Dropping Bayonet Training

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who’s in charge of overhauling Army training, says that “We were teaching Soldiers too much stuff,” in Basic Training — stuff that wasn’t mastered — and the result was task paralysis. So he wants to drop bayonet training:

Hertling, though, conceded that bayonet training is deeply ingrained in the Army culture.

“Some of these ideas would make old infantrymen turn over in their graves,” Hertling said.

Hertling also wants combatives or hand-to-hand fighting to de-emphasize grappling or basic wrestling moves. Instead, Soldiers need to learn to fight with their hands and use anything they can grab — whether it is a knife or stick — as a weapon, he added.

Recruits need to learn how to use their hands, the St. Louis native said. “A greater majority of recruits have never been in a fistfight,” he added.

The Army’s combatives training — that is, its hand-to-hand combat training — has three goals:

  1. To educate soldiers on how to protect themselves against threats without using their firearms
  2. To provide a non-lethal response to situations on the battlefield
  3. To instill the ‘warrior instinct’ to provide the necessary aggression to meet the enemy unflinchingly

As someone who trains Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I do nonetheless find it odd that the Army builds its program on more-or-less orthodox Gracie fundamentals — maintaining the mount, escaping the mount, maintaining the guard, passing the guard, etc. — but for the Army’s stated goals, it makes a fair bit of sense, because grappling is an excellent way to train warrior instinct, and it’s a legitimate alternative to lethal force — unlike, say, a knife or bayonet — even if it’s not designed for battlefield self-defense, like traditional Japanese jujutsu or modern Israeli krav-maga.

In reaction to the news, DefenseTech lamented the passing of bayonet training, and a few commenters mentioned a bayonet charge by British troops in Basra in 2004:

The battle began when over 100 Mahdi army fighters ambushed two unarmored vehicles transporting around 20 Argylls on the isolated Route Six highway near the southern city of Amarah. Ensconced in trenches along the road, the militiamen fired mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and machine gun rounds. The vehicles stopped and British troops returned fire. The Mahdi barrage caused enough damage to force the troops to exit the vehicles.The soldiers quickly established a defensive perimeter and radioed for reinforcements from the main British base at Amarah — Camp Abu Naji. Reinforcements from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment assisted the Argyles in an offensive operation against the Mahdi militiamen. When ammunition ran low among the British troops, the decision was made to fix bayonets for a direct assault.

The British soldiers charged across 600 feet of open ground toward enemy trenches. They engaged in intense hand-to-hand fighting with the militiamen. Despite being outnumbered and lacking ammunition, the Argylls and Princess of Wales troops routed the enemy. The British troops killed about 20 militiamen in the bayonet charge and between 28 and 35 overall. Only three British soldiers were injured.This incident marked the first time in 22 years that the British Army used bayonets in action. The previous incident occurred during the Falklands War in 1982.

This is how one participant described it:

“I wanted to put the fear of God into the enemy. I could see some dead bodies and eight blokes, some scrambling for their weapons. I’ve never seen such a look of fear in anyone’s eyes before. I’m over six feet; I was covered in sweat, angry, red in the face, charging in with a bayonet and screaming my head off. You would be scared, too.”

Corporal Brian Wood
Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment

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