- Batty - Bladerunner.
That night, while a man lays open eyed, throat torn, a stray poppy blooming blood red in churned cabbage fields, you write a letter home. A letter written by candles light to your wife, asking her to hold the baby you have yet to see, asking about the farm and telling her things are fine, words in a letter she may never get, or may take four months to arrive. You write after you wipe the blood from your blade.
Warfare of old. Warfare with a bayonet - a thing of historical significance, formed into an instrument of killing. A last resort weapon, for close quarter battle. A weapon as old as firearm warfare.
The term bayonet came from the French baïonnette - a knife, dagger, sword or spike shaped weapon that fits over the muzzle of a rifle barrel. Typically they are "custom" in that they are made to fit a specific firearm, not much different than the accessories we buy for our modern weapons.
The origins of the bayonet are, like most battlefields, a bit smokey. The Chinese were believed to have first used them in the 13th century, when the developer of the musket found they were ineffective in killing at close range. They then introduced two types of firearm, one with an attached knife and the other a spear. Owning more than one Mauser and being drawn like a fly to them, I have more than one bayonet in the household now, as I do Mausers, always looking for new ones when I'm out and about like these up in Minneapolis.
It is also rumored that during the mid-17th century irregular military conflicts in rural France, the Basque peasants of Bayonne, depleted of powder and shot, shoved their long-bladed hunting knives into the muzzles of their primitive muskets to form a spear and whether by luck or design, created an ancillary weapon. In any case, the first mentioned use of the bayonet as an instrument of war that I could find was in the memoirs of General Maréchal de Puységure, the weapon being introduced into the French Army in 1647 and becoming common in most European armies by the 1660s.
You see the problem here. You plug it, you can't fire it. During the act of fitting the soldier was virtually unarmed. It's like having your 1911 in the bottom of your briefcase when the robber/murderer says howdy. Not a good place to be. Even more annoying, you plug it in too tightly, you won't be able to get it out short of damaging the weapon (anyone got any WD40??. . and. . uh. . duct tape)? Yet, in 1671, plug bayonets were happily issued to the French regiment of fusiliers and later to part of an English dragoon regiment that disbanded in 1674, and to the Royal Fusiliers in 1685.
The outcome of the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 was due, in some part, to the use of the plug bayonet; as a sudden rush of Scottish Highlanders overwhelmed them as they were fixing bayonets. Shortly afterwards, the defeated leader, Hugh Mackay, is said to have introduced a ring-bayonet of his own design. These "socket" bayonets offset the blade from the musket barrel's muzzle with a bayonet that attached over the outside of the barrel with a ring-shaped socket, secured on later models by a spring-loaded catch on the muzzle of the musket barrel. With the socket bayonet the blade would lay below the axis of the barrel, leaving sufficient clearance to permit the weapon to be loaded and fired while the bayonet was fixed.
Many of the socket bayonets were triangular in cross-section. It was said in some history books that this was designed so they'd wield wounds "that were difficult to stitch when attended to by a medic, as it is more difficult to stitch a three-sided wound than a two-sided one thus making the wound more likely to become infected". This is more of an urban legend than reality, for surgeons have sewn up jagged wounds using more stitches when needed, since field surgery began. Instead, three sided bayonets were designed to provide flexing strength in the blade without much increase in weight in case a bayonet struck a hard object. For in that event it's better to have it bend and be repairable then to have it be so stiff it shatters on impact.
Shortly after the Peace of Ryswick in 1697 the English and Germans both abolished the pike and introduced these bayonets, but owing to a military cabal they were not issued to the French infantry until 1703. Thereafter, the bayonet became, with the musket or other firearm, the typical weapon of infantry.
The long type of bayonets for early rifles were designed with the same intent as the medieval pike, the rifle and bayonet becoming a long pole with a lethal spear on the business end. As warfare evolved, so did the bayonet. Mass collisions of troops were less frequent, and the blades became shorter, becoming secondary to fighting knifes. The idea of using a short sword as a bayonet was tried on occasion, but the first regular users of the sword-type blade appear to have been the British rifle regiments in the early 1800s. But, with the onset of breech-loading, and then magazine arms providing infantry with a firepower capable of beating off cavalry, the bayonet evolved even further, from a primarily defensive weapon to one of offense.
For this, a knife-like blade was of more use than a spike blade, and so from the middle of the 19th century, the use of knife or sword blade increased, though a few armies still hung on to spike blades.
All nations boast of their prowess with the bayonet, but few men really enjoy a hand-to-hand fight with the bayonet. English and French both talk much of the bayonet but in Egypt in 1801 they threw stones at each other when their ammunition was exhausted and one English sergeant was killed by a stone.
