Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Bayonet Techniques.

One of the best arguments I have seen against the bayonet was made in Tom Wintringham’s 1940s book “New Ways of War”. Wintringham asserts that the steel used to produce thousands of bayonets could be put to much better wartime purposes, such as the production of submachine guns and grenades. Intriguingly he suggests that only one platoon in a battalion be trained in bayonet fighting. He does not expand further on this idea so we can only conjecture on what special duty, if any, he envisioned for this platoon.

The advocates of the bayonet do have some good arguments in its favour. It is safe to say, however, that the modern soldier, police officer or civilian is unlikely to have a bayonet fitted when they find themselves using a longarm in close combat. With this in mind the first section of my book “Crash Combat” is entitled “Rifle Fencing” and describes a number of defensive and counter offensive moves that can be made with any longarm, bayoneted or unbayoneted. These moves can also be applied to a spear, staff or any similar improvised weapon such as a shovel or garden fork.
Today’s blog will explore some supplemental subjects. They are written in the context of rifle and bayonet but keep in mind they can be applied to other weapons too.
The basic stance for the bayonet can be considered to be weak-side forward. For a right-handed fighter this means his left foot is advanced and his right hand is towards the rear of the weapon.

The long thrust (above, right) can be thought of as an equivalent to the fencer’s lunge. I use that comparison with some caution, however since it is important not to over-extend this action. The long thrust also has some elements in common with the long knife thrust technique I detail in “Attack, Avoid, Survive”. From the basic stance the soldier steps forward with his rear, strong-side foot. His weak-side leg, which is now to the rear, straightens. His weak-side arm straightens to thrust the bayonet forward. Withdrawing the blade may involve stepping back the strong-side foot or bending the weak-side leg. Readers of my works will recognise the footwork here as constituting a “passing step” in that the rear foot passes forward of the other foot. With the rear leg straightening and providing back-heel thrust there is also a parallel with the forward stance of styles such as karate. A point to stress with the long thrust is not to attempt to overreach. Balance and the capability of rapid follow-up actions are far more important than range.

The short thrust can be made using the “sliding step”, with the weak-side foot advancing first. Bayonets are used during a charge so the short thrust must also be practiced with the strong-side foot forwards.
The 1942 pamphlet for British troops recommends that men practice charging across ground with at least one obstacle. Rifles would be shifted to the on-guard position when 20 yards from the enemy. At 10 yards rifles might be fired at the objective. This was a snap shot with the rifle butt brought up just under the strong-side armpit. To avoid the tendency to shoot high the weapon was therefore fired roughly parallel to the ground.
Some veterans advocate that firing a rifle was an option to free a stuck bayonet.  
One disadvantage of the drill method of training for close combat is that actions can become very predictable. American troops were trained to favour the long thrust to the throat so enemies such as the Japanese practiced several countermoves to this eventuality.
One countermove was to lean or step to the side away from the predicable throat thrust. The same action could be combined with a low short thrust against the attacker’s stomach. Readers of my books will recognize that this is a possible application for the capoeira footwork taught by the ginga.
Another countermove involved dropping down so that the rifle butt touched the ground. This can be performed stepping forwards or stepping back. The high throat thrust passes harmlessly overhead and the defender’s bayonet is aimed at the attacker’s stomach. Readers of my book will recognise this as similar in principle to the Passata Sotto and Stocatta knife moves I describe.
The Japanese did not have a monopoly on cunning tricks with the bayonet. Some British troops were taught to knock a charging enemy’s bayonet downwards so that it stuck in the ground. The charging soldier found himself executing an unplanned pole vault. This move would often disarm the soldier and leave his rifle and bayonet conveniently placed to be used against him!

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Monday, 30 January 2017

The Bayonet Wound Fallacy

During World War 2 the USAAF looked into the concept of placing armour on their planes. Numerous airmen were tasked with the job of counting and noting the location of bullet holes on aircraft returned form missions. This study has become a classic of bad data collection. The airmen were only recording damage that allowed a plane to make it back to the airfield. According to their data pilots were never, ever shot through the head.
My recent blog posts have triggered an unexpected discussion on the value of bayonets. I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with certain points of both sides of the argument. One argument that commonly crops up is what might be termed “the bayonet wound fallacy”.

