-Chesty Puller, upon seeing a flamethrower for the first time.
In an effort to get myself to use this more, I’m adding a new feature: The weapon of the week. Every week I’m going to take a weapon and throw around some history, trivia, and whatever else comes to mind. Some may be meticulously researched, some may be off the top of my head. Either way, I’ll try to make it entertaining.
And with last night’s U.S. presidential election debates fresh in mind, I’m going with the Bayonet as our first weapon of the week.
Bayonets are kinda weird in that they’re an edged weapon that came about as a direct result of firearms (as opposed to say, a rapier, where introducing gunpowder was one of a handful of reasons for it’s evolution). Even as the arquebus became the musket, early guns were still single-shot weapons with short ranges and long reload times. And where they really sucked was in the defense. Muskets were good for reaching out and touching someone (by the standards of the time, anyway), but once you’d fired off your shot and surviving opponents were headed your way, life would suck.
(Note to self: find out the plural of “arquebus.” Arquebii? Arquebuses?)
Suckage was somewhat alleviated by forming mixed-use companies of musketeers and pikemen. Musketeers would fire a volley and reload while pikemen kept the enemy’s charging and ensuing suckage to a minimum. It worked, kinda, but it was clumsy and felt like it. The solution was to merge the 2 weapons.
Why they’re called bayonets is unknown for sure. Best guess I’ve heard is that they started to first crop up in Bayonne (France, not New Jersey).
The first bayonets were jammed into the musket barrel and called “plug” bayonets. Useful if you could only get off one shot, but it also meant everyone could tell that you hadn’t reloaded and weren’t planning to anytime soon (and if you had reloaded, it probably sucked almost as much to stand near you as in front of you). Some Scots called Jacobites once took advantage of British soldiers armed with plug bayonets by shooting a volley and charging. By the time the British fixed bayonets, they had a couple hundred pissed-off Scots in their midst with swords and shields, making their displeasure energetically known.
The problem: how to get the bayonet the hell out of the way so reloading could happen. The most popular method was called a socket bayonet. This was a blade attached to a twist-lock cylinder that fit over the muzzle of the musket. The blade stuck out to the side or under the muzzle, keeping out of the way of the bullet (and hopefully the hands of the gunner trying to reload.
There were other designs that cropped up over the years, which ranged from the workable (the spring-loaded bayonet, which folded under the barrel. The Chinese used a variant of this design on the AK-47 well into the 1980′s) to the bizarre (a trowel-bayonet, ostensibly designed by someone who figured soldiers would spend more time digging than fighting. While not necessarily wrong, it may well have been a case of misapplied engineering).
By the time multi-shot rifles came around, a trend cropped up of merging the bayonet with a camp knife, turning a weapon into another kind of weapon as well as a tool, because hey, you have to carry everything, and multiuse tools are always handy. The Russians went one step further and rigged up a nut-and-socket system with one of their bayonets, turning the blade and scabbard into a set of wire cutters.
So, that’s my look at the bayonet beyond the political quip. It’s been useful since they showed up, and I think it’s going to be around as long as blades and projectile or even energy weapons exist.