Tag Archive | bayonet

The bayonet, in reflection

[Unidentified soldier in Union sack coat and forage cap with bayonet scabbard and bayoneted musket] LOC 2010650281

From Capt. Henry Thweatt Owen, Company C (Nottoway Rifle Guards), 18th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Battle of Gettysburg, as related in Rifle Shots and Bugle Notes, Grand Army Gazette, 1883:

“We were now four hundred yards from the foot of Cemetery Hill, when away off to the right, nearly half a mile, there appeared in the open field a line of men at right angles with our own, a long, dark mass, dressed in blue, and coming down at a “double-quick” upon the unprotected right flank of Pickett’s men, with their muskets “upon the right shoulder shift,” their battle flags dancing and fluttering in the breeze created by their own rapid motion, and their burnished bayonets glistening above their heads like forest twigs covered with sheets of sparkling ice when shaken by a blast…”

Owen went on to take command of the decimated 18th Virginia after Gettysburg as the seniormost officer still able to walk. When the 1,300-billet unit surrendered 5 April 1865 at Sailor’s Creek, only 2 officers and 32 men remained. Owen died in 1929 and his papers are preserved at the Library of Virginia.

Of cold steel and brass buttplates

The Enfield P53 bayonet, standard at the time of the Crimean War, and the Enfield L85 (SA80) bayonet, still standard issue today. While the blade has changed the basic concept endures (Photo: Chris Eger)

The Enfield P53 bayonet, standard at the time of the Crimean War, and the Enfield L85 (SA80) bayonet, still standard issue today. While the blade has changed the basic concept endures over the past few centuries (Photo: Chris Eger)

FM 23-25, War Department Basic Field Manual, Bayonet, WAR DEPARTMENT WASHINGTON 25, D. C, 7 September 1943:

1. THE SPIRIT OF THE BAYONET
The will to meet and destroy the enemy in hand-to-hand combat is the spirit of the bayonet. It springs from the fighter’s confidence, courage, and grim determination, and is the result of vigorous training. Through training, the fighting instinct of the individual soldier is developed to the highest point. The will to use the bayonet first appears in the trainee when he begins to handle it with facility, and increases as his confidence grows. The full development of his physical prowess and complete confidence in his weapon culminates in the final expression of the spirit of the bayonet—fierce and relentless destruction of the enemy. For the enemy, demoralizing fear of the bayonet is added to the destructive power of every bomb, shell, bullet, and grenade which supports and precedes the bayonet attack.

2. USES OF THE BAYONET

•    a. A determined enemy may not be driven from his position by fire alone. Making full use of cover and concealment, he will often remain in his position until driven out in hand-to-hand combat. The bayonet or the threat of it, therefore, is the ultimate factor in every assault.
•    b. At night, on infiltration missions, or whenever secrecy must be preserved, the bayonet is the weapon of silence and surprise.
•    c. In close combat, when friend and foe are too closely intermingled to permit the use of bullets or grenades, the bayonet is the primary weapon of the infantry soldier.
3. PRINCIPLES OF BAYONET FIGHTING

•    a. The bayonet is an offensive weapon. With it, aggressiveness wins. Hesitation, preliminary maneuvering, and fencing are fatal. The delay of a fraction of a second may mean death.
•    b. The bayonet fighter attacks in a fast, relentless assault until his opponent is destroyed. He takes instant advantage of any opening; if the enemy gives no opening, the attacker makes one by parrying his opponent’s weapon and driving blade or butt into him with killing force.
•    c. As the throat area is especially sensitive to attack by the bayonet, an opponent will act instinctively to protect this area from a thrust. By threatening his opponent’s throat with the point of the bayonet, the attacker will frequently cause him to uncover other vulnerable parts of the body. Other sensitive parts frequently exposed to the attacker’s thrust are the face, chest, abdomen, and groin.

4. DEVELOPING BAYONET FIGHTER From the outset bayonet training will be conducted with constant emphasis on developing proper form, quickness with the rifle and bayonet, footwork, and accuracy. Continued striving for these four essential qualities will develop the coordination, balance, speed, strength, and endurance that mark the expert bayonet fighter. Differences in conformation of individuals may require minor deviations from the prescribed bayonet technique. Those deviations which do not detract from the effectiveness of the individual’s attack will be disregarded.

A young Marine goes into battle with his bayonet and M14. Vietnam, 1965. Photograph by Eddie Adams

With the above in mind, check out the brutal dissection of how the rifle butt is traditionally used as explained by Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria:

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