Category Archives: Weapons

Friday essay: a short, sharp history of the bayonet



A British Pattern 1907 bayonet with leather scabbard.
Wikimedia Commons

Peter Monteath, Flinders University

Even the sound of a bayonet could be frightening. The audible whetting of blades in the enemy’s trenches could puncture a night’s rest with premonitions of steely death. The sight of gleaming blades, too, turned the stomach of many a soldier. For all the sheer, witless terror it could produce in those who heard, saw and perhaps felt its cold steel, there was no weapon more visceral than the bayonet.

It might have been a moment of inspired panic that brought the bayonet into existence. The bearer of a musket – maybe a soldier, maybe a hunter – having fired his weapon and missed his target, found himself at the mercy of a fast-approaching assailant.

With no time to reload, he plunged the handle of a dagger into the muzzle, converting it from firearm to elongated knife or pike. Perhaps he had missed his target altogether and expected to be assaulted at any moment, or perhaps his wounded quarry had disappeared into a thicket and needed to be chased at speed.

As time was of the essence, it could not be squandered in the cumbersome act of reloading. Shoved snugly inside the muzzle of a firearm, even a short dagger could deliver a lethal strike.

From its first use somewhere in southwestern France sometime in the first half of the 17th century, the genius of the invention spread far and wide. History has it that the first acknowledged military use of the bayonet was at Ypres in 1647. It also reveals that, for all its genius, the days of the “plug bayonet” were numbered. While the wooden handle was plugged in the musket, the weapon could not be fired. Worse than that, over-vigorous use might damage the barrel, or the blade might break while wedged firmly inside.

A Russian grenadier with bayonet in 1732.
Wikimedia Commons

Over time, ways were found to attach blades to the outside of barrels, whether running alongside, on top or beneath them. The blades could be short and dagger-like. Or they could be as long as swords, so that when attached to long-barrelled weapons they could deliver their bearer the advantage of reach. In cross-section, they might be broad and thin like a carving knife, round like a stiletto, or star-shaped.

In their countless variations, bayonets appeared on many a battlefield in Europe and other parts of the world, until in the last decades of the 19th century they appeared to have met their match. The American Civil War and the Franco–Prussian War seemed to teach one incontrovertible lesson – that advances in military technology had rendered the humble bayonet obsolete. In the face of machine-gun fire or a bombardment of artillery, the infantryman with a fixed bayonet might never see his killer, let alone plunge the cold steel into him.

Yet while machine-guns, mortars and artillery might serve to mow down the serried ranks of the enemy or blow them apart, ultimately even positions strewn with corpses had to be occupied and claimed. It remained the infantrymen’s vital role to make contested territory their own. If the very sight of fixed bayonets did not persuade any surviving defenders to surrender, then the bayonets might still have work to do.

The War for the Union, 1862 – A Bayonet Charge (Harper’s Weekly, Vol. VII)
Wikimedia Commons

A 20th century revival

The 20th century proved that declarations of the bayonet’s demise had been premature. It remained standard issue for infantrymen all over the world, even if its shape and use varied.

A German bayonet from the first world war.
Wikimedia Commons

The Russians clung fanatically to their faith in the socket bayonet. The Japanese reintroduced a sword bayonet in 1897, inspired by a French weapon. Where stealth was of the essence, as it was in night attacks in the Russo–Japanese War, the bayonet delivered silent death. Americans, too, insisted that their infantry carry long bayonet blades – an intimidating 40 centimetres – on their belts, ready to be fixed when the need arose. In time and with experience, though, the Germans opted for shorter knife bayonets of 25 or 30 centimetres.

In Britain, and all her Dominions, the so-called “Pattern 1907” bayonet was preferred. Over the centuries, the fundamentals of the bayonet had barely changed, and the Pattern, too, consisted of a blade, a guard with crosspiece and muzzle ring, and a wooden hilt. Along much of the length of the blade ran a groove, a fuller. It reduced the weight of the weapon and also allowed air to pass into the wound, making it easier to extract the blade.

