Infantry: Up Close And Personal

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July 27, 2011: While the U.S. Army eliminated bayonet drills from basic training last year, the U.S. Marine Corps has not. The marines kept it not so much for developing weapons skills, but for mentally conditioning marines for combat. The bayonet drills are part of larger program emphasizing one-on-one combat. The army does this, to a lesser extent, and now without bayonet training.

The army attitude towards close combat is a bit different, and always has been. While the bayonet, and the bayonet charge, have a firm place in military history, the reality is rather different. Bayonets are still carried, but rarely attached to the front of a rifle. Most modern bayonets are simply knives, which are handy for all sorts of things on the battlefield. Sticking them in the enemy is rarely one of them. So army leaders saw training new recruits in the battlefield use of the bayonet as misleading and a waste of time. The marines looked beyond the weapon, to the spirit and enthusiasm with which it, and many other implements of destruction, are used in close combat.

The marines recognized that while the "bayonet charge" may not happen on the battlefield much anymore, it is still part of the American memory, and perpetuated via all sorts of media. The marines use that sort of thing to get their recruits in shape for the battlefield. The marines have always been pretty good at that. Recruits are led to believe that the bayonet practice is some kind of game, and competition, but one with a deadly serious purpose.

But why do infantry continue to carry a bayonet? To a certain extent, carrying a bayonet is tradition, even in the army. But there are practical reasons as well. A lot of time is spent out in the field, and a knife is useful for cutting stuff. But perhaps the most effective military use is intimidation. This is nothing new, the fearsome effect of a bunch of guys advancing with bayonets on the end of their rifles has been known for centuries. It's also a morale boost for the lads using the bayonets. When you hear the order "fix bayonets" (put them on the end of your rifle) you know it's do-or-die time. Unfortunately, that very rarely happens anymore.

The most common "combat" use of bayonets is for crowd control. In fact, this is about the only "bayonet training" most troops get anymore. The bayonet is used somewhat differently in these situations. For one thing, the troops don't just rush at the crowd carrying their bayonet tipped rifles. They march forward, neatly lined up, with the rifles held so that the crowd sees a line of bayonets coming at them. The troops do this while marching in step, and are trained to bring their right feet down as heavily as possible. The sight of the advancing troops, the bayonets and the rhythmic thud of boots striking the ground usually causes the crowd to scatter.

The marines train their recruits to understand that they might have to "fix bayonets" in combat, and that they must know how to fight with a bayonet, and anything else they can get their hands on, or just with their bare hands. Thus, in type of bayonet training, it's the thought that counts.

 


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