Learning More About Bayonets & Their History Part II
The Bayonet: Its History And Evolution Part II
Beyond Sockets -- The History of the Bayonet
The British Army introduced a revolutionary application to a retro concept in 1800 when the Corps of Riflemen was chosen from the ranks of existing regiments. The Corps of Riflemen, later known as the 95th rifle regiment, was issued the baker rifled musket. This weapon had been fashioned after a similar rifle carried by the German Jaeger Troops and featured a blade extending from the barrel. Although this didn’t take the place of socket-type, it would set a trend that would alter these weapons for a century.
With an unfilled 24-inch blade, brass knuckle guards and brass grips the Pattern 1800 Baker Sword was carried by the riflemen in a scabbard of leather and brass. This blade’s hilt slipped onto a thick bar brazed to the barrel and locked in place with a sturdy locking bolt released with a stud press.
This concept was so effective that it was applied in attaching all other types of bayonets that came after. Reports from those who wielded this weapon attest to the efficacy of this implement and were also particularly useful for tasks like clearing brush and cutting wood, tasks that were required from the all-purpose bayonets from this time on.
Looking at the Baker Rifle Bayonet, it is clear to see that this is much more like a sword and the use and function are practically the same. During the revolutionary era when any volunteer regiments were required for military duty, this type of presentation was probably more impressive and popular to volunteers who would wear these swords off duty, than the conventional socket style bayonet. Even though the latter may have been the more efficient of the two.
As time progressed, this sword type bayonet became a symbol of status and military stature, especially for those ranks that were not permitted to carry a sword. Many examples of this weapon we see today belonged to such volunteer soldiers and exhibit decorations and stylish additions that must have increased their inefficiency as bayonets.
In 1906, the British were busy improving the cavalry sword and decided that the most serious wounds were caused by running an opponent through with a slim and rigid blade. This is what was generally found in the socket bayonets that featured a cruciform or triangular blade. In the light of this aspect, the sword bayonet, with its broad blade and single edge, was not up to par. The sword bayonet is not effective at impaling an objective and were too short to be wielded as a true sword.
Despite their poor performance in their purpose, these articles have a high value to the collector. In addition to a much higher degree of craftsmanship that you will find in the socket style bayonet, they are also more interesting to the beginner. Without extensive experience in bayonets, it can be easy to miss the tiny details that provide clues to the age of the piece and even more subtle clues that indicate the country it served.
Before we leave to move on from the subject of sword bayonets, an honorable mention should be made of the “Yataghan" bayonets especially as they were applied to the 1866 "Chassepot" rifle. Collectors will find this the most common specimen from the 19th century. This style was based on the Turkish sword and introduced into France in 1840. The new style was popular and soon the shape was found in the Americas. In England, the Brass Gripped P1853 Artillery was topped off with a handsome yataghan which was a replica of the French version.
The Knife Bayonet
As the 19th century came to a close, military design and function were changing rapidly with the rapid innovations of the time. The elaborate sword type bayonet was gradually phased out and replaced by shorter easy to wield knife-style bayonets. This type of bayonet has been used in combat since WWI to the current day. (The last known bayonet combat occurring in 2004’s Battle of Danny Boy).
Some say that the first application of the knife bayonet, having a shorter blade and wooden handle as opposed to the sword bayonet, was German. The best example would be the 1871/84 pattern issued in 1886. But, an earlier version can be found in the US. The M1861 "Dahlgren" was a wood and brass handled bowie knife that could be affixed to the 1876 Navy rifle. This blade was named after its designer Admiral John Dahlgren.
The shift from long swords to shorter knives was not done overnight. Many sword bayonets and sockets were used for many years after. The shorter carbine weapons, for example, benefited from the extra length of a socket type bayonet. The Martini-Henry Artillery Carbine provides the best example with its P1879 a lengthy 31-inch sword bayonet
The evolution of bayonets has taken some interesting twists and turns producing some results that were either not widely produced or simply too poor of a concept to apply. One example is the pistol bayonet found on the 1916 Pritchard. Designed and produced by WW Greener, the brass-hilted blade was a smaller version of the French Gras Bayonet and could be affixed to the Webley Mark IV. the idea was discarded for many reasons still it makes an interesting specimen to own.
American Model 1873 Trowel Bayonet
As you may have guessed, this bayonet could also serve as an effective entrenching tool. IT had a similar shape and design as a mason’s towel. Even though bayonets typically served soldiers more frequently as utensils then weapons, the idea of the trowel bayonet was never very popular.