Keep Your Knives Close!

Probably high time that I told this story!
Many years ago, I went to buy a coffee at the café at work. The usual staff were not there.
Another young lady had been sent there instead. She was struggling with trying to open up in an unfamiliar environment. She had brought her boyfriend with her, but he was not much use and had decided his best approach was to stand by looking gormless.
I waited patiently.
The lady got to the stage of installing the milk boxes in the dispenser. I was familiar with these from my own experience in temp jobs. They have a blind-ended plastic tube. The end of the tube must be cut off before the box can be used.
The poor girl was unable to locate where the usual staff had placed the scissors, or whatever else they used. Futility, she gamely hacked away at the tube with a blunt butter knife.
I took pity on her.
I produced my trusty Swiss Army Knife, unfolded a blade and offered it to her.Swiss Army Ranger
I will admit, at that point I was seduced by the chocolate bar display. I only caught what occurred out of the edge of my vision. It was over before I could intervene.
What happened was this:
The young lady had taken my knife and hooked the blade behind the tube. She had then pulled it towards her. She had assumed my knife was the same as the usual semi-blunt objects she had encountered in cafés. It wasn't.
The edge went through the plastic like it was not there. The girl recoiled a foot or so. Luckily the blade missed her.
“That is a sharp knife!” she exclaimed. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she had nearly just cut off one of her breasts.
I accepted back my knife. Silently, I vowed that in future I would not to lend my blades to other people.
I have been duly wary since that incident. When my girlfriend reaches for certain tools, I cannot help but warn: “Careful! That is sharp!”
She returns this with an eloquent look. Part of it says: “I know! I am not and idiot!” but I think there is also a smidgen of pride that says: “Of course it is, it was you who sharpened it!”.
Morals of this story: Do not assume a tool is blunt. Do not assume someone else knows how to use a tool safely. Never cut towards yourself.

Crash Combat Third Edition Out Now!

I am pleased to announce that the Third Edition of Crash Combat has now become available.
This version has been extensively expanded, being about 30% longer. More content, extra illustrations, more techniques, new techniques and generally much more book for your money. In addition, much of the book has been rewritten and restructured so information is more easily assimilated and learnt.
While Crash Combat was originally written for a military context, it remains relevant to any individual wishing to learn to protect themselves in this dangerous and uncertain world.
Visit the Author Spotlight for my other books.
May be purchased direct from in either print or epub format. It will take a few more days or more for this version to appear with other retailers. Buying from Lulu costs you less and more of the money goes to the author.


I have just received and approved the proof copy of the print version. Very pleased with how it looks and reads. Treat yourself!

The Point of Bayonets

Reams have been written about the bayonet in the last one hundred years. Several US Army manuals begin by talking about “the Spirit of the Bayonet”. Much is written about the psychological effects training and using the bayonet is supposed to induce. We are even told “the bayonet is irresistible”.
As I noted in an earlier post, the practicality of the bayonet as a weapon was being questioned as early as the introduction of breech-loaders. Once machine guns became common, one would think the matter had been settled. Not so.

The Bayonet en Mass

Part of the problem with examining this topic is that many writers fail to distinguish between the use of the bayonet in massed charges and its use in personal combat.
Many bayonet manuals do not give much space to how a massed charge is to be actually conducted. Perhaps this was covered in other manuals. A US Army manual from 1916 informs troops that they should walk most of the distance to the enemy position so as not to unduly tire themselves. At 30-40 yards distance they may begin to move at double time, and rush the last few yards. A British manual from 1942 urges troops to approach the enemy position using all available cover. When reaching 20 yards distance, the unit was to form up for the charge and rush the final distance. When conducting massed charges it was felt important that a line formation was maintained. Given the effects of adrenaline and irregular terrain, this may not have been practical in many cases.
If one can approach to within 20 yards of an enemy position, there were probably better options than a bayonet rush. The position could be attached with multiple grenades, and automatic weapons used to sweep the visible sections of trench, for example.
Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart said:
“There are two thousand years of experience to tell us that the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old idea out.”
The conventional military mind seems to have retained its fascination with the bayonet charge long after such tactics should probably have been retired. Certainly bayonet charges have been used since the Second World War. Charges were used in the Falklands War, and in Afghanistan.

