cutting edge, and a hilt often featuring a solid cupped or basket-shaped guard. It was a common naval weapon during the early Age of Sail.
The word cutlass developed from a 17th-century English variation of coutelas, a 16th-century French word for a machete-like blade (the modern French for "knife", in general, is "couteau"; the word was often spelled "cuttoe" in 17th and 18th century English). The French word is itself a corruption of the Italian coltellaccio or cortelazo,meaning "large knife", a short, broad-bladed sabre popular in Italy during the 16th century The word comes from coltello, "knife", derived ultimately from Latin cultellus meaning "small knife."
In the English-speaking Caribbean, the word "cutlass" is used as a word for machete.
The cutlass is a 17th-century descendant of the edged short sword exemplified by the medieval falchion.
Woodsmen and soldiers in the 17th and 18th centuries used a similar short and broad backsword called a hanger, or in German a messer, meaning "knife". Often occurring with the full tang (ie, slab tang) more typical of daggers than swords in Europe, these blades may ultimately derive through the falchion (facon, falcon) from the seax.
Although also used on land, the cutlass is best known as the sailor's weapon of choice. A naval side-arm, its popularity was likely because it was not only robust enough to hack through heavy ropes, canvas, and wood, but short enough to use in relatively close quarters, such as during boarding actions, in the rigging, or below decks. Another advantage to the cutlass was its simplicity of use. Employing it effectively required less training than that required to master a rapier or small sword, and it was more effective as a close-combat weapon than a full-sized sword would be on a cramped ship.
Cutlasses are famous for being used by pirates, although there is no reason to believe that Caribbean buccaneers invented them, as has occasionally been claimed.However, the subsequent use of cutlasses by pirates is well documented in contemporary sources, notably by the pirate crews of William Fly, William Kidd, and Stede Bonnet. French historian Alexandre Exquemelin reports the buccaneer François l'Ollonais using a cutlass as early as 1667. Pirates used these weapons for intimidation as much as for combat, often needing no more than to grip their hilts to induce a crew to surrender, or beating captives with the flat of the blade to force their compliance or responsiveness to interrogation.
Owing to its versatility, the cutlass was as often an agricultural implement and tool as it was as a weapon (cf. machete, to which the same comment applies) that was used commonly in rain forest and sugarcane areas, such as the Caribbean and Central America. In their most simplified form they are held to have become the machete of the Caribbean.
In 1936 the British Royal Navy announced that from then on cutlasses would be carried only for ceremonial duties and not used in landing parties.The last recorded use of cutlasses by the Royal Navy is often said to be on 16 February 1940 during the boarding action known as the Altmark Incident. However, this is disbelieved by the majority of the HMS Cossack Association (Cossack was the ship that boarded Altmark) and the authors of British Naval Swords and Swordsmanship. The authors point to another claim, a boarding by HMS Armada in 1952, but disbelieve this one too. In their view, the last use of cutlasses by the Royal Navy was by a shore party in China in 1900. Cutlasses continue to be worn in the Royal Navy by a Chief Petty Officer escorting the White Ensign and by Senior or Leading Ratings in an escort at a court martial.
The cutlass remained an official weapon in United States Navy stores until 1949, though seldom used in training after the early 1930s. The last new model of cutlass adopted by the U.S. Navy was the Model 1917; although cutlasses made during World War II were called the Model 1941, they were only a slightly modified variant of the Model 1917.A United States Marine Corps engineer NCO is reported to have killed an enemy with a Model 1941 cutlass at Incheon during the Korean War. A cutlass is still carried by the recruit designated as the Recruit Chief Petty Officer for each training company unit of recruits while at the US Navy Recruit Training Command. In a message released 31 March 2010, the US Navy approved optional wear of a ceremonial cutlass as part of the Chief Petty Officer dress uniform, pending final design approval. That approval came in January 2011, and the cutlass was made available for ceremonial wear by Chief Petty Officers in August of that year.
A machete is a broad blade used either as an implement like an axe, or in combat like a short sword. The blade is typically 32.5 to 45 centimetres long and usually under 3 millimetres (0.12 in) thick. In the Spanish language, the word is a diminutive form of the word macho, which was used to refer to sledgehammers. In the English language, an equivalent term is matchet, though it is less commonly used. In the English-speaking Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Grenada and in Trinidad and Tobago, the term cutlass is used for these agricultural tools.
A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for slashing or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.
A falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin, whose design is reminiscent of the Chinese dadao, and modern machete. Falchions are found in different forms from around the 13th century up to and including the 16th century. In some versions the falchion looks rather like the seax and later the sabre, and in other versions the form is irregular or like a machete with a crossguard.
A sabre, also spelt as saber, is a type of backsword with a curved blade associated with the light cavalry of the early modern and Napoleonic periods. Originally associated with Central-Eastern European cavalry such as the hussars, the sabre became widespread in Western Europe in the Thirty Years' War. Lighter sabres also became popular with infantry of the late 17th century.
