Pole Arms and Hunting Origins
During the middle ages and the renaissance, foot soldiers used a lot of pole arms: spears, pikes, and halberds (like a spear with a hook or axe on it).
A farmer might’ve been too poor to afford a horse or armor, but he found that the pruning hook he used on his lordship’s apple trees was also a useful tool for unhorsing an enemy knight. The halberd and the pike became effective means of evening the odds against cavalry.
From what I’ve read, bayonets (knives or spikes mounted to firearms) were first developed as a backup for hunting in the 1600s, the age of slow-to-recharge muzzle-loaders. If a hunter were to wound a wild boar, for example, and the boar charged him before the hunter could reload, a long pokey edged weapon mounted to the front of the firearm could possibly keep the hunter alive and in business.
When muskets began to dominate the battlefield, the long bayonet was a way to convert a slow-loading, but also long, muzzle-loader into a field expedient pike, and for mostly the same anti-equestrian reasons as the original pole arms.
Troops often stood stoically against (or even marched into) volley after volley of round musket (and later, badminton shaped Minnie) balls. The sound of gunfire–even black powder gunfire–is terrifying, but the projectiles usually could not be seen in flight, even when their effects were blatantly evident.
Almost nobody, though, stood up to a bayonet charge.
I believe our inherent fear of edged weapons comes from the fact that claws and fangs were viable threats when our DNA was being patterned. Unlike, say, instinctive fear of snakes, gunfire has not been around long enough to be part of our genetic memory.
Demoralizing Effects of Bayonets
General George Patton spoke of the psychological effect of glittering steel coming to explore your guts. More than most, Patton understood what Napoleon was talking about when he said that moral (mental) factors are far more important than actual physical conditions in combat.
- “It’s the cold glitter of the attacker’s eye, not the point of the questing bayonet, that breaks the line.
- It’s the fierce determination of the driver to close with the enemy, not the mechanical perfection of [the] tank, that conquers the trench.
- It’s the cataclysmic ecstasy of conflict in the flier, not the perfection of his machine gun, that drops the enemy in flaming ruin.
- Yet, volumes are devoted to armaments; and only pages to inspiration.
It lurks invisible in that vitalizing spark, intangible, yet as evident as the lightning–The Warrior Soul. The fixed determination to acquire The Warrior Soul, and having acquired it to either conquer, or perish with honor, is the Secret Of Victory.”
–George S. Patton, Jr, 1926
Patton’s words above were quoted by Charles M. Province in Patton’s One-Minute Messages, a book I read to my kids at bedtime.
Bayonets in the American Civil War
In his handout for our Thunder Ranch Old Rifle class, Clint Smith noted that even in the American Civil War, when rifle reloading was a time consuming challenge, only 1% of the KIAs were killed by bayonets. The following elaboration is from page 29 of Jack Coggins’ Arms and Equipment of the Civil War:
“The bristling points and the glitter of the bayonets were fearful to look upon as they were leveled in front of a charging line, but they were rarely reddened with blood.”
–Confederate General John Gordon
” . . . Corporal Selby killed a rebel with a bayonet there, which is a remarkable thing in battle and was spoken of in the official report.”
–Oscar Jackson, in his Colonel’s Diary
Only 6 out of 7302 wounded during Grant’s Wilderness campaign were listed as having been injured with a bayonet or sword. Be wary, however, of survivorship bias when analyzing such statistics.
But lethality is only one measure of a weapons system’s effectiveness. With a psychological weapon like the bayonet, it may not even be the most important criterion. It’s possible that a single bayonet charge altered the course of the American Civil War.
During the pivotal battle at Gettysburg, the “high water mark of the Confederacy,” if the Rebels had taken Little Round Top, they might have been able to flank and therefore “roll up” the entire Union line. Col. Chamberlain, in command on Little Round Top, understood its importance and determined to defend it at all costs. When the 20th Maine troops ran low on ammo, they charged down the hill with bayonets, routing most of the Rebel forces, and ensuring the Union’s victory. How many Rebels they actually stuck with bayonets is not nearly as relevant as that bayonet charge’s effect on the outcome of the battle, and hence, on the tide of the war.
The British were disappointed with the number of Argentine aircraft they were able to down with their complicated and expensive surface to air missiles in the Falklands. However, the presence of their SAM threat forced the Argie pilots to operate at insanely low altitude. Consequently, many of the Argentine bomb fuses did not have time to arm before hitting their targets. The SAMs launched to aircraft killed ratio doesn’t tell the whole story of their effect on the outcome.
Suffice it to say that, when the bayonets came on, the other side tended to bug out.
World War II: The Pacific
One notable exception to the “nobody stands against cold steel” rule is when the defenders have no place to go. In the Pacific (especially in the earlier years of WWII), the Japanese “Banzai!” charges were legendary, but failed to accomplish their goal of retaking the beachhead. The Marines stood their ground against the Japanese bayonets for two reasons:
- First, because they were Marines.
- Second, unless you could swim all the way back to Hawaii in your gear, or at least back to where Jeff Cooper and his boys were on their ships sending naval artillery over your head, retreat from the beach was not much of an option. Some soldiers of the overrun 105th Infantry regiment actually did swim from Saipan to offshore destroyers on 07 Jul 1944 (see below).
The Banzai charge was an official part of Japanese military doctrine, but it had been more effective in the 1930s against Chinese troops with their bolt action rifles, than it was in the 1940s against the more rapid fire American BARs, M2s, .30 MGs, Thompsons, Garands, and M1 carbines.
The last major bayonet charge, Clint Smith noted, was on Saipan on 07 Jul 1944. It was a Hail Mary, all-hands-on-deck move. Almost every single member of the surviving Japanese garrison, including walking wounded and even civilians–some armed with little more than sharpened sticks–charged the US troops. Hundreds of Marines and US Army soldiers were killed, but virtually the entire Japanese force was wiped out. Most of the remaining Japanese on Saipan killed themselves by jumping off cliffs, rather than surrendering–despite impassioned pleas broadcast by loudspeakers, in Japanese, that they would not be harmed.
