1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bayonet

BAYONET, a short thrusting weapon, fixed to the muzzle or fore-end of a rifle or musket and carried by troops armed with the latter weapons. The origin of the word is disputed, but there is some authority for the supposition that the name is derived from the town of Bayonne, where the short dagger called bayonnette was first made towards the end of the 15th century. The elder Puységur, a native of Bayonne, says (in his Memoirs, published posthumously in Paris, 1747) that when he was commanding the troops at Ypres in 1647 his musketeers used bayonets consisting of a steel dagger fixed in a wooden haft, which fitted into the muzzle of the musket—in fact plug-bayonets. Courts-martial were held on some English soldiers at Tangier in 1663–1664 for using their daggers on their comrades. As bayonets were at first called daggers, and as there were few or no pikemen in Tangier until 1675, the probable conclusion is that the troops in Tangier used plug-bayonets. In 1671 plug-bayonets were issued to the French regiment of fusiliers then raised. They were issued to part of an English dragoon regiment raised in 1672 and disbanded in 1674, and to the Royal Fusiliers when raised in 1685. The danger incurred by the use of this bayonet (which put a stop to all fire) was felt so early that the younger Puységur saw a ring-bayonet in 1678 which could be fixed without stopping the fire. The English defeat at Killiecrankie in 1689 was due (among other things) to the use of the plug-bayonet; and shortly afterwards the defeated leader, General Mackay, introduced a ring-bayonet of his own invention. A trial with badly-fitting socket or zigzag bayonets was made after the battle of Fleurus, 1690, in the presence of Louis XIV., who refused to adopt them. Shortly after the peace of Ryswick (1697) the English and Germans abolished the pike and introduced these bayonets, and plates of them are given in Surirey de St Remy’s Mémoires d’Artillerie, published in Paris in that year; but owing to a military cabal they were not issued to the French infantry until 1703. Henceforward the bayonet became, with the musket or other firearm, the typical weapon of infantry. This bayonet remained in the British service until 1805, when Sir John Moore introduced a bayonet fastened to the musket by a spring clip. The triangular bayonet (so called from the cross-section of its blade) was used in the British army until the introduction of the magazine rifle, when it was replaced by the sword-bayonet or dagger-bayonet. Sword-bayonets—weapons which could be used as sword or dagger apart from the rifle—had long been in use by special troops such as engineers and rifles, and many ingenious attempts have been made to produce a bayonet fitted for several uses. A long curved sword-bayonet with a saw-edged back was formerly used by the Royal Engineers, but all troops are now supplied with the plain sword-bayonet. The bayonet is usually hung in a scabbard on the belt of the soldier and only fixed during the final stages of a battle; the reason for this is that the “jump” of the rifle due to the shock of explosion is materially altered by the extra weight at the muzzle, which thus deranges the sighting. In the short Lee-Enfield rifle of 1903, the bayonet, not being directly attached to the barrel, does not influence accuracy, but with the long rifles, when the bayonet is fixed, the sight must be raised by two or three graduations to ensure correct elevation. In the Russian army troops almost invariably carry the bayonet (triangular) fixed; the model (1891) of Italian carbine has an inseparable bayonet; the United States rifle (the new short model of 1903) has a knife bayonet, the model of 1905, which is 20·5875 in. long, with the lower edge of the blade sharpened along its entire length and the upper edge sharpened 5 in. from the point; this bayonet is carried in a wooden and leather scabbard attached to the cartridge belt. The British bayonet (pattern 1903) has a blade 1 ft. in length. The length of the rifle and bayonet together, considered as an arme blanche, varies considerably, that of the French Lebel pattern of 1886 being 6 ft., as against the 4 ft. 83/4 in. of the British short Lee-Enfield of 1903. The German rifles (1898) have a length with bayonet of 5 ft. 93/4 in.; the Russian (1894) 5 ft. 9 in.; and the Japanese 5 ft. 51/2 in. In 1908 a new British bayonet was approved, 5 in. longer than its predecessor of 1903, the shape of the point being modified to obtain the thrusting effect of a spear or lance head.