You will see a statement that “very few wounds are inflicted by bayonets”. Read a few military histories and you will find a number of accounts of bayonets being used when charging the enemy. These are most common in the nineteenth century and earlier when single shot weapons were the norm. There are accounts, however, of bayonet use in more recent conflicts such as Vietnam, the Falklands and Afghanistan.  There is a clear discrepancy here.
A related claim is “very few bayonet charges are completed. Usually one side or the other loses its nerve and retreats”. It is worth noting that a retreat may not be due to cowardice. If the contested ground has no strategic or tactical value it is good military sense to fall back and subject the new occupants to a mortar and artillery barrage on the previously registered coordinates. Clearly some bayonet charges did fizzle out, but military memoirs also describe encounters where the two sides do clash.

The reason for this discrepancy is also bad data collection. Two things are likely to happen to the losers in a close combat fight. If they are relatively unscathed they may escape. Sometimes they will flee only to be shot down by covering forces. Alternately the loser will be stabbed, struck and stomped on until they stop moving.  Surveying how many bayonet wounds are being treated in a field hospital does not give a true picture of bayonet use. The majority of bayonet victims will never make it to the aid centre.

If you applied the same research criteria to the aftermath of a battle in Roman times you would probably get a similarly erroneous result and conclude that Roman legionaries seldom used their swords! It would be likely that there were very few sword wounds in the field hospital. The rear ranks of a cohort routinely killed fallen enemies as they advanced. Enemies that tried to run were often cut down by cavalry.

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Friday, 27 January 2017

Writing and Time

          One consequence of becoming interested in the length of documents is that I have given some attention to the related field of reading speed and time.

          Over the years I have worked with a number of academics who proceed a workshop with a lengthy introduction. Sometimes this can be very long indeed! It is often claimed that the average human has an attention span of about 40 minutes.  My own experience suggests that despite this an introduction should be kept to under 15 to 20 minutes duration. Adding more content serves no purpose if it does not register.

          According to a Wikipedia article reading speed varies with language and writing system. Interestingly many people read much quicker than they are able to listen to spoken text. For English, reading speed is somewhere between 200 and 300 words per minute, bearing in mind that many people who will be reading an article in English may not have English as their first language. This means that a concise webpage of under 2,000 words will take about six to ten minutes of a reader’s time. If you have written a page of 8,000 words you should ask yourself will it interest a reader enough for them to spend 30 to 40 minutes of their time reading it?

          A fellow writer suggested the use of videos to me. Similar criteria apply, although just as a video is more complex than a written page so too are the factors affecting its acceptability. Personally I find myself reluctant to watch videos of more than ten minutes length unless it promises to cover something I am particularly interested in. If a friend sends me a music clip I find I will give it about 30 to 45 secs before I decide to continue or not. If the intro seems to be one that is particularly drawn out I may jump forward to see if the track improves. With non-musical videos I probably will give it a bit longer to develop, but a lot will depend on the presentation. If a webpage is badly presented and/or poorly structured you can sometimes fish through it for the better parts. With videos this is more difficult so poor structure or presentation will often discourage a viewer.
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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Rifle Tactics.

             A significant contribution to the soldier’s load is ammunition. One way to reduce this is to modify how ammunition is expended.

             Full-auto fever. An assault rifle is not a machine gun. The effective range of an assault rifle with fully automatic fire is considerably less than that of a true machine gun. Full auto from a rifle can be used to sweep a trench or clear a room. It will only be cost-effective at longer ranges if the enemy is in a big dumb bunch. Some manuals state the effective range of a rifle on full-auto as 50 metres. About half of this distance is probably more realistic. If the enemy is more than 50 metres away keep your rifle on semi-automatic.
            Let the MGs, mortars and snipers do the work When machine guns, snipers and mortars are available let them do the majority of the work. There is little point blazing away if you know you have little chance of having an effect. Only let the better marksmen make long range shots. Alternately use collective fire and semi-automatic volleys against the same target. Reserve your rifle ammunition for an assault or to repel assaults against the heavier weapons. The less you shoot the harder it is for the enemy to locate you.

           Suppressive fire doesn’t have to be full-auto. There will be times when rifles must provide suppressive fire. Think about the Westerns you have seen where a character gets pinned down in the rocks. The Winchesters and revolvers used did not need to go full-auto to do this! Suppress an enemy position with aimed, semi-automatic fire.

           It’s Fire or Manoeuvre! Running across a street guns blazing is pure Hollywood but you will see it done in real life. Firing like this has very little chance of hitting a target. Most of your rounds will not even be close enough to suppress an enemy. What this does do is waste your ammunition and draw attention to you!

           If you are moving, concentrate on moving. Tactical movement needs your full attention. You need to be thinking about how you use the cover and concealment available and how you are going to traverse gaps and obstacles. Let other elements provide any suppression. Ideally a moving element should never be visible to an enemy.

