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Photograph Bayonet Practice, WWI

  • Bayonet practice

This dramatic photograph captures bayonet practise by soldiers of the Lonsdale Battalion of the Border Regiment while training at Carlisle Racecourse. The bayonet drill was a key part of British army training. During the war only around one percent of deaths were caused by bayonet attacks, however well organised bayonet charges in wooded areas during 1914 caused massive panic and retreat among German defenders. The bayonet was therefore a useful psychological weapon.

More info

During World War I the bayonet was carried by infantrymen of all nations. In the British Army both the long ‘sword’ and smaller ‘knife’ bayonets were fixed to Lee–Enfield rifles and used to stab enemies. The British Army in 1914 saw the bayonet charge as the crushing culmination of an orderly advance on the enemy's position that would cause fear, panic, confusion, flight and surrender.

The targeted areas of the body were the throat, chest and groin. Many veterans soon learned that a bayonet thrust to the chest of the enemy could present problems in withdrawing the bayonet, whilst a stab to the groin meant the victim tended to grab the weapon and refused to let go. Some soldiers claimed that aiming a slashing blow at the face and the hands of the enemy was more immediately disabling to him.

Many soldiers considered a bayonet unwieldy in the narrow, confined spaces of trench warfare. Trench knives and clubs were thought more effective. The bayonet was more effective at close quarters than a firearm. A round fired from a Lee-Enfield rifle could pass through several people and result in ‘friendly fire' casualties.

It was thought that the bayonet lunge could easily be parried by German troops who had longer bayonets. Bayonets were used to protect soldiers involved in bombing parties attacking trenches. They were also used to stoke fires, toast food, open cans and scrape mud off uniforms.

It is thought the bayonet only inflicted 1% of casualties in the war but the ratio of mortal bayonet wounds to recoverable injuries was very high indeed. 

Key facts: 
  • Bayonets were a type of sword or knife designed to be attached to a rifle
  • The bayonet drill was an important part of military training, although only 1 percent of deaths in WWI were caused by bayonet attacks. They were an important psychological weapon.

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