Re: Tom bayonets......a response

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Posted by Tom Kilbane on December 31, 1997 at 19:09:55:

In Reply to: Tom bayonets......a response posted by Bill Rooks on December 31, 1997 at 13:23:15:


First off I would like to say that despite Marine Corps training I am not a combat veteran therefore there is no way I am going to lecture men like you and my father (also a Vietnam Vet) about what combat is like. But I think you read more into my post than what is really there. I believe I was answering the question of what is more effective the bayonet or hand-held weapons like the tomahawk. I felt and I still feel the bayonet made hand held infantry weapons obsolete. With the bayonet there was now no need for the soldier to lay aside his firearm and that properly trained and disciplined soldiers could hold off poorly equiped enemies such as at Culloden.

I was not going into the strategy of irregular warfare. In fact I agree with most everything you said especially about Vietnam and our American Revolution in which wearing down the opponent's will to fight and not decisive victories won those wars. I was going into the effectiveness of the bayonet over natives armed with swords and tomahawks. You use the examples of Rourke's Drift in which 135 British soldiers held off 3000 highly disciplined (you read too much into my quote) Zulu warriors for two days. Yes, breechloading rifles made the difference but at the times when the fighting became hand to hand the British soldier was not at disadvantage because of the bayonet. Also at Isandlwana where 1500 British and Native soldiers were almost annihilated by 20,000 Zulus; the Zulus launched a highly disciplined attack but the defeat was a result of the British commander, Colonel Pulleine, defending too large a perimeter for his small force to effectively hold and the almost criminal actions of the British commisary officers in handing out ammunition. It was when the Natal Native forces ran out of ammunition, since it was withheld from them by the commisary officers, and abandoned the line that the Zulus were able to achieve a breakthrough even then their losses were horrific. "An asegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation," lameted Zulu King Ceteswayo upon hearing of the losses at Isandlwana. The rest of the Zulu War witnessed a rather small British army routinely defeating large armies of Zulu warriors. The same happened in the Sudan, India, and countless other lands were highly disciplined and well-equiped Europeans encountered huge armies of poorly equiped natives. It was only with the advent of quick reloading rifles that irregular tactics could effectively defeat convential forces such as the Boer War and the Vietnam War. The French and Indian War was decided upon the Plains of Abraham and the Revolution at Yorktown two very set piece conventianal battles.

Of course the disaster that befell the courageous but not so wise General Braddock puzzles most people to no end. Who would be that stupid to stay in those dense formations? Who would be crazy enough to wear red in the wilderness? There were no radios in the 18th century; in order to coordinate the movements of large bodies of men you need tight formations. Also for the slow loading and inaccurate muskets to be effective mass firepower had to be employed. Since defenders also massed their firepower the only way an attacker could defeat mass was by mass. The bright colored uniforms were for idenification. Thousands of black powder muskets and artillery guns greatly diminished visiblity on the battlefield therefore to prevent your soldiers from firing on their comrades and for commanders to identity distant units bright uniforms were needed. Braddock's men got entangled on a narrow road and made little effort to get off of it. Even on a European battlefield if two regiments lost their formation and became an panicked mob the results would have been similar. Although credit must go to the French and Indians for seizing the the flanks of that mob and turning a defeat into a one sided slaughter.

I am getting way off the point and we are fading further and further from the subject but the point I am trying to make is that the bayonet changed the face of warfare. It made the shoulder-fired weapon an effective offensive as well as a defensive tool. When faced by enemies such as broadsword wielding Highlanders, asegai armed Zulus, spear and sword carrying fuzzy wuzzies, and tomahawk armed American Indians the bayonet most but not always came out the victor. Most of the time this was because of the musket or rifle that the bayonet was attached to but the advent of the bayonet allowed for the rifle to become the sole weapon of the infantry. The armies of the world still teach bayonet practice but does anyone still teach swordmanship or how to use a tomahawk?

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