The 4th Marine Division and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division bore the brunt of that massive bayonet assault. Google Private Thomas Baker, Capt Benjamin Salomon, and Lt Col William O’Brien to learn more about what it was like on the receiving end.
A handful of Japanese soldiers, including Capt Sakae Oba, who had lead from the front with a sword during the massive Bonzai attack, escaped and evaded into Saipan’s interior, where he continued a guerrilla harassment campaign until months after the war ended.
On 07 Feb 1951, then-Captain Lewis J. Millett, who’d received a battlefield commission in WWII, saw that one of his platoons was pinned down by intense enemy fire from atop Hill 180 (now on Osan Air Base, South Korea).
To save them, Millett led two other platoons on a bayonet charge and took the hill, killing 50 Chinese (40% of them by bayonet). Millett was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Col Millett, who died on 14 Nov 2009, also served with the Rangers / Special Forces in Vietnam. His colorful exploits fall into the realm of “you can’t make this stuff up,” and are too numerous to list here.
Hand-to-hand combat, with knives, bayonets, entrenching tools, and even 5-gallon gas cans, was not entirely uncommon in Vietnam.
The Viet Cong (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), collectively called “Charlie,” used sappers to infiltrate our outposts and fortified hamlets, usually at night.
The brand-new M-16 rifle had many reliability issues–due to changes in gunpowder, it’s direct gas impingement system, underpowered extractor springs, and the fact that Colt marketed it to the military as never needing cleaning, so the originals were sent out into the muddy jungles, river deltas, rice paddies, rubber plantations, and dusty highlands without cleaning kits, or even maintenance instructions (refer to Edward C. Ezell’s Great Rifle Controversy for more about the M16’s growing pains). Disastrous under-maintenance led to harmful-over maintenance, as constant detailed disassembly of the lower receiver, pushing the steel pins in and out of the aluminum frame, enlarged the pin holes. Trigger and auto sear pins would suddenly fall out during fire fights.
If the enemy is 50 meters away and your rifle quits, that’s bad enough. If he’s in the same hole with you when that happens, it’s worse. Here’s one example.
On 21 Jan 1968, Sgt Mykle E Stahl was running a mortar section on Hill 861, an outpost protecting Khe Sanh. The Gunny was dead, the First Sergeant was dying, and the Company Commander was too wounded to continue leading the Marines on the hill. The burden of command fell to 1Lt Jerry N Saulsbury, who despite his lack of infantry experience (he’d washed out of pilot training), rose to the occasion and acquitted himself well.
Fortunately for all the remaining Marines, Saulsbury had men like Stahl working for him.
Stahl, a Texan from Abilene, was already wounded by shrapnel when he saw that the leading trenches of their outpost were being overrun. Too close for his mortars to help, he moved forward and leapt into those trenches to rescue the wounded Marines there, facing off against 3 NVAs. One of the NVAs wounded Stahl (again) with a bayonet. Stahl’s M16 jammed, but he managed to kill 2 of the Charlies. Another Marine killed the third NVA.
Stahl “traded up” to an AK dropped by the NVAs and cleared the rest of the trench, killing 3 more NVAs, capturing 3 others, and re-taking a bunker. Despite being wounded a third time, Stahl then manned a .50 cal until the attack was repulsed.
As the mechanical reliability of the M16 (and then M16A1) was improved in fits and starts, the Army printed DA Pamphlet 750-30, a comic book designed to educate the GIs about how to get and keep their “Mattel Toy” up and running.
It was blatantly sexist and moderately racist (note the buck-toothed Charlie advising the Imperialist Yankee to check his ammo), but it was also humorous, informative, and caught the attention of the mostly adolescent GIs. The only mention of bayonets in DA Pam 750-30 was advice to use your M7 to cut .30 cal patches in quarters, if you couldn’t get any 5.56mm patches to swab your bore.
Falklands / Malvinas
According to Max Hastings & Simon Jenkins (The Battle for the Falklands, pp. 302 – 05), as the Scotts Guards began their final assault on Mt Tumbledown, the Argentine 5th Marine Infantry Battalion met them with machine gun fire and snipers with night vision scopes. Major John Kiszeley determined to break the deadlock with a bayonet charge.
“Are you with me, 15 Platoon?” he yelled. The troops responded with a resounding . . .
He repeated the question, even louder. One soldier replied “Aye.”
Another said, “Aye, sir, I’m f___ing with you as well.”
Turned out, the only thing scarier than facing cold steel is to BE the ones doing the bayonet charge.
They took the summit, but at great cost. Kiszeley shot two Argentine soldiers and killed another with his bayonet.
According to Hastings & Jenkins (p. 299), and also Anthony H. Cordesman & Abraham R. Wagner (The Lessons of Modern War, Vol. III: The [Soviet -] Afghan and Falklands Conflicts, p. 285), Argentine soldiers also fell to bayonets on Mt. Longdon.
Corporal Sean Jones of 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, was on patrol in Helmand Province when his unit was ambushed by Taliban. They made it to a water-filled ditch, but were pinned down from three directions, surrounded by open terrain. It was just a matter of time before they were going to be wiped out, one by one.
Jones ordered three men with him to fix bayonets, and ordered two others to lay down covering fire, before sprinting over 80 meters of open ground.
I once ran 70 meters towards a shooter with an AR-15 who was gunning down my fellow cops, on a road that bullets had just bounced off of. Time did not seem to slow down, and I experienced zero auditory exclusion. In fact, the rifle (and returning pistol) fire was painfully loud. I did, however, experience spatial distortion: it seemed like my destination was a thousand meters away. It wasn’t till I went back later that I realized how short the distance really was.
