Bayonets are often crude, simple knives designed for cheap mass production. As such they seldom represent the pinnacle of the knife-maker’s craft, but the bayonet designed for the M96 ‘Swedish’ Mauser is a cut above the rest.
The M96 or ‘Swedish’ Mauser was a longer variant of the M94, designed by Mauser for the Swedish military. Early versions were manufactured by Mauser, but the contract specified that only supplied Swedish steel could be used in their construction. Sweden soon manufactured their own rifles at the Carl Gustav factory, and later in smaller numbers at Husqvarna.
The M96 bayonet served the Swedish military through more than 80 years and two service rifles. The Swedes liked it so much (and had so many in storage) that they carried it over from the 19th-century M96 to their first postwar autoloader. The AgM42 ‘Ljungman’ carried the M96 bayonet from the late 1940s until the rifle’s retirement in 1964, and some Swedish rear-echelon support units even carried the bayonet (still attached to the incredibly-obsolete M96) until 1983.
The M96 bayonet has a spear point and a sturdy 8.25″ blade, typically sharpened only on the forward edge. The barrel band is integral to the hilt, and the hollow steel handle has a spring-loaded lug for mounting to a rifle.
The knife has a hand-filling grip and good balance, and the excellent proportions of the blade give it the appearance of a miniature Roman gladius. The angled mounting lug near the pommel also aids in gripping and retention.
The blade has a split tang just over an inch long, which threads around a plug inside the top of the handle. They don’t really disassemble, but somebody managed to take one apart once to see how it was assembled. Despite the apparent weakness of a threaded partial-tang blade, M96 blades are not known to break off from their handles. Bayonet practice puts extreme stress on blades and mounts, and many M96 bayonet scabbards are dented and beaten from years of training abuse but the blades are still firmly attached.
Almost all M96 bayonets were manufactured by Carl Gustav, and all of them used exceptionally high-grade Swedish steel regardless of which factory they came from. I’d be fascinated to know the precise chemical and structural metallurgy (I don’t) but it’s been shown that Swedish iron ores contained serendipitous traces of chromium, vanadium, molybdenum and manganese.
Starting in the mid-1800s, Swedish smelters even used electric furnaces which introduced fewer impurities than coal- or gas-fired processes. The result was an exceptionally strong and corrosion-resistant weapons-grade steel.
The natural chromium and vanadium content makes this Swedish steel semi-stainless steel right out of the forge, which is why early-production M96 rifle bolts still gleam brightly ‘in the white’, despite being un-blued through more than a century of exposure to oxygen.
M96 bayonets are still widely available today, with prices starting at $40. Many of them are still in good to very good condition despite being 100 years old or more, because of their corrosion-resistant steel and because they spent their storage years gooped in Cosmoline. Their metal scabbards also survive to this day (although often battered up) but their leather frogs haven’t aged so well.
M96 bayonets will still take a mean edge if you want to sharpen them, and could still serve as useful working or fighting knives, but you’ll probably have to make your own frog if you want to wear it on your belt.
Given their availability, I guess it’s not quite fair to call them ‘obscure’ but I still wouldn’t use one as a working blade. I just appreciate their exceptionally fine design and manufacture, and I relish handling something so old but still so elegant.