In 1853 the Austrian military adopted a new edged weapon for the use of their Technical Troops, the Model 1853 Pioneer Troops’ Saber. This replaced the earlier 1847 Model, which had been found lacking in its grip design, and had shown irregular quality and durability in the field; more the result of poor workmanship by the contractors making the sabers than by design. The new Model 1853 retained the same basic blade form and was dimensionally quite similar (about 3/8” longer), with an improved grip with a rounded, pistol gripped profile. Like its predecessor, it was carried in a leather covered wooden scabbard with iron mounts, typical of the scabbards in use for Austrian bayonets since about 1800. The saber was intended to be a multi-purpose tool and weapon, serving as everything from a hatchet and machete to a sword and knife, and moving easily from such harsh jobs as chopping wood and clearing brush to such subtle requirements like whittling splints, tent stakes and poles. It has a nominally 18” long straight blade with a distinct hatchet tip that was about 2 1/8” wide at the ricasso and was about 5/16” wide at the widest point of the spine. The blade was single edges and hollow ground on one side and flat on the other. A wide, long stopped fuller ran the majority of the length of the blade, terminating in a thick ricasso near the hilt. The hilt had a rectangular iron crossguard with spherical quillons at the ends. The grip scales were of horn, and were secured to the pistol gripped hilt with four iron rivets. The entire sword weighed in excess of 2 “ pounds. While the initial sabers were made of cast steel, in 1862 the Austrian military required that a higher grade of spring steel be used, which not only increased the strength of the blade but also the weight of the saber by about “ pound. The pattern was further modified in 1889 (designated as the Model 1853/89) by requiring that the grip scales be made of wood rather than horn. No doubt this was a result of the questionable durability of the horn grips in the field. At the same time, it was also authorized to repair existing Model 1853s with damaged grips with wood scales, effectively upgrading them to Model 1853/89 status. The Model 1853/89 remained in production through the beginning of World War I, when the newly designed and somewhat lighter Model 1915 was adopted. However, the Models 1853 and 1853/89 remained in service through the course of the Great War, side by side with the new pattern. As with all combination weapons of the period, the Pioneers’ saber was intended to be used as much as a tool in the field as a weapon. As the “Technical Troops’ of the Austrian Army included not only the Pioneers, but specialties within that field, including Engineers, Sappers and Miners. They also included the Artillery, Transportation and Train Divisions. By 1861, the Model 1853 Pioneers’ Saber was authorized for issue to all of these branches of the Technical Troops, as well as drummers and buglers. In 1868, the Model 1853 saber was also included in the issue equipment for the medical corps (much like the US military medical corps bolo knives during the first half of the 20th century) and even to recovering wounded, no doubt so they could perform various fatigue duties while convalescing. In 1871, the saber was also authorized for use by military cadets. For many years the use of these sabers during the American Civil War has been debated, but some recent scholarship and field recoveries suggest that at least a few of these Austrian falchions were acquired by the Confederacy. When Josiah Gorgas arranged to purchase field artillery in Vienna, the contract described the order as “batteries, complete”, which suggests that all of the accessories necessary for fielding and operation of the guns was included from carriages and implements to all the various small items for a full battery, even the Model 1853 Pioneers’ Sabers that would be issued to a battery. At least one example of an Austrian Model 1853 Pioneers’ Saber has been recovered on private property was part of the Shiloh battlefield, suggesting that some of these falchions really did make it into Confederate service. Within the Austrian military these sabers were used as weapons as well as tools, and well into World War I, they saw service in the trenches with many Austrian troops. Two examples are pictured and described in David Machnicki’s At Arm’s Length, a book that details the use of trench clubs and trench knives during the First World War. Period photos show the Model 1853 and Model 1853/89 in use in the field with Austrian troops during that period.