It was over 10 meters farther, with easily three times the incoming fire, and it must’ve seemed like a hundred more, for Cpl Jones and the other men of 1 PWRR. Yet their gallant rush was so unexpected, it took the Taliban entirely by surprise. They bugged out. Jones was later awarded the Military Cross for his actions.
In World War One, bayonets were long–practically short swords.
In World War Two, though, soldiers were sometimes fortunate enough to ride to battle in something other than LPCs (leather personnel carriers). Many older bayonets were hacked in half by armories to make them more convenient to hang off the belt in and around a truck, a half-track, a C-47, or a glider.
Most US bayonets during the half century in and after WWII had blades modeled after the M3 fighting knife, as is the leather handled Kutmaster above, that I inherited from my grandfather George (unlike this one, most M3s had a two-sided guard; the top guard was angled forward for thumb-bracing). The M3s had a thin blade with a short false edge on the spine side. The length of the blade, as noted above, was for convenience in and around conveyances, and the width was based on a very real logistical need to conserve precious steel for other war materiel.
This thin shape made the blades far better suited for stabbing than slashing (or, when off the rifle, chopping). The following bayonets had blades virtually identical to the M3’s, and each other’s, only differing in the grips and requisite mounting hardware:
- M4 bayonet (for the M1 carbine)
- M5 / M5A1 / K-M5A1 bayonets (Korean War era Garand)
- M6 bayonet (for the M14)
- M7 bayonet (for the M16, pictured above, below the M3 type Kutmaster)
Clint Smith said his commander in Vietnam made them paint their last magazine red and write a big B on it. I don’t know if that meant it was time to fix bayonets when you got to that mag, or that, instead of fixing bayonets, you should shoot them.
M5A1 Bayonet (or not)
I can honestly say that my first issued rifle was an M1 Garand, as a “Doolie” cadet at the Air Force Academy, in 1981. One right of passage in “Beast” (BCT, Basic Cadet Training) was the Bayonet Assault Course.
Even Army infantry troops are very, VERY rarely expected to use bayonets in combat. The Air Force had some ground pounding units, like the Security Police (now Security Forces), which are essentially light infantry. Apart from Air Force SF, combat controllers (battlefield air traffic controllers), FACs (forward air controllers, like forward artillery observers for airstrikes), PJs (pararescue jumpers), and BALOs (battalion air liaison officers), the vast majority of zoomies have zero chance of using a bayonet in combat. A pilot isn’t going to use a knife, even off a rifle, unless his parachute is hung up in a tree, or she needs to cut her way out of some aluminum aircraft wreckage. In the 1980s, most of us cadets at the USAF Academy were expected to go to pilot training upon graduation.
Why then, teach us to stab tires or stuffed dummies with a bayonet?
The purpose of the Bayonet Assault Course, of course, had zero to do with slicing, dicing, or making people into Julienne fries. It had everything to do with inculcating an ethos, trying to create what Patton called “The Warrior Soul” above.
Something approaching the will to combat that made Louis Sebille, fighting desperately to save our outnumbered, outgunned troops inside South Korea’s shrinking Pusan Perimeter, bank his Mustang back around after getting hit attacking a target.
He told his wingmen, “I’ll never make it back. I’m going to get that bastard.” Sebille kamikazed his aircraft directly onto an enemy position, hammering them with .50 cal all the way in.
A picture of Maj Sebille, along with a summary of his sacrifice, hung in Arnold Hall at the Air Force Academy. His eyes stared at you with that direct gaze, as if to say “This is the minimum standard. I dare you to do better.”
The Bayonet Assault Course was one of many ways they put us on notice that we had not chosen to matriculate at UCLA.
“The spirit of the bayonet is to kill!”
At the Bayonet Assault Course, we learned and practiced the following series of hand-to-hand rifle / bayonet moves:
- Slash (diagonal, downward slicing cut)
- Smash (longitudinal strike with the butt, muzzle over the support side shoulder)
- Thrust (longitudinal stab with the bayonet / muzzle; there may have been some twisting involved)
- Butt stroke to the head (horizontal)
- Butt stroke to the kidney (upward diagonal)
- Butt stroke to the groin (vertical)
With all the butt strokes, as with the butt smash, the muzzle of the rifle wound up over the support side shoulder. Later, when I was a special agent serving warrants with an M4 (sans bayonet), Eyal Yanilov taught us muzzle jabs, parries, and blocking with the rifle like a side-handle baton, but always keeping the muzzle down range. We avoided techniques that pointed our muzzle back at the rest of the team.
My Garand had a different gas system plug, so it would not accept the M5 series bayonets they issued us on the Assault Course. I had to suffer the indignity of running the Bayonet Assault Course, going through the motions each time, without a bayonet on my own rifle. Most of the other Basics had one, though.
As one ran through the Bayonet Assault Course, one would come up on manikins, tires, or quintains representing enemy soldiers. Each had a specific required series. A sign would say “Butt smash to head,” or “Parry, Stroke, & Slash,” or whatever.
Our Garands had lead plugs in the barrels to prevent mischief. The rumor was that before they were plugged, a cadet had committed hara-kiri by placing a blank in the chamber, a pencil in the barrel, and firing the blank to drive the pencil through his head (not entirely unlike what happened later to actor Brandon Lee). Whether the pencil story was true or not, the lead barrel plugs made the Garand even heavier than it had started.
Plus, the air was rare at 7000′ feet or so, in Jack’s Valley. We had to low crawl on our faces and on our backs under concertina wire obstacles.
On one of my runs through the Bayonet Assault Course, I was out of breath and didn’t growl appropriately as I poked at a dummy with my bayonet-less muzzle.
“Come back here, mister!” the cadre supervising that obstacle shouted. “Sound off aggressively when you accomplish my obstacle!”
