Friday, October 1, 2010

Bayonets History

"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 proffes to love the bayonet, threw stones at each other rather than close, even in this twentieth-century."

Antique Spanish hunt Plug Bayonet from 1700

The bayonet stems directly from the various forms of polearm, it was obviously inappropriate to have a firearm-bearing soldier encumbered by a pike, yet there was need for a polearm to stand off cavalry and for hand-to-hand encounters when ammunition was gone or when there was no time to reload.

The original "bayonnette" - the name came from the town of its supposed origin, Bayonne in France - was introduced into the French Army in 1647.

It was a plug bayonet, a spear-like blade to which was attached a long conical steel plug inserted directly into the muzzle of the soldier`s musket, a collar lodging against the barrel to prevent it sliding too far in. This had certain defects; the musket could not be fired once the bayonet was fitted, and during the act of fitting the soldier was virtually unarmed. Misfortune overtook an English army at Killiecrankie in 1689, when a sudden rush of Scottish Highlanders overwhelmed them as they were fixing bayonets.

As a result of these defects, the socket bayonet was developed; this had the blade cranked and attached to a hollow sleeve which slipped over the muzzle of the musket. The blade lay below the axis of the barrel and left sufficient clearance to permit the weapon to be loaded and fired while the bayonet was fixed.

Although generally considered as the infantryman`s assault weapon, the bayonet was originally a defensive instrument. Steady infantry standing two or three deep and adopting a "square" formation could defend their position against a sudden rush of cavalry; the combined length of the musket and bayonet was sufficient to permit a standing soldier to reach a man mounted upon a horse.

The 28th of Foot form a square at Waterloo to resist a French cavalry

The idea of using a short sword as a bayonet was tried from time to time but the first regular users of the sword-type blade appear to have been the British rifle regiments in the early 1800s. However, the advent of breech-loading, and then magazine arms provided infantry with a firepower capable of beating off cavalry, at which time the bayonet turned from being primarily defensive to being a personal offensive weapon. For this a knife-like blade was of more use than a spike blade, and so from the middle of the 19th century the knife or sword blade became common, though a few armies still retained spike blades.

The difficulties of fixing bayonets in the heat of the battle led some armies to adopt permanently-attached bayonets which 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.

With the adoption of modern short assault rifles the utility of the bayonet as a weapon was placed in doubt; the combination is not well suited to bayonet fighting.

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