A backsword is a type of sword characterised by having a single-edged blade and a hilt with a single-handed grip. It is so called because the triangular cross section gives a flat back edge opposite the cutting edge. Later examples often have a "false edge" on the back near the tip, which was in many cases sharpened to make an actual edge and facilitate thrusting attacks. From around the early 14th century the backsword became the first type of European sword to be fitted with a knuckle guard.
Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian.
Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, meaning "sword".
The Altmark incident was a naval incident of World War II between British destroyers and the German tanker Altmark, which happened on 16–17 February 1940. It took place in what were, at that time, neutral Norwegian waters. On board the Altmark were some 300 allied prisoners, whose ships were sunk by the pocket battleship Graf Spee in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. British naval forces cornered the tanker and later the destroyer Cossack attacked the German ship near the Jøssingfjord and freed all the prisoners, killing eight German seamen with firearms and wounding ten others, five of them seriously. A British and a Norwegian sailor were also seriously wounded in the action. Germany claimed that the attack was a grave violation of international law and of Norwegian neutrality.
The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; a sword was simply called "sword" in whatever language the swordsmen wrote.
A dirk is a long thrusting dagger. Historically, it was a personal weapon of officers engaged in naval hand-to-hand combat during the Age of Sail as well as the personal sidearm of Highlanders. It was also used by the officers, pipers, and drummers of Scottish Highland regiments around 1800 and by Japanese naval officers.
The term kopis in Ancient Greece could describe a heavy knife with a forward-curving blade, primarily used as a tool for cutting meat, for ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice, or refer to a single edged cutting or "cut and thrust" sword with a similarly shaped blade.
Makhaira is a term used by modern scholars to describe a type of ancient bladed weapon, generally a large knife or sword with a single cutting edge.
A dusack is a single-edged sword of the cutlass or sabre type, in use as a side arm in Germany and the Habsburg Monarchy during the 16th to 17th centuries, as well as a practice weapon based on this weapon used in early modern German fencing.
A messer is a single-edged sword with a knife-like hilt construction. While the various names are often used synonymously, messers are divided into two types:
A pistol sword is a sword with a pistol or revolver attached, usually alongside the blade. It differs from a rifle with a bayonet in that the weapon is designed primarily for use as a sword, and the firearm component is typically considered a secondary weapon designed to be an addition to the blade, rather than the sword being a secondary addition to the pistol. In addition, the two components of these weapons typically cannot be separated, unlike most bayonet-fixed rifles.
The baselard is a historical type of dagger or short sword of the Late Middle Ages.
Korean swords have served a central place in the defense of the nation for thousands of years. Although typical Korean land battles have taken place in wide valleys and narrow mountain passes, which favor use of the spear and bow, the sword found use as a secondary, close-quarters weapon, especially useful during sieges and ship-to-ship boarding actions. Higher quality, ceremonial swords were typically reserved for the officer corps as a symbol of authority with which to command the troops. Ceremonial swords are still granted to military officials by the civilian authority to this day.
The bilbo is a type of 16th century, cut-and-thrust sword or small rapier formerly popular in America. They have well-tempered and flexible blades and were very popular aboard ships, where they were used similarly to a cutlass. The term probably comes from the Basque city of Bilbao, Bilbo in Basque, where a significant number of them were made and exported to the New World. These swords were also sold to merchants of every European nation, including England.
A combination weapon is a close-quarters weapon combining the features of both a firearm and an edged melee weapon. Examples of gun hybrids include knife/pistols and pistol/sword combinations.
The Leadcutter sword or lead cutter is a type of broad, heavy, specialist English sword or cutlass. Popular in the 19th century, these weapons resemble an enlarged naval cutlass, consisting of single-edged, flatbacked blades with broad widths, often flexible and sometimes slightly curved, always with a full cutlass-type hilt. The swords, heavier than standard cutlasses, were designed for strength training and for "sword feats". These displays often included the dissevering of whole sheep's carcasses and of balanced lead bars in a single blow. A prominent manufacturer of Leadcutters was Wilkinson Sword, who produced the sword in four sizes; Model 1 being the lightest, and Model 4 being the largest and heaviest. A Model 2 blade measures in at 31 inches in length and 1.75 inches in width, with a model 3 blade 33 inches long and 2 inches wide.
According to legend, buccaneers invented the cutlass, but this may not be factual. It is said to have evolved from the long knives used by the early buccaneers to butcher their meat.
But as soon as they came up the shrouds, they clapped all hands to their cutlasses. Then I saw we were taken...
They immediately drew their weapons and, after beating us up severely with their cutlasses, drove us below.
[N]ine or ten men of a most ferocious aspect armed with muskets, knives, and cutlasses . . .ordered Captain Cowper, Mr. Lumsden, the ship's carpenter, and myself to go on board the pirate, hastening our departure by repeated blows with the flat part of their cutlasses over our backs.
[T]he man who gave the order commenced beating me severely with the broad side of his cutlass.