I redoubled my efforts, shouting “Die, you communist son of a bitch!”
“Don’t swear on my Assault Course,” the cadre said, laughing and sending me on my way.
We also sparred against our classmates with genuine pugil sticks (the Marines train with pugil sticks first, to get the footwork and stability down, before moving on to bayonets).
I wasn’t very good at pugil sticks, but my thrusts (similar to muzzle strikes, had we been wielding rifles instead of giant Q-tips) under my opponent Rusty B’s chin worked pretty well. Mostly, though, I was the one getting pummeled. Rusty was one of my mates, first in A (“Aggressor”) BCT Squadron, and later in Cadet Squadron 31, the “Grim Reapers.”
Two years later, in July of ’83, I attended a special session of the 4th Infantry Division’s Primary Noncommissioned Officer course at Camp Red Devil, Colorado. I say “special” because it was an exchange program, of sorts. Air Force Academy cadets spent three weeks at Ft Carson, learning a little about Army life (and how good they had it in the Air Force).
The program was called RECONDO (an abbreviation of Reconnaissance and Commando). We were taught LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol), as well as ambush patrol, and other patrolling techniques, as a means of teaching leadership. There were three squads of students, and we each took turns briefing, and then leading our squad through patrols and various MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) combat exercises. There were also some mech infantry (ambush response in M113s) and small arms (US and ComBloc) familiarization thrown in there.
Most of the PNCOC instructors had unit patches from Vietnam on their right sleeves. Their main mission in life seemed to be convincing us to NOT become the kind of young lieutenant who heroically leads his troops to slaughter doing things like bayonet charges, if there is a smarter or more effective way of doing business.
The RECONDO cadre were men of few words, but I could tell they were very proud of being grunts, something others were (and still are) neither able nor willing to do.
Attending the Army RECONDO course qualified us to be USAFA BCT cadre on the Tactical Leadership Decisions course. At TLD, I worked with one Captain Kinney, who had been stationed in Europe (I believe he had been an attache in Austria). Capt Kinney carried a very light field knife made by a then-unheard-of (on this side of the Atlantic) company called Glock (see below).
When my SP outfit went through the Volant Scorpion Airbase Ground Defense Evaluation at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas in the summer of 1988, we ran through a bayonet assault course with M7 bayonets on our M16s. One of my fellow blue beanies (security policemen), named Zaug, snapped the stock of his M16 in half doing a butt stroke.
We were issued M7 bayonets when I deployed to Operation Desert Shield in August of 1990. The M7 had a dark grey parkerized blade. The tang was covered with a clam shell pair of plastic, checkered grips. Ours were made by Imperial.
Apart from opening MREs and other common cutting tasks, I only used a bayonet twice that I remember.
Before the war started, we were working on the King’s side of King Khalid International Airport when I locked myself out of a red and white checkered guard shack, at a flightline entry control point. I used the M7 to pry the pins out of the door hinges, and then to pry open the door.
Plus, I can honestly say I’ve taken a life with a bayonet, during wartime.
We were patrolling sector Echo 14 at night (we worked sundown to sun up) on the commercial side of the airport, when we came across a Saudi Amin troop who had parked his Suzuki Samurai type patrol vehicle by the side of the road.
He had run over a snake.
The poor thing was biting its own tail. Not sure why, whether trying to peel its body off of the road, or to put itself out of its misery, or some other fatally wounded, primordial urge. The Amin troop wouldn’t get near it, and signaled that we shouldn’t either.
I didn’t want to get close to it, and I’m not into killing snakes, but I didn’t want it to suffer. Lacking that best wounded snake euthanizing tool, a long handled shovel, I put my bayonet on my M-16 and, standing as far away as possible, cut off its head.
Then we drove over to our sector’s border with the adjacent patrol sector. When the other fire team pulled up in their hummer and parked to chat, I tossed the still slithering snake’s body though their window, into T. Lobraico’s lap.
Lobraico about climbed over the back of his seat.
Like many of us, Lobraico later went into went into civilian law enforcement. He also wore the blue beret of the Security Police (subsequently renamed Security Forces) for many more years in the Air National Guard.
Lobraico’s son, TJ Jr, followed his father’s footsteps into the Security Forces. TJ Jr served in Iraq, and was later killed in a gun battle outside the wire of Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Glock Survival Knife
Although I kept that M7 with my ALICE ruck sack, I carried a Glock Survival Knife 81 (inspired by Capt Kinney’s example) on the left suspender of my LBE, load bearing equipment. I wore a Mini-Maglite AA flashlight, with a red lens for reading maps, etc., fastened with tan duct-tape to the Glock scabbard.
The Glock Field Knife had originally been intended as a bayonet (see below).
The blade of my Glock Survival Knife was thin (like a clip-point M3), and it never seemed to take an edge. It had (almost overly) aggressive, sharply angled serrations on the spine. The main reason I carried it was because it was very light weight (7.1 oz), and weather resistant (like their pistols, which took the law enforcement world by storm within a few years). Un-snapping it from its sheath was just a tad awkward, but it snapped in easily, and it stayed in its sheath when I carried it grip-down.
Plus, the Glock knife had a bottle opener built into the cross guard. When I first read on the internet that it was not intended as a bottle opener, and had been designed to hook onto the flash suppressor of the AUG, I was skeptical. I’d been issued an AUG-P and the shape of the suppressor just didn’t seem to fit with the shape of the bottle opener on the Glock knives.
There was no mention of a bayonet in the Steyr AUG-P manual (I’ve not read a manual for the military version).
Then I saw a copy of some early AUG advertising which showed the 78 stuck onto an optional mount with the top of the bottle opener braced against the lip of the flash suppressor (not hooked on it; see worldbayonets.com). One would have to install the optional mount, and then remove the pommel of the knife to reveal the socket (the hollow grip) that would fit onto the mount.
