Contest

Knive/Gun Contest Entry: The Five Most Impractical Military Bayonets

By Kurt M.

U.S. Springfield Trapdoor 1873 Trowel Bayonet

It doesn’t just look like a trowel, it really is one, but it’s also a socket style bayonet for the Springfield Trapdoor. So how did the trowel become, if you will, a “weapon of war?” There was certainly some gestalt thinking going on, someone thought, “the soldiers have to carry a bayonet, and an entrenching tool, what if we could combine them? Then they would have to carry less and have a better overall tool.” . . .

Stationed at a brick fort on the East Coast in need of a little mortar touch up? You have just the bayonet for the job. Need a little extra reach for that top corner? Fix bayonets! Now you want to dig a trench? That bayonet isn’t just for gardening. Need a shovel? Fix bayonets! Someone is trying to chase you out of your trench? That bayonet has a sharp end for a reason.

Unfortunately in trying to do everything, this bayonet managed to not do anything particularly well, not even gardening. As an issue bayonet, the trowel was not well received, and the idea was scraped pretty quickly, although that didn’t stop a sizeable production run from happening, and it didn’t stop the U.S. from trying to hawk the trowel bayonet to European armies. There were no takers.

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U.S. Springfield 1903 Ramrod Bayonet

“I must say that I think that ramrod bayonet is about as poor an invention as I ever saw.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt in a letter to the Chief of Ordnance

The ramrod bayonet was not a new idea. In 1884 Springfield decided that a new bayonet was in order for the Springfield Trapdoor, something that could be stored on the rifle to make it easily accessible. The lukewarm reception the 1873 trowel bayonet received did not stop Springfield from experimenting. The ramrod was quite literally a rod with a pointed end that would go where you would normally expect a ramrod or a cleaning rod. It was issued until the trapdoor was replaced by the Krag rifle, a foreign design that used a blade bayonet instead of a ramrod bayonet. It seemed that the ramrod’s service was at an end.

Yet just as quickly as the Krag was adopted, the Spanish American war convinced the military to drop the Krag as the issue rifle. Sure enough, the next Springfield rifle, the famous 1903, was designed to use a ramrod bayonet, just like the Trapdoor. Until 1905 that is, when Roosevelt sent the above quoted letter and the Springfield 03 was redone to accept a blade bayonet, like the Krag. Tens of thousands of rifles had to be retrofitted to accept a blade bayonet.

Apparently if you showed a 1903 with fixed rod next to a Krag with a fixed blade, the 03 didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. At least if you didn’t work for Springfield, which is why it took a presidential intervention to can the ramrod bayonet. The 03’s new blade bayonet was designed to be make the rifle the same overall length as the Krag with its bayonet attached (the 03 is a little shorter than a rifle length Krag, so the 03 bayonet is a little longer). After that, it was smooth sailing for the 03 (except for an ammo redesign and a receiver problem, but we’re talking about bayonets here).

British Webley Pritchard Bayonet for the Webley MkVI Pistol

Personally I think the idea of putting a bayonet on a pistol is a bit of a marketing gimmick, but that doesn’t mean people haven’t thought of trying it before. Long before rails made it easy and cool, WW Greener, a famous shotgun manufacturer in England, thought to market pistol bayonets for private sale to British officers in the First World War.

A brass hilt would go underneath the revolver barrel and fit into place along the frame, the blade bayonet stuck out from underneath the barrel, and the bayonet would be locked in behind the front sight using a bar. The idea was that if an officer was leading his men over the top and made it to the enemy trench, a bayonet would come in handy for getting the Germans to leave their trench. Since you would be in close quarters, the bayonet would keep Germans from grabbing your revolver, and if you had to you could jab a German with it.

These never really caught on. Sales were in the hundreds; some may have been used. I think about it this way, in World War Two the Japanese put bayonets on literally everything, even the squad automatic weapon, the Type 99, had a bayonet mount. They never put a bayonet on their pistols, there has to be a reason.

British Sten MK 2 SMG spike Bayonet

The Sten gun is a model of simplicity. They were meant to be easy and fast to produce, that is what they were good for, cranking out a working gun fast. The second version of the Sten is the simplest of them all, this is the model made during the darkest point of the war when it seemed the British might well lose and was the most common model of Sten gun. The MK 2 makes the later war models seem like a high end product by comparison, this was the economy model.

Yet it needed its very own product specific bayonet. The Sten bayonet had the same style spike bayonet as the No. 4 Enfield, but they were not interchangeable. The Sten bayonet would fit into the Sten heat shroud and was clipped on. On one hand I question why they didn’t work to make them interchangeable, if your goal is to cut production times down as much as possible, why make a product specific bayonet, or have a bayonet at all. On the other hand I question who thought a Sten bayonet would be a good idea. Here you are a British soldier with your tube gun and bayonet, and over there is a German with his K98 with bayonet. Who’s going to win? Why play to your platform’s weaknesses?

Tens of thousands were made during the war; some were issued but none to my knowledge ever saw combat. After the war they were all sold as scrap, so a Sten bayonet is a rare find today.

Australian SMLE M-1944 Machete Bayonet

For fighting in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Australian troops were issued two blades, a long bayonet for their Enfield No.1 Mark 3s and a longer machete so they could get from point A to point B to use their Enfields. Naturally someone had the bright idea that since they were both blades, wouldn’t it be better if they could combine them?

The result was the 1944 machete bayonet. The machete was shorter than the issue bayonet and was heftier with a wider blade. These were issued, although I don’t know if they were actually used. After the war they all ended up as surplus, and since there was only one production run, they were never common.

Once again, in trying to make a blade that can do multiple jobs, they make something that can’t do either job as well as the blades that are meant to be replaced. The machete bayonet was too short and too heavy to make for a good machete, because it was meant to double as a bayonet. It was too heavy to be a practical bayonet; the No.1 Mark 3 Enfield was already a heavy rifle, now you have this huge thing on the front to completely throw the balance off. Sometimes you just have to carry two blades with you, you can’t get around it.

Discussion

3 responses to ‘Knive/Gun Contest Entry: The Five Most Impractical Military Bayonets

  1. Dan, good interesting post. Thanks. Reading the piece I imagined an ignorant decision maker unfamiliar with bayonets and knives (and the life of the Infantryman) approving the use of overly generalized tool-weapons that only provided limited help in meeting the challenge.

    ‘U.S. Springfield 1903 Ramrod Bayonet
    “I must say that I think that ramrod bayonet is about as poor an invention as I ever saw.”
    President Theodore Roosevelt in a letter to the Chief of Ordnance’
    — If the above was written during the Spanish-American War era, I think Teddy was back then the Secretary of the Army or Navy or or had just resigned to from his political office to lead the Rough Riders. If the quote is from the other Roosevelt of WW2 era then that is a different matter.

    IMO, the moral of the story to para phrase Dan is that sometimes it is really dumb to seek out that one cutting tool aka knife that does it all.

    • Theodore was president from 1901 to 1909. The 1903 Springfield was adopted during his presidency. Shows what happens when a politition who understands guns and soldiers applies “common sense” to a gun problem.

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