American soldiers bayonet training in Texas during the Border War.

A bayonet (from French baïonnette) is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear. In this regard, it is an ancillary close-quarter combat or last-resort weapon.

However, knife-shaped bayonets—when not fixed to a gun barrel—have long been utilized by soldiers in the field as general purpose cutting implements.



Early-19th century socket bayonet
Socket of a bayonet
Bayonet assembly system of the Chassepot.

The origins of the bayonet are hazy, but appear to have begun in 17th century France.[1] The term 'Bayonette' dates back to the end of the 16th century; but it is not clear if the weapon at the time was the specialized instrument that it is today, or simply a type of knife. For example, Cotgrave's 1611 Dictionarie describes the Bayonet as 'a kind of small flat pocket dagger, furnished with knives; or a great knife to hang at the girdle'. Likewise, Pierre Borel wrote in 1655 that a kind of long-knife called a 'bayonette' was made in Bayonne but does not give any further description.[2]

There is a legend that during the mid-17th century irregular military conflicts of rural France, the peasants of the Southern French town of Bayonne, having run out of powder and shot, rammed their long-bladed hunting knives into the muzzles of their primitive muskets to fashion impromptu spears and, by necessity, created an ancillary weapon.[citation needed]

Another possibility is that the bayonet originated as a hunting weapon: early firearms were fairly inaccurate and took a long time to reload; thus a hunter of dangerous animals such as wild boar could easily have been exposed to danger if the hunter's bullet missed the animal.[3][4] The bayonet thus may have emerged to allow a hunter to fend off wild animals in the event of a missed shot. This idea was particularly persistent in Spain where hunting arms were usually equipped with bayonets from the 17th century until the advent of the cartridge era. The weapon was introduced into the French army by General Jean Martinet and was common in most European armies by the 1660s.[citation needed]

The benefit of such a dual-purpose arm contained in one was soon apparent. The early muskets fired at a slow rate (about 2 rounds per minute when loading with loose powder and ball, and no more than 3–4 rounds per minute using paper cartridges), and could be both inaccurate and unreliable depending on quality of manufacture. Bayonets provided a useful addition to the weapons system when an enemy charging to contact could cross the musket's killing ground (a range of approximately 100 yards/meters at the most optimistic) at the expense of perhaps only one or two volleys from their waiting opponents. A 12-18 inch (30–45 cm) bayonet on a 5-foot (around 1.5 metre) tall musket achieved a reach similar to the infantry spear, and later halberd, of earlier times. The bayonet/musket combination was, however, considerably heavier than a polearm of the same length.[citation needed]

Early bayonets were of the "plug" type.[1] The bayonet had a round handle that slid directly into the musket barrel. This naturally prevented the gun from being fired. In 1671, plug bayonets were issued to the French regiment of fusiliers then raised. They were issued to part of an English dragoon regiment raised in 1672 and disbanded in 1674, and to the Royal Fusiliers when raised in 1685. The danger incurred by the use of this bayonet (which put a stop to all fire) was felt so early that the younger Puységur[disambiguation needed ] invented a socket bayonet in 1678 that fitted over the muzzle using a circular band of metal, allowing the musket to be loaded and fired. However, it was not widely adopted at the time.

The defeat of forces loyal to William of Orange by Jacobite Highlanders at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 was due (among other things) to the use of the plug-bayonet[1]; and shortly afterwards the defeated leader, Hugh Mackay, is believed to have introduced a ring-bayonet of his own invention. Soon "socket" bayonets would incorporate both ring mounts and an offset blade, keeping the bayonet well away from the muzzle blast of the musket barrel.

An unsuccessful trial with socket or zigzag bayonets was made after the battle of Fleurus, 1690, in the presence of Louis XIV, who refused to adopt them, as they had a tendency to fall off the musket. Shortly after the Peace of Ryswick (1697), the English and Germans abolished the pike and introduced ring bayonets; and plates of them are given in Surirey de St. Remy's Mémoires d'Artillerie, published in Paris in that year; but owing to a military cabal they were not issued to the French infantry until 1703, using a spring-loaded locking system to prevent the bayonet from accidentally separating from the musket. Henceforward, the socket bayonet became, with the musket or other firearm, the typical weapon of French infantry.