Hill 180 Korea

One of the last great bayonet charges, for American forces at least, was the bayonet charge by Easy Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, against Hill 180.
“Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51” by SLA Marshall has a chapter on the utility of bayonets, and the following observations about the attack on Hill 180:
“The tactical omissions, which accompany and seem to be the emotional consequence of the verve and high excitement of the bayonet charge, stand out as prominently as the extreme valor of the individuals. . . The young Captain Millett, so intent on getting his attack going that he “didn’t have time” to call for artillery fires to the rearward of the hill, though that was the natural way to close the escape route and protect his own force from snipers who were thus allowed a free hand on that ground. . . His subsequent forgetting that the tank fire should be adjusted upward along the hill. . .The failure to use mortars toward the same object. . .The starving of the grenade supply, though this was a situation calling for grenades, and the resupply route was not wholly closed by fire. . .The fractionalization of the company in the attack to the degree where only high individual action can save the situation, and individual ammunition failures may well lose it.

It cannot be argued that bayonet charges have not worked. And yet, one cannot help but wonder just how many lives have been needless expended because a massed bayonet charge was attempted rather than other more practical options. For a young officer the bayonet charge seems a gamble between a medal or a court martial. If they survive.

Individual Bayonet Use

Let us move to the more practical topic of the use of the bayonet as a personal weapon. In the second edition of “Crash Combat” I suggest that the use of the bayonet, or other close combat means are only attempted if the threat is within three body lengths. If the distance is greater, seek cover, reload and shoot, or some other tactic.
Older manuals recommend the bayonet be used for night combat where muzzle flash might expose your location. It is also to be used in close quarter situations where any firing might endanger comrades.
Three to four kilos of rifle does not make an ideal spear handle. It is, however “what you got”.
To use a bayonet, you must have a bayonet. Most modern bayonets are overweight supposedly multi-purpose tools of little actual utility. Understandably, many soldiers have discarded them in favour of more useful blades.
I won’t discuss techniques for unbayoneted weapons, since these are covered in my books.

When to Fix Bayonets

Assuming you have one, when should you fix your bayonet? Wartime British manuals require the bayonet to be fitted whenever the enemy is within 300 yards. Sights for shorter ranges were set to compensate for the changes the fitted bayonet made on point of impact. The Russians took this further. During wartime the Mosin-Nagant was always fitted with its bayonet. A fitted bayonet is necessary to zero the sights.
In a more modern context, it may be prudent to fix bayonets if engagement range is less than 50 metres.

The Indoor Bayonet

A fixed bayonet may seem a handy thing to have when sweeping a house. As well as its defensive use it can probe under beds or into other dark places. Bert Levy comments that within a building, bayonets are more a hazard to comrades and likely to get frequently caught on furniture. Levy was probably referring to sword bayonets mounted on relatively long bolt-action service rifles. Experiments need to be conducted to determine the best ways for teams to move with modern bayoneted weapons within building interiors. Since shooting will remain the primary offensive mechanism, this will probably be a low-ready position, rather than the high-port usually required for moving with bayoneted weapons.

À la Bayonet

Recently I read an entertaining and informative paper on the bayonet. Unfortunately the author devotes a big chunk of his discussion to perpetuating the bayonet wound fallacy. Later in the paper he graphically describes how visceral and final an encounter involving bayonets may be. It does not occur to him that this may be related to why there are so few bayonet wounds in the field hospital. Most victims never make it that far! Near the end of the on-line version of the article he states: “The Military Manual of Self-Defence (55) offers a series of aggressive alternatives to traditional bayonet fighting movements, its focus more on disabling the opponent than parrying until a clean point can be made. While not necessarily offering a full replacement to classic bayonet training, it does show that more options exist.”
This did amuse me. Firstly, The Military Manual of Self-Defence (Anthony Herbert) unashamedly copies entire sections from other works. Most of the bayonet section is taken from “Cold Steel” by John Styers USMC. The illustrations even still look like Styers! Styers, in turn, drew directly from Biddle (“Do or Die”), who was an instructor for the USMC. This “untraditional” system was that taught to most marines.
There is also an amusing irony here. During his military service, Herbert was wounded fourteen times. Three of them were from bayonets!