The forward bend of the bottle opener made the hilt of the Glock knife less prone to jamming one’s thumb when using a “Saber” hold (similar to a “Hammer” or “Prison Shank” grip, but with the thumb along the spine; see Dawson GP4 below). Holding a knife in Saber fashion didn’t concern me all that much till after I took a Gunsite / PDSI Edged Weapons course 7 years later, in March of 1998.
Phrobis III M9 bayonet
Sometime during Op Desert Storm, we were issued the Phrobis III M9 bayonet. Its blade was both wider and thicker than the M7’s. Eventually, I put that M9 on my LBE (replacing the much lighter Glock knife), ostensibly to test it under combat conditions. Mainly, it killed defenseless MRE packages.
The M9 (above) borrowed much from the AK bayonet (below), including the hole for the scabbard-mounted T-lug (like the pivot point of scissors) converting it into wire cutters.
The wire cutting feature gave you much more leverage than you could get with a Leatherman type multi-tool. Multi-tools were not nearly so ubiquitous in those days as they are now.
Before I was issued that M9 bayonet, I made it a habit to always carry a small pair of needle nosed vice grips on my person, and not just for the wire cutter. I often joked, when I was young and single, that if I had to be stuck on a deserted island for a year, and I could take either needle nosed vice grips and duct tape, or Lynda Carter, there would certainly be occasions during the ensuing year when I’d wish I had some needle nosed vice grips.
I understand US Army Rangers used the M9’s wire cutter feature on chain-link fence to take an objective during Operation Just Cause.
Both the AK and the M9 bayonets had angled serrations on the spine, useful when sawing off branches for camouflage. Not too much vegetation where we were at, north of Riyadh.
Note that the blade of the AK bayonet is inverted (on the top); when mounted to a rifle it cuts by pulling up, rather than pushing down. I’m guessing that in ComBlock bayonet doctrine, their equivalent of a slash series was more of a “stick and lift.”
I took a course called “AK 47 / 74 in CQB” from Saulius “Sonny” Puzikas, a former Spetsnaz operator. We worked extensively on off-lines, disarms, retention, muzzle jabs, and other ways to beat someone with a Kalashnikov, but I don’t remember much attention being paid to bayonets.
The Soviets couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make a toilet seat that didn’t break; their consumer goods were of notoriously poor quality. Their weapons, on the other hand, were sturdy and practical. The chisel tip of the Mosin-Nagant spike bayonets doubled as a screw driver.
The M9 bayonet had a wider, Bowie style blade. In yet another example of life imitating art, the M9’s cylindrical grip was clearly modeled after Sylvester Stallone’s Lile survival knife from Rambo (a custom design that was, in turn, based in concept on the Vietnam era Randall 18 survival knives). Rambo’s custom made Lile and the Randal 18s had storage compartments in the hollow cylindrical grip; the M9 did not.
Despite the hollow-looking handle, the (earlier production) M9 was perfectly balanced, if heavy; the center of gravity was just aft of the guard, where it should be.
I later took a Bowie course, and found that the fat-bellied Bowies were meant to fight as choppers, as well as stabbers and slashers–similar to a khukuri,* bolo, or smatchet. Some other EW disciplines make the strongest part of the grip the last three (middle, ring, and pinkie) fingers. When using a chopper to chop, the wielder does just the opposite, holding the last three fingers relatively loosely, and allowing the weight of the blade and guard (if any) to pivot the knife around the index finger.
The fat, circular cross-section of the M9 does not lend itself as well to this technique (at least with my stubby fingers) as the thinner, oval cross-sectioned rubber grip of the Marine Corps’ OKC 3S (see below).
The original Phrobis III and Buck-made M9s had a single, deep, very cool looking fuller, commonly called a “blood groove” (a misnomer).
Swords were fullered, not to assist with blood letting, but rather to reduce weight (and the amount of metal used to make the sword) while retaining strength and rigidity, like the H-shaped cross section of an I-beam used in building construction. Later, cheaper production models of the M9 lacked the fuller.
As Marty McFly showed us, US domestic soda pop production had converted to twist-tops by the mid 1980s (when the M9 was adopted). More expensive imported beers still required a bottle opener.
Phrobis (& Buck) one-upped the Glock knives by incorporating not one, but TWO bottle openers into the guard of the M9. I suppose that would be useful if you were too drunk to figure out which side of the blade to put on top of the bottle cap; but if you were that impaired, and using a bayonet instead of a “church key,” you’d also be likely to wake up without fingers.
The Phrobis M9 was the only bayonet I was ever issued with a silver (or grey, bead blasted) blade. I believe it was stainless steel. Given that the purpose of the bayonet is primarily psychological, they probably should have bright, shiny (at least polished blue) blades. Harder to fear something one cannot see.
The Leyland AmBus
One night we were hanging with some blokes from the RAF Regiment (or maybe British medics; I can’t remember now). Several field hospitals had been set up in and around our base, on the off-chance the blood-bath predicted by Senator Ted Kennedy actually occurred (God be praised, it did not; the ground campaign only lasted about 100 hours, and Coalition forces suffered 147 KIAs–148 if you include the MIA pilot who was later found dead). We were chatting beside an AmBus, a long, bus-sized military vehicle set up with litter tiers as a mass casualty ambulance. The AmBus was made by a company called Leyland.
We knew the manufacturer because there was a metal LEYLAND plate (like a Ford or GMC emblem) hanging off the back end of the bus. It was affixed to the body of the AmBus by two bolts. One bolt had broken off when the bus had been backed into something, so the emblem hung down sideways.
We were bored–that perennial bedevilment of night watchmen. Jason B, the driver for our fire team, pulled out his magnificent Buck-made Phrobis III M9 bayonet, and tried to pry the Leyland emblem all the way off.