The socket bayonet had by then been adopted by most European armies. The British socket bayonet had a triangular blade with a flat side towards the muzzle and two fluted sides outermost to a length of 15 inches (38cm). However it had no lock to keep it fast to the muzzle and was well-documented as falling off in the heat of battle.[1]

The 19th century finally saw the popularity of the sword bayonet. It was a long-bladed weapon with a single- or double-edged blade that could also be used as a shortsword. Its initial purpose was to ensure that riflemen, when in ranks with musketmen, whose weapons were longer, could form square properly to fend off cavalry attacks, when sword bayonets were fitted. A prime early example of a sword bayonet-fitted rifle would be the British Infantry Rifle of 1800-1840, later known as the "Baker Rifle" (to this day, no matter what length of bayonet, British Rifle Regiments 'Fix Swords').[1] The hilt usually had quillons modified to accommodate the gun barrel, and a hilt mechanism that enabled the bayonet to be attached to a bayonet lug. When dismounted, a sword bayonet could be used in combat as a side arm. When attached to the musket or rifle, it effectively turned almost any long gun into a spear or glaive, suitable not only for thrusting but also for slashing.

While the British Army eventually discarded the sword bayonet, the socket bayonet survived the introduction of the rifled musket into British service in 1854. The new rifled musket copied the French locking ring system.[1] The new bayonet proved its worth in the Battle of Alma and the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War, where the Imperial Russian Army learned to fear it as well.[1]

Bayonets were experimented with through much of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the United States Navy before the American Civil War, bayonet blades were even affixed to single-shot pistols, although they soon proved useless for anything but cooking. Cutlasses remained the favoured weapon for the navies of the time, though Queen Victoria's Royal Navy gave up the pikes once used to repel attacks by boarders in favor of the cutlass bayonet.

German Soldiers at Bayonet practice 1914
French infantry bayonet charge during the First World War. These are for the Lebel rifle.
The blade bayonet for the Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 5 Mk I "Jungle Carbine" rifle showing fuller

The experience of World War I saw the shortening of long sword or bladed bayonets for use in the confines of the trenches. During World War II, bayonets would be further shortened into knife-sized weapons in order to give them additional utility as usable as fighting or utility knives. The vast majority of modern bayonets introduced since World War II are knife bayonets.

Tactical employment and bayonet charge

18th and 19th century military tactics included the introduction of tactical doctrines employing a bayonet fixed on the individual infantryman's musket, used in concert with massed troop formations.[1] One of the more notable of these was the concept of the bayonet charge, an attack by a formation of infantrymen with fixed bayonets, usually over short distances, in order to overrun enemy strongpoints, destroy artillery batteries, or break up enemy troop formations.

With the advent of the socket bayonet, the massed bayonet charge was perfected by British infantry during the European continental wars against France in the 18th Century.[1] The Russian Army used the bayonet frequently during the Napoleonic wars. A Russian tactical precept coined by Russian General Alexander Suvorov was "The Bullet is foolish, the Bayonet wise". Given Russia's often inadequately trained conscript armies and the use of inaccurate smooth-bore muskets, Russian officers preferred to use the bayonet charge in lieu of musket volley fire where possible.

The advent of modern warfare in the 20th century decreased the bayonet's usefulness, and as early as the American Civil War (1861–65) the bayonet was ultimately responsible for less than one percent of battlefield casualties.[5] Modern warfare, however, does still see the use of the bayonet for close-quarter fighting. The use of "cold steel" to force the enemy to retreat was very successful in numerous small unit engagements at short range in the American Civil War, as most troops would retreat when charged while in the process of reloading (which could take up to a minute with loose powder even for trained troops). Though such charges inflicted few casualties, they often decided short engagements, and tactical possession of important defensive ground features. Additionally, bayonet drill could be used to rally men temporarily discomfited by enemy fire.[6]

During the Korean War, Lewis L. Millett led soldiers of the US Army's 27th Infantry Regiment in taking out a machine gun position with bayonets. Millett was awarded the Medal of Honor for this action. This was the last bayonet charge by the US Army.

