Skip to main content

Swords of the Third Reich

Third Reich broad-based carrying of swords paid homage to the German swordsmen of old.

By Chris William

A standard Third Reich lion’s head naval sword with engraved blade and celluloid handle.

A standard Third Reich lion’s head naval sword with engraved blade and celluloid handle.

In the heart of Europe, German swordsmen had played an important part in warfare since the time of the Roman conquests. By the Middle Ages, the Wupper River Valley city of Solingen had started its journey on the way to becoming the “City of Swords”. Here, trained craftsman forged, filed and fitted some of the country’s best examples of both military and ceremonial blades up to the final days of Imperial Germany. When Adolf Hitler and the “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” (N.S.D.A.P – Nazi Party) took control of the government in 1933, the broad-based carrying of swords was rekindled in a massive way. However, instead of weapons being carried only by the military and a few select officials, swords were added for ceremonial use by many groups as signs of nationalistic pride, rank and status. With Hitler’s overall goal of turning the German countryside into a vast military encampment, hundreds of different swords were produced to hang at the sides of military, paramilitary, civic, fraternal, welfare and other organizations during the Third Reich.

Many lion’s head naval swords had one green and one red glass eye indicating fore and aft.

Many lion’s head naval swords had one green and one red glass eye indicating fore and aft.

The early battlefields of World War I had seen the final days of European sword use in actual combat. Following Germany’s defeat, the Weimar period saw a huge decrease in military numbers, and the dormancy of the sword producing craft. As practiced during the imperial years, but outlawed during Weimar rule, young men continued to engage in dueling, sporting the resulting facial scars incurred as badges of honor. In addition, students in schools and academies took fencing classes, learning swordsmanship during the athletic events. When Hitler came to power, many of the officers who had carried swords in the First War began to do so again, either in the newly growing military, or as members in the paramilitary and civic groups that sprang up in support of the Nazi regime.

As these organizations grew in size, members opted to have their own swords produced to identify them while participating in the flamboyant pomp and circumstance of the Nazi sponsored events. The astute businessmen of the Solingen area, looking to regain their business after the war loss and great depression, saw major opportunities in filling the need for new blades bearing the nationalistic symbols of the new German world identity. Firms such as Eickhorn, Alcoso, Herder, Holler, Horster, Klaas, E Pack & Sohne and WKC expanded their factories and added skilled craftsmen. New sword models were designed and patented, numbering in the hundreds. These were to be sold to the “Heer”, Kriegsmarine” and “Luftwaffe”, along with dozens of governmental and civilian bodies.

A “depot” naval sword. These were issued to naval officers who did not own swords for special occasions, and remained the property of the navy. 

A “depot” naval sword. These were issued to naval officers who did not own swords for special occasions, and remained the property of the navy. 

The reverse is marked “O” for Ostsee and issuance number.

The reverse is marked “O” for Ostsee and issuance number.

In the military services, German army officers, senior officer candidates and senior NCOs carried some of the most diverse models of swords during the Third Reich period. “Sabels” with polished curved blades, the thin bladed “Degen” and the heavier “Schwert” with cross guards were topped with dove’s head, Lion’s head, panther head and other ornate handles wrought from brass, then fire gilded to a golden mirror like shine. Those swords with Lion or panther heads often had inset red cut glass eyes. Though officers, with permission, could carry their swords of the First War, or those of their fathers if they had been used on the war front, many chose to leave the old state identified arms behind and purchase the newer models bearing the regimes’ symbols of national unity and conformity.