The blokes had always been somewhat less blessed in the supply department than the over-fed Yanks. Some of their gear seemed to date back to lend-lease in WWII. The M9 bayonets (at least the well-built, original ones) were famously expensive, and the British soldiers were horrified.
“I say, mate, aren’t you afraid you’ll snap that blade, using it as a pry bar?” one of them asked.
“Well, if it breaks, it ain’t worth a shit, now is it?” Jason replied.
The thick blade of Jason’s M9 didn’t break, but neither did the manufacturer’s emblem give up the ghost. I eventually just unscrewed the nut holding it on from the other side, and kept it as a memento of that Arabian night.
In March of ’91, when we left Saudi after Desert Storm, I gave the Glock knife to Faris, a Saudi Warrant Officer who served as our unit’s liaison to the Saudi Amin (security) forces.
I kept the M7 and the M9, and have them to this day. As a reward for our wartime service, our leadership ripped up the Forms 1297 (hand receipts) for the M9s before our very eyes, and nobody seemed to care much about the obsolete M7s. I never even cleaned off the paint transferred from the red and white checkered guard shack to the parkerized blade of that Imperial M7. It wears the paint as a badge of honor.
USMC OKC 3S bayonet
Clint Smith described the latest USMC bayonet, the Ontario Knife Company 3S, as “basically a Ka-Bar.” It represents a welcome improvement in evolution of the bayonet. The big blade is thick and stout.
If the blade were any bigger, it would practically be a Bowie-shaped Roman gladius hispaniensis.
My OKC 3S is balanced right at the guard. It has a thin, rubberized handle. The serrations on the aft third of the blade are very effective, and appear to be Spiderco inspired.
The 3S was developed during the opening years of the GWOT, because the Marines took their edged weapons seriously–all the more so during wartime.
The USMC still teaches the bayonet in boot camp.
And yet . . . there are even Marines who feel the bayonet is obsolete.
In an article called “Is the age of the Bayonet over? An example through the Marines of 1/1” (posted on 08 Sep 2016), a blogger named Miles (firstname.lastname@example.org) stated that when his unit deployed, they drew their rifles and bayonets at the armory. Each squad leader collected up all the bayonets in a locked duffle bag, and they stayed in the bags till they were turned in, stateside, after the deployment.
Apparently, their leaders felt they couldn’t be trusted with sharp objects, lest somebody lose a toe playing mumblety peg, or loose a bayonet (which would, inevitably, result in everybody in the unit having to search for it till it was found).
There may be just a hint of sour grapes in his conclusion, but Miles had some very valid points. In the age of standing around waiting to be blown up by suicide bombers, maintaining distance from the enemy is the goal, and training time is better spent practicing how to do a 9-line MedEvac report. Or, as Bing West said in No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah,
“You can do almost anything with a bayonet–except sit on it.”
West, a Vietnam Marine and former Assistant Secretary of Defense, used the word “bayonet” to refer, figuratively, to the Marines, an assault force trained and equipped to tear down regimes. “Sitting on it” meant occupational, hearts and minds, nation building duties (West also noted, on page 18, that 68% of our fatalities in Iraq were due to IEDs). West was paraphrasing a French prince named Talleyrand, who had worked for Napoleon, and allegedly said that sitting on bayonets was uncomfortable. Incidentally, Napoleon himself was injured by a bayonet.
One problem with using bayonets AS bayonets, i.e., on the end of a rifle, is that mounting them requires malice of forethought. They mess with a barrel’s harmonics and make the rifle less accurate at distance. They make it longer and therefore more cumbersome in tight quarters. And yet they are only useful in tight quarters (unless they are used in a charge, as a psychological way to seize the initiative and force the enemy to break contact).
Accordingly, if a soldier is clearing a building or narrow alley, s/he will probably NOT have a bayonet on the rifle. When they are bushwhacked in that room or alley, they won’t have time to mount it. If an edged weapon is used at all, it is likely to go from the sheath to being sheathed, hilt-deep, in the enemy combatant, without spending any time on the rifle.
But that won’t happen if their leadership, like 1/1’s, doesn’t even trust them with sharp objects. In that case, rocks, helmets, maybe an entrenching tool will be used.
Or a pistol.
Dual Arming: Replacing the Bayonet with a Pistol
In 2001, when I ran the arms room for Alpha Battery, 1/180 Field Artillery, AZ Army National Guard, we had over a hundred rifles, and several M60s, M203s, and M2s.
We had one pistol: the commander’s Beretta M9.
For most of the previous century, the Army (and Marines) considered pistols officers’ scepters of office, or specialty weapons (for, say, a machine gunner to defend the emplacement if it is flanked and overrun).
In the first two decades of this century, however, the concept of “dual arming” has gained traction. More and more units are arming front line grunts and jarheads with pistols as well as rifles or MGs.
When I deployed in 1990, the Air Force let me carry a rifle and a sharp pointy thing every day. I drew a pistol when I worked certain posts.
When I deployed in 2008, the Air Force let me carry a rifle, a pistol, and a sharp pointy thing. Every day.
Yet, almost NO military training teaches our troops how to fire a pistol from the clinch, or how to retain it when it’s out of the holster. Hopefully, that will change. But that’s not even the main problem.
The hardware, whether its a rifle, a pistol, a bayonet, or all three, is just an accessory to the software. Our programming is what’s lacking.
The Air Force issued me close-quarters weapons, but every year, during computer based Anti-Terrorism (AT) training, I was specifically taught NOT to wrestle over a pistol that was stuck in my face, and rather instructed to surrender to the Tango because of his “superior firepower” (direct quote from the AT training system, telling me why I got it wrong–again–by answering I would wrestle him over the gun; the test was multiple choice, and “I would off-line it, control it, poke him in the eyes, execute a standard Krav Maga disarm, and insert it in the Tango’s rectum” was not one of the available answers).
