A bayonet is shaped like a sword, knife, dagger, or spike, with the knife-like bayonet being the most common in modern combat. Bayonets have rings or sockets to fit over the barrel of the rifle without preventing it from being fired. Bayonet most likely originated in 17th century France.
- 10 inches
- 20 ounces
- Wood and steel
As early firearms had very long reload times, many of them were equipped with some kind of weapon melee weapon so that the warrior could defend themselves if unable to reload. Fire Lances were literal lances that had a slow fuse to allow the musket barrel, which was parallel to the lance head, to fire; while also allowing the lance to be used for melee combat. The Hand Cannon had a spiked handle that could be used as a weapon, and most Hand Cannons were heavy enough to be improvised clubs. The Renaissance-Era Bardiche functioned as a rifle stand for muskets.
Since early muskets were relatively heavy, it was recommended to buttstroke the enemy (or use the musket's stock as an improvised club) if suddenly engaged in close combat. Some stocks were wedged specifically to deliver a more lethal blow.
The first musket bayonet was the Plug Bayonet: which is stuffed inside the barrel of the musket until it locks into place. Believed to have been invented in France during the early 1600s, and wide spread in the 1670s; it marked the end of Pike-and-Shot warfare and the introduction of Front Line Formations, as a bayonet was effectively a spear anyways. The Plug was more portable than a separate Pike since when not in use, the bayonet head was effectively a dagger. Pikes were still used in warfare, but primarily on boats, since boats were large enough to carry pikes without issue. Spears and light pikes were also still used by cavalry, as Bayonets were too short and heavy to be effectively used on horseback; especially since the handle of a musket was never designed to be used one-handed.
Plug Bayonets were replaced by the Ring Bayonet: which was attached parallel to the barrel instead of blocking it. This allowed the musketeer to be able to fire while still keeping his bayonet attached; although some armies would only deploy the attachment before engaging in or blocking a charge. The Ring Bayonet had a loose fit on the barrel however, so it could easily fall off. The Socket Bayonet was the successor of the Ring Bayonet; as it had a locking mechanism to maintain its hold onto the barrel.
Bayonets come in many types. The Pike Bayonet had the best reach, but was not designed for slashing. The Axe Bayonet was commonly used for pistols; making them improvised Boarding Axes. The Sword Bayonet had both long reach and slashing capabilities. The Knife Bayonet is the most common Bayonet used today; as it can be used in close-quarters effectively. The Sword and Knife Bayonet can also function like a regular sword or knife if detached.
Bayonets came into use because of the slow reloading time of muskets. Bayonet charges were more feared than volleys of musket fire, as the bayonet was more likely to cause death. As time went on and firearms became more advance the bayonet became less and less important. However it still remained important in training, and solider were still highly skilled in it use; a notable example are the British soldier during the Anglo-Zulu war, who used the bayonet so well that they could match even the highly experienced Zulu warriors.
However, with the rise of rapid-reloading firearms, bayonets became all but obsolete finally falling out of prominence during the First World War. Traditionalist officers would frequently order their soldiers to charge through no-mans-land; only for machine guns like the Vickers to kill the entire squad. Trench Warfare was also sometimes too cramp for Bayonets; leading to these soldiers relying on normal knives or improvised clubs for melee-combat. The Apache Revolver was a pistol that had a Pistol Bayonet and a grip that could also be used as brass knuckles. The Pritchard Bayonet was a knife bayonet used with the Webley Revolver: although its efficiency and use in the war is difficult to confirm due to being an uncommon attachment.
The Japanese Empire still used both Bayonets and Katanas in 'Banzai Charges'. The Sino-Japanese Wars frequently used these charges as the technologically backwards Chinese armies were also using similar tactics; still carrying the Dao into battle. In WWII: US soldiers were specifically trained to counter such charges, since they were so frequent. Katanas were also commonly used by the Japanese. Despite this desperate tactic; it rarely led to any Japanese success against US forces.
On July 7, 1944 during the Battle of Saipan; the Japanese forces realized they were losing the battle, and so in desperation led a 3000-4000 man Banzai Charge. The charge was surprising, but was a failure as the Americans successfully counter attacked: the majority of the Japanese were killed while 2000 Americans died on that day. Two days later, the Japanese officially surrendered. During the Battle of Iwo Jima; General Samaji Inouye opposed the idea of using Banzai Charges due to the clear evidence that they were mostly ineffective. Despite this; Captain Samaji Inouye led a 1000 man Banzai Charge on 8 March 1945 that resulted in 347 American casualties (90 deaths) and 784 Japanese deaths.
Nevertheless, bayonet training is still part of most military training, with the bayonet being seen as a weapon of last resort. Most modern bayonets are socketed knives. The Model 9 Bayonet (introduced in 1986) is the most recent model of bayonet used by the US Army with over 405,000 made. Some modern bayonets are all purpose tools (similar to an E-Tool) and can have tools attached to the sheath (including wire cutters).
- A bayoneted AK-47 appears on the flag of the nation Mozambique.
- In WWI; some bayonets were wire-cutters designed to cut through barbed wire.