Eight Million Bayonets

Bayonet Fencing in GURPS WW2

by Marc Goldstein

"In my training as a young officer I had received much instruction in how to kill my enemy with a bayonet fixed to a rifle. I knew all about the various movements -- right parry, left parry, forward lunge. Indeed, I had been considered good on the bayonet-fighting course against sacks filled with straw, and had won prizes in man-to-man contests in the gymnasium."
-- General Bernard Montgomery

During the World War II all the major Allied and Axis nations issued bayonets to their troops and retained rifle-bayonet drills as a key component of basic training, even though bayonets had been derided as military weapons since the age of Napoleon. Actual casualties caused by bayonets diminished rapidly as the weapons of war grew more fearsome. During WW2, modern tanks, artillery and aircraft made daylight bayonet charges a preposterous anachronism. On the occasions that fixed bayonets did see use, it was often to murder unarmed prisoners and civilians without wasting ammo. Nevertheless, the bayonet retained a powerful mystique. It symbolized the military spirit and hearkened back to a more chivalrous age, when killing was done up close and personal. This article describes the bayonets used in WW2 and outlines a martial arts style -- Bayonet Fencing -- appropriate for use in a GURPS WW2 campaign. To use the style templates, you will need GURPS Compendium I. Also highly recommend are GURPS Martial Arts, GURPS Swashbucklers, and the errata for GURPS Japan, Second Edition to make full use of the style templates.

The Fourth Form of Fencing

Like bayonets themselves, rifle-bayonet fighting techniques originated in France, where bayonet was considered the fourth form of fencing following foil, epée, and saber. The early styles derived their movements from French and Italian fencing and from spear fighting skills passed down by European armsmasters. George McClellan translated his 1852 Manual of Bayonet Exercise for the U.S. Army directly from French sources.

The armies of Britain and Japan took keen interest in improving their bayonet drills. Britain eventually instituted a fencing system derived from the Italian school. This style, unfortunately, emphasized presentation over purpose. During competitions, rifle-bayonet fencers were forbidden to grapple, emit battle-cries, or strike with anything save their rifle. The Japanese, finding the French program inadequate, drew on their own armed martial arts tradition. Techniques from spear and staff fighting were integrated into a unified bayonet fencing style, called Juken-Jutsu, in the late 19th century. In a 1904 rifle-bayonet fencing competition, a Royal Marine team was routed by a Japanese Army team that kicked, kneed, pushed, and screamed while attacking. After that, British instructors loosened the restrictions on vocalizing. Nonetheless, most European nations (and the U.S. Army) adopted versions of the British system around the time of the First World War.

Training & Tactics

In the 19th century, soldiers sparred with flexible, blunt-tipped training bayonets fixed to old surplus or dummy rifles. They practiced drills against cavalry and foot soldiers armed with lances, sabers, pikes, and bayonets. They also rehearsed executing mass bayonet charges in rigid formations. By the time World War II began, the goal of bayonet drilling had drifted from teaching a sophisticated fighting system toward simply instilling aggression and confidence. With live bayonets, soldiers trained by charging practice dummies. For sparring, they used sheathed bayonets or padded pugil