The British Army performed bayonet charges during the Falklands War (see Battle of Mount Tumbledown), the Second Gulf War, and the war in Afghanistan.[7] In 2004 in Iraq at the Battle of Danny Boy, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders bayonet charged mortar positions filled with over 100 Mahdi Army members. The ensuing hand to hand fighting resulted in an estimate of over 40 insurgents killed and 35 bodies collected (many floated down the river) and 9 prisoners. Sergeant Brian Wood, of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the battle.[8] This engagement brought to notice the tactical use of the weapon for close combat and the sheer psychological effect it can have. Similarly, in 2009, Lieutenant James Adamson, aged 24, of the Royal Regiment of Scotland was awarded the Military Cross for a bayonet charge whilst on a tour of duty in Afghanistan: after shooting one Taliban fighter dead Adamson had run out of ammunition when another enemy appeared. Adamson immediately charged the second Taliban fighter and bayoneted him.[9]

Contemporary versions

The bayonet of the Soviet AVS-36 could be attached to the barrel vertically for use as a monopod
Folding SKS type bayonet
Russian Type III Izhevsk 1956 AK47 with Russian bayonet attached.
A guard of the Royal Regiment of Scotland with fixed swords SA80

Modern bayonets are often knife-shaped with either a handle and a socket, or are permanently attached to the rifle as with the SKS. Depending on where and when a specific SKS was manufactured, it may have a permanently attached bayonet with a knife-shaped blade (Russian, Romanian, Yugoslavian, early Chinese), or triangular (Albanian and late Chinese) spike bayonet, or no bayonet at all.

Most modern bayonets are attached to a rifle by sliding the bayonet onto a bayonet lug, a rail-like slide on the rifle, with a reciprocating feature in the hilt of the bayonet. Using spring-loaded devices that differ from bayonet to bayonet, the hilt is locked in place on the bayonet lug. Typically, a hole in the guard on the bayonet fits around the barrel of the rifle to keep it in place and not allow wobbling, a serious problem if the bayonet is only attached to the lug. To detach, the user simply pushes a button, usually found at the pommel of the bayonet or just behind the guard on the spine or edge side, not in line with the flat of the blade, to be pushed with the thumb. This button releases the spring locks and allows the bayonet to be removed. On the British Army's SA80 assault rifle the bayonet fits over the barrel, but the blade is offset to still allow the weapon to fire without obstructing the bullet.

In a modern context, bayonets are still used for controlling prisoners and as a "last resort" weapon for close quarters combat e.g. situations where a soldier has run out of ammunition, or if his weapon has jammed or is damaged. In general, bayonets are not fitted to modern weapons except when they are to be used as a primary weapon. This is because the weight of bayonet affixed to a rifle barrel affects the barrel's harmonic vibration or whip, often changing the bullet's point of impact, particularly at longer ranges.

Aside from its use in massed charges, the bayonet remains useful as a substitute utility knife, and some authorities continue to insist that the bayonet serves as a useful training aid in building a soldier's morale. Training in the use of the bayonet has been given precedence long after the combat role of the bayonet declined as it is thought to increase desired aggressiveness in troops.[10] Despite the limitations of the bayonet, many modern assault rifles retain a bayonet lug and the weapon is still issued in many armies.

Commonwealth armies

In armies of the Commonwealth of Nations, in close-order drill the command to fix bayonets is a two-part command. It consists of the preparatory order "Fix" and the execution order "BAYONETS". It is issued only from the Order Arms position. The commands to "Fix" and "Unfix" bayonets are among the only drill commands not executed in a specified cadence.

In the Rifle Regiments of the British Army, using a practice harkening back to the days when their flintlock rifles carried sword bayonets, the command is "Fix....SWORDS!". Bayonets are also fixed on the command, "Prepare to Assault", which is given towards the end of a section or fire team attack. The bayonet in the Canadian Forces is fitted on the front of the Tactical Vest for easy access.

The current British bayonet has a hollow handle so it can fit over the flash eliminator and the blade is offset to the right of the handle.