While most of the standard weapons of the British Empire’s armies were manufactured in Britain, Australia, like India, manufactured its own Pattern 1907 bayonets in both wars.

In the first world war they were made in a factory in Lithgow, while those from the second world war were stamped with 13 (for Orange Arsenal) or 14 (for Munitions Australia). The wooden grips were stamped with “SLAZ”, an abbreviation of their British maker, Slazenger, active in the sporting goods business back to the 1880s.

Kept normally in a scabbard attached to the soldier’s belt, when fixed to the standard-issue Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle, the Pattern 1907 extended the soldier’s reach by more than 40 centimetres.

Australian soldiers guard the jetty in Bowen during world war one.
Wikimedia Commons

Australia’s willing killers

Bayonets were standard equipment in the first world war, even as the accelerated development of military technology enforced the trend to mechanised, industrial killing. Australians earned themselves a reputation for using their bayonets with relish. Well trained and drilled in their use, they plunged, parried and stabbed with great vigour at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. The Australians, as the historian Bill Gammage has put it:

by reputation and probably in fact, were among the most willing to kill. They had an uncomplicated attitude towards the Hun, conditioned largely by propaganda and hardly at all by contact, and they hated him with a loathing paralleled, at least in the British Army, only by some other colonial troops. Accordingly many killed their opponents brutally, savagely, and unnecessarily.

Australian infantry in the trenches with bayonets during World War One.
Frank Hurley/Wikimedia Commons

It was not only the Germans who became acquainted with the Pattern 1907. At Gallipoli Albert Jacka won Australia’s first VC of the war by shooting five Turks and bayonetting two others. Another Australian, Nigel Ellsworth, noted that in advance of a night attack on Turkish lines:

one can’t buy a place in the main firing trench, and men are known to have refused for their positions during the fighting. They stand up in the trenches &; yell out ‘Come on, we’ll give you Allah’ & … let some Turks actually get into our Trenches then tickle them up with the bayonet.

‘Steel has an unearthly terror’

Archie Barwick, a farmer from New South Wales, spoke of being transported into a state of “mad intoxication” when he took to the Turks with fixed bayonet.

I can recollect driving the bayonet into the body of one fellow quite clearly, & he fell right at my feet & when I drew the bayonet out, the blood spurted from his body.

A New Zealand officer writing home from Gallipoli claimed that the Turks “redoubled” their fire over the New Zealanders’ positions at night. It was “the one hope of deterring the dreaded bayonets of our men … steel has an unearthly terror for them”.

In a similar vein, another Australian wrote boastfully to his family of the short work he made of Germans:

They get it too right where the chicken gets the axe … I … will fix a few more before I have finished. It’s good sport father, when the bayonet goes in their eyes bulge out like a prawns.

If there was a danger in the over-zealous use of the bayonet, it was that the weapon might be driven so far and firmly into the opponent’s body that it was difficult to extract it. The Queenslander Hugh Knyvett recalled a case where a fellow Australian drove his bayonet through a German and into a hardwood beam, from which it could not be withdrawn. The blade had to be released from the rifle, “leaving the German stuck up there as a souvenir of his visit”.

By the latter stages of the first world war, the Australians’ skill had manifested in the use of a particular lethal movement with the bayonet known as the “throat jab”.

It is well illustrated in William Longstaff ’s iconic painting Night Attack by 13th Brigade at Villers- Bretonneux, which shows an Australian holding aloft his Lee Enfield, bayonet attached, and thrusting it into a German’s exposed throat.

Night attack by 13th Brigade at Villers- Bretonneux.
Australian War Memorial

In recalling his own role in that battle in the night from 24 April to Anzac Day, Walter Downing wrote:

Bayonets passed with ease through grey-clad bodies, and were withdrawn with a sucking noise … Many had tallies of twenty and thirty and more, all killed with the bayonet, or bullet, or bomb. Some found chances in the slaughter to light cigarettes, then continued the killing.