           If you are shooting, concentrate on shooting. Use any cover and concealment as effectively as you can. Use the most stable firing posture that your surroundings allow. Standing or moving is the least accurate posture to shoot from. Prone is the most stable. If you are surprised, take cover first, then return fire. If in the open drop prone and then roll for cover.

           Many years ago I came across a statement from the SAS when they were reactivated for operations in Malaya:

           “At first we carried too much ammo. We learnt to carry less. We learnt to shoot less and hit more often.”

           To that we can add a statement from the Home Guard Fieldcraft manual by Maj. John Langdon-Davies. He observes that a Home guard solder will never have as much ammo as he might wish for and that twenty rifle rounds at 25 yards will be far more effective that fifty at 250 yards.

           Know when to fire and when not to.
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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Covert Pegging.

            Recently I posted a blog on lightweight shelter from the perspective of the soldier. This weekend I was reading some suggestions about covert/ tactical bivouacking. Of interest was a passage that said something along the lines of

            “The pegs are not to be hammered in. A hole is made with a bayonet and the pegs driven in with the head” (The head of the peg, presumably, not that of the soldier!)

            An interesting idea, but some readers will now be recalling that recently I posted on how the bayonet should be one of the first things a soldier should get rid of.

            Last night I put my SA-80 bayonet on the scales. The bayonet alone was 15 oz, about the same as my favourite 10” bladed kukri. The bayonet with scabbard was just over 1 lb 7 oz. This is the later pattern of scabbard without the useful wire cutter and woodsaw fittings. The blade is a sort of bowie-like shape so not sure how well it will poke peg holes in hard ground. The author of the about passage was probably talking about sword bayonets. The latter spike bayonet might be even more useful.

            Obviously there is little point carrying a heavy bayonet just to make holes for pegs. The solution is to find yourself a suitably sized screwdriver. Sharpen the end if necessary and pack it with your pegs. The screwdriver can be used to make peg holes. The shank can be placed under the hook of some peg designs and the screwdriver used to pull up these pegs. The screwdriver can also be used as a peg, so you are able to carry one peg less.

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Friday, 20 January 2017

Easily Digestable Writing.

           Since it is Friday I will continue my tradition of a more off-topic topic!

           Many readers will be familiar with Osprey. They publish a number of series of books on military history such as the “Men at Arms” and “Elite” ranges. I was recommending one of these books to a friend and made an observation that these books were of a convenient length to get through in a lunch break.

           When I write a blog post I usually write it first in a word processor program. I then upload the basic text onto the website and add links and illustrations as required. Recently I have noticed that many of the posts I had made were two pages or less of plain text. This seemed to produce a blog of a relatively convenient size that can deal with a topic but not be overly long.

           I had been reading some GURPS sourcebooks recently too. These can often be a useful source of interesting information since some are very well researched. These tend to be more text intensive than the Osprey books. Third edition sourcebooks can be 128+ pages long, which can be a little long (over 100,000 words). Interestingly many of the more recent fourth edition publications are under 60 pages, with some as short as 17 pages. Some may be shorter.

           I began to ponder these observations. The Osprey books are very informative and detailed but generally have a page count of between 32 and 64 pages. This includes numerous illustrations, eight full colour plates and quite wide margins down one side of the page. How big is an Osprey book in plain text? I found a blog where an author talks about writing his first book for Osprey and the figure of 15,000 words is mentioned. 15,000 words is approximately 30-40 pages of single spaced text. That sounds very credible for a 48-64 page illustrated book of Osprey format.

           Every now and then I come across a webpage where the writer attempts to include absolutely everything on a certain topic. They may also decide to put down everything they know related to the topic. And everything else they may be interested in at the moment they were writing the page. Just to make things even more interesting the page will often lack a logical structure. It is a pity since some such pages often include a lot of interesting information, but this is easy to overlook or miss. If the author is trying to make a particular point this can sometimes be lost in the general tidal wave. If you want to refer the reader to additional information use hyperlinks or, if writing in dead tree format, references!

           Now I have written a few overly long and somewhat rambling webpages myself over the years. A few of the more recent ones, however, I have been pleased with the conciseness of. Out of curiosity I pasted a few examples of these into the word processor for a crude word count. Several of these are under 2,000 words, with the longer ones a couple of hundred under 4,000.

           This seems like a very useful set of guidelines. Two pages or less of plain solid text for a blog post. (Font size 12, Georgia, single spaced). 4,000 words or less for a webpage, with less than half of that attractive. For longer works aim for under 15,000 words. If that is not possible aim for sections or chapters of less than this size. The latter strategy may also help towards the better structuring and presentation of the information.

