Marine Bayonet Training

The Spirit of the Bayonet

Bayonets, like hand grenades, have a specific time and place for use. Think of them like parachutes—nobody wants to carry one around all day, but if you need it, nothing else will substitute.

By Kenan Flasowski (RSS)
October 26, 2012

The Bayonet has been in the news lately. Unfortunately, this classic tool of war is now temporarily associated with people who have never been and will never be anywhere near a situation that would be improved by the proper employment of said instrument.


In today’s tech-heavy world, one can see how easily the un-trained, the uninformed and the un-educated could assume something as traditional as the bayonet is no longer needed or carried by our nation’s Combat Arms troops. I don’t know if the Navy or Air Force includes bayonet training in their respective Basic Training classes, so maybe only a fraction of the 0.45 percent of our citizens actually get to practice what to do with a big knife attached to the end of a gun. I can still remember learning the answer to one of the best questions to come out of Infantry Basic Training: “What is the Spirit of the Bayonet?” and we would all chant in unison “KILL, KILL, KILL!!!!!”

The bayonet comes in many forms, from the modern U.S.-issue that, while heavy, can cut wire when used with the sheath, saw wood by means of the serrations on the back and to some extent be used as a hammer if needed. There are plenty of pictures on the web showing troops with fixed bayonets, so it is still being used. (I think readers would appreciate hearing some recent bayonet stories from our Troops—I encourage them to send them in to the comments below.)

Many surplus firearms, especially former Soviet and World War II designs, often come with bayonets. I have a couple SKS- and AK-pattern guns with bayonets hard mounted, as well as a couple of old bolt guns. Some are the blade type, others the triangle. I would not want to get skewered by either one.

Modern bayonets have 6- to 8-inch blades. Older models from the late 1800s through World War II tended to be longer, maybe reminiscent of the cavalry sword, while the newer ones are more like utility or camping knives.

Look at the bayonet for the M1903 Springfield—it’s like half the size of the rifle. You could sword fight with that thing, and it could go through two, maybe three Huns at a time. I saw one at a gun show years ago that had saw teeth filed into the top of the blade. They were angled to the rear, so the blade would enter smoothly, then grab, rip, tear, etc. as the user pulled it out. That’s gonna leave a mess, and there is no doubt what the purpose of this particular bayonet is. I think the same bayonet could be fitted to the Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. “Wet cleanup in Trench Three, please” comes to mind.

So maybe you have a couple bayonets that came with the firearms—what can you do with them? Well, to quote Bing West in his book “No True Glory,” “You can do almost anything with a bayonet—except sit on it.” Mr. West was comparing the city of Fallujah, which had just been occupied by U.S. forces, to the bayonet.

What can you do with a bayonet? Let’s divide the discussion into two categories: fixed, where the blade is attached to the rifle, and detached, where it is used alone. Obviously, the primary use of the bayonet is to run it through the enemy or slash him open, depending on situation, so we will skip right to ancillary uses.


Conducting Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE)

Simply put, you are searching the compound, house, property, etc. that your element just raided, for any and all weapons, explosives, IED triggers, electronic devices and people who are hiding from you. Nobody wants to stick their muzzle into some of the crap you find on target, and it may be safer (and possibly more satisfying) to run cold steel through that hidden Jihadist instead of firing a round that could endanger your fellow troops.

Poking a hog to see if it is dead

This task is similar to SSE, but in a quieter, more sporting environment. It keeps the hair and blood off your muzzle.

Cooking hotdogs over an open fire

I think the Chinese SKS triangle under-folders would work best for this if inserted into the end of the frank, while blade-style bayonets would need to go into the side. Prop the gun up on a rock or log, impale the wiener or brat, and let it cook—the older the bayonet, the larger the piece(s) of meat. But you must remember to keep all firearms pointed in a safe direction at all times, so this could get difficult with more than a couple of folks around the fire.

Gun Storage

Stab it into a wall, tree trunk or the ground if you need both hands for something. Sandy soil will also clean some of the gore off the blade as an added benefit.

Marksmanship Enhancement

Years ago, a fellow SF guy told me after returning from a trip to Africa, the soldiers he was instructing fixed bayonets before-live fire training because the added length of their under-folder bayonets would help guide the bullet. So there’s that.


Obviously, you now have a big, heavy, fixed blade knife, suitable for chopping, digging for worms, stirring a campfire, prying, hammering, sharpening punji sticks, etc. In some ways, the bayonet was the original “multitool.” Other uses for detached bayonets include:


One of the historical intended uses, especially for thinner blades like that found on the 1960s-era U.S. M6, is probing for mines (think “Kelly’s Heroes”). If you don’t have a dog or an EOD guy, then pull out your blade and get to work.


Bayonets are better than a Spyderco for using as a pointer if your sand table, terrain model, or map is more than 6-feet square. While not providing that audible click when flicking open a folder, the sound of unsheathing steel will draw the required attention. And, having an extra 6 to 12 inches of reach with a pointed tip helps show the slower guys exactly where they need to go on infil.