Stepping Back

Today I will look at another illustration from John Clements’ book on Medieval Swordsmanship.
This sequence shows how a downward strike is accompanied by a step forward with the right or rear foot, and the text describes how to resume the initial position (left). What I like about this is that if you view it right-to-left it equally illustrates a downward strike that follows stepping back with the left or lead leg. For example, an enemy targets your lead leg, so you step back to avoid the strike and simultaneously strike at his head. Striking low may have exposed the upper part of his body.
Medieval Sword and Shield describes a similar sequence, although this time the defender is in “half-shield” guard (above, left). Again, if the enemy strikes low, the targeted leg is brought back and the sword is brought down on the attacker.
Clements’ book makes a lot about the prevalence of leg wounds among the remains of the Battle of Visby. The above sequences suggest that attacking the legs was foolhardy, at least with shorter weapons such as swords. Some context helps us understand the discrepancy. The victorious Danish forces were mainly composed of professional soldiers and mercenaries. The Gutnish forces were primarily farmers, and only partially equipped with armour. It seems likely that professional fighters would readily exploit the defender’s lack of experience and equipment and target the legs. Whether such tactics were common in other battles against experienced fighters is open to debate.
The “step back while striking” drill has obvious applications to modern combat. If we do not hold a sword it can be adapted to other weapons or empty-handed techniques. In a previous post I have mentioned that the leg raising actions so typical of Scottish Highland dancing may have been training to take the leg out of the way of low strikes.
Many years ago I wrote about a very silly sequence that appears in some knife-fighting manuals. It should be apparent to readers that when an attacker threatens your leg, a more practical response will be to withdraw the leg and simultaneously strike at any target available, such as arm.

New Machete Grip

Surprisingly, machetes have featured infrequently in this blog. Possibly this is because much of what could have been said is already covered in “Survival Weapons” and “Crash Combat”.
One of the virtues of machetes is that they are mass-produced in their thousands, allowing you to acquire a reasonable quality tool for a very modest outlay. Sometimes the sheath costs more than the knife! Some auction sites that no longer sell “knives and bayonets” still sell machetes. A typical machete may be a fraction of the price of a smaller survival knife, yet prove more capable and more useful. In addition to new items, you may find some bargains second-hand or army surplus. Certainly, there are machetes being sold for hundreds of dollars, but it is unlikely that ten times the outlay will get you a ten-times better tool. The price of machetes is such that you may find yourself owning several, and distributing them among various kits and caches. You may have one in your garden shed, another with your bug-out bag, and one with your vehicle, plane and/or boat. If you are a bit of a kit tinkerer, this gives you an excuse to try out a variety of models without wasting large amounts of money.

Adding a Barong Handle

I have spent the last couple of days fitting one of my machetes with a new grip. The new grip is modelled on that of a couple of barongs that I have.
Machetes sometimes attempt to escape their user! You might cut at a springy branch placed under tension by other growth. Such an event can knock a machete right out of the user’s hand and send it flying into the brush. It is rather surprising that more machetes do not feature retention features such as knuckle bows and wrist loops. Many models don’t even have a hole in the grip for fitting the latter!
The barong-style handle is functional as well as cosmetic. The bird’s head shape facilitates both retention and manipulation.
My grip is made from teak, which once served as a chunk of laboratory bench top. It was shaped with a variety of hand-tools, with the occasional use of a Dremel-tool and an electric drill. Once the sanding was complete it was treated with several applications of linseed oil. The metal collar was made from a strip of soda can. Just above the machete you can see one of the original handle halves. The only modification made to the blade was one corner of the tang was reduced and rounded.
Flip-side view: Some dust still in need of cleaning off. I changed the cord for a longer piece with an extra knot, allow use as both a wrist loop and a thumb loop. The grip part could be slimmer, but I err on the side of caution when carving.