Still, in reality the bayonet’s role in the first world war was more prominent in the telling than on the battlefield. Sober analysis showed that the vast majority of deaths and casualties were put down to machine-guns and artillery. As for the Australians themselves, more than half of those admitted to field hospitals in France suffered injuries from shells and shell-shock, and more than a third from bullets. The combined tally from bombs, grenades and bayonets was just over 2%.

The fear of cold steel

After the war, even former combatants voiced their awareness of the bayonet’s shortcomings. It might have been helpful for certain mundane tasks like opening tins, chopping firewood or perhaps roasting meat over a fire, but in a charge across open land in the sights of German machine-gunners, it was at best an unwelcome burden.

In close quarters, too, it had its drawbacks. Fixed in readiness to the end of a Lee Enfield and lugged along a trench, its most likely victim was a comrade in arms, who might receive a prod to the buttocks or a poke in the eye.

A Pattern 1907 bayonet with hooked quillon.
Australian War Memorial

Nonetheless, by 1939, the bayonet still had its place in every army. The true value of the bayonet was in the soldier’s mind, not at the end of his rifle.

That was true in two ways. While the greatest threat to the 20th century soldier was the bomb or the bullet delivered anonymously from afar, the most animating of fears was that of “cold steel” inserted into his body in a mortal duel, the most intimate form of combat death.

The most feared weapons in war are not necessarily the most dangerous. One reason why field hospitals counted relatively few casualties caused by bayonet wounds may well have been that many a soldier turned and ran before taking his chances against a surging line of men, bayonets glistening, and in all likelihood adorning their advance with the kinds of cries or yells designed to curdle blood.

In those circumstances, only in the rarest cases would bayonet steel clash with steel. Unlike the arrival of the bullet or the shell, the bayonet’s advent was seen, possibly heard, and with judicious retreat was probably avoidable. As one soldier of the second world war put it, “If I was that close to a Jerry, where we could use bayonets, one of us would have already surrendered!”

More crucial, though, than the psychological effect of the bayonet on the enemy was its impact on the men who wielded it. To take the lives of fellow human beings required not just weapons, but a mentality that tolerated the act of killing and even facilitated it.

In this war, as in the last, at military training schools across the world, instructor sergeants taught their charges to lunge, thrust and parry. Bayonets in hand, recruits were exhorted to plunge their weapons into swinging sacks of sawdust or bags of straw, aiming for those parts marked as weak and vulnerable.

British soldiers practising with bayonets in the first world war.
Wikimedia Commons

To ramp up the level of realism, some British recruits practised “in abattoirs, with warm animal blood thrown in their faces as they plunged home their bayonets”.

Confidence in the use of the bayonet, it was believed, would give infantry the courage to advance from their positions and confront the enemy directly. They developed was what some called “the spirit of the bayonet”, l’esprit de la baïonnette. More crudely, it was a “lust for blood”. Although the statistics insisted it was unlikely that the bayonet would be the cause of death, it was crucial because it engendered in its bearer the desire to advance and to kill.

A mental reflex

Ideally the effect of such training, then, was not just to acquire the strength and skills akin to those of a fencer or swordsman. It was to develop a mental reflex perhaps best understood as the form of associative learning that psychologists term “classical conditioning”.

Just as Pavlov’s dog was conditioned to salivate on the appearance of a metronome – an artefact the dog had been trained to associate with the presentation of food – so in the mind of the infantryman the command to fix bayonets would trigger a hyper-aggressive state.

At that point it might even have seemed to the soldier that all agency had shifted to his bayonet, which would tug him into wild acts of violence, as if he had “no choice but to go along with its spirit”. As one infantryman put it, the “shining things leap from the scabbards and flash in the light … They seem alive and joyous; they turn us into fiends, thirsty for slaughter.”

If any soldiers in the second world war were entitled to the view that the march of military technology had rendered the bayonet obsolete, it was the parachutists and mountain troops Hitler sent to invade the island of Crete in May 1941.

Superbly trained and equipped, they had proved to themselves and the world that warfare had entered a new era. Germany’s armed forces, the Wehrmacht, had demonstrated that in the modern age, death could be delivered anonymously and at a distance, above all from the skies. The age of intimate killing was over.

