The introduction of smokeless powder had a significant influence on bayonet design. The advent of breechloading rifles did not eliminate the need for rifles to have full length ramrods and for the ramrod to be accessible when the bayonet was mounted. Although they loaded from the breech, stuck cartridge cases were commonplace in these black powder arms and the ramrod had to be at the ready to clear stoppages. Consequently, the bayonet continued to mount to the right side of the barrel, as it had since the socket bayonet came about in the late 1600's. The picture below illustrates this point, showing an overhead view of the bayonet mounted to the side of the barrel on an 11 mm. French M1874 Gras breechloading rifle. Note the front sight visible just behind the bayonet's muzzle ring.

Smokeless powder burned much cleaner, eliminating the fouling that caused stuck cases. The French M1886 Lebel rifle was the first rifle to fire a smokeless powder cartridge and the first to mount the bayonet beneath the barrel, instead of to the side. The picture below shows a side view of a bayonet mounted beneath the barrel of an 8 mm. German Mauser Gewehr 98 brought home by a returning World War I veteran.

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© Ralph E. Cobb 2009 All Rights Reserved

1886—The Advent of Smokeless Powder

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