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Desmond7

Bayonet experience

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trajan
3 hours ago, phil andrade said:

Medical Services: Casualties and Medical Statistics of the Great War, By Major T.J. Mitchell and Miss G.M. Smith, Originally released 1931.

 

It had been tempting for me to cite Gallipoli as a campaign which was characterised by sustained and  intense close quarters combat featuring a higher than normal proportion of bayonet wounds, so it’s gratifying to see my suspicions confirmed by your post, Julian.

 

I suppose we must consider the fact that many who were bayoneted died on the spot, and so their wounds were not cited in hospital records.

 

Thanks again Phil - I saw and replied to the PM before seeing this! 


Yes, terrain may well have been a factor in the proportion / frequency of bayonet wounds. E.Delorme, Medical Inspector of the French Army, reported in his 1915 War Surgery (trans. H. de Méric), London, p. 2 that wounds resulting from the use of “cold steel” - the expression ‘cold steel’ encompassing wounds by the sword, the lance and the bayonet -  had dropped to around 0.6% in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, although wounds by ‘cold steel’ “now occur” (i.e., up to and including the first months of WW1) “in the proportion of 5%”. He is talking of 'cold steel' wounds in general though - i.e., sword, bayonet, or lance. On p.71 he reports that wounds by 'cold steel' to the long bones represented 5% of all wounds, inluding complete sectioning - these (I think) must surely be sword wounds to the upper arms as must more certainly should be the case with the wounds to the scalp referenced on his p 128. 

 

This suggested figure of 5% from all 'cold steel' wounds stands comparison with the experience of the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars, fought principally over a landscape characterised by ravines and the like, as at Gallipoli, in which the numbers of those wounded by bayonets represented 10% of the total casualties, such wounds in the Balkans being mainly to “the body, the abdomen, [and] the upper part of the lower limbs” (his pages 1-2). Somewhat surprisingly - to me at least - was his observation with specific regard to bayonets and lances, that penetrating wounds to the abdomen by these weapons did not always “wound” the intestines, implying these were survivable (his page 169).

Best, 

 

Julian

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trajan
3 hours ago, phil andrade said:

...I suppose we must consider the fact that many who were bayoneted died on the spot, and so their wounds were not cited in hospital records.

 

This is one of those "known unknown's"! But my recollection of bayonet training - all one hour of it! - was a stab to the abdomen and not to the chest to avoid getting the bayonet stuck in the rib cage... Abdominal wounds are not immediately lethal and should / could be survivable if treated promptly, shouldn't they? But first get to triage! There is certainly something odd in the way that both British and German reports note bayonet charges and attacks frequently and yet the dear old bayonet appears to count for very few wounds. 

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phil andrade

Julian,

 

Thanks for your replies.

 

Truth to tell, I’m flabbergasted at the statement from the Frenchman that 5% of wounds in the earlier part of the Great War were from cold steel : even more so that you cite an estimate of ten per cent for Gallipoli.

 

I know that in the American Civil War, the northern medical records state that , from just under a quarter of a million wound cases treated, the number attributable to bayonets was close to one thousand: what’s that, about 0.4% ?  Rather similar to that Great War sample I cited from the Medical Stats.  The 0.6% you mention from the Franco Prussian War looks in proportion....but five, or ten, percent ?

 

Golly !

 

Phil

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EastSurrey

Most of the relatively  few bayonet wounds I have seen recorded in the Great War in British and Canadian Great War records have been accidental.

Michael

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trajan
On 07/04/2019 at 21:37, phil andrade said:

... Truth to tell, I’m flabbergasted at the statement from the Frenchman that 5% of wounds in the earlier part of the Great War were from cold steel : even more so that you cite an estimate of ten per cent for Gallipoli. ...

 

Just to be clear, I was quoting from  War Surgery by E.Delorme, as translated by H.de Méric, published 1915. 

 

First point - my bad phrasing - sorry, the 10% figure was for the Balkan War... 

