Royal Marines In Afghanistan In 2007
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Bayonet Fighting: All Of The Gen

The bayonet is described as ‘the last seven inches of failed foreign policy’

Royal Marines In Afghanistan In 2007

Why is the bayonet still used in combat? Here, former Infanteer Julian Perreira looks at its place in training and warfare.

The bayonet is specially designed to part bone and flesh which will scare the living hell out of your opponent.

Even with the advances in technology and ammunition, have you ever wondered why they are still used and how the Armed Forces are trained to use these deadly weapons?

Using the bayonet is not for the faint hearted – it means getting up close and personal with the enemy.

Seeing the white of their eyes as you thrust the cold, hard steel into their body.

Some may think that the bayonet or swords are reserved to the history books, but they’d be mistaken, bayonet fighting is a tactic still taught and widely used in warfare.

Why Are Bayonets Still Being Used?

It is the weapon of choice for dismounted infantry when fighting in a close combat operation, confined spaces or clearing trenches.

Once described to me as ‘the last seven inches of foreign policy’ – the bayonet will never let you down, it won’t jam or fail to fire like rifles occasionally do.

Soldiers around the world are still trained in the effective use of the bayonet – they are still taught to keep their rifle, including all ancillaries, in peak condition.

'You really don’t want to be thrusting a dirty or rusty bayonet into our foes … now that wouldn’t be nice would it,' one infantry training instructor told me.

Chez Nihell in Army uniform cleaning bayonet in Afghanistan
Cleaning SA80 Bayonet: Picture PA

The Official British Army Bayonet Fighting Manual Says:

“The bayonet is shaped to produce good penetration when thrust, point first, into the body and is designed to part the ribs without embedding into the bone. It has a cutting edge which should be kept sharp; the curved part of the back of the bayonet must not be sharpened as this will reduce its rib parting ability. The recesses along the blade are blood channels to reduce any suction effect and enable a clean withdrawal from the body. The ribbed portion of the blade is for rope cutting. There is a slot at the forward end for use with the scabbard. The handle is shaped so that the bayonet can be used as a fighting knife; at the rear of the handle is the release catch which holds it onto the muzzle of the rifle.”

SA80 Bayonet Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright
SA80 Bayonet Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright

Which Bayonet Does the British Army Use?

The current bayonet issued to the British Armed Forces is the L3A1 Bayonet – designed to be used with the standard issue SA80 rifle and Sharpshooter.

It is eleven inches in length – the blade itself being seven inches long and shaped so that the rifle can still be fired with the bayonet attached to the front end.

The handle has been designed with grooved edges so that the user can remove it from the rifle or scabbard and hand to hand fight using it – meaning less chance of it slipping from their hand due to mud or blood loosening their grip.

The scabbard comes fitted with a bottle opener, for you know … in case you fancy cracking open a beer between clearing trenches.

Swords Or Bayonets?

Word of warning: never refer to it as a ‘bayonet’ to anyone serving in the Rifles, they tend to get upset and still refer to them as ‘swords’ - and the verbal order ‘fix swords’ is still given to its soldiers in battle.

Swords are still issued to British military officers but rarely make an appearance on the battlefield – they are now only usually reserved for ceremonial duties or to open bottles of Champagne.

British Army Officer's Sword Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright
British Army Officer's Sword Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright

How Are British Soldiers Trained To Use A Bayonet?

Training is carried out throughout a soldier’s career – recruits are expected to conduct battle lanes where they practice on dummies.

They are expected to show all the qualities needed to take an enemy life – using controlled aggression, with the ability to switch it on and off as they move through the battle lane.

You’ll hear the instructors screaming at the top of their lungs: “What’s the bayonet for?!”

With all the recruits responding: “To kill, kill, kill!”, and the instructor replies: “What makes the grass grow?” with the recruits responding with: “Blood! Blood! Blood!”

This training is imperative, commanders need to know that their soldiers will respond accordingly if or when the moment arises – it may just save their lives.

Bayonet Training Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright

The Bayonet Is Not Just For Killing

They are not just used to poke people with – bayonets can be used for many different tasks on the battlefield.

The SA80 bayonet including its protective scabbard can be used as a pair of wire cutters to gain entry through barbed-wire or fences, the scabbard also comes attached with a sharpening stone to keep the blade in good condition.

Bayonets have also been used in the past as a prodder to clear a safe route out of a minefield – this practice has somewhat been discouraged since encountering improvised explosive devices found in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Watch – Swapping Bullets For Bayonets:

What Is It Like To Use A Bayonet For Real?

You’ll never forget the first time you hear the words “fix bayonets” being screamed at you – the order given to attach your bayonet to your rifle and hearing the distinct ‘clink’ as the solid steel blade is attached to the rifle’s muzzle.

There is no other moment quite like it … you know what is expected, you know the enemy is close – you’ve been trained for it. It is either you or them, it takes courage and controlled aggression to win the upper hand in hand-to-hand combat.

You cannot lose control, you must have a clear head throughout, as one second, you could be taking the life of a combatant with a bayonet and the next minute you’re saving the life of a non-combatant nearby.

Brian Wood MC on patrol
Brian Wood MC on operation

In 2003, Brian Wood MC was awarded the Military Cross for his actions; fixing bayonets and leading a team to clear an enemy trench in Iraq.

Speaking with BFBS in 2019, Brian Wood MC said: “The gunner and commander got a fix and started suppressing, then five to 10 minutes later I was asked to dismount and launch a close-quarter counter-attack on that stronghold. I had never done anything that extreme really.

“Closing with and destroying is a frontline soldier’s job, but not very many people actually get to go in and hand-to-hand fight.

“So yeah, it was a bit of an eye-opener, I experienced so many emotions in the back of that armoured vehicle because you are disorientated.

"It is boiling, it’s like 70 degrees, your adrenaline kicks in, fear also kicks in, but you can’t let it become contagious, you have got to kind of use that fear in the right direction.

“For me, I used it to drag me out of the vehicle and start to conduct a full-frontal assault on that enemy stronghold.

Gurkha soldier in Afghanistan eating watermelon with Kukri Picture: MoD
Gurkha soldier uses his Kukri to eat watermelon during a break from fighting on operations in Afghanistan. Picture: MoD/Crown Copyright

What Other Blades Are Carried At War?

Nepalese soldiers are renowned for their bravery on the battlefield and won’t be found far from their iconic Kukri – a traditional 20-inch knife, used for everything, from cutting watermelon after a long hot day of fighting, to chopping the head off of any attacking enemy.

Here is a video of Gurkha soldiers of the British Army practising Kukri fighting at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick.

When Was The Bayonet First Used?

The inventor of the bayonet is unknown. However, the bayonet takes its name from the southwest French city of Bayonne, and from the early 17th century it was widely used by European armies.

It is widely thought that hunters in Europe first discovered the bayonet, which was used as extra protection against wild boar charging at them.

Commando Dagger - Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife (Image: Alamy)
Commando Dagger - Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife (Image: Alamy)

Commando Dagger

The Commando Dagger is also known as the Fairbairn–Sykes Fighting Knife – developed by William Ewart Fairbairn (a former Royal Marine) and Eric Anthony Sykes (British Army) prior to World War Two.

British Royal Marine Commandos still carry these same daggers during combat operations abroad.

It was reported in the British press that a member of the Special Boat Service (SBS) killed a member of ISIS using his commando dagger in Afghanistan in 2019, after a group of ISIS ambushed the special forces patrol.

So, it seems that fighting knives and bayonets will not be disappearing from the battlefield just yet.