In 1884, Germany introduced the M1871/84 knife bayonet, the first knife-length bayonet to become general issue in a major army. Up to this point, sword bayonets had blades ranging from 15–25 inches. At 10 inches in length, the M1871/84 bayonet's blade represented a radical departure from 100 years of bayonet design. This design was very influential and remains the dominant bayonet design to the present day. The Venezuela M1900 bayonet pictured below is typical of early knife bayonets.

The advent of smokeless powder, only two years later, resulted in a trend toward shorter rifles. This slowed wordlwide adoption of the knife bayonet, which did not become predominant until mechanized warfare rendered horse cavalry obsolete.

From its earliest days as a military weapon, the bayonet’s primary role was to protect infantry from cavalry charges. Consequently, the combined length of rifle and bayonet had to be sufficient for a footsoldier of average height to use the bayonet to take a charging cavalryman off his horse. The general rule was a combined length of approximately 5 ½ to 6 feet. The effect was that long rifles required shorter bayonets and short rifles required longer bayonets.

The picture at right illustrates how bayonet lengths varied to provide adequate reach. The rifle on the left is the .30 Govt. Caliber U.S. M1898 Krag-Jorgensen and its M1892 knife bayonet. The Krag was the U.S. Army’s first repeating rifle and the M1892 the U.S. Army’s first knife bayonet. This combination was the primary infantry weapon used during the Spanish-American War and the Philippene Insurrection of 1899–1902. The rifle on the right is the .30–06 Caliber U.S. M1903 Springfield and its M1905 bayonet. The Springfield replaced the Krag and was the U.S. Army’s primary infantry weapon during the First World War.

Bayonet Lenght Comparison Picture
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© Ralph E. Cobb 2009 All Rights Reserved

1884—The Knife Bayonet

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