The Australian army’s rising sun badge.
Wikimedia Commons

Or so it seemed. In Crete they were to confront Australians and New Zealanders who, like their fathers, were deeply familiar with the spirit of the bayonet. On the upturned brims of their slouch hats, the Australians displayed their allegiance to a powerful tradition in the form of the Rising Sun badge, a semi-circle of glistening bayonets radiating from a crown.

Like the Anzacs of the Great War, the Anzacs of 1941 were well trained in the use of the Pattern 1907 – they could lunge and stab with all the skill and deadliness of their forebears. When the order was given to fix bayonets, these Anzacs of 1941, too, would be expected to spill blood.

NB: Bayonets were used in charges as recently as in the Falklands War, the Second Gulf War and in Afghanistan. In many parts of the world to this day, training for infantrymen introduces them to the “spirit of the bayonet”.

This is an edited extract from Battle on 42nd Street – War in Crete and the Anzacs’ bloody last stand by Peter Monteath (NewSouth Books).The Conversation

Peter Monteath, , Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Battle scars reveal the life of ‘Mephisto’, a WW1 German tank from a century ago



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Mephisto after its capture in France by the Australian 26th Battalion.
Queensland Museum, Author provided

Michael Westaway, Griffith University

What can we possibly learn from the archaeological study of a World War I battle tank? Quite a lot, it turns out, when the attention is devoted to a rare German-built A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tank known as Mephisto.

The tank was originally collected as a war trophy by a Queensland based battalion in July 1918, brought to Brisbane the following year and now held by Queensland Museum. One hundred years to the month since its recovery, it is the last of its kind in the world.




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On close inspection it is clear that this metallic monster is in far from pristine condition and covered in battle damage. Mephisto saw a lot of action during the battle for Villers-Bretonneux in northern France a century ago.

The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen Mephisto in transit at the Ipswich Railway Works Museum.
Michael Westaway, Author provided

Investigation of war relic

The story of the tank is now told in a new publication, Mephisto: Technology, War and Remembrance, that recounts its history and technological development, and places it in the context of the so-called “War to end all wars”.

Mephisto: Technology, War and Remembrance, by Greg Czechura and Jeff Hopkins-Weise.
Queensland Museum

Together with our colleagues, we have attempted to reconstruct something of Mephisto’s role in its final battle.

To make sense of various gunshot and shrapnel impacts, the Queensland Police and Ballistic Bomb Blast Unit and the Defence Science & Technology Group (DSTG) provided their technical skills to help explain the damage to the tank.

It became clear that a large amount of small arms fire was thrown at the vehicle in an attempt to halt its advance. There is evidence of very close-quarter fighting, with several attempts to disable the vehicle.

The QP Ballistics team identified a .303 armour piercing round wedged in the armour next to a machine gun port. It seems that a soldier was attempting to disable one of Mephisto’s eight machine guns by shooting its water jacket.

Queensland Police ballistics measuring the trajectory and angle of an armour piercing round fired at one of Mephisto’s eight maxim machine guns.
Michael Westaway, Author provided

A series of well-aimed, short machine gun bursts were fired at one of the tank’s exhaust ports. Much of the damage occurred on the left side of the tank which from reconnaissance photos taken after the battle show the position of the allied trenches located parallel to the tank.

There is also evidence of a larger-calibre weapon that was brought into use against the tank, perhaps a French 37mm weapon, which simply ricocheted off Mephisto’s thick armour.

Large calibre impact strikes on Mephisto, possibly made by a French 35mm gun.
Queensland Museum, Gary Cranitch, Author provided

Further research is required to clarify the exact meaning of the use of this larger-calibre weapon. Initial work by DSTG has reconstructed the angle the tank rested in when it finally became stuck when it ran into a shell crater.

Close combat with a tank

Very close fighting was associated with the vehicle, and the battle damage reveals something of the terror that the defending English soldiers must have endured on the morning of April 24, 1918.

