Sword bayonet

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A sword bayonet is any long, knife-bladed bayonet designed for mounting on a musket or rifle. Its use is thought to have begun in the 18th century and to have reached its height of popularity throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries. When unmounted from a musket or rifle, sword bayonets with their typical hilts and long blades also could be wielded as short swords. While modern military bayonets typically have knife blades, they are usually too short to be called sword bayonets and are more akin to fighting/utility knives.



Japanese Type 30 bayonet (made between 1894 and 1945), an example of a straight-edged sword bayonet. Japan bayonet Type 30.jpg
Japanese Type 30 bayonet (made between 1894 and 1945), an example of a straight-edged sword bayonet.

Sword bayonets originated for use with muzzle-loading rifles. A typical example of an early sword bayonet is the 58 centimetre (23 inch) blade variety designed for the Infantry rifle, later called the Baker rifle of the Napoleonic era British Army.

Most infantry would routinely keep bayonets fixed to their inaccurate smooth bore muskets throughout a battle. Close order ranks and squares presented a hedge of bayonets to the enemy, which was especially useful for deterring cavalry. But a fixed bayonet - a pound or so of extra metal on the front of a firearm - seriously affects a firearm’s balance and hampers accurate shooting. However, Mosin-Nagant rifles using cruciform and dagger bayonets were arsenal zeroed with them affixed (or extended) as they affect point-of-impact via barrel harmonics, and in the case of Imperial Russian and Soviet battle doctrine dictated they were always affixed (with few exceptions). A rifleman usually fought without a fixed bayonet since accuracy was the whole purpose of their rifled weapon. He therefore required a side-arm that could be drawn and used instantly in an emergency so his bayonet had a cutting edge and a grippable hilt. That such bayonets were far heavier than standard socket bayonets was not a disadvantage since they were rarely fixed. Most riflemen found it worked better for cutting brush and roasting meat over a fire (See Rifleman Harris, Costello's, Simmons's diaries).

On occasion riflemen did form up in close order. Since rifles were shorter than muskets their bayonets needed to be longer to produce the same total length; the sword bayonet answered this need.

As well as rifle regiments, other soldiers whose battlefield role did not involve standing shoulder to shoulder in ranks, notably sergeants, also came to use sword bayonets. By the end of the nineteenth century all infantry had become riflemen and the sword bayonet had become the standard infantry bayonet.

Bayonets lost their popularity after World War I. While sword bayonets can be effective as short swords, they proved to be too unwieldy in cramped quarters in trench warfare, although spike bayonets continued to be used throughout most of the 20th century. A shorter version of the sword bayonet, the knife bayonet, was developed. Today, the majority of modern bayonets are knife bayonets.


A photograph showing a French bayonet charge taken just before the Great War. Note the long needle-like epee bayonet, for the French Lebel Model 1886 rifle. French bayonet charge.jpg
A photograph showing a French bayonet charge taken just before the Great War. Note the long needle-like épée bayonet, for the French Lebel Model 1886 rifle.

With the appearance of the hiltless sword bayonet, such as the socket-mounted variety, their use on the end of the musket or rifle also became a hindrance during the reloading of the muzzle-loaded longarm, (a common problem to all muzzle-loading infantry weapons). A bayonet of similar style and dimension was used on the Lee–Enfield rifle of the early 20th century.

The advantages of sword bayonets over spike bayonets are evident. Where a spike bayonet turns the rifle into a spear, a sword bayonet turns it into a glaive. Unlike spike bayonets, which can be used only for thrusting, sword bayonets can also be used for slashing, except for the épée bayonets. Twisting a sword bayonet in the wound was especially lethal. Before the advent of modern medicine after World War I, a soldier struck by a sword bayonet was very unlikely to survive.


While most sword bayonets have straight blades, a popular variant in the 19th century featured sinuous, S-curved blades like those found on the Balkan's and Middle-East's sword called the yataghan. Today, sword bayonets of this style are said to have "yataghan" blades, or to be "yataghan-bladed".

Related Research Articles

A rifle is a long-barrelled firearm designed for accurate shooting, with a barrel that has a helical pattern of grooves ("rifling") cut into the bore wall. In keeping with their focus on accuracy, rifles are typically designed to be held with both hands and braced firmly against the shooter's shoulder via a buttstock for stability during shooting. Rifles are used extensively in warfare, law enforcement, hunting and shooting sports.

Bayonet Knife-like weapon attached to end of a firearm

A bayonet is a knife, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit on the end of the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar firearm, allowing it to be used as a spear. From the 17th century to World War I, it was considered a primary weapon for infantry attacks. Today, it is considered an ancillary weapon or a weapon of last resort.

Flintlock Type of firearm using a flintlock mechanism

Flintlock is a general term for any firearm that uses a flint striking ignition mechanism. The term may also apply to a particular form of the mechanism itself, also known as the true flintlock, that was introduced in the early 17th century, and rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the matchlock, the wheellock, and the earlier flintlock mechanisms.

Musket firearm that preceded the rifle

A musket is a muzzle-loaded long gun that appeared as a smoothbore weapon in the early 16th century, at first as a heavier variant of the arquebus, capable of penetrating heavy armor. By the mid-16th century, this type of musket went out of use as heavy armor declined, but as the matchlock became standard, the term musket continued as the name given for any long gun with a flintlock, and then its successors, all the way through the mid-1800s. This style of musket was retired in the 19th century when rifled muskets became common as a result of cartridged breech-loading firearms introduced by Casimir Lefaucheux in 1835, the invention of the Minié ball by Claude-Étienne Minié in 1849, and the first reliable repeating rifle produced by Volcanic Repeating Arms in 1854. By the time that repeating rifles became common, they were known as simply "rifles", ending the era of the musket.

