Monday, February 23, 2015

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Bayonet Man

Every bag and set of soldiers in combat poses has at least one. Be it Revolutionary War, Napoleonic Era, Civil War, the World Wars or the Cold War, there he is. As children, we thought he was a guy with a "knife" at the end of his rifle. The proper name for it is a bayonet.

The first bayonets evolved out of a need during the "pike and musket" warfare of the 17th Century. If musketeers did not have time to reload before the enemy closed with them, their only recourses were a short sword / long dagger worn at the hip, or to swing their firelocks like clubs. This left the musketeers at a disadvantage against attackers with longer weapons such as pikes or halberds. A solution was devised to turn the musket into a rudimentary short pike. A small dagger was fitted with a handle narrow enough to fit into the muzzle of a musket. This was the first bayonet.

Of course, musketeers using bayonets would never have been able to fire their weapons. That is, until someone added rings to the bayonet handle so that it rode under the barrel.

The problem was that the technique of the bayonet was derived from that of the pike. The thinking was that as the bayoneted musket was actually a small pike, it should be handled the same as its larger brother. The theory did not match with fact, and the bayonet fighting systems derived from pike work were awkward.

The French sought a solution, so they turned the problem over to their fighting masters. These were the masters of swordsmanship and related arts such as stick and quarterstaff fighting. The fencing masters devised a better bayonet method that made best use of the peculiarities of the musket. These systems can be described as "bayonet fencing" for they had thrusts and parries inspired by those used with swords.

The French systems spread. George McClellan studied several of the French styles in the 1850s and derived the system used by the United States in the Civil War. Russia had favored the bayonet charge. With a high percentage of larger men in their army, they could overwhelm their enemies in close combat. The bayonet fencing used by Russia still influences their method to this day.

The development of the rifle with internal magazine saw some changes to bayonet methods. The techniques of the 20th Century differed to accommodate weapons with larger stocks and odd shapes. For one thing, more striking with the rifle butt was taught. Systems further evolved to make best use of natural body movements.

Some feel that the bayonet’s time has passed. Yet in every war even to this day, there is some battle that is decided by the bayonet. For instance, an enemy position was cleared by a Scots unit who ran a bayonet charge at the Iraqis.

To see more of bayonet styles, check out this column in our "How men fight" section:

The British bayonet of 1805 is the method derived from pikes.

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