United States

The modern sawback U.S. M9 bayonet, officially adopted in 1984, is issued with a special sheath designed to double as a wire cutter, developed by Phrobis III. Some production runs of the M9 have a fuller and some do not, depending upon which contractor manufactured that batch and what the military specs were at the time. The M9 bayonet partially replaced, but is used in addition to, the older M7 bayonet, introduced 1964. Many troops have retained the M7, since the M9 has a reputation for breakage due to a combination of its thin blade and varying quality among the various contractors used.[citation needed]

US Marines at bayonet practice

As of 2002, the U.S. Marine Corps is also issuing small quantities of new bayonets of a different design from the M9, with an 8-inch Bowie knife-style blade and no fuller, manufactured by the Ontario Knife Company of New York. This new bayonet, the OKC-3S, is cosmetically similar to the Marines' famed Ka-Bar fighting knife. The weapon upgrade is part of a push begun four years ago by then-Commandant Gen. James L. Jones to expand and toughen hand-to-hand combat training for Marines, including more training in the martial arts and knife fighting. The new bayonet — with a 8-inch (20 cm) long, 1+38 in (3.49 cm) wide, .2-inch (0.51 cm) thick steel blade, and weighing 1.25 pounds (0.57 kg) with its sheath — is slightly longer, thicker, and heavier than the current M9. A sharper point and serrations near the handle help penetrate body armor that many modern adversaries wear. In one demonstration, a prototype was able to pierce a punching bag covered with aircraft aluminium and a ballistic vest. Also, the handle is more oval than round to prevent repetitive-stress injuries during training.

In United States Marine Corps drill and ceremonies, the command "FIX... BAYONETS!" is executed in four movements from the order arms position. In the United States Army, the movement is also executed from order arms; there are no specified movements, but the bayonet is to be attached quickly and quietly.

In 2010, the U.S. Army began a shift away from bayonet assault training and instead focused on training with pugil sticks. An Army spokesperson announced that the reason for the change was that the "last time the U.S. had a bayonet assault was in 1951".[11][12] In the U.S. Marine Corps, recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego still get their first instruction in using the bayonet as a lethal weapon on their 10th day. The essence of bayonet fighting as taught in the Corps is to spring forward from a modified crouch and thrust the blade into the enemy. Recruits are taught how to use a bayonet to push aside an enemy's weapon.[citation needed]

People's Republic of China

As the AK-47 assault rifle was copied by PRC as the Type 56 assault rifle, the Type 56 rifles and its variants has a detachable knife bayonet. The bayonet was used for close quarters combat as a weapon. The successed variant Type 81 has an advanced knife bayonet which can be used as a dagger and a bottle opener. Until now, the latest Chinese rifle QBZ-03 still has the knife bayonet.

Linguistic impact

The push-twist motion of fastening the older type of bayonet has given name to:

  • The "bayonet mount" used for various types of quick fastenings, such as camera lenses.
  • Several connectors and contacts including the bayonet-fitting light bulb that is common in the UK (as opposed to the continental European screw-fitting type).
  • The BNC ("Bayonet Neill-Concelman") RF connector.
  • One type of connector in for foil and sabre weapons used in modern fencing competitions is referred to as a "bayonet" connector.

The bayonet has become a symbol of military power. The term "at the point of a bayonet" refers to using military force or action to accomplish, maintain, or defend something (cf. Bayonet Constitution). Undertaking a task 'with fixed bayonets' has this connotation of no room for compromise and is a phrase used particularly in politics.

Badges and insignias

The Australian Army 'Rising Sun' badge features a semicircle of bayonets. The Australian Army Infantry Combat Badge (ICB) takes the form of a vertically mounted Australian Army SLR (7.62mm self-loading rifle FN FAL) bayonet surrounded by an oval-shaped laurel wreath.[13] The U.S. Army Combat Action Badge, awarded to personnel who have come under fire since 2001 and who are not eligible for the Combat Infantryman Badge, has a bayonet as its central motif.

The shoulder sleeve insignia for the 10th Mountain Division in the U.S. Army features crossed bayonets. The US Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team's shoulder patch features a bayonet wrapped in a wing, symbolizing their airborne status. The brigade regularly deploys in task forces under the name "Bayonet". The insignia of the British Army's School of Infantry is an SA80 bayonet against a red shield. It is worn as a TRF by instructors at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, the Infantry Battle School, Brecon and the Support Weapons School in Warminster.

