In the early 17th Century the matchlock musket was a cumbersome, slow loading weapon and the musketeers required the protection of soldiers carrying long, wooden-shafted pikes to shield them from enemy cavalry and footsoldiers during the lengthy reloading process. As the century progressed, more emphasis began to be placed on the use of the musket as a primary weapon of the common soldier and as a result, the pike was gradually phased out.
times, the usual practice when engaging at close quarters was to fire
the musket and then follow the pikemen as they closed on the enemy wielding
the musket as if it were a club. A sword or long knife was also
carried as a secondary weapon. The use of the gun in this way was
far from effective and the idea was hit upon to jam the tapered handle
of a belt knife in to the muzzle, temporarily converting the musket to
a short pike. This "plug bayonet" produced a far more effective
weapon than the clubbed musket and in time removed the need for large
numbers of pikemen.
disadvantage of the plug bayonet is that once fixed, the gun cannot be fired
until the bayonet is removed.
In the late 17th Century experiments were carried out to address this problem and the short- lived "ring bayonet" was born. This was affixed to the barrel by two rings, but seems not to have found favour and was replaced shortly after by
the socket bayonet - a pattern which would last until after WWII.
bayonet first appears in the ranks of the French army in the
1670ís and afterwards came into general use throughout Europe. The
standard form of the socket bayonet comprised a short steel tube 3-4 inches
long fitting over the barrel of the musket on to which was welded a steel
blade. The socket is then locked on to the muzzle by means
of a "zig-zag" slot which engages with the foresight stud. This innovation
would now allow the musket to be fired and reloaded without removing the
many fanciful knife and sword type blades were attached to the socket, until
around 1715 when the familiar triangular section blades were introduced
as the new standard pattern.
At the start 18th Century there still seemed to be very little uniformity in the weapons carried by the common soldier and the external diameter of musket barrels could vary greatly. In the days of the plug-bayonet this was not a problem as the tapering handle meant that "one size fits all". However, in order to fit, the socket bayonet had to be matched more accurately to the barrel diameter.
An early remedy to this was the split-socket bayonet where a
longitudinal split was made down the socket allowing the
diameter to be adjusted to fit any barrel. This must have reduced
the structural strength of the weapon considerably and they
appear to have had a relatively short life, possibly due in Britain
to the introduction of the more uniform "Brown Bess" musket as
the standard issue weapon of the British soldier from c.1725.
|With this design established, the form of the socket bayonet was to remain almost unchanged for the next 150 years - the minor variations which did occur worldwide were mainly to the method of securing the socket to the barrel. Some early sockets were fitted with a leaf spring to help lock the bayonet to the foresight stud, whilst several different springs and catches on the guns themselves came and went during the 19th Century. One of the most effective methods of retaining the bayonet appears to have been the twisting locking-ring which is found on sockets of many different countries throughout the 19th Century.|
mentioned, the socket bayonet was still in use well in to the first half
of the 20th Century - during WWII the Russian troops were armed with a socket
bayonet for the Mosin-Nagent rifle and even the British had the No.4 Spike
bayonet (although contemporary accounts seem to suggest that this was chiefly
used to open tins of milk rather than as a weapon of war....)
details on the evolution of Commonwealth socket bayonets I would recommend
the reader to consult Skennerton & Richardsonís excellent and detailed
work "British & Commonwealth Bayonets".
In 1800 the British army established the Corps of Riflemen (later to become the 95th Rifle Regiment) drawn from existing Line Regiments. This new Corps were to be issued with a new weapon, the Baker rifled musket. This rifle, based on those carried by German Jaeger troops was issued with a bayonet which, although it did not replace the socket, was to start a new trend in bayonets that would last for the next 100 years.
Baker Rifle & Bayonet c.1800
1800 Baker Sword bayonet had a flat, unfullered 24 inch blade, ribbed brass
grips, a brass knuckle-guard and was carried in a leather and brass scabbard.
The means of attachment of this bayonet was a bar brazed to the barrel which
engaged with a mortise slot on the hilt of the bayonet and was held in place
by a sprung locking bolt operated by a press-stud. This method (with some
modifications) was later to be adopted almost universally for the attachment
Contemporary accounts show that it was very popular with Riflemen and aside from its status value was particularly useful for wood and brush-cutting, a task for which many later sword bayonets were destined
bayonet was, to all intents and purposes, a sword with all the romantic
associations of that weapon. With the rise of the many patriotically inspired
volunteer regiments in the early 19th Century, it is not surprising that
such sword bayonets, often worn while off duty were more appealing to such
soldiers than the workaday, but possibly more efficient socket bayonets.
