President Obama displayed ignorance when he characterized bayonets as being similar to horses – obsolete weapons in modern warfare. As an initial matter, the bayonet is a soldier’s last remaining means of defense when the soldier’s primary weapon system is no longer works for whatever reason. In addition, bayonets are a weapon of psychological intimidation; bayonet charges have long incited fear in enemy forces, particularly in conscript or green forces. Finally, bayonets work well for prisoner control, adding a little extra sobering reminder of the fate that will befall any prisoner who tries to escape . . .
Although not common, modern history does provide examples of the use of the bayonet in combat, especially by British Infantry. For example, in 1982, British soldiers conducted a successful bayonet charge up Mount Tumbledown during the Falkland war. In 2004, British soldiers in Al Amara, Iraq, again used a bayonet charge to dislodge entrenched fighters of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army in the Battle of Danny Boy. Most recently, there have been multiple documented cases of British forces using bayonet charges to great effect against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
If you believe some of what is being written today, the last American bayonet charge occurred in the Korean War. However, there are numerous documented cases of bayonets being used in small-unit skirmishes during the Vietnam War. The largest of these took place at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968 by members of Bravo Co., 1st Bn. 26th Marines. There is anecdotal evidence of bayonet usage occurring during the U.S. Army’s 1st Cav’s hard-won fight at LZ X-Ray, in the Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands, 1965.
Although the U.S.M.C. still trains recruits on the use of the bayonet, apparently the U.S. Army no longer does so. Nonetheless, the bayonet is still an essential part of an infantryman’s kit. Perhaps Obama thinks that modern warfare can be conducted entirely via drones, but last month’s attack in Benghazi proved that drones are not a substitute for infantry / ground forces.
Now, I will be the first to admit that, despite the motivational “rah rah” chants they teach you in basic training, the situations that call for the use of the bayonet, are – to use Obama’s recent catch phrase, “not optimal.” If the battle has come to the point where you are ordered to “fix bayonets,” you know that things are NOT going according to plan. Nonetheless, the bayonet will continue to an important “Plan B” for infantry forces, at least until light sabres become a reality.
For those looking for more reading on the topic, I recommend Tim Ripley’s “Bayonet Battle: Bayonet Warfare in the Twentieth Century.” Thoughts and comments by folks with recent in-theater infantry experience (Iraq, Afghanistan etc) is appreciated.