Sharpening a Machete

Currently I am sharpening this up, and it now has a reasonable edge on it. Most newly purchased machetes need some sharpening. You will be tempted to try sharpening it with a Dremel or bench grinder, but it is possible to overdo this. Machetes are made of softer metal than most smaller knives, and do not need a fine edge. The “micro-serrations” of the edge actually help the machete bite on vegetation. This means all you really need is a medium-sized “bastard” file. A round file is useful for major work on tools with a concave edge, such as kukris and billhooks. In the field you can maintain the edge with your usual sharpening tools. My EDC includes a diamond-impregnated card, and my kukri has a chakmak and small stone with it. If planning a trip where you expect your machete to see lots of use, it is worth packing a file in your camp gear.
Hold the file at an angle of around 22.5 degrees (for example) to the blade flat and push away from the spine. The noise the file makes on the steel will give you clues as to which parts of the edge need more work. Sharpening sometimes involves touch, sound, and/or sight. Half a right angle is 45 degrees and 22.5 half this again. Fold the corner of a piece of paper twice and use this to check your angle.
I have been sharpening with the machete across my knees, edge away from me. You could probably make a rig with a couple of supports at 22.5 degrees. The width, flatness and relatively straight edge of a machete favour this arrangement. With the machete resting on the ramps, edge up, a file held horizontally will be at the correct angle. Now I have an edge at the correct angle it is easy to file either side while holding the blade vertically. 

Sword Bayonets Part Two: Techniques

My interest in sword bayonets is largely academic. They are no longer issued by any army and any that you encounter will either be reproductions or date back to the 1940s if not earlier. That said, I thought I heard an odd noise in my flat the other night. Moving to investigate, the nearest weapon to hand was a M1917 sword bayonet. Even though a philistine of a previous owner had ground the edge off, it was still a handy thrusting weapon, its dull blade virtually invisible in the darkness. Ironically the noise proved to be nothing, and was probably the settling of some sword bayonets I had been examining as research for this series of blogs.
Very little has been written about the use of sword bayonets as hand weapons. The most well-known that springs to mind is Drexel-Biddle’s “Do or Die”. In this book, he relates an account of two marine aviators who took to wearing sword bayonets after training with Biddle. These two aviators were to later successfully defend themselves with these weapons against a mob of blade-armed foes.
Drexel-Biddle only describes a couple of techniques in his book. As some readers will know, Biddle was influenced by the school of thought that knife-fighting resembles sword-fighting. While this is open to dispute, it must be observed that 17" sword bayonets do have more in common with swords than most knives.

First photo shows an inward parry. Second photo shows the weak hand taking over the defence and grabbing the parried arm. The same technique can be applied as an outward parry. The unarmed hand takes over control of the foe’s knife hand and at the same time the bayonet counter-attacks. With an outward parry, one would probably thrust over the top of the arm towards the throat or face. Alternately, one could follow the wrist grab with a cut downwards at the attacker’s knife hand.
The next sequence shows a number of counter attacks. As the names may suggest, these are inspired by renaissance sword fighting techniques.

The Inquartata involves stepping back with your left foot to follow a quarter circle or further. This swings the body out of the path of an attack and positions your right side to deliver a counter thrust. Drexel-Biddle is aiming at the chest but the throat or face may be more prudent.

The Stoccata also involves the left foot, but this time you use it to step to your left, or forward to your left, to evade the attack. Biddle is thrusting under the attacker’s arm. Ideally drive this attack into the armpit where the artery is. A deep hit will also affect the shoulder joint.

The Passata Soto is a step to the left combined with a duck under the attack. Ideally, use the Capoeira footwork I describe in my book to move past the attacker’s right side when executing this counter attack.
These techniques can, of course, be used if you do not have a sword bayonet. A friend of mine was asking me about knife crime and I pointed out to him a rolled up magazine can be a very useful defensive tool in such a situation. View the photos and text above again and imagine executing them with a rolled up magazine. A strike to the throat or under the arm may not be as deadly as a bayonet, but can still be very effective.
For information on how to build on the above defensive techniques, please buy my book.