Offered here is about a FINE condition example of an Austrian Model 1853 Pioneers’ Saber, complete with its original scabbard. This is the original version, not the M-1853/89 variant and retains its original horn grip scales. The obverse ricasso is clearly marked Wn (Austrian Eagle) 87, indicating inspection and acceptance in Wiener-Neustadt (near Vienna) for the Imperial Austrian Army in 1887. The ricasso is also stamped OHLIGS in raised letters within a depressed cartouche. Ohligs was one of the boroughs of Solingen in Prussia, one of the blade making centers of the world at that time. The reverse of the iron guard is marked: 10 S B 29, or Sappeurbataillon Nr. 10, weapon number 29. The Austrian 10th Sapper Battalion was raised as part of the Przemy[l garrison in 1912 and was attached to the 47th Brigade of the 10th Army Corps. The term “sapper” originated from the French word sappe for “spade” and referred to the troops who dug trenches as part of the approaches during siege warfare. While the term still referred to trench digging during the First World War, it had become synonymous with “combat engineer” or “pioneer”, all of whom performed the role of dinging entrenchments, gun emplacements, preparing defensive positions, laying out (as well as removing) mines in minefields, combat demolition, and practically any form of combat construction that could be imagined, from building roads to airstrips to barracks and prison camps. The 10th Sapper Battalion fought with the 47th Brigade as part of the 10th Army Corps for the majority of World War I. The 10th Army Corps, along with the 1st and 5th Corps made up the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army. The 1st Army initially saw combat against the Russians in Galicia during the summer of 1914, when it handed a defeat to the Russians at the battle of Krasnik. The 1st Army continued to fight the Russians in the east, primarily in Poland and the Ukraine. During the course of the war the 1st Army took so many causalities that it was disbanded in April of 1918, some 9 months before the amnesty. Interestingly the unit designation is defaced, with lines struck through the marking, and has a new mark that reads 55 “, I cannot decipher this last mark and it may be a Cyrillic letter, suggesting that this sappers sword was captured by the Russians on the Eastern Front.
The sword remains in about FINE condition, with a mostly bright blade. The blade shows indications of real world use, including some careful (and effective) sharpening, and a couple of nicks from use along the edge and tip of the blade. The blade is free of any pitting, but does show some lightly scattered areas of minor surface oxidation and discoloration, as well as a little bit of widely scattered pinpricking, most noticeably around the ricasso. The iron cross guard shows more surface oxidation and discoloration and some minor surface crud as well, as do the iron rivets securing the grip. The horn grip scales remain in about VERY GOOD condition and show marks from service and wear, but no serious abuse and damage. The grips have a dark greenish-brown tone to them with lighter grain streaks through the material. Normally these grips show significant damage, heavy cracking, breakage and loss, but these are really in very nice shape, simply showing real world use, wear and age. There is one thumb-sized chip of the surface of the horn material missing from the rear of the right grip panel, but this only reveals the more roughly textured layer of horn beneath the smooth and shiny surface. There are also a couple of minor surface grain cracks present, running between the guard and the first rivet, on the same grip panel. Otherwise, the grips only show the expected bumps and dings from service and use during the Great War on the Eastern Front. The original iron-mounted, leather covered wood scabbard accompanies the sword. The scabbard is also in VERY GOOD condition, again showing the expected wear and age. The iron mounts have a medium pewter patina, with moderate amounts of surface oxidation and darker discoloration, as well as some pinpricking and light pitting. The original frog hook remains in place and although slightly bent, remains functional. The leather shows moderate scuffing over all of its surfaces, with some loss of leather around the throat, a roughly triangular area about 2” wide at the base and 1 ““ in length. The scabbard appears solid with the mounts securely attached and no indication that the wood underlying has broken, splintered or cracked. The sword fits the scabbard perfectly.
Overall this is a really nice, solid example of a late 19th century Austrian Model 1853 Pioneers’ Saber & Scabbard with World War I unit markings, that clearly saw combat service on the Eastern Front during the Great War. The presence of what appear to be Russian markings on the hilt make it even more interesting and worthy of further study. The desirability of these hefty and effective fighting tools has grown over the last few years, and these days when you encounter one for sale it is usually priced above $600, if it has a scabbard. This is a solid, well-marked and nice displaying example that is 100% original, complete and correct and is priced below $500. As we mark the passing centennial of the Great War, this would be a perfect addition to your collection of Central Powers edged weapons or trench weapons, and at a very attractive price.SOLD