The Science of the Bayonet

 The bayonet is a blade which attaches to the end of a rifle. Troops are trained in its use as a means of both defence and attack.

The most common type of bayonet is the blade variety (typified by that of the Mauser and SMLE). Originally, they were around 18 inches long, to allow the soldier to engage mounted troops by virtue of the extended reach these afforded. World War One saw the effective end of the cavalry on the field of battle (although it is worth noting that World War One, from the British perspective, both began and ended with the use of cavalry and the Polish still deployed them in 1939). After World War One, many nations reduced the blade length to around 6 inches.

There are two very important aspects to remember regarding the use of the bayonet, as covered by the Geneva Convention.

1) The blade must leave a clearly defined wound which can be sewn up by a surgeon.

2) The blade must be clean, and clear of any contaminants (oil, grease, etc)

Failure to adhere to the above can result in charges of crimes in contravention of the Convention's articles.

There is another factor which needs to be considered in the use of the bayonet, namely that of the negative effect that its use has on the accuracy of the gun to which it is fitted. So here we shall explore the science and legal aspects of the bayonet.

The human body has an inbuilt reaction to anything which is forced into it. The muscles will contract around the point of entry and thus make it extremely difficult to remove a bayonet. Please forget anything you might have seen about the use of a bayonet as a substitute for ammunition, as the above factor would have a detrimental result on the ability to remove a bayonet from the body. It was often the case that the bayonet would need to be removed by using the recoil from discharging a round into the body. Blade bayonets have what is described as 'blood grooves' along their length; these are there purely as an attempt to counteract the effect of the muscular contractions, in that the gap they cause will stop the bayonet being 'gripped'..

The other issue is that of the nature of the wound inflicted. British troops were trained to twist the blade in order to prevent the muscles achieving their grip; this resulted in widening of the wound; the bladed bayonet was supposed to leave a nice clean straight cut, which could be easily dealt with. The French and Russians preferred to use a blade which was of a cruciform design. This was less liable to be subject to the muscular contractions and as such, could be removed with relative ease, by presenting a smaller surface area for potential muscular grip. However, such bayonets, while legal for use on parade and at ceremonial functions, contravened the Geneva Convention, due to their leaving a square wound, which was practically impossible to sew up at the field dressing stations or hospitals.

Grease or oil on a bayonet could result in the wound being contaminated and the possibility of the victim contracting blood poisoning. It is important to remember that the Geneva Convention was drawn up in a time prior to the availability of penicillin.

The other important factor, as stated above, is the effect the bayonet has on the rifle, when deployed.

The fixing of a bayonet to the end of a rifle adds extra weight. If the method of attachment involves the bayonet touching the barrel of the gun, this will also have a negative influence on the gun's performance, as it will interfere with the harmonics. Either situation will wildly throw out the sights of the gun and thus make accurate aiming nearly impossible.

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