Advertising / Public Service Announcements

Use it like a really large thumbtack to post notices, PCS orders, divorce decrees, etc. onto any wood surface. It attracts attention and gets the point across.

Condiment Dispersion

Just got a large coffee from your favorite barista? Add a little cream and sugar, pull out your bayonet and get to stirrin’. Chicks will swoon, guys will envy.

Predator Control

Drive a bayonet through the back of a scorpion (think “Predator”) or spider, or forcefully swing it across a snake’s head, and, as Jungle of Action Figure Therapy says, “problem solved, problem staying solved.”

So, there are lots of uses for the bayonet itself, but the training for using the bayonet may be of far greater importance. There have been occasional discussions about the relevancy of bayonets and bayonet training. I for one feel the mindset and character enhancement that good, old-fashioned bayonet training provides is invaluable to young, aspiring warriors. The concept of closing with and defeating your enemy by means of stabbing, slashing and buttstroking him to death while at arms distance, able to see into his eyes and witness firsthand the immediate and permanent effect of your attack, is critical to establishing the visualization of what combat really is. While some may think that is outdated, it is far more effective at driving home the point of what war is like, versus watching a TV screen as a missile from an unmanned drone explodes in the midst of blurry bodies attempting to enter a vehicle in the middle of the night halfway around the world. What will better prepare our future leaders for making important, life or death decisions?

The recent statement made by a prominent politician during a discussion about modernization, budgets and what the military needs, went something like “we have fewer bayonets and horses now,” implying the bayonet’s time had passed and was no longer needed, much like the horse. Thinking one of our simplest, most flexible and, when used properly, most effective tools for destroying the enemy is obsolete solely because it is old, is foolish. And maybe that’s the problem.

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19 Responses to The Spirit of the Bayonet

  1. joe w says:

    Nice read! The biggest thing I took out of bayonet training was confidence and mindset- it is one way to program guys to close with and destroy the enemy.

  2. Pingback: The Bayonet’s Combat Versatility - Setting the Record Straight

  3. harp1034 says:

    President Obama made me buy a bayonet. I really did not want to do it. But with him running off at the mouth I had no choice. I would have bought the horse too but I don’t have a place to keep one.

  4. Jason says:

    We were doing to some land nav train up for EIB outside of Ft Greely Alaska. A couple of us had gathered around a point and started brewing up some cocoa. We heard a couple huge crashes and the most horrible roar we had ever heard. I immediately fixed my bayonet to my A2. Not that I could have done much but at least it was better than nothing

  5. Pingback: SayUncle » The spirit of the bayonet

  6. scrambo says:

    well gentleman guns do run out of ammo hence dawn your bayonet because men it is time to get personal….

  7. newcastleadam says:

    Two points:

    1) Older bayonets (specifically pre-WW1) are so long to function as anti-cavalry devices (think pikes). The US took all the 1907 and other long bayonets and re-arsenaled them during WW2 and cut the length down (one reason there are so many variations floating around).

    2) The bayonet you saw with the sawback? Depending on time frame, you might be executed for carrying it.

  8. Kevin says:

    Heh, some more semi-political white noise; can’t wait until this dreadful election is over, whoever the winner might be (“can’t they BOTH lose?”).
    As for the bayonet, sadly, the US armed forces don’t have and seemingly never had much, of a “bayonet spirit”, all self-serving jingoistic myths to the contrary.

    In Korea, bayonet counter-charges were made only after the FRENCH showed the way, by affixing them after running out of ammo and fighting hand to hand – propaganda to the contrary, the French’s most notable role in the making of the currently crumbling WWII-order seems to have been covering English and US retreats by fighting desperate and courageous rear-guard battles, some rather crucial, (Dunkirk, Bir Hakeim), some not-so much (Heartbreak ridge). Anyway.

    Also in Korea, IIRC, the TURKS supposedly tended to look down upon the US soldiers, for being (culturally?) reluctant to engage in close-quarter combat, and saw that as a sign of weakness.

    And, feel free to correct me, but AFAIK, during the last decade’s foreign debacle, the sole bayonet charge I’ve heard about was made by some BRITISH soldiers. Even for riot control, I’m not sure I’ve read about bayonet use by the US.

    All this to say that, like for EVERY other Nation, the US fighting man has many qualities and strong suits… but in regard to this article’s ‘point’, cold hard steel simply isn’t one of them.


  9. Jonathan says:

    I don’t think Obama was actually implying that the bayonet is obsolete, just that times have changed, and it is a less prevalent tool than it was a century ago. His argument was a response to Romney’s criticism that the Navy’s inventory has dropped below 1920′s levels – I don’t think either of the two candidates inferred that warships, bayonets, or horses were useless; but simply that times have changed. Just as horses still have a place in unconventional, low-intensity conflict in inaccessible areas (i.e. Afghanistan) – albeit, highly limited and rare. I don’t think it’s foolish on Obama’s part to make that zinger, considering he’s only proposing what the Joint Chiefs and SecDef have asked for. Troops today probably spend magnitudes less time training and employing bayonets to focus on more modern tools, and he was establishing a metaphor to show some flaws in Romney’s logic.

