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Gurkhas

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Sadurian Mike
417388.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 8:04 pm Reply with quote

reddygirl wrote:
Thanks again for all that interesting info Mike and I appreciate that time you took to do that - I love the crafting that goes into the swords as well, the Kris is especially lovely.

Again, no problem (or should I say "no worries"). Who doesn't like wittering on and on about a subject they are interested in? It's just nice to have an appreciative audience for change!*

*Apart from my two youngsters, of course, who lap up anything I say about knights and weapons. That's what being 4 and 6 year-old boys is all about.

reddygirl wrote:
Did you put any of the flammard information in the F series thread? It makes very interesting reading.

Possibly interesting to a very small minority, though. Weapons and warfare are very much fringe subjects (unfairly in my opinion), even in the wider context of History.

 
Arcane
417389.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 9:09 pm Reply with quote

Ha! No worries indeed.

I think you'll find there will be a very appreciative audience here. The best way to make a subject considered on the fringe more popular is to provide as much information as possible about it, and get people interested by providing that info! Look, (and I'm not trying to be sexist here!) you've even had a couple of girls show interest in this subject! ;-D

Another think I'm interested in that I've heard about swords/weapons is "balance". How is that put into a sword? I'd also like to know about different metals that go into swords and why they're used over other ones.

 
Sadurian Mike
417390.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 9:09 pm Reply with quote

Back to Ghurkas and their kukris....

After a little trawling around I may have the answer to the original question. There have been five different pattern of British military issue kukri; conveniently called Marks I to V. The five are shown below with the MkI at the top and the MkV at the bottom. Notice the size difference.



The MkI was produced from 1903 to at least 1915, and would have been the pattern carried by the Ghurkas in WWI where the tales of splitting helmets and heads in one blow originate. Looking at the brute I can quite believe it.

The MkII was from 1915 (or possibly slightly earlier) until 1944 and would have been the weapon carried in WWII. Again, this is a substantial blade, and quite possibly capable of the single stroke beheading attributed to the Ghurkas in that conflict.

The MkIII was made from 1943/44, and examples or pattern copies are still made in India today for issue to the Indian Army and for civilian use.

The MkIV is the rarest of all, being made by Wilkinson Sword in the very early 1950s with a production run of only around 1400 or so. Most of these went with the Ghurkas to the equipment-destroying jungles of Malaya, and very few still exist today.

Lastly, the MkV, which is made in Nepal for the British Army and was introduced in the early 1960s. This is quite evidently a far smaller weapon than some of its predecessors and I have to agree with Flash's doubt about its ability to do any beheading. The smaller size was brought about by the decision to reduce the weight as the soldier was now being issued with the heavy L1A1 FN FAL, and a recognition that the kukri was unlikely to be used as a serious weapon on a modern battlefield and so a version purely aimed at being a tool was designed.

So there you have it. The kukri might have been able to chop off an enemy's head in one blow in the past (where all the anecdotes come from), but you would need a particularly strong and skilled man to do so with a modern issue kukri.

 
Sadurian Mike
417391.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 9:33 pm Reply with quote

reddygirl wrote:
Another think I'm interested in that I've heard about swords/weapons is "balance". How is that put into a sword? I'd also like to know about different metals that go into swords and why they're used over other ones.

Flatterer.

Balance is simply that; the weight of the sword is critical to its handling but is a trade-off. If the weight is concentrated at the end of the blade then the sword will deal a more powerful blow and thus do more damage or penetrate thicker armour. However, this makes it very difficult to control. Weight concentrated in the hilt means a far handier and nimble weapon, but at the expense of the power of a strike.

Ideally, therefore, you need a sword where the weight is even distributed, with a slight bias according to its intended usage (a cavalry sabre is usually heavier in the blade, whereas a fencing sabre would be slightly hilt-biased). Remembering that medieval swords were made individually by a man beating out a length of steel and then attaching the handle "furniture" (like the hilt and pommel), it can be seen that a perfectly balanced weapon would have been rare and highly prized. Mass production, of course, changed this but a well-balanced weapon was still highly desirable. The 1796 pattern British Heavy Cavalry sabre is an example of a badly balanced design, being modelled to maximise the power of the swing over the user's ability to control it.