Sword Bayonets Part One

For no particular reason I have found myself thinking about sword bayonets recently. Perhaps it was because in a recent re-run of “Wonder Woman” a soldier was wearing one, which struck me as odd since he was an MP in white equipment and you would have expected a baton rather than a bayonet. (for that matter, the episode was set in the 1970s so a sword bayonet would have been an unlikely piece of equipment for any GI!)
My interest in sword bayonets goes back many years. One reason is in the opening passages of the Modesty Blaise adventure “Operation Sabre Tooth” there is a trial by combat and a soldier requests a bayonet to defend himself. Another character reveals he keeps as sword bayonet under the seat of his jeep and enthuses over its merits other a knife. Another source of my interest is the following passage in the Gun Digest Book of Knives, Fourth Edition. Page 106.
“The Yataghan is more of a machete-length short sword with a kukri’s chopping forward curve, but with the point brought back for thrusting. These can have considerable advantages over a machete. The Yataghan was widely used for so-called “Sabre Bayonets” at the time of the War Between the States. The Remington Zouave Rifle carried it, as did many European guns of the period. Perhaps its short sword length and association with the bayonet prevented its other capabilities from being appreciated. At any rate, this splendid weapon didn’t catch on in the West except in bayonet form. It still offers much to the user and should not be overlooked when making your choice. It has the length and reach of the machete in a stiffer blade. It is a powerful forward-curved chopper like a kukri, yet retains a fine thrusting point. Well balanced and lively in the hand it will perform hard work with ease.It is light and easy to carry as well.”
Careful readers will note that it is often uncertain if the author of the above is discussing yataghans in general or specifically yataghan-style bayonets. The poor quality photo in the article seems to suggest a bayonet blade that has been fitted with a new grip (possibly stag antler).
The story of sword bayonets begins with the hanger. Hangers were a short sword that was carried by infantry and other troops. The hanger itself was derived from a civilian tool favoured by outdoorsmen. Hangers, “short hunting swords”  or “couteau de chasse” were useful for chopping firewood, clearing brush and butchering game. They were carried by noble and commoner alike. There are exciting accounts of them being used to hunt game and they were a useful defence against both beast and man. Decorated versions might be worn out court to display one’s affection for hunting. They might also be worn in town as a handy defence against robbers, in many cases being more effective and convenient than rapiers or small swords. Understandably the common foot soldier found the hanger to be a useful implement. In addition to the sword bayonet the hanger is probably the ancestor of both the naval cutlass and the machete, and is why you occasionally come across machetes referred to as cutlasses. Sword bayonets were created to produce a bayonet that also served as an infantryman’s hanger. The yataghan configuration blade provided better clearance for the hand when reloading a muzzle-loading weapon. The blade shape is not without other merits so a number of breech loaders also used sabre bayonets.
Despite the claims of the passage quoted above, most sword bayonets I have handled would not be particularly good general survival knives. Most hangers resemble shortened sabres with slightly curved blades. They can fight with both point and edge but their application as brush knives means they have to be effective choppers. Most bayonets, on the other hand, then to have their weight well towards the hilt. Many of the older examples have solid brass hilts. Those that do not still have a considerable weight of metal in the grip designed to facilitate attachment to a rifle or musket. I have a number of wakizashi, barongs, machetes and kurkis of comparable weight and/or length to my sword bayonets. Just handling them makes it clear that for medium to heavy chopping the sword bayonets are inferior.
The sword bayonet may have been intended to replace the soldier’s hanger but it was a poor substitute when it came to use as a general utility tool. As a bayonet if may be argued that they certainly looked impressive and provided a long reach. On the other hand their weight when fitted affected the mean point of impact when shooting. Several nations came to the conclusion that lighter, handier bayonets were more practical.
It is the sword bayonet as a hand weapon that I intend to look into over the next few posts. Sword bayonets, as you might expect, are well suited to thrusting attacks. Their blades are long, narrowish, rigid and often provided with fullers or strengthening ribs. While chopping power is limited the length of the blades can be used to apply a draw cut against thinly protected flesh. We will look into these aspects in later posts.