Warfare has evolved since Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin led the bayonet charge down Little Round Top to save the Union army at Gettysburg, so it wasn’t a surprise when media outlets reported the Army had dropped bayonet training as part of the sweeping changes to basic training that went into effect in July.
But the Army insists it has not abandoned the bayonet. While soldiers may no longer be learning how to fix a bayonet to the end of a rifle and stab an enemy, they are still learning to use the bayonet, just in a different way.
The Army’s last bayonet charge happened in February 1951 during the Korean War, but there were instances during Vietnam when troops fixed bayonets during intense combat, according to the Army.
In 2004, British troops reportedly fixed bayonets when they warded off Shiite militiamen in Iraq, but that has been an isolated case.
U.S. Army units have not issued soldiers bayonets for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said Matt Larsen, the former director of the Army’s combatives program.
“The reason they don’t is because the training had nothing to do with the realities of the battlefield,” Larsen told The Rumor Doctor.
Worse yet, soldiers were bringing their own knives to the combat zone, and that proved to be dangerous they didn’t know how to fight with knives, Larsen said. Mostly, he said, soldiers used the knives as tools.
“And [when] they’re confronted with an enemy in hand-to-hand struggle, they have forgotten about it being a weapon, but the bad guy sees it on them and grabs and pulls it out and stabs them with it,” he said.
To make bayonet training relevant again, the Army got rid of the bayonet assault course, in which soldiers fixed a bayonet to the end of a rifle, ran towards a target while yelling and then rammed the bayonet into the target center. Instead, soldiers learn in combatives training how to use a knife or bayonet if someone grabs their primary weapon.
“There’s never going to be a day when we issue a pistol to every soldier, and traditionally a soldier’s secondary weapon has been his blade – his knife or bayonet,” Larsen said.
The new technique was demonstrated during last year’s Association of the United States Army convention in Washington. A soldier approached an attacker, who grabbed the end of his rifle. In the ensuing scuffle, the soldier grabbed his bayonet from a sheath on his leg and stabbed the attacker into submission.
Despite the change in training, Larsen has not heard of units issuing the bayonet to soldiers again.
“What I have seen is they are teaching it now in basic [training], but it’s a trickle-up effect coming from basic,” he said. “In fact, I’m in Iraq right now and one of the things I’m doing is showing units this new doctrine.”
THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: Soldiers are learning to use the bayonet in a new way, but it is still the bayonet. Whether this training will mark the bayonet’s return to the battlefield remains to be seen.