1796 Pattern British Heavy Cavalry Sabre

As for metals, I am no metallurgist but the ideal for a sword is again a trade. A sword needs to keep its edge and point after battering enemy weapons and armour, and this requires a hard steel. Early swords (Dark Ages and before) either tended to be made of softer metal (iron, bronze or even copper) or be short so that the amount of hideous expensive steel being used was minimal. Celtic warriors were described by Tacitus as straightening their long iron swords with their teeth in battle.

Hard steel, however, is very brittle* and not ideal for smacking against something hard (like armour or an opponent's sword), so it also needs to be flexible. Therefore the amount of carbon added to the iron and the amount of tempering (heating the metal and plunging it into cold water) are critical. This is why a skilled smith was a valued craftsman in the medieval period, and why certain swordsmiths gained such a high reputation.

In general, the better the metal of your blade, the better it will stand up to parrying and striking armour.


*Obsidian and flint make amazingly sharp blades but they are too brittle to survive more than a few strikes against any sort of hard surface (such as metal armour or a parry from a metal weapon).

 
Arcane
417392.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 9:44 pm Reply with quote

Thanks again Mike, really interesting stuff there! I've really enjoyed reading about that. I never realised just how complex the art (and it is indeed an art) of swordmaking is. I guess you'd look at it, not knowing all the relevant info, and think it's just a simple piece of metal, but it's so much more than that. In battles, this ordinary seeming piece of metal was used to take out enemies, but also would have been relied upon as defending their very life, so of course, you could imagine that it was incredibly important to have a well crafted and reliable weapon on hand.

Back to the kukris -

Sorry if I've missed this before, but how old is the kukri (ie how long has it been around)?

 
Sadurian Mike
417393.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:13 pm Reply with quote

reddygirl wrote:
I guess you'd look at it, not knowing all the relevant info, and think it's just a simple piece of metal, but it's so much more than that.

Indeed. It makes you begin to understand why they were so important symbolically as well as militarily, particularly in the early medieval period.

reddygirl wrote:
Back to the kukris -

Sorry if I've missed this before, but how old is the kukri (ie how long has it been around)?

Another "nobody knows, or if they do then they aren't telling" I'm afraid.

Although the kukri is now associated wholely with Nepal (and many associate them particularly with the Ghurkas), the origin is debatable.

As we have said before, the forward curving blade was relatively common in the Ancient world, and in particular they were carried by the troops of Alexander the Great who conquered large parts of northern India. Unfortunately we don't know if the people living in that part fof India and what is now Nepal had similar blades at that time. If not, then there is a case for Alexander's men introducing the design in about 326BC (the date of the Battle of Hydaspes at which Alexander conquered the Punjab).


Greek falcata carried by troops in Alexander's army in the C4thBC. See anything familiar?

Something to remember is that the Mediterranean design almost certainly grew from a simple agricultural sickle, something required in the crop-growing region of the Middle East but not as common in the mountains of northern India.

 
Arcane
417394.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:45 pm Reply with quote

The Falcata certainly looks similar, but the blade doesn't seem as curved, there's less thickness, and it's also thicker at the handle.

This is what Wiki says about the Falcata (which was apparently given that name in the latter part of the 1800's)

"The falcata-like swords were derived from the sickle-shape knives of the Iron Age, that too explains their ritual uses. It is thought that it was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula by the Celts who spread the iron technology. It seems that its origin is parallel to the Greek Kopis, and not derived from it."

 
Sadurian Mike
417395.  Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:04 pm Reply with quote

reddygirl wrote:
The Falcata certainly looks similar, but the blade doesn't seem as curved, there's less thickness, and it's also thicker at the handle.

The photo is only of a single example of a reproduction sword (I chose it because the photo was relatively small), there are others where the blade is far more curved and more kukri-like (such as number 3 on the photo below). The modern kukri is certainly not identical to the falcata, but there are enough similarities between the two that an obvious connection can be made if you accept that the Nepalese/Punjabi people had no such weapon before Alexander.



If evidence comes to light that they did have blades of this nature before the 4th Century BC then obviously another explanation for the similarity must be found.

 
AlmondFacialBar
417735.  Sat Oct 04, 2008 6:47 pm Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
Back to Ghurkas and their kukris....

After a little trawling around I may have the answer to the original question. There have been five different pattern of British military issue kukri; conveniently called Marks I to V. The five are shown below with the MkI at the top and the MkV at the bottom. Notice the size difference.