Over the course of the century, sword bayonets were often used as symbols
of status and rank, being especially popular with those ranks not normally
permitted to wear a sword. Many, particularly the early volunteer
weapons, were elaborate pieces that although decorative must have been quite
impractical in there primary function
Napoleonic Volunteer Baker
|As the British
committee set up to modernise the British cavalry sword eventually discovered
in 1906, the most serious wounds can be inflicted with a thrusting
stroke using a slim, rigid blade - a form which is embodied by the triangular
and cruciform bladed socket bayonets. This being the case, sword bayonets
which vary from this pattern having thicker, single edged blades are a compromise.
Their efficiency as a thrusting weapon is reduced whilst at the same time
are impractically short and unwieldy to be used as swords.
However, there interest to collectors is unquestionable. They show, not only a higher degree of craftsmanship than their socket cousins, but may I suggest that they are also more interesting to the beginner. If you do not have long experience of identifying the tiny variations in the socket bayonet you are often hard pressed to tell which century a piece is from, let alone the country of origin!
|Before leaving the sword bayonet, mention must be made of the so called "Yataghan" bayonets such as that for the famous 1866 "Chassepot" rifle. These will be the most common 19th century pattern encountered by collectors. The first of this type, based on the Turkish recurved yataghan was introduced by France in 1840 to NCOs and this shape quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe and the Americas. The first British yataghan bayonet, the brass gripped P1853 Artillery was an almost identical copy of the French 1842 model.|
A Selection of Yataghan Bayonets
Top: American yataghan c.1865
end of the 19th Century military fashions once again began to change and
the long elaborate sword type bayonets began to give way to a shorter,
easier to handle knife-type. This type with wooden grips and usually a
metal scabbard quickly became the standard which has lasted to the current
|The change to the short knife was by no means immediate or universal, many long sword and sockets continued in use, particularly on the shorter carbine weapons which have tended to have longer bayonets to make up the length. An example of this is the P1879 for the Martini Henry Artillery Carbine which is a magnificent sword bayonet over 31 inches long.|
The evolution of the bayonet has by no means been a linear progression over time as the brief history above might suggest. The different types of bayonet existed side by side and many variations on the theme have been tried over the years - some which were practical but were never widely produced and some which were quite bizarre.
|An example of the latter has to be the privately produced 1916 Pritchard pistol bayonet. Manufactured by WW Greener, this was a short brass-hilted affair utilising a cut-down French Gras bayonet blade and was meant to attach to the Webley mark IV revolver. The idea of a bayonet on a pistol was not new but was probably as ineffective in WWI as it was in the 18th Century. Only around 200 of these were ever produced as private purchases.|
Model 1873 trowel bayonet
As its name suggests, the shape is that of a mason's trowel and was envisaged as doubling as an entrenching tool. The idea never caught on and issue of the piece was limited.
|Cutlass Bayonets - The British Naval Pattern 1859 was the first of the "cutlass" bayonets and were intended to do away with the necessity of a separate boarding cutlass. Initially these were long, heavy, slightly curved unfullered blades with sheet steel bowl guards, although later patterns were lightened and straightened. In 1871 they were converted for use with the Martini Henry rifle and were to be the basis of the aforementioned P1879 Artillery Carbine sword bayonet.|
|Ramrod Bayonets - Several patterns of these misleading named bayonet (the rifles were breech loading) were produced in the United States between 1882 to 1903 for the Springfield rifle. When not in use the bayonet slides into the stock of the rifle and is held in place with a spring-clip. The pattern however is older, having been used on the M 1833 Musketoon.|
|Practice Bayonets -||Occasionally you may come across a bayonet which has a dull blade and a ball, disk or rough blob of metal in place of the sharp tip. This will almost certainly be a practice bayonet used to train soldiers in the art of bayonet fencing whilst reducing injuries. In some cases, rather than a dedicated practice bayonet, old stocks of bayonets were blunted and had the tips rounded off for use in bayonet drill or fencing practice.|
in all its forms must represent one the most primitive of weapons - a
sharp object mounted on a shaft to gain extra reach than could be had
by holding a blade in the hand.
As long as
men carry long arms to battle, the bayonet will more than likely be carried