Scimitars and bayonets

Nikolas Lloyd in The Scimitar suggests how it might have been used in battle. It is partly speculative, but a compelling idea. I’ll assume you’ve read the linked article or watched the video, which is certainly worth the two and a half minutes:

The anecdote Lloyd presents supports his point about the bayonet, which is basically that bayonets are good:

If the British soldiers he tells about had been armed with bayonets on their rifles, the guys with the scimitars either would not have attacked, or would have been dispatched instantly. The British soldiers would not have had to worry about shooting into a crowd of by-standers.

My father also maintained that bayonets were good, especially for crowd control. As the second world war was ending, he was sent to the Pacific. Because the Japanese finally surrendered after President Truman dropped a second atom bomb on them, my father was part of the occupation force instead of part of an assault force, and he was assigned to crowd control (and I’m here to tell you about it.) Dad told me the bayonet was great for crowd control, not because he wanted to kill Japanese civilians, but because he didn’t. If there was civil unrest, all his infantry company needed to do was form up, point their bayonets at the crowd at head height, and march forward in line toward the crowd. The crowd departed. My father was a machine gunner, and he regarded it as sub-optimal to fire his .30 caliber machine gun into a crowd of hungry civilians outside the food warehouse. Fortunately, the bayonets always worked.

Later when I was in the army, a sergeant who had done crowd control in the early 70s explained why he disliked the M-16 (9 pounds, 40 inches, plastic stock). It was too light, too small, and insufficiently threatening, even with it’s short bayonet fixed. The only thing you could do if worse came to worst was shoot. The older M-14 (11 pounds, 44 inches, hardwood stock) looked like a serious weapon for grown-ups. It was much more intimidating to the crowd; and if that wasn’t enough you could butt-stroke the loud mouth at the front, and the smelly hippies would get the message without anyone dying.

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3 thoughts on “Scimitars and bayonets

  1. Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    Long quote:
    Dad told me the bayonet was great for crowd control, not because he wanted to kill Japanese civilians, but because he didn’t. If there was civil unrest, all his infantry company needed to do was form up, point their bayonets at the crowd at head height, and march forward in line toward the crowd. The crowd departed. My father was a machine gunner, and he regarded it as sub-optimal to fire his .30 caliber machine gun into a crowd of hungry civilians outside the food warehouse. Fortunately, the bayonets always worked.

  2. Scimitars came from somebody’s idea of what a good weapon for slashing your enemies would look like. They look impressive, much more so than one of those deadly fencing foils, and so when training was mostly in your imagination, a scimitar was a great weapon, praise Allah! Kind of like Hollywood. Then Western engineers got involved and we got straight bladed swords which were used to drive the Moors out of Spain and the scimitar was on it’s way out. I have verified this history with my imagination, so it must be perfectly accurate.

  3. Some disconnected and marginally related thoughts

    Maybe the scimitar (by which I mean a dramatically curved sabre) is a weapon for raiders, or for mounted aristocrats to use against unruly serfs, or maybe it was merely ceremonial. I can’t imagine it was effective against Byzantine heavy cavalry.

    The crossbow was inferior to the long bow, but the long bow took a long time to master and required continuing practice. Any peasant could be given a cross bow and could use it pretty much at once. Did the European long sword require more training? I haven’t been able to find a video I remember of Neal Stephenson talking about how the long sword was used.

    Here’s a theory: A fierce-looking weapon or a particular tactic strikes the enemy with terror, until/unless it doesn’t. Napoleon’s tactics were effective against armies all over Europe, but not so much against the British.

    As you suggest, many conclusions about ancient weapons come down to what seems plausible to us, or at least intriguing. Handling some of the artifacts is probably informative, but we are limited in what we can know for sure.

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