 

Second point - Looking at that "in the proportion of 5%" figure.  The translated version of what our learned Médecin Inspecteur Général De L’armée reads (pp.1-2):

 

"Cold Steel. Amongst cold steel weapons we may include the bayonet, the sword-bayonet, the sabre-bayonet, the cavalry sword, the lance. ... During the Balkan War bayonet injuries were very frequently observed. In certain battles they reached a proportion of 10 per cent, of the wounded. The injured regions // were mainly the body, the abdomen, the upper part of the lower limbs. ... Wounds by cold steel, rarely observed during relatively recent wars, now tend to increase in number. During the war of 1870 only 600 cases were recorded among 98,000 wounded. They now occur in the proportion of 5 per cent."


Anyway, I decided to spend some time checking back... Our learned doctor's tome was originally published as Traité Chirurgie de Guerre in 1888, in 2 volumes (I have only been able to access vol 1), and re-issued in shortened form as Précis Chirurgie de Guerre in 1914War Surgery being the translated version of this. A very quick search of vol 1 of the original Traité Chirurgie de Guerre revealed on p.421 a table of bayonet wounds in 'recent' wars, from the Crimea to the war of 1877-1878, and they range from 1.4% in the Franco-Prussian War, to 22.3% in the Mexican War, but most rates are below 4%. In the updated Précis, the translation as given above - "Cold steel.  Amongst..." is a literal version of the French text. 

 

I do wonder if the more mobile nature of the August-September-October 1914 phase of the war might account for higher "cold steel" wounds "in the proportion of 5%"?, e.g., the use of cavalry, etc., to pursue retreating troops, ambushes, etc. Wasn't the first French casualty that sentry cut down with a sabre on 2nd August by Leutnant Mayer of the Jäger Regtiment-zu-Pferd Nr 5?

 

Julian

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phil andrade

Julian,

 

Thanks for expounding and clarifying here.

 

I was worried that my comments might seem dismissive : certainly not my intention.

 

Note the words in certain battles that the Inspector General used regarding Balkan War experience.

 

There’s been an allusion to ten per cent of Gallipoli wounds being caused by bayonet : I would be surprised if they actually exceeded one per cent....but, in that grotesque fighting at Lone Pine, that ten per cent seems a lot less implausible.

 

I suspect that a significant number of men were bayoneted after they had been wounded by bullet or shrapnel first, and were finished off with the cold steel.

 

Phil

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trajan
56 minutes ago, phil andrade said:

... I was worried that my comments might seem dismissive : certainly not my intention.... I suspect that a significant number of men were bayoneted after they had been wounded by bullet or shrapnel first, and were finished off with the cold steel.

 

Dismissive? Perish the thought! 

 

Same here, I tend to think also that at Lone Pine and elsewhere there were probably a fair few from all armies in the GW who were "finished-off" with the bayonet after previously being wounded.

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SiegeGunner
On ‎07‎/‎04‎/‎2019 at 19:37, phil andrade said:

I know that in the American Civil War, the northern medical records state that , from just under a quarter of a million wound cases treated, the number attributable to bayonets was close to one thousand: what’s that, about 0.4% ?  

 

I have no expert insight on this one, but I must say that I find the figure of one thousand bayonet wounds very low for a war in the era of the rifled musket, when reloading must have become difficult once troops came to close quarters, and the bayonet would surely have come into play.  Then again, the figure is evidently for bayonet wounds treated, not bayonet wounds inflicted, and perhaps the truth of it is that a very high proportion of the bayonet wounds inflicted were fatal.

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trajan
Posted (edited)
20 minutes ago, SiegeGunner said:

 

I have no expert insight on this one, but I must say that I find the figure of one thousand bayonet wounds very low for a war in the era of the rifled musket, when reloading must have become difficult once troops came to close quarters, and the bayonet would surely have come into play.  Then again, the figure is evidently for bayonet wounds treated, not bayonet wounds inflicted, and perhaps the truth of it is that a very high proportion of the bayonet wounds inflicted were fatal.

 

I agree. The Mexican War referred to above in post 55, with a casualty rate from sabres and bayonets of 22.3%, is the War of 1864, but for the 'War of America', meaning the Civil War, Delorme, gives 0.37%. However, it seems to be from one particular 'battle' as the total number of casualties he gives is a mere 246,712, of which 922 were from sabres or bayonets (sorry, I had overlooked that bit on the type of weapon when putting those figures up above in post 55), and he refers to a single author, an 'Otis'. Unfortunately I have to go to class now but I'll try and copy the full table later.