The typical army sword consisted of a “D” guard knuckle bow, ornate backstrap, ferrule and cross guard on which was often cast a winged eagle clutching a swastika. A brightly polished blade, sold in varying lengths according to the purchaser’s height, contained (but not always) the maker’s name on its flat ricasso. Blades could be purchased with engravings, custom etchings or dedications dependent on the size of the buyer’s purse. The sword was housed in a black painted steel scabbard with a single suspension ring mounted towards the throat end. Sword portepees (acorn/knots) were wrapped on the sword handles which were suspended by way of “tear drop” shaped leather and clip mounted hangers, or straight leather and fabric straps with buckles suspended from external belts, under-coat belts, or inner tunic rings. Lower ranking soldiers could carry NCO-style M1890 dress swords on occasion. These consisted of a plain nickel-plated dove’s head design with a black, wire wrapped grip. In addition, soldiers could use ordinance swords which were carryovers from the pre-Nazi period. These were of a sturdier built dove’s head design with brass backstraps, heavy cross guards and a retention screw in the pommel. They were usually marked with issuance numbers as they belonged to the army proper rather than the individual soldier. Mounted soldiers carried swords hanging vertically from the rear saddle skirts with sturdy ringed attachments. As the war progressed and materials became scarce, brass portions of swords were often replaced with plated aluminum or other materials.

Naval sabels saw the least amount of change from those carried during the Imperial period. Officers, equivalent administration men and ranks above “Feldwebel” (Petty Officer First Class) were authorized to carry naval swords as the occasion merited. As with the army, naval officers could use inherited swords if they had been carried previously in the field of battle, and permission was given by the Commander in Chief of the Navy. For others, the standard sword of the Navy consisted of a golden lion head sabel, which often had an etched blade with naval motifs. The lion eyes were set with one red and one green stone to signify the port and starboard sides of a ship. Handles were made from ivory or wood covered with white celluloid and twists of golden grip wire. The front cross guard clam shell showed a fouled anchor in relief. Imperial models had a royal crown overlaying the anchor, which was absent on Third Reich models. The rear hinged section served as a lock when snapped down to connect with a small stud protruding from the upper brass scabbard throat. The scabbard was made of fine black leather with three engraved brass sections: throat, center and toe attached with thick staples. The two upper sections contained rings which would mount to the suspension strap and chains when in wear.

A Luftwaffe officer’s sword by Horster. Below the manufacturer’s mark is a Luftwaffe acceptance  eagle stamp.

A Luftwaffe officer’s sword by Horster. Below the manufacturer’s mark is a Luftwaffe acceptance
eagle stamp.

The Luftwaffe got its first official sword in 1934 with the introduction of the “Fliegerschwert” (flyer’s sword). These could be carried by officers, equivalent level administrators and senior NCOs during formal occasions. The new sword was uniquely designed with a double-edged blade reminiscent of the broad swords from the Middle Ages. Its blue Moroccan leather covered handle was accented by a spiral of silver-plated wire. The Pommel cap was formed with a large parallel silver disc containing a golden sun wheel swastika and an oak leaf design around the outer edge. Cross guards featured down swept chiseled wings mounted on either side of another golden sun wheel swastika. The blue leather scabbard was secured with a lower toe section and upper throat section, both made of nickel silver. The upper section contained two rings, one on either side which were sewn into a permanently affixed U-shaped hanger and clip mounted on the reverse.

A standard doves head sword with excellent gilding.

A standard doves head sword with excellent gilding.

By 1940 with the shortage of war materials, nickel silver materials on Luftwaffe swords were replaced with the more available aluminum. “Fliegerschwert” models were used by all officer ranks until 1935 when a new version was authorized for Luftwaffe general officers. This more delicate sword featured a narrow-engraved blade mounted with a gilded clamshell cross guard bearing a silver flying eagle clutching a swastika, thin “D” guard and rounded pommel and cap. The orange celluloid grip was surrounded with a spiral of fine golden wire.

