As far as fascinating gear goes, bayonets gotta be near the top. Americans fought the British armed with rifles and bayonets. Ever since then, the United States military has fielded bayonets in some fashion or another. Bayonet charges were quite common when your rifle’s fire rate was two rounds per minute and cavalry on horseback could rout a troop.
These rifle-mounted blades in battle were quite common up to the end of Korea. Millet’s charge in Korea is one of the most famous. Marines wielding bayonets charged across an open field to take an airfield on Peleliu during World War 2. Heck, Vietnam saw some bayo use, but around that time, the bayonet had begun to see its decline. To do this day, various rifle-mounted knives remain issued to troops, and they’ve even been used a time or two during the Global War on Terror.
Keep in mind the Global War on Terror has lasted twenty years now. In those twenty years, we’ve seen two real bayo uses.
In 2004, the Brits dismounted vehicles in Iraq and charged towards the enemy in trenches. After four hours, they killed 30 insurgents and suffered no major casualties.
A lesser-known event had Marines mounting bayonets during Operation Phantom Fury. Phantom Fury saw Marines fighting in extremely close-quarters situations. A knife at the end of your rifle makes it tough to take. However, beyond those two events, bayonets are basically dead.
Why Bayonets Stick Around
Way back in the times of black powder rifles, a bayonet was essentially a long spear tip. It wasn’t used for anything but bayoneting an enemy. Modern bayonets, however, are more than a pointy spear tip. They’ve become multipurpose tools that can be used for lots of things beyond bayoneting the bad guys.
Today, Marines wield the OKC-3S bayonets that are essentially KA-BARs with bayonet rings and locks. The Army’s M9 works as a large knife as well. As knives, they can be multipurpose tools for cutting, chopping, and even digging. A good knife goes a long way, even if it’s just opening MREs and breaking down cardboard boxes.
In the realm of crowd control, a bayonet can be a force multiplier and useful tool; however, modern tactics and less-lethal weapons have largely eliminated the pointy stick from that role.
Heck, I carried an M9 pistol and M240 machine gun and still had one issued to me. I couldn’t attach it to either weapon, but I still carried it. Like almost all Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors, I never mounted a bayonet for anything beyond training purposes. If you removed 100% of them from my battalion, nothing would have changed.
In fact, I’m betting bayonets could be removed entirely, and the difference would be marginal. Warfare changes, and it seems to get faster and faster. As wars sped up, the bayonet became less and less usable. Even in the wars of old, bayonets were never used all that much. In World War 1, they accounted for 2% of combat casualties, and that was considered high.
What Purpose Do They Serve Now?
Why has the bayonet stuck around for so dang long? Well, way back in the good ole days, I sat in a recruiter’s office and saw a somewhat famous picture of a Marine mounting his bayo to his rifle during Phantom Fury.
It was a printed ‘meme’ that said something regarding the Army, Navy, and Airforce offering bonuses, travel, and post-military career opportunities. The stinger at the end was what the Marine Corps offered, and what the Marine Corps offered was that Marine attaching his bayonet.
Bayonets imply aggression and aggression in close quarter’s fighting is remarkably important. Aggression and anger allow you to overcome fear and panic. Attaching bayos and running the USMC’s bayonet course unlocks a degree of aggression many may have never tapped into prior to training.
Shooting something can often be surgical and emotionally removed. When you have D.I.’s screaming at you, and you have to sink a 7-inch blade into a tire, you have to tap into aggression and emotion.
Pointy Scary Things
Bayonets might still act as knives and be somewhat useful, but their biggest use comes from unlocking that aggression. They instill a warrior spirit and release something in people they may not have been aware they had. I’ll end it here with a quote from the U.S. Army’s FM 23-25.
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.