The destruction of the vehicle was revealed by QP bomb blast experts. Two different explosions were recorded in the twisted armour of the forward compartment of the tank.

Historical evidence has suggested that the German crew set off a charge to disable their vehicle, but the primary impact appears to have burst through the roof, the force bending the heavy steel support beams downward.

This blast created something of a chain reaction, and would have generated a temperature of between 3,000℃ and 4,000℃. It initiated a further explosion by igniting any munitions still within the tank.

The perfect impression of one of Mephisto’s own 57mm shells is blasted through the floor plating next to the main forward gun.

In turn, this projectile hit the ground beneath Mephisto, sending shrapnel back up through the plating on the underside of the tank. This generated several impacts in the metal directed back inside the forward compartment.

The damage to the forward compartment of Mephisto can be seen here, taken during the conservation treatment after the 2011 Brisbane floods.
Michael Westaway, Author provided

The conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that a fusillade of small arms fire was hurled at Mephisto as it trundled, at speeds never more than 6–8mph (9-13kmh), towards the Allied positions at Villers-Bretonneux and Monument Wood.

As much of the damage is recorded on the left side of the tank it is probable that most of the impacts occurred during this final assault and not at its previous action at St Quentin. The tank sat for three months in No Man’s Land and continued to receive small arms and shrapnel damage while it was disabled.

A lasting legacy of war

A study such as this by no means rewrites our understanding of the conflict, but as the sole surviving A7V, this battered artefact does provide unique insights into the events that took place on the battlefields of Europe 100 years ago.




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Investigating artefacts in this manner transforms them. They become something more than just a curious object from the past, and indeed can emerge as an important, silent witness to historic events.

A tangible object such as Mephisto, in trying to make sense of the battle damage to the vehicle, transcends the insights revealed in the pages of written history.

It highlights the horror of trench warfare and provides first-hand accounts of how the British infantry tried to stop an enemy tank.

Mephisto is a rare and important example of developing military technology in the early 20th century. As the last surviving German tank from the First World War it will once again be on display at Queensland Museum from November 11, 2018.

Side profile view of Mephisto at the 5th Tank Brigade’s Demonstration Ground at Vaux-en-Amienois.
Queensland Museum, Author provided

The ConversationMephisto: Technology, War and Remembrance, written by Greg Czechura and Jeff Hopkins-Weise, published by Queensland Museum. Price A$59.95

Michael Westaway, Senior Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


How an Australian scientist tried to stop the US plan to monopolise the nuclear arms race



File 20180515 122916 jnoyez.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Mark Oliphant in 1939.
From a collection at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Gift of Ms Vivian Wilson 2004

Darren Holden, University of Notre Dame Australia

Australian scientist Mark Oliphant, who helped push the United States to develop the atomic bombs in World War II, also played a major role during the war in attempting to stop the US dominating the UK in any further development of nuclear weapons.

Details of the Adelaide-born physicist’s efforts are included in new research published today in the CSIRO’s Historical Records of Australian Science, based on documents sourced from the UK Cabinet archives.

These archival documents reveal how Oliphant attempted a British rebellion against scientific collaboration with the US that escalated all the way to the top of Britain’s wartime leadership.




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The rise of the physicist

Oliphant (1901-2000) described himself as a “belligerent pacifist” and his humanitarianism and compassion forms an indelible image of the gentle giant of Australian science.

After studying at the University of Adelaide he moved to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge in the UK. Oliphant joined a freewheeling cabal of atomic physicists led by fellow antipodean Ernest Rutherford. He later took up a position at Birmingham University.

But soon the war was to change everything for him.

In late 1938, nuclear fission of uranium was discovered in Berlin and within months the thunderclap of war clattered over Europe. After convincing the Americans of the potential of an atomic bomb in 1941, Oliphant joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 as a leading member of the collaborative British Mission.

At war with secrecy

Oliphant found that wartime secrecy was totally opposite to the usual culture of open science. The US military police opened his mail, and the FBI interrogated him on his casual attitude to rules.