The “Schutzstaffel” (Hitler’s elite black guard) carried a variety of unofficial swords until 1936 with the introduction of the “SS-Ehrendegen”. This sword was presented to high-ranking SS men or new officers upon completion of their training in SS officer schools. The medium width, polished blade contained a long fuller along the upper half. A black painted grip was banded with silver wire strands and fronted with a round silver emblem containing the SS “Sigrune”. The silver cross guard blended into the thin “D” guard which ended under the pommel cap. The ferule had beautifully chiseled oak leaves in silver with darkened recesses. Swords were typically marked with Sigrune acceptance marks on the “D” guard base and scabbard throats. Scabbards were black painted steel with silvered toe and throat sections, the later containing a single hanging ring. SS NCO swords took the similar design of the officer swords, but without the wire wrap or handle emblem. The pommel cap of NCO swords displayed an engraved Sigrune emblem. Due to shortages during the war, and the fact that not all SS officers were not awarded swords, some SS men carried army pattern or police swords instead of SS models.

A Luftwaffe officer’s sword by Horster. Below the manufacturer’s mark is a Luftwaffe acceptance eagle stamp.

A Luftwaffe officer’s sword by Horster. Below the manufacturer’s mark is a Luftwaffe acceptance eagle stamp.

An RLB custom manufactured sword. This is a standard NCO sword with the riveted addition of the RLB sunburst.

An RLB custom manufactured sword. This is a standard NCO sword with the riveted addition of the RLB sunburst.

Nazi police swords had the same design as the SS swords, but with different grip emblems. Those of the police featured an open winged eagle perched on a wreath enclosed canted swastika, all surrounded by an oval wreath of oak leaves. Due to their close relationship and eventual takeover by the SS, some police swords have SS acceptance marks stamped on the blade ricasso.

Many additional organizations, such as the diplomatic corps, railroad personnel, prison officials, air raid protection services, storm troopers, miners and others had swords designed or emblems added to signify their belonging to a particular group. Swords continued to exemplify the national pride of belonging as felt by many Germans throughout the Reich until 1944, when orders were issued commanding all authorized personnel to carry sidearms instead of blades. But even then, designs were being evaluated by Nazi officials towards the end of the war for production after their envisioned victory.

A beautiful etched blade lion’s head sword. 

A beautiful etched blade lion’s head sword. 

18
Third Reich engraved or etched blade swords are fairly rare compared to swords of Imperial Germany. 

Third Reich engraved or etched blade swords are fairly rare compared to swords of Imperial Germany. 

When Hitler’s military was defeated, all “weapons” in the hands of German citizens, including ceremonial blades were to be turned into the occupying forces. After the victors carefully picked out the more valued pieces, countless others left were destroyed by being run over with heavy vehicles, burned in piles of debris, buried in bomb craters or thrown into deep bodies of water. Despite the wholesale destruction, thousands of Third Reich swords did survive in the hands of Allied veterans to be proudly brought home as symbols of their victory. These would eventually find their way into modern collections to be prized and studied by the keepers of history. 

A police officer’s sword showing the eagle and wreath grip emblem. 

A police officer’s sword showing the eagle and wreath grip emblem. 

An SS officer’s sword complete with SS portepee.

An SS officer’s sword complete with SS portepee.

NCO sword with plain nickel-plated handle and black grip.

NCO sword with plain nickel-plated handle and black grip.

Eickhorn nr 1734 “Zieten” model, part of their field Marshall series. The red glass eyes and elaborate backstrap make this a truly beautiful sword.

Eickhorn nr 1734 “Zieten” model, part of their field Marshall series. The red glass eyes and elaborate backstrap make this a truly beautiful sword.

A Weimar period ordinance sword belonging to the army, and used up until 1944.

A Weimar period ordinance sword belonging to the army, and used up until 1944.

Army officers sometimes carried swords which they had during the First World War. This model 89 Prussian deluxe infantry sword is embossed with a guard’s star on the grip.

Army officers sometimes carried swords which they had during the First World War. This model 89 Prussian deluxe infantry sword is embossed with a guard’s star on the grip.

Military Page Divider

Frontline Feature

Military-Connection-LLC-logo

Military Connection L.L.C. - War Relics Shop & Museum

We Buy, Sell and Trade military war relics from all countries and all periods.  It is an honor and privilege to bring the history of past and present wars to you from our online store and our shop located in South Milwaukee, WI