 

Julian

Edited by trajan

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phil andrade
1 hour ago, SiegeGunner said:

 

I have no expert insight on this one, but I must say that I find the figure of one thousand bayonet wounds very low for a war in the era of the rifled musket, when reloading must have become difficult once troops came to close quarters, and the bayonet would surely have come into play.  Then again, the figure is evidently for bayonet wounds treated, not bayonet wounds inflicted, and perhaps the truth of it is that a very high proportion of the bayonet wounds inflicted were fatal.

 

In that war, it was noted how, while bayonet wounds were few, many soldiers resorted to clubbing their muskets, and that skulls were smashed in that way.  Bayonets are a hindrance in muzzle loading weapons, and it’s understandable that troops in close combat preferred to swing their muskets and dispatch the enemy.

 

You’re surely right about the fatal nature of the bayonet thrusts.

 

Max Hastings - if memory serves me - describes an incident in the early battles of the Great War in which German infantry launched a surprise pre dawn attack on the French , relying solely on the bayonet ,  which was completely successful. The implication is that many men were killed by cold steel.  I think that this episode was in Hastings’s book CATASTROPHE ; one of our GWF experts has cast doubt on the accuracy of this account, but I can believe that bayonet combat was more frequent in the shock of the initial battles.

 

German data from the sanitatsbericht make it clear that a higher proportion of bayonet wounds were suffered in fighting against the Russians than in the war in France and Belgium.

 

Phil

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BullerTurner

Monty was wounded at Meteren in 1914 - shot twice.  I wonder if this caused a disagreement about relative discomfort with bayonet-victim, De Gaulle?

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phil andrade
Posted (edited)

Monty had the luxury of a sacrificial NCO or other rank who had the good grace to protect his officer’s body by falling across him, at the cost of his life.  I doubt that De Gaulle was furnished with a man willing to interpose himself between his officer and a German bayonet.

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade

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seaJane
7 hours ago, phil andrade said:

higher proportion of bayonet wounds were suffered in fighting against the Russians than in the war in France and Belgium.

Could this have been because (as I think I've seen somewhere) the Russian army was horrendously short of rifle ammo?

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trajan

While on the subject, I stumbled across this interesting photograph at: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-forgotten-ferocity-of-canadas-soldiers-in-the-great-war the original in the Library and Archives Canada. One can almost hear the drill instructors comment - "I say sir, excellent riposte in seconde, if I may say so sir, but body a little lower next time, sir, as if a passato soto."

 

The article itself also gives a link to an interesting piece: "The Politics of Surrender: Canadian Soldiers and the Killing of Prisoners in the Great War", Tim Cook, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Jul., 2006), pp. 637-665, or via: https://web.viu.ca/davies/h482.wwi/timcook.cdns.killingprisoners.pdf

 

Sea Jane: can't comment on the supply of ammunition being a factor on the East front. Perhaps a matter of terrain, more fluid positions, etc., as - in a sense - Gallipoli

 

Julian

 

 

canada Library and archives.jpg

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phil andrade

Sea Jane,

 

The German wounds from bullets were also proportionately more numerous  on the Eastern Front than they were on the Western, so it’s hard to accept that shortage of Russian bullets accounted for the rather higher incidence of bayonet wounds ; although you make a cogent point !

 

Phil

 

 

Edited by phil andrade

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trajan

Looking back at that Canadian photograph, well at least the "horficer" has the bayonet in his left hand, as proper in knife fighting, but he has not yet been taught that when thrusting towards the chest, the blade should be horizontal to penetrate between the ribs rather than hitting them...

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Le Duck

Historically (16-1800s) bayonets and swords were far more likely to be used in battles in fortifications, when it was harder to get away and contact was often sudden and close range. Those factors were of course present in trench fighting and would, toghether with a lack of sduperior alternatives like submachine guns for most of the war, probaby lead to more bayonet use than in WWII and later.

