Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Review of
British Naval Swords and Swordsmanship
By John McGrath and Mark Barton
Seaforth Publishing (
ISBN 9781848321359
RRP GBP £25.00


This volume is written by a retired Royal Naval (RN) officer (Captain McGrath) and a serving Royal Naval officer (Commander Barton). Both of them have been serious competitive fencers who share a passion for naval history and naval swords. They come from an expert background and their knowledge, wisdom and experiences are to be noted. They are perhaps the world’s best experts on the topic of Royal Naval swords.

The book commences with a review of naval swords in action and their necessary features. The usage of swords for boarding actions, cutting-out actions and landings, duelling (even between fellow officers), post-Napoleonic actions and the usage of the sword ashore are given expert treatment. There are comments on the last British naval officer to surrender his sword to the enemy – Captain George Mulock DSO, FRGS, RN who gave his sword to a Japanese Lieutenant on the 17th February 1942.

There are some interesting comments on the “modern” Royal Naval swords and the function that they perform – especially to the best Cadets at Britannia RN College, the Maritime Warfare School and Advanced Submarine Warfare courses etc.

Over the years there has been a wide variety in swords. These have been primarily functional rather than ceremonial and hence designed for combat. Cutlasses from the pre-uniformity era, the 1804, 1845 (with modifications), 1889 and the 1900 patterns are reviewed. Also the Enfield Cutlass Sword Bayonet of 1859, the Martini Henry Cutlass Sword Bayonet (1871) and various cutlasses (Coastguards, Police etc.) are noted.

Officers and their swords are world famous as they constitute a mark of honour and command. As such they are prize possessions. Over the years there have been a number of varieties such as those worn in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the 1805, 1825, 1827-1846, 1842-1856 (Flag officers) patterns etc. Interestingly there is a short section on officers’ sword belts (1805 – 1939) which is a specialised subject in itself.

Dirks are commented upon as they are a type of “small sword or dagger formerly worn by junior naval officer on duty”. These weapons together with swords for Officers of the Reserves, Merchant Navy and other maritime organisations are discussed and have ample illustrations.

Some swords have been presented as marks of appreciation or in gratitude of services rendered. Presentation swords tend to come in two categories – display swords bearing ornate designs and those based on regulation swords. Ornate presentation swords were generally given for “display” purposes and there is a superb review of them and plenty of examples in the text. There is an entire chapter devoted to the swords worn by Admiral Nelson which illustrates the array of swords that he used and was given.

No book on swords could be complete without some information on the usage of swords or swordsmanship. There is an interesting chapter on how officers and ratings were trained in this art and its transition to a sport. Many swords have been inherited or acquired so the authors have devoted a chapter to dating and identifying them. The book concludes with Appendices on the swords of the Patriotic Fund of Lloyd’s, the Wilkinson Swords of Peace and Service Champions and Trophies.

This is the best and most comprehensive book I have every come across on this topic and it is fascinating. It represents excellent value for money and should be in the personal library of anyone interested in these interesting swords and their histories.

November 2013