In September 1944 Oliphant complained of his restrictions to the US Army’s no-nonsense military head of the project, General Leslie Groves. Groves was frustrated with progress and gave Oliphant a lecture on war and security.

In doing so, the cabinet documents on Oliphant’s notes show that the normally circumspect Groves also let slip that the US had no intention of honouring an agreement with the British to share atomic technology after the war. Groves stated that even after the war America needed to prepare for an “inevitable war with Russia”.

Oliphant’s notes added:

In this conversation Groves insisted that he spoke for the armed forces and for every thinking man and woman in U.S.A. He said that any effort U.K. might make must be confined to central Canada. He excluded specifically Australia or any other part of the Empire. Every possible source of supply of raw materials would be monopolised and controlled by U.S.A.-U.K.

How to warn the UK?

Oliphant saw weapons development as merely a vehicle on which to carry the potential of almost limitless energy and he was intent on resuming his open research after the war.

He could not risk his mail being opened again. So he headed from Berkeley, California to the British Embassy in Washington to write a secret report to London detailing his conversation with Groves.

Oliphant had a plan. He proposed that, without delay, the entire British Mission leave the Manhattan Project, return to Britain and restart their own programs. In late 1944 he seemingly had traction and the British project, code-named Tube Alloys, was reinvigorated with new plans tabled to construct uranium isotope plants.

Oliphant’s plan escalated up the chain to Lord Cherwell, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisor, and to Sir John Anderson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the authority on atomic matters inside the British War Cabinet.

James Chadwick, the scientific head of the British Mission, was furious at Oliphant’s cavalier approach and wrote to the British polity arguing that the British Mission must stay in America to complete the task at hand.

Oliphant’s bombast, confidence and directness is famous. As he approached the door of 11 Downing Street (the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) on January 9, 1945, he was likely optimistic that his meeting with Sir John would result in a decision to follow his new plan.

But Sir John was in a pessimistic mood. There was still a war on, and the allies were being pushed back by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. Sir John put a stop to talk of this scientific rebellion, and ordered Oliphant back to America to complete the job.

The atomic bombs fell on Japan in August 1945. World War II soon ended.

The wrecked framework of the Museum of Science and Industry in Hiroshima, Japan, shortly after the dropping of the first atomic bomb, on August 6, 1945.
Shutterstock/Everett Historical

After the war

In mid-1946 the newly formed United Nations debated control of atomic technology and Oliphant was in New York as an Australian advisor. He and other scientists pushed a plan to abolish weapons and throw the science open.

The alternative, the scientists argued, would be an escalation of an arms race. Only openness in science could reduce suspicion between nations.

The US and the Soviet Union almost agreed to the plan. But the Americans refused a Soviet request to first destroy their atomic arsenal and the Soviets refused to allow UN inspections.




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The US passed their Atomic Energy Act in August 1946 which prevented any collaboration on atomic technology. Oliphant’s prophecy came true. But the scientists had made another prophecy: atomic secrets cannot be contained.

As the critical mass of international scientists that had gathered together for war radiated back out around the world, they carried with them the secrets of the atom.

The British restarted their bomb project in 1947 and tested their first weapon in 1952, and the Soviets tested their first bomb in 1949. The US monopoly on atomic weaponry was a fleeting moment.

The ConversationSo the opportunity was lost in 1946 to abolish weapons, and today more than 14,000 nuclear weapons exist, held by nine countries. Even in a post-Cold War world this sword of annihilation hangs by a thread over the head of all us.

Darren Holden, PhD Candidate, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


WWI: Gallipoli – The Drip Rifle



History of the Machine Gun



The Strange Story of the First People to Die From Nuclear Weapons During Peacetime



The Surplus of War


The link below is to an article (with photos) that takes a look at the war weaponry surplus at the conclusion of WWII.

For more visit:
http://mashable.com/2015/08/15/wwii-surplus-vehicles/


WWII: Japan – Balloon Bombs



WWII: Germany – Flak Anti-Aircraft Weapon



The Pershing Heavy Tank T26E3



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