A bayonet (from French baïonnette) is a bladed weapon such as a knife or short sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, increasing the weapon, as a spear. In this regard, it is an ancillary close-quarter combat or last-resort weapon. Some modern bayonets, such as the one used on the British SA80 assault rifle, can be used as wire cutters when combined with their scabbards. Knife-shaped bayonets — when not fixed to a gun barrel — have long been utilised by soldiers in the field as general purpose cutting implements.
The experience of the First World War prompted a complete reversal in opinion on the relative value of long rifles and bayonets in typical infantry combat operations. Whether in the close confines of trench warfare, night time raiding and patrolling, or attacking across open ground, soldiers of both sides soon recognised the inherent limitations of a long and ungainly rifle and bayonet when used as a close-quarters battle weapon. Once Allied soldiers had been trained to expect the throw point or extended thrust-and-lunge attack, the method lost most of its tactical value on the World War I battlefield. It required a strong arm and wrist, was very slow to recover if the initial thrust missed its mark, and was easily parried by a soldier who was trained to expect it, thus exposing the German soldier to a return thrust which he could not easily block or parry. Instead of longer bayonets, infantry forces on both sides began experimenting with other weapons as auxiliary close-quarter arms, including the trench knife, pistol, hand grenade, and entrenching tool.
Soldiers soon began employing the bayonet as a knife as well as an attachment for the rifle, and bayonets were often shortened officially or unofficially to make them more versatile and easier to use as tools, or to maneuver in close quarters. During the Second World War, bayonets were further shortened into knife-sized weapons in order to give them additional utility as fighting or utility knives. The vast majority of modern bayonets introduced since the Second World War are of the knife type.
References / notes
- Bayonet. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Accessed 19 April, 2017.
Glossary of terms and customs
This page forms part of our glossary of words and phrases of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain during the Great War, which also includes: technicalities, trench slang, expressions in everyday use, nicknames, sobriquets, the titles and origins of British and Commonwealth Regiments, and warfare in general. Please feel free to help expand and improve this content.
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