On 27 Apr 2011, a green-on-blue occurred in the Air Command and Control Center (ACCC) at Kabul International Airport. One of the Afghan pilots we’d trained, and issued a pistol to, walked into the ACCC and gunned down 7 “armed” USAF personnel, plus an unarmed Army contractor, at close or contact range.
Most of those in the other rooms (outside the ACCC) who heard the shooting feared a suicide bomber and fled the building.
Only two who were in an adjacent room pulled their Berettas, chambered a round, and went to the aid of their brothers and sister in the ACCC. Captains Bradley and Nylander made contact with the turncoat in the hall, and engaged him with pistol fire. They mortally wounded him, but one of them (Capt Nathan Nylander) was killed in the process.
Why didn’t ALL of the armed personnel who were in the building go to the aid of their ambushed comrades, or at least bunker down and wait to ambush the bad guy when he came into their workspace?
Mainly because they assumed the attacker had explosives. But also because they thought of it as their workspace, not their battle space.
It’s not a matter of courage. If they were wanting of courage, they wouldn’t have volunteered to be liaisons to the Afghan Air Force outside secured US compounds.
It’s that we programmed them NOT to engage the enemy with our bullshit training.
The bad guy started with one pistol. Six of the Air Force personnel in the ACCC had pistols. So did just about everybody else in the building. “Superior firepower” my ass. Inferior Warrior Souls.
I’m not speaking ill of any of the dead. All USAF personnel in the building were forced by stupid policy to carry their pistols half-loaded, in Condition 3 (nothing in the chamber). The one good guy in the ACCC with a rifle had recently arrived in country, and had yet to be issued ammo for it–but he carried the rifle, just the same. The KIAs were surprised, by a person they knew and perhaps even trusted. It’s also possible there was collusion by the other Afghans in the ACCC; there was certainly passive inaction on their part (none of the Afghans in the room were killed).
I am calling out:
- Everyone in the chain of command who made or tolerated the stupid policy of carrying a partially loaded (or completely unloaded) pistol in a war zone, in direct contravention of their troops’ training (they were taught draw and fire with a round in the chamber); and
- the people who created, approved, and implemented their white flag waving AT training. We need to be instilling the will to combat, not programming them to surrender to Islamist Extremists who will not show them the tender mercies that Col Klink and Sgt Schultz gave to Hogan and his Heroes in a fictional television show. Although the third investigation into the incident found “no lack of warrior ethos,” and that investigator was privy to more of the facts than I was, I cannot agree, based upon my contemporary experience as an AF trainer and the end results. Even if they were all Audie Murphys, we stacked the training and equipment odds against them.
Bayonet Assault Courses are one way (of several) to develop that Warrior Ethos.
The Army Throws in the Towel on Bayonets
The Bayonet Assault Course was dropped from Army basic training in about 2010.
Bayonet training is relatively inexpensive (compared to, say, live-fire marksmanship training) but the powers that be deemed there were too many other competing demands for the basic recruits’ time. Gotta squeeze in all that important sensitivity training somewhere. Besides, they argued, hardly anybody ever actually uses a bayonet as a bayonet.
That line of thinking entirely misses the point.
As far as I know, bayonet training has not made a comeback in the US Army.
So . . .
You’ve stayed with me so far, reading the exploits of warriors with bayonets, a little about US bayonet development over the last hundred years or so, and some of my personal experiences with (and opinions about) bayonets. The only remaining question is,
Should you, as a Rifle Armed Citizen, have a bayonet for your rifle?
My theory is yes, for two reasons.
First off, if your rifle also doubles as a work of art (some of mine are wall hangers), a mounted bayonet would certainly add to the aesthetic value of the display. At least, I think so. There’s no accounting for taste, but if you appreciate weapons as art (the history of weapons is, after all, the history of homo sapiens), you’ll probably agree.
But on a more practical note, a bayonet might be useful, and by that I mean even if it is attached to your rifle.
If you must unlimber your rifle or carbine to stop a madman 120 yards away from dropping boulders onto passing cars from a freeway overpass, the bayonet won’t do you much good. It might even affect your accuracy.
If, on the other hand, you are using your rifle to repel boarders from your homestead, as the Korean store owners did during the Los Angeles insurrection of April – May 1992, a bayonet might serve as a visible deterrent to the bad guys closing the distance between you.
A bayonet says “Whoever tries to take this rifle away from me first is going to get a good long look at his intestines.”
Optics aside (we all know what happened to that couple in St Louis, who could have accomplished their mission much more intelligently), your rifle, with its bayonet, might give a rampaging mob some pause.
There are laws in some states against bayonet LUGS on rifles. These laws ostensibly prevent gang-bangers from participating in what one ATF deputy director said would be “the world’s first drive-by bayoneting.”
Likewise, states have various (equally arbitrary, capricious, and ineffective in preventing crime) laws against different sizes and shapes of fixed bladed knives, in various contexts. A bayonet may or may not fall under those multifarious definitions.
Mounting a bayonet to your rifle, and holding the rifle in your hands, may count as “brandishing a knife” in specific jurisdictions and circumstances. If there is a demonstrably hostile mob, or other apparently lethal threat, and you are morally and legally justified in brandishing a firearm at or near them, you are likely justified in brandishing a bayonet-mounted firearm as well. The presence of absence of a bayonet probably will not affect that calculus.
Mounting a bayonet to your rifle might not even be an option. Most of the modern, full-length, free-floating AR handguards block access to the bayonet lug (if your AR even has one).
But an edged weapon of some kind is not only practical for day to day cutting tasks; it never runs out of ammo in a fight.
–George H, lead instructor, Heloderm LLC
*Khukuri (Nepali: खुकुरी) is also anglicized kukri, although the khukuri spelling is closer to the way the Gurkhas pronounce the name of their trademark weapon.
