Re: Bayonets

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Posted by Tom Kilbane on December 30, 1997 at 21:59:50:

In Reply to: Bayonets posted by Bill Rooks on December 30, 1997 at 09:02:57:

: Raises another interesting question.......which was better? The
: bayonet or the tomahawk for close in fighting??? Anybody care to
: get in on THAT question?

The bayonet was the major innovation of 18th Century warfare in that it turned the firearm from a cumbersome defensive weapon into an effective offensive tool. The advent of the bayonet made the pike obsolete. During the 17th century large numbers of pikemen had to be employed to give an army an effective infantry weapon for offense and protect the musketeers. With the bayonet every soldier could be equiped with a firearm which, of course, changed the face of warfare.

As for what is more effective in hand to hand combat: tomahawks or bayonets. The answer is what is more effective on the battlefield teamwork or individuality. I know most of us smirk at the sight of groups of formed British soldiers being mowed down by unseen Indian adversaries in our beloved LOTM. But these occasions were the exception not the rule of warfare. Throughout history smaller armies of disciplined soldiers, working in formation, and, as a team have consistently defeated larger armies of undisciplined mobs. In most cases the disciplined soldier was far less skilled in hand to hand combat than his undiscipline counterpart but teamwork made up for any disparties in quality and quantity. For example the ancient Gallic warrior was physically larger and more skilled at hand to hand combat than the Roman legionaire; but who conquered Gaul?

I think, though, the best example of the effectiveness of the bayonet is a battle that occured just eleven years before the events of LOTM and that is the Battle of Culloden which was fought between the Jacobite army of Prince Charles Stuart and the Hanoverian army of the Duke of Cumberland near Inverness, Scotland on April 16, 1746. A large majority of the Bonnie Prince Charlie's army consisted of Scottish Highlanders many of whom were armed with broadswords and shields. Highland tactics were very simple: advance on your enemy, fire one volley from your firearms, drop your firearms and draw your swords, and charge screaming towards the enemy. Many times the foe, who were in the midst of reloading their own firearms, would panic and break ranks at the sight of the wild Highlanders descending upon them. If that happened the Highlanders would get in amongst the enemy with their broadswords and lochaber axes and slaughter them. The battle of Culloden was different. This time the English did not panic. The iron discipline of the redcoats was not shaken by the fierce Highland charge. They blasted the Highlanders with volley fire and when the Highlanders closed in for hand to hand combat the redcoats held their ranks and presented an impenetrable wall of bayonets that even the bravest and most skilled Highlander could not break through. In the end nearly two thousand Jacobites were felled at Culloden; wheras the English suffered less than a few hundred casaulties. Although I subsituted broadswords for tomahawks; this example illustrates that bayonet was a more effective weapon than hand held arms. If discipline and training held; then poorly equipped natives could not compete with a "bayonet with a some guts behind it" (from the movie "Zulu".)

Although I don't want anyone to get the idea that the British approached wilderness fighting correctly especially in light of the disaster on the Monaghela in 1755 and similar experiences during the American Revolution. The British would learn. They would create elite units of light infantry armed with rifles which would be instrumental in their later successes during the Napoleonic Wars. But it would be disciplined soldiers fighting in formations which would help create the British Empire at the expense of larger native armies who were often filled by individuals far superior in hand to hand combat than the average British soldier but in warfare "this individuality stuff is a bunch of crap."

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