The MkI was produced from 1903 to at least 1915, and would have been the pattern carried by the Ghurkas in WWI where the tales of splitting helmets and heads in one blow originate. Looking at the brute I can quite believe it.

The MkII was from 1915 (or possibly slightly earlier) until 1944 and would have been the weapon carried in WWII. Again, this is a substantial blade, and quite possibly capable of the single stroke beheading attributed to the Ghurkas in that conflict.

The MkIII was made from 1943/44, and examples or pattern copies are still made in India today for issue to the Indian Army and for civilian use.

The MkIV is the rarest of all, being made by Wilkinson Sword in the very early 1950s with a production run of only around 1400 or so. Most of these went with the Ghurkas to the equipment-destroying jungles of Malaya, and very few still exist today.

Lastly, the MkV, which is made in Nepal for the British Army and was introduced in the early 1960s. This is quite evidently a far smaller weapon than some of its predecessors and I have to agree with Flash's doubt about its ability to do any beheading. The smaller size was brought about by the decision to reduce the weight as the soldier was now being issued with the heavy L1A1 FN FAL, and a recognition that the kukri was unlikely to be used as a serious weapon on a modern battlefield and so a version purely aimed at being a tool was designed.

So there you have it. The kukri might have been able to chop off an enemy's head in one blow in the past (where all the anecdotes come from), but you would need a particularly strong and skilled man to do so with a modern issue kukri.


cripes, THAT'S a kukri? my dad has one of those. his has a blade about a foot long, so would that be an older one?

:-)

AlmondFacialBar

 
Sadurian Mike
417748.  Sat Oct 04, 2008 8:53 pm Reply with quote

The Mk I to Mk IV were around 13in to 14in long. The Mk V is obviously slightly smaller at just under the foot.

To be honest, I would say that the best way to identify the weapon is to look at the thickness of the blade and the stamping.

This article is where I got my information and photos from; it is about as thorough and informative a treatment of the subject as I have read online (or, indeed offline). The various marks and identifying patterns are explained, so you might be able to find out which model your dad has.

I am going to guess that it will be a Mk II or Mk V if he got it from British sources, or the Mk II or Mk III if he got it from Indian sources.

 
Sadurian Mike
417987.  Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:42 pm Reply with quote

Here's a couple of photos to illustrate the relative sizes of the early and later British military kukri.


Photo of Ghurka displaying kukris. Taken during WWI (probably at Gallipoli). This is the Mk I.



Here is a modern photo of a Ghurka looking to have fun with his Mk V kukri.

EDIT: Better picture of modern Ghurka and kukri exchanged for original.


Last edited by Sadurian Mike on Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:57 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
Sadurian Mike
417989.  Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:44 pm Reply with quote

Incidentally; would this thread not feel more at home with the "G" topics?

 
Sadurian Mike
418001.  Sun Oct 05, 2008 2:32 pm Reply with quote

Another Ghurka story.

I don't know if anyone else remembers it, but many years ago (we are probably talking 20 or so) there was a short series/programme on the TV which was essentially a gameshow for Army regiments.

The idea was that the various regiments submitted a small team to perform tasks on which they were awarded points, and could then progress to the next round and so on.

The only tasks I remember were a timed amphibious dash from one shore of a lake to the other, a "patrol" through some heavy forest littered with time-penalty booby-traps, and the final contest which was a run (in full kit) and shoot, with the most efficient use of rounds winning most points (i.e. the number of targets hit was compared to the number of rounds fired).

The final two units were from (perhaps not surprisingly) the Ghurkas and the Paras (I have no idea which specific regiments). The Ghurkas wiped the floor with the rest when it came to the forest patrol, but lost out in the end to the Paras because of the results of the run and shoot.

It was a very interesting show and I really wish I could remember the name, I shall obviously have to do some serious Googling now.

 
suze
418054.  Sun Oct 05, 2008 4:34 pm Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
Incidentally; would this thread not feel more at home with the "G" topics?


Your wish has been QI Moderator's command.

 
Sadurian Mike
418129.  Sun Oct 05, 2008 8:31 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Sadurian Mike wrote:
Incidentally; would this thread not feel more at home with the "G" topics?


Your wish has been QI Moderator's command.

Wow. Let's try another one:

"Wouldn't it be good if I was knee deep in cheesecake?"

 

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