Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

This is coolbert: For a period of over one hundred years now, the General Staffs of armies throughout the world have been faced with a decision that seems to be anachronistic.

This decision revolves around the bayonet and the bayonet lug affixed to rifles carried as the standard weapon by the common soldier. Having the bayonet lug on a rifle allows a bayonet to be attached to the rifle, the rifle then becoming the modern day version of the ancient spear.

[The bayonet charge is the event most persons think of when thinking of aggressive military action. A group of soldiers fixes bayonets on their rifles and charges pell mell across a battlefield, to engage the opposition in close quarters combat, the enemy either fleeing at the sight of "cold steel" or being cut down by expertly wielded thrusts of the "spear"].

Having the common soldier carry a large knife is something that almost everyone concedes is intuitively obvious. A knife can be used in a variety of ways. But, placing that knife on the end of the rifle and making a bayonet out of the same knife is also intuitively felt by modern observers to be antiquated [quaint??].

That is not to say that the bayonet did not in the past, just as the spear did, play an important role in warfare. That was during the era of muzzle loaded muskets that had a very slow rate of fire. A common tactic on the say the Napoleonic battlefield would be for two masses of troops to approach one another, fire volleys of musket fire at one another at a range of say fifty yards, and then advance in masse with fixed bayonets, each side engaging in close quarters bayonet fighting, one side hopefully prevailing over the other in the end. In some circumstances, it would be noted that resolute troops advancing with "cold steel" would put the opposition to flight [less resolute troops would be described as not having the stomach [guts] for the fight, "cold steel" causing a particular fear in the less resolute troops. Similar to "tank fright"].

This is how many battles of war were fought prior to the wide spread use of the rifled musket of the American Civil War and subsequently the bolt action and semi-automatic rifles of twentieth century warfare, culminating in the modern assault rifle.

Rifles of the last one hundred years possess a much longer range, accuracy, and rate of fire over weapons carried by the common soldier of the past. An exponentially greater amount of firepower has been accomplished on the modern battlefield just from rifle fire alone, not to mention the other weaponry that did not exist say during the Napoleonic Era. And with it the tactics have changed markedly. Battles and close quarter combat fought with bayonets are almost totally a thing of the past. It has been observed that in the wars of the last one hundred years, 80 % of all deaths are caused by either artillery or automatic weapons rifle. Bayonets, as with sidearms such as pistols, account for a very small number of deaths on the battlefield. A very small percentage of deaths indeed, probably less than 1 %, if that!! The use of edged weaponry as a killing weapon on the modern battlefield is nearly nil!!

And yet, when it comes to making the decision as to whether or not to incorporate the bayonet lug on the newest version of rifle to be carried by the common soldier, the answer is invariably YES.

This decision flies in the face of the evidence that use of the bayonet is so rare in modern warfare that in the instances where the bayonet is used, the stir caused by usage has resulted in the Medal of Honor being awarded to the practitioner:

"Col. Lewis L. Millet, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who led the last bayonet charge in U.S. military history in Korea"

"Capt. Millett ordered the 3d Platoon forward, placed himself at the head of the 2 platoons, and, with fixed bayonet, led the assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge Capt. Millett bayoneted 2 enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder."

Read about the whole incident by clicking here.

See a stylized picture of this incident by clicking here.

Read about an incident using edged weaponry in Iraq just in this year [2004] by clicking here.

Keep in mind, this was the last time the U.S. military used the bayonet is such a fashion. Usage of the bayonet has become almost a zero in the last century.

So why is the bayonet still incorporated as a weapon of war??

Well, you would always be able to say it allows the common soldier a weapon of last resort if necessary. Such situations of last resort have not appeared for a half century or more, however.

Bayonets and the associated training for same seem to serve a purpose that has some utility however.

Bayonet training is used as a form of individual and group disciplined training. Such as drill and ceremonies would be. Incorporates a form of physical training as well.

A set of bayonet drills, called series, is taught the soldier. Long, and short thrust series, and the horizontal and vertical butt stroke series [using the butt of the rifle as a bludgeon] is taught the common soldier. Drills of these moves are done over and over, to the accompaniment of much yelling. It is felt that these disciplined drills, combining mental and physical, help to instill "aggressiveness" in the troop. At some point, pugel training will be engaged in by the "trained" soldier. Troops wearing a helmet with face guard, groin protection, and hockey-like gloves, will wield a large club padded at either end. These clubs simulate the rifle with bayonet. Soldiers will pair off and try out the various bayonet moves they have been taught on one another. This stuff can get rough!!

As for these drill preparing the soldier for combat using the bayonet, well, the chances of ever having this happen are very nil. So nil, that you would reasonably ask yourself if this all does suit a purpose. Perhaps the time spent in bayonet drills could be better spent in other training more likely to happen. But then, the military all over the world has it's ways that it deems proper. And bayonet training is one of the ways.



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