    • Ryan says:

      I think what made most people mad wasn’t what he was implying but how condescending he said it. Romney’s logic is also still valid. If we could build one Super Duper 10 Trillion dollar Space Carrier we would still only have one of them and it would only be able to take care of only one problem at a time. Incidentally have you looked at our inventory of AV8′s? We just lost more than 8% of our whole fleet of a semi-major weapon platform in one ground engagement. When the number of weapons becomes so few, we can no longer expose them to danger then they are no longer useful as weapons of war. There is a balance between Quantity and Quality. We have historically gone for Quality because it ends up risking fewer good guys. (one F-15 can carry more bombs than a B-17 but only risks one man instead of 10) but Romney is saying that this can be taken too far. We can’t make a proper layered defense if we only have one ship per ocean. (Add to the fact that our light inventory of weapons in the 1920′s may have contributed to the boldness of the expansionist in the 1930′s leading to WWII.)

  10. Bing West plagiarized a French revolutionary maxim, commonly credited to Talleyrand: “On peut tout faire avec des baïonnettes, sauf s’asseoir dessus.”

  11. moran says:

    The fool in the White House might go to the tomp of the unknow soldiers and he will see the guards with rifles and what is that at the end of the barrel? A bayonet! He has to go.

  12. moran says:

    Sorry for the spelling — tomb-unknown–he still has to go. So go vote.

  13. Mike V. says:

    The SecDef and Service Chiefs are appointed by the President. They ask for what they’re told to ask for. If they step out of ranks, they aren’t a Service Chief any more. Ask General Ham how stepping out of ranks enhances one’s career.

  14. James Lewman says:

    one thing you didn’t learn Keenan was big knife attached to the end of a gun. Just how did you attach the big knife to your c*@%. remember This is my weapon this is my gun this is for fighting and this is for fun

  15. Ed Stanhope says:

    As an Army Helo Pilot my issued weapon during my two tours in RVN was a Smith& Wesson M-10 .38 spc revolver therefore I was not issued a Bayonet. Both trips I actually carried the S&W M-19 .357 mag I brought from home. I did have an issued pocket knife – like a 4 bladed scout knife. I also had my own USAF Survival Knife I bought at the Ft Walters Flight School Bookstore for about $10.

    That said on my second tour I figured that for not much weight than a Survival Knife or GI Bayonet I could put a five shot Charter Arms .38 spc Revolver in my Flight Suit Knife pocket. So I also took one along with my M-19. When I went to town on the rare day off I had to check the M-19 at the MP Station. Therefore with the Charter Arms as a hidden backup I could be sure of killing four VC/NVA and have one left over for me if it really hit the fan.

    S/Ed S
    Pelican 840 RVN 1967
    Flipper 21 RVN 1969

  16. Nam Marine says:

    The Marines spend a lot of time on bayonet training!
    It came in handy during Tet in 1968 Vietnam.

  17. AE1 says:

    Bayonet, rifle, pistol, pocket knife, brick, rock, sharpened stick, club,brass knuckles,a well placed punch or kick, you use what you have on hand. It’s you or them.

  18. John Kay says:

    Great article again- I often tease some folks with their over the top “battle rifles” by telling them their rifle isn’t great for butt stroking someone…

    I get various replies but it is basically if I am butt stroking someone I have failed.

    To me in my experience bayonet drills, rifle drills and the ability to apply force with various parts of the rifle if nothing else help contribute to a warrior mindset. I wish more instructors would spend time on that.

    And it is great physical exercise. I am often dismayed by people who feel like they have a firearm and that is all they need. I try to get the idea of a good diet and exercise across to them. We must maintain our bodies and mind as we will rarely run across a lazy adversary who is willing to stand and be shot.

    For example, 2 days ago a man crawled in to the window of a local man’s home. The man went to get his firearm out of the bedroom and was “ambushed” in the hallway (for those of you who think that could never happen to you as you are too aware. Stoppit)

    He is ambushed and they struggled for 10 minutes. To the uninitiated 10 minutes in hand to hand struggle is an enormous amount of effort. More so if you are not in shape. This local man apparently decided that he wanted to live. And ultimately he was able to stab the attacked to death.

    I took the following from the true story.

    1. warrior spirit is incredibly important. You have to be willing to live and defeat your opponent at all cost.

    2. Always prepared for the unexpected because you may think you have the high ground, only to find that your enemy has flanked you. Be ready for that!

    3. In the defense of your life or your families it is VERY likely that you will have to do it the old fashioned way. Forget the spinning back kicks and other TV stuff, it will likely end up in an old fashioned struggle until one gains advantage. Men tend to resort to wild swinging and grappling. Be ready for that and be in good shape for that.

    Always commit yourself to living through whatever is thrown at you. Do not ignore or underestimate the need for physical conditioning. Start small if you must but get in shape. Your life depends on it.

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