See also


Hunting weapons, Howard L Blackmore, 2000, Dover Publications

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cold Steel - The History of the Bayonet, BBC News, 18 November 2002, retrieved 29 July 2011
  2. ^ H.Blackmore, Hunting Weapons, pg 50
  3. ^ Blackmore, Howard L. 2000. Hunting Weapons: From the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Courier Dover Publications. p.66-70
  4. ^ Boutell, Charles. 1907. Arms and armour in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Reeves & Turner. p.166
  5. ^ O'Connell, Robert L., "Arme Blanche", Military History Quarterly, Vol. 5, nº 1.
  6. ^ The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War
  7. ^ The Telegraph, 2004-06-13.
  8. ^ Caroline Wyatt, UK combat operations end in Iraq, BBC, 28 April 2009
  9. ^ "Military cross for bayonet charge". BBC News. 2009-09-13. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  10. ^ U.S. Army Field Manual 3-25.150, 2002-12-18.
  11. ^ Kelly Schlosser (19 July 2010). "2010 brings major transformation to Basic Combat Training". U.S. Army. Retrieved 25 June 2010. 
  12. ^ "US Army thrusts bayonet aside after centuries of faithful service" Times Online, 18 March 2010
  13. ^ Infantry combat badge

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  • Bayonet — Bay o*net, n. [F. bayonnette, ba[ i]onnette; so called, it is said, because the first bayonets were made at Bayonne.] [1913 Webster] 1. (Mil.) A pointed instrument of the dagger kind fitted on the muzzle of a musket or rifle, so as to give the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Bayonet — Bay o*net, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Bayoneted}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Bayoneting}.] 1. To stab with a bayonet. [1913 Webster] 2. To compel or drive by the bayonet. [1913 Webster] To bayonet us into submission. Burke. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bayonet — [bā΄ə net′; ] also [ bā′ə nət] n. [Fr bayonnette, after Bayonne, France (see BAYONNE), where first made] 1. a detachable, daggerlike blade put on the muzzle end of a rifle, for hand to hand fighting 2. a part like a bayonet in shape, manner of… …   English World dictionary

  • bayonet — ► NOUN 1) a long blade fixed to the muzzle of a rifle for hand to hand fighting. 2) (before another noun ) denoting a type of fitting for a light bulb which is pushed into a socket and then twisted into place. ► VERB (bayoneted, bayoneting) ▪… …   English terms dictionary

  • bayonet — (n.) 1610s, originally a type of dagger; as a steel stabbing weapon fitted to the muzzle of a firearm, from 1670s, from Fr. baionnette (16c.), said to be from Bayonne, city in Gascony where supposedly they first were made; or perhaps it is a… …   Etymology dictionary

  • bayonet — /bay euh nit, net , bay euh net /, n., v., bayoneted or bayonetted, bayoneting or bayonetting. n. 1. a daggerlike steel weapon that is attached to or at the muzzle of a gun and used for stabbing or slashing in hand to hand combat. 2. a pin… …   Universalium

  • bayonet — 1. noun /ˈbeɪ.ɒn.ɛt,beɪ.əʊ.nɛt/ a) (Weapon) A pointed instrument of the dagger kind fitted on the muzzle of a musket or rifle, so as to give the soldier increased means of offence …   Wiktionary

  • bayonet — I UK [ˈbeɪənɪt] / US noun [countable] Word forms bayonet : singular bayonet plural bayonets a long sharp blade that is fixed onto the end of a rifle (= a long gun) II UK [ˈbeɪənɪt] / US verb [transitive] Word forms bayonet : present tense… …   English dictionary

  • bayonet — [[t]be͟ɪənət[/t]] bayonets, bayoneting, bayoneted 1) N COUNT A bayonet is a long, sharp blade that can be fixed to the end of a rifle and used as a weapon. 2) VERB To bayonet someone means to push a bayonet into them. [V n] The soldiers were… …   English dictionary

  • bayonet — I. noun Etymology: French baïonnette, from Bayonne, France Date: 1689 a steel blade attached at the muzzle end of a shoulder arm (as a rifle) and used in hand to hand combat II. verb ( neted; also netted; neting; also netting) Date: 1781 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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