At Inkerman again the British threw stones at the Russians, not without effect; and I am told upon good authority that the Russians and Japanese, both of whom profess to love the bayonet, threw stones at each other rather than close, even in this twentieth-century."
-J.W.Fortescue, Military History
18th and 19th century military tactics included various massed bayonet charges and defenses. The Russian Army used the bayonet the most frequently in any Napoleonic conflict. Their motto was "The Bullet is foolish, the Bayonet wise." Given that the bullet of the smoothbore musket of the time had Dick Cheney-like accuracy, almost unpredictable beyond 50 yards, they believed that in a bayonet fight you were less likely to miss, though in actuality, many soldiers reverted to using bayonet-mounted rifles as clubs, primitive fighting at its best.
The experimentation of bayonets continued through much of the 18th and 19th centuries. Prior to the Civil War, the U.S. Navy tried their hand at affixing bayonet blades to single-shot pistols, which soon proved useless for anything but making dinner. Cutlasses remained the preferred flat edged weapon for the navies of the time, though Queen Victoria's Royal Navy gave up the pikes once used to repel attacks by my ancestors in favor of the cutlass bayonet.
The 19th century gave us the sword bayonet, a long-bladed weapon with a single- or double-edged blade that could also double as a shortsword. Its initial purpose was to make sure that the riflemen, while holding ranks with musketmen (whose weapons were longer), could form square properly to stave off cavalry attacks, when sword bayonets were fitted. Though the sword bayonet on the Infantry Rifle needed to be removed before firing, as the weight at the end of the barrel affected balance and stability (and you all know what that does to accuracy, it was a decent combat side arm when dismounted. When attached to the musket or rifle, it would turn almost any long arm into an effective spear, useful for not just thrusting but for slashing.
The inherent problems of fixing bayonets in the middle of a heated battle led some armies to adopt permanently-attached bayonets. These folded above or below the barrel of the weapon and could be released and locked into place very quickly when required. A singularity of the Imperial Russian Army, which carried over into the Soviet Army, was the permanently fixed bayonet; no scabbards were issued, and the bayonet remained on the rifle muzzle at all times. The Soviet blades, now made of steel, were stiffened with a small cross-section in the form of a cross, in order to make them more compact in form and fold better onto the sides of their rifles, such as the 1944 Mosin Nagant. It was said that self-inflicted wounds made by soldiers to get themselves out of the line of battle would be recognized as such and bring them greater disciplinary punishment.
In All Quiet on the Western Front, author Eric Maria Remarque stated that in WWI, French Soldiers killed German prisoners who had serrated blade bayonets, as they assumed they were for cutting off the limbs of Allied soldiers. Whether this was true or not, World War I did see the bayonet being shortened even further into knifed weapons useful for some very bloody hand to hand fighting or as trench knives, so the majority of modern bayonets you will find are knife bayonets.
In any case, it was not a weapon you hoped ever to have to use. Despite the support of military leaders, the practical use of the bayonet was somewhat rare. At Inkerman during the Crimean War in 1854, only 6% of casualties were attributed to the bayonet. In World War I, the ‘Spirit of the Bayonet’ was a mantra of combat instructors, but not popular in its actuality. Of the 13,691 men of the American Expeditionary Force killed in the war, only 5 died from bayonet wounds. Still for military strategists, the morale that interfaced with the fixing of bayonets was generally considered to outweigh their drawbacks, which included restriction of movement and lack of real utility. Modern bayonets are normally knife-shaped with either a socket or a handle, or are permanently attached to the rifle as with the"SKS". Depending on where and when a specific SKS was manufactured, it may have a permanently attached bayonet with a knife-shaped blade (early Chinese, Russian, Yogoslavian or Romanian)or a cruciform (late Chinese) or triangular (Albanian) spike type, or no bayonet at all.
The development of repeating firearms greatly reduced the combat value of the bayonet though they were still retained through World Wars I and II.
With the adoption of modern short assault rifles, the utility of the old style bayonet as a weapon was doubtful, the combination being simply not suited to fighting, yet modern versions of bayonets are still in use. The British Army performed bayonet charges during the Falklands War and the second Gulf War. United States Marine trainees at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego still get their first instruction in using the bayonet as a lethal weapon on their 10th day.
In a modern concept of warfare, bayonets are used for controlling prisoners or as a "last resort" weapon for close quarters combat, such as when a soldier is out of ammo or has a weapon jam. However they are not normally fitted to most weapons, as the bayonet impairs long range accuracy even more so in modern weapons.
Bayonets, whether you consider them a hindrance or a lethal fighting tool, many of them are rapidly becoming collectors items. I've just a few, as the bayonets for some of these weapons cost more than the weapon itself. But I still like to hold on to them.
Pieces of history that point to freedoms still threatened.