 

As for the early months, warfare was more mobile but most (all?) armies still had a very aggressive doctrine which included lots of bayonet training and ethos. Maybe this could explain a higher frequency than in e.g. the American Civil War, where a lot of troops were quite raw and probably more likely to run? Also there was frequently fighting for villages and other natural strongpoints in the early phase, again increasing the chance of close encounters. But this is quite speculative of course.

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)

One needs to bear in mind that as "the donkeys" used to go on about "rifle and bayonet" and the "spirit" thereof, (see the idiotic statement of Rawlinson in late 1918) many who were of a more perceptive mind in terms of tactics and technology came to reflexively discount the value of both of the former, during the war and after.  An error, but of course we are mostly only semi-rational creatures. 

 

One can, or rather should be able to imagine the fury and frustration of those who could see the human, moral and monetary capital of the Empire (to say nothing of the rest of the Western World) being squandered and the war nearly lost by bloody-minded fools; a loss that would have rendered the incalculable costs and suffering of the previous years utterly wasted.  Small wonder that baby was thrown out with the bath water.

 

But to proceed from the general to the specific: did anyone examine German dead left on the battlefield for the nature of their wounds and quantify the results, even once?   Or our own dead for that matter?  The only statistics worth citing in this matter are those that were apparently never collected.

 

How many times do we see references to the use of the bayonet in close combat?  Innumerable times.  Yes, some were no doubt more hyperbole than fact, but there is no reason to think most were. 

 

In continuous close combat was there time to charge magazines?  Obviously not, and often not even time to work the bolt of a rifle.  (The ten round magazine of the SMLE was a great advantage in such situations obviously) 

 

Therefore the soldier would use what is immediately available: grenades, pistols, knives, picks, shovels & clubs, but of course primarily rifle butts and bayonets.  The same seems to have occurred in the Falklands; small wonder again.

 

Regarding the comment above about firing the rifle to extract a stuck bayonet, this makes perfect sense as anyone can see by watching a high speed film of a .30 calibre bullet passing through ballistic jelly: the cavitation and disruption of tissues around the bullet track would naturally help to loosen any hold the bone & tissues had on the blade of the bayonet immediately below.

 

(It's a pity our troops were not in North Africa with the New Zealanders and Australians, but the "showing up" of WWI had been so thorough that clearly the intention was to try to prevent such from occurring again, no matter what the risk or cost.)

 

Here's one account: http://cefresearch.ca/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=10262&p=77880&hilit=bayonet#p77880

Worth remembering that the close combat described probably consumed no more than a minute or two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR
clarification

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)
On 10/04/2019 at 08:43, trajan said:

Looking back at that Canadian photograph, well at least the "horficer" has the bayonet in his left hand, as proper in knife fighting, but he has not yet been taught that when thrusting towards the chest, the blade should be horizontal to penetrate between the ribs rather than hitting them...

 

He is holding an SMLE to which the bayonet is fitted, not merely the bayonet itself.  The extreme distance between his hands in their grip on the rifle reflects the training then given.  I've never seen the logic in it myself, but presumably there was some.  One can see that his left hand is thrown so far forward he cannot even grip the forend properly.  The heel of butt can just be seen under his right arm.  The dummy is of course holding an improvised "fencing musket".

 

I just reread the article by Tim Cook.  I'm sorry to say that it needs a good editing IMHO.  There are numerous peculiarities and repetitions and some odd omissions such as the fact that the deliberate killing of the survivors of the Llandovery Castle, nurses in particular, was the specific point of outrage.

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR

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Marilyne

Charles de Gaulle was wounded by bayonet in Verdun.

In a letter to his CO from December 1918, he wrote: L’un d’eux m’envoya un coup de baïonnette qui traversa de part en part mon porte-cartes et me blessa à la cuisse. […] Je restai un moment sur le carreau. Puis, les boches, me voyant blessé, me firent retourner d’où je venais et où je les trouvais installés

the bayonet sliced up his map case and wounded him in the thight "je restai sur le carreau" means he was dazed and incapacitated for a moment.

 

It's also important to know what bayonet. In "Im Westen nichts neues", Remarque tells about bayonets that had one smooth and one sawed edge… they ended up putting them away because if the enemy caught you with one of those bayonets, you'd be killed directly.