The yatagan or yataghan is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans and the Caucasus.

The Baker rifle was a flintlock rifle used by the rifle regiments of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. It was the first standard-issue, British-made rifle accepted by the British armed forces.

A pistol sword is a sword with a pistol or revolver attached, usually alongside the blade. It differs from a rifle with a bayonet in that the weapon is designed primarily for use as a sword, and the firearm component is typically considered a secondary weapon designed to be an addition to the blade, rather than the sword being a secondary addition to the pistol. In addition, the two components of these weapons typically cannot be separated, unlike most bayonet-fixed rifles.

Rifled musket A firearm conversion or redesign of a smoothbore musket to include a rifled barrel

A rifled musket, rifle musket, or rifle-musket is a type of firearm made in the mid-19th century. Originally the term referred only to muskets that had been produced as a smoothbore weapon and later had their barrels replaced with rifled barrels. The term later included rifles that directly replaced, and were of the same design overall as, a particular model of smoothbore musket.

Line infantry Type of infantry that conducted warfare in linear formations

Line infantry was the type of infantry that composed the basis of European land armies from the middle of the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century. Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus are generally regarded as its pioneers, while Turenne and Montecuccoli are closely associated with the post-1648 development of linear infantry tactics. For both battle and parade drill, it consisted of two to four ranks of foot soldiers drawn up side by side in rigid alignment, and thereby maximizing the effect of their firepower. By extension, the term came to be applied to the regular regiments "of the line" as opposed to light infantry, skirmishers, militia, support personnel, plus some other special categories of infantry not focused on heavy front line combat.

Rifleman infantry soldier armed with a service rifle

A rifleman is an infantry soldier armed with a rifled long gun. Although the rifleman role had its origin with 16th century hand cannoneers and 17th century musketeers, the term originated in the 18th century with the introduction of the rifled musket. By the mid-19th century, entire regiments of riflemen were formed and became the mainstay of all standard infantry, and rifleman became a generic term for any common infantryman.

M1819 Hall rifle Type of Rifle

The M1819 Hall rifle was a single-shot breech-loading rifle designed by John Hancock Hall, patented on May 21, 1811, and adopted by the U.S. Army in 1819. It was preceded by the Harpers Ferry Model 1803. It used a pivoting chamber breech design and was made with either flintlock or percussion cap ignition systems. The years of production were from the 1820s to the 1840s at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal. This was the first breech-loading rifle to be adopted in large numbers by any nation's army, but not the first breech-loading military rifle – the Ferguson rifle was used briefly by the British Army in the American Revolutionary War. Breech-loading rifles remained overshadowed by common muskets and muzzleloading rifles which were still prevalent until the mid–19th century. The early flintlocks were mostly converted to percussion ignition.

Bayonet lug

A bayonet lug is a standard feature on most military muskets, rifles, and shotguns, and on some civilian longarms. It is intended for attaching a bayonet, which is typically a long spike or thrusting knife. The bayonet lug is the metal mount that either locks the bayonet onto the weapon or provides a base for the bayonet to rest against, so that when a bayonet thrust is made, the bayonet does not move or slip backwards. Less than 400 years ago, bayonet lugs or their predecessors that allowed them to slip over the barrel did not exist.

The origins of the modern British military rifle are within its predecessor the Brown Bess musket. While a musket was largely inaccurate over 80 yards, due to a lack of rifling and a generous tolerance to allow for muzzle-loading, it was cheaper to produce and could be loaded quickly. The use in volley or in mass firing by troops meant that rate of fire took precedence over accuracy. A similar tactical preference would be a factor in considerations regarding rifle design in the late 19th century to early 20th century, when rate of fire would be a key design consideration for British bolt-action rifles.

Spike bayonet A bayonet with a pointed spike rather than a more conventional blade that is attached to a firearm for use as a bayonet and limited usefulness as a handheld weapon

A spike bayonet, also known as a pigsticker in informal contexts, is a blade attachment for a firearm taking the form of a pointed spike rather than a knife.

The Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle-musket was a .577 calibre Minié-type muzzle-loading rifled musket, used by the British Empire from 1853 to 1867, after which many Enfield 1853 rifle-muskets were converted to the cartridge-loaded Snider–Enfield rifle.

Knife bayonet A short-bladed knife bayonet which can be used as a bayonet when attached to a firearm, combat knife, or general-purpose utility knife

A knife bayonet is a knife which can be used both as a bayonet, combat knife, or utility knife. The knife bayonet became the almost universal form of bayonet in the 20th century due to its versatility and effectiveness. Spike bayonets proved useless when separated from the rifle and useless in trench warfare; and while versatile, sword bayonets proved to be impractical weapons in trench warfare because of their length. The first knife bayonet to see widespread service was the 10 inch blade Seitengewehr 1871/84, which became the standard German infantry bayonet in 1884. Its derivative, the Seitengewehr 1884/98, would go on in use until 1945 in German service.

Potzdam Musket Type of Musket

The Potzdam musket was the standard infantry weapon of the Royal Prussian Army from the eighteenth century until the military reforms of the 1840s. Four models were produced—in 1723, 1740, 1809 and 1831.