Appendix I: Who stabbed Marine Dragoon Galarza?
In about 2014, The Guardian told the tragic tale of Falklands War vet Gordon Hoggan, who had been assigned to the 2nd Battallion of the Scotts Guards.
Like many (BUT FAR FROM ALL) combat vets, Hoggan had some issues. He was haunted by his memories of the war, and had, for a period of time, been homeless.
One of his worst experiences, he said, had been stabbing an Argentine soldier in the neck with his bayonet.
The way Hoggan remembered it, he had approached the mouth of a cave on Mount Tumbledown and encountered two Argies within. He tried to shoot them but at that moment his SLR (British FAL rifle) quit. Reporters always say “it jammed,” but it may have simply run out of ammo without Hoggan noticing. According to multiple Iraq tour (and Ranger) Max M, “It’s impossible to count over 5 in a firefight,” and in the dark, Hoggan might not have noticed. Hoggan said he switched to plan B and gave the Argentine Marine the Cold Steel. I don’t remember the Guardian mentioning the fate of the second soldier in the cave.
Hoggan took the helmet of the soldier he’d bayonetted as a memento of the experience (kinda morbid, but a lot cooler than the manufacturer’s plate off a Leyland AmBus). Decades later, he wished to bring some closure for both himself and the loved ones of the Argentine Dragoon he’d killed, by returning the helmet to the Marine’s family.
A touching human interest story, and it fit with the nearly universal media narrative that war breaks the souls of all participants, making them all, at best, future drug addicted homeless vets, and at worst, ticking time bombs who can go batshit crazy at any lone wolf moment.
Journalists from the Argentine paper Clarin tracked down the family of the dead Dragoon, whose story was real enough. His name was Jose Luis Galarza, and he was assigned to the Argentine 5th Marine Infantry Battallion on Mt Tumbledown. He had been killed in the mouth of a cave he’d been using for cover with another Marine.
Galarza’s story was even tied to that of an Argentine national hero, Petty Officer Julio Saturnio Castillo, who left his own cover to defend his two troops in the cave, and shouted some harsh words to the English before he, too, was gunned down.
After Hoggan’s story was made public, though, several soldiers who’d been on Mt Tumbledown said it couldn’t be true. For one thing, Hoggan’s unit had not been ordered to fix bayonets before the final push to take the summit. There’s nothing to prevent a soldier deciding to mount a bayonet on his own rifle in the dark, but in any event, they said, Hoggan’s unit hadn’t been near where Galarza and Castillo fell.
Actually using bayonets is so very unusual, every single known incidence is likely to have been documented in AARs.
I don’t even know for sure whether Galarza died of a thrust series to the throat or the less notable but far more common bullet. There were plenty of dead on both sides and the Brits, who were once again in possession of the islands when the smoke cleared, may have had “neither the time nor the inclination” to conduct through autopsies on every fallen soldier, sailor and airman–even their own.
One thing is clear: Galarza is just as dead either way, and somebody killed him.
Appendix II: A few more EWs
On my last all expense paid Middle Eastern vacation, in 2008, I don’t remember even being issued a bayonet. My Security Forces squadron issued us Tanto-tipped folders instead.
That sturdy little liner-lock had OD green Micarta or G-10 panels. Although it bore the Ka-Bar K-2 logo, it was made in China, and probably picked up by my squadron on a local purchase. I carried it clipped to my PT shorts the 11 or so hours a day I was off duty.
When I was on duty, for most of my 2008 tour, I carried “Lakshmi Bai,” a custom-made Dawson GP4. It was an earlier prototype, when they still had the sub-hilt.
I mounted it horizontally over the chest plate of my Level 4 vest, with the grip on the right side (but accessible to both hands, as a backup weapon should be). It had a telephone chord (look that up, kids) type lanyard. I wasn’t really concerned about losing the knife, but I used the lanyard to hold my Kevlar groin protector up when I needed to take a leak. The groin protector, in turn, wasn’t so much for ballistic threats as to keep me from wracking myself in the junk with my M4 as it hung from a single-point attached to my vest.
Not a huge fan of single point rifle slings, but I used one exclusively in Kuwait, and often used one with my issued AUG-P and M4 when serving warrants as a special agent. In both uniforms, I was a tac-medic, carrying an EMT jump kit in a ruck sack. The single point kept me from having any tangles when it was time to unlimber the medic pack.
The convenience store at Ali al Salim sold small throw rugs. I lashed a couple rugs around one post of my bunk, creating a field expedient pell. Whenever I got back to my room after a shift, before I doffed my armor, I stood with my back to that bedpost and practiced about 5 left-handed presentations (to an ice-pick grip), stabbing that pell as if into the groin of someone who attacked me from behind, while I pressed an inert replica M9 into my holster as if to retain it (I turned in my real M9 at the armory when I got off duty). I moved up to an upward armpit strike, and then a downward subclavian stab, as I pivoted left and drew the “blue gun” M9 to a retention position, with my left hand, still holding the Dawson knife, up to protect my neck.
I also faced the bedpost and practiced strong sided presentations, working the pell with various slashes and thrusts. The Dawson had very aggressive thumb bracing in the hilt. That’s a good thing if you stick the knife into something that stops its forward motion, when your hand’s momentum makes it tend to keep going.
However, the hilt kept jamming my thumb. Over the months, the more I practiced with it, the less enthusiastic my forward thrusts became.
You’re either all-in, or you’re not.
Cold Steel SRK
I wound up giving that beautiful, functional Dawson away and replaced it with a far more generic, rubber handled Cold Steel SRK. Plenty sharp enough, it never held quite the edge, or felt as handy, as that that Dawson did, nor was it nearly as elegant. But I wasn’t afraid to stick it into the pell full-speed.
The world’s best tools won’t help anybody who doesn’t train to master them.