In defence of the bayonet: cold steel always has the psychological edge

Tom Coghlan: Analysis
“They don’t like it up ’em . . .”

It is the rallying cry of Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army — and it is still relevant today, according to the Ministry of Defence.

“Our Service personnel are trained to use a bayonet as part of their mandatory basic training. This is an essential part of close-combat training which prepares them for eventualities they may face in theatre,” says a spokesman for the ministry.

The trend in the recent history of warfare has been towards picking the opponent off long before “cold steel” might become necessary, but British troops have been forced to resort to the use of bayonets in the not-too-distant past.

Bayonets were fixed and used in the Falklands and the Army conducted its most recent bayonet charge in Iraq in 2004, when 20 soldiers of the 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment attacked 100 insurgents in the Battle of Danny Boy, a fierce fight at a British checkpoint of the same name. Last year Lieutenant James Adamson was awarded a Military Cross for taking on two Taleban fighters in Afghanistan with the bayonet attached to his SA80 rifle.

British Forces now carry a greater variety of weapons, such as light support machineguns, heavy machineguns, snipers’ rifles and SA80s with underslung grenade launchers that cannot be fitted with a bayonet. However, serving soldiers still assert that a bayonet has a powerful psychological effect on the user and the potential foe, and in certain circumstances the bayonet can save a soldier’s life.

“Closing with the enemy is a massively psychological act,” says Colonel Stuart Tootal, who commanded a parachute battalion in Helmand province.

“Fixing bayonets bolsters the will to close with and kill an enemy and seeing soldiers with bayonets fixed has a psychological effect.

“I don’t criticise the US Army for choosing to focus on other weapons but, personally, while I recognise that the bayonet will be used less often, I wouldn’t give it up.”