589 words :P

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Thursday, 19 January 2017

Multiple Combat Tactics.

                When I was writing “Attack, Avoid, Survive” a friend asked that it include a section on dealing with multiple attackers. “Crash Combat” was written from a slightly different perspective so includes a section on the use of teamwork in close combat. Such might be necessary in operations such as crowd control.

                 This week I came across some nice illustrations in the 1943 version of FM 23-25. While these show bayonet attacks rather than riot control these nicely supplement the suggestions in Crash Combat.

                In the first few examples the exact sequence is decided by the enemy under attack. His response determines which of the attackers engages him frontally and which attacks his rear or flank.

                In the second example three men attack two. Once again, the responses of the two defenders determine what actually happens. The right defender could have chosen to engage the central attacker, in which case the rightmost attacker would have made a flank attack.

                The next two illustrations show the tactics if the attacker is in a minority. In this example the ends of the trio are engaged to prevent the central fighter joining in. In Crash Combat I suggest the alternate approach of concentrating the attackers’ strength at one end of a formation to counter superior numbers.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Follow the Numbers!

The other day I saw a post on facebook. I think it was trying to make a point that the chances of being killed by a moslem fundamentalist were really small. As is often the case with such things there was some very selective cherry picking of the data. Number of people who had been killed by buses was given, but not the number killed by road traffic accidents in general. The author had chosen to make the highest number that they posted as deaths from firearms.

Something of interest struck me. The figure given for “deaths by firearms” was 11,000. Or should I say, “only 11,000”. For a country with a population of around 350 million 11,000 is actually a very low percentage. Looking at other sources I am not sure how they got that figure. It may be meant to be murders with firearms.
Intrigued, I did some research:
Deaths from firearms in the US average about 10.5 per 100,000 population. Or 0.0105 per cent! Homicides by firearm are 3.43-5.0 per 100,000, suggesting that most firearm fatalities are accidents, suicide or legitimate self-defence. Deaths from road traffic accidents vary from 10 to 20 per 100,000 population per year. So you are three to four times more likely to be killed by an automobile than murdered with a gun. Chances of a non-fatal injury from an automobile are much higher.
Looking at the cause of death figures for 2014 is interesting. The total number of deaths for that year was 2,626,418 which is 823.7 per 100,000. Heart disease and cancer were the main killers. What is interesting is that diabetes killed 76,488, which is 23.98 per 100,000. 55,227 or 17.32 per 100,000 died from “Influenza and Pneumonia”. To place this in perspective, the number of Americans killed in the entire Vietnam war was around 58,315.
Think about that for a second! In a first world country that claims to be a superpower tens of thousands of people are dying from diabetes and chest infections!
Next time you see a politician or someone else claiming that guns are an important issue and something needs to be done about them remember the above and think about what they are really trying to distract you from.

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WW2 Bayonet Part One.

Many modern bayonet designs are not particularly useful. I have an SA-80 bayonet that is inferior to my kukri in every respect. It even weighs and costs more. For soldiers who are attempting to lighten their load the bayonet is often one of the first things to be discarded.

Bayonet fighting, however, is still an important skill to become familiar with. Even if you do not have a bayonet or do not have time to fit it bayonet fighting skills can be utilized. Butt strikes and thrusts work the same with an unbayonetted rifle. With the bayonet a thrust from the muzzle can still have a telling effect. The basic principles also apply to long batons or some improvised weapons. For this reason both Crash Combat and Attack, Avoid, Survive have sections on bayonet fighting without a bayonet.

Training in the bayonet was also considered to be a good way to reduce a recruit’s tendency to hesitate and to increase their commitment to an advance.

The second paragraph of a British WW2 manual makes the wise observation:

“2. It is impossible to drill men into becoming good bayonet fighters as it is undesirable for those of different physique to adopt exactly the same style. Words of command will, therefore, be reduced to a minimum, and men will be encouraged to develop a style suitable to their size and build, provided that the methods laid down are followed.

3. By his own example the instructor must instil a spirit of energy and determination in his squad.”

That is good advice, not just for bayonet instruction.

The illustration below is taken from the manual above and shows a useful training aid for bayonet skills. The ring is used as a target to develop accuracy and coordination. The padded end is used for the practice of counters against attacks.

Many armies used similar devices for training. Below is a rather nice Soviet-era illustration of a course to teach soldiers. Rather reminds me of a crazy golf course! In other illustrations parts of the course seem to be used with knives, entrenching tools or unarmed techniques. Elsewhere strikes can be seen being made with the muzzle, drum and stock of the PPSh-41.


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