 

there's quite some references to Bayonet attacks on French littérature. Paul Lintier for example (below, in French…Don't put in through google, it might come out quite funny…) but on the receiving part… I could ask a colleague of mine: we once tried to catch his falling weapon by taking it on the bayonet, waiting for the start of a ceremony… it was not a nice sight !!

 

M.

 

Voilà! Ils l'ont passé...une brigade...; seulement l'artillerie a coupé les ponts derrière. Alors, on a rentré dedans à la baïonnette. Ah vous ne connaissez pas ça, vous autres, la charge! C'est terrible. Je ne connais rien de pareil. S'il y a un enfer, on doit s'y battre tout le temps à la baïonnette. Sans blague. On part, on gueule, il y en a qui tombent, des tas qui tombent, moins il en reste plus il faut gueuler fort pour que ça continue à marcher. Et puis, quand on arrive dessus on est comme un fou. On tape, on tape. Mais la première fois qu'on sent la baïonnette rentrer dans le ventre, ça fait quelque chose. C'est mou, il n'y a qu'à enfoncer. Seulement c'est pour la retirer aprés! J'y allais si peu fort, que j'en ai piqué un à terre, un gros pansu à barbe rouge. Je ne pouvais plus ravoir ma baïonnette. J'ai été obligé de lui mettre le pieds sur le ventre. Je le sentais remuer sous mon pied. Tiens regarde ça.
Il a tiré sa baïonnette. Elle est rouge jusqu'au quillon. En s'en allant il arrache une poignée d'herbe pour la nettoyer.

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)

To return to the grim mechanics of the matter for a moment, the oft-heard "In, Turn, Out!" command of bayonet drill would refer to the likelihood of the blade of the Patt. 1907 bayonet (reputedly inspired by the design of the Arisaka bayonet incidentally) getting stuck between the ribs of the opponent.  It's blade height and tapered point being such that it would if driven hard enough penetrate between ribs, but due to it's blade height would tend to jam there with the rifle held in the usual upright position. The "Turn!" meant twisting the rifle and bayonet a quarter turn counter-clockwise so that the blade then lay on its side between the ribs and could be withdrawn more easily.   Later training became to jab at the stomach, neck or even face, where the catching of the blade was less likely.  

 

Somewhere I read an account from the Viet Nam war of a young, green lieutenant taking over the writer's platoon.  When they came in contact with the VC or NVA not long afterwards, and both sides went to ground, this young officer was heard to order "fix bayonets!" as they lay in a line facing the enemy.  Those who heard this reportedly looked incredulously to the Gunnery Sgt. (must have been a USMC outfit) to confirm or deny this apparent piece of outdated lunacy.  The Sgt. confirmed it, perhaps with some reluctance, and so they fixed, got up and the charge began.  To the writer's considerable surprise, the enemy soon also got up, turned, and ran for their lives!

 

As per the Falklands, even with a semi-automatic and a 20 (or 30) round magazine, at some point your magazine will be emptied and as advancing troops instinctively give themselves as much covering fire as they can if only "from the hip", it is quite possible to arrive on the enemy's position with an empty mag, and there you are; what next?  If your covering fire was effective, the enemy is taking shelter from it and suddenly you are face to face.  You have the initiative of movement and "impact", for a moment or two, but if your mag is empty you have an instant to "lay about you" with something or your enemy will recover and fight back, quite likely with fire that you cannot return or avoid.  Yes, as long as it is the role of infantry to "close with and destroy the enemy",  we will need bayonets, and if the blades are long and bright, so much the better.

 

One can see how officers, ever sensitive to the will o' the wisp called morale - unless too dull to grasp it at all - would fear that technology such as machine guns might make their men dependent; afraid to act without it, incapable of what they fondly believed was "the spirit of the bayonet".  In fact of course they were confusing cause and effect: to maintain the balance of technology on the battlefield is vital to assuring the preservation of morale, except in those rare instances where the officer's competence and powers of leadership, and the successes that result, have created a confidence in their men which gives a determination capable of defying the apparent odds and often overcoming them.  Such was the happy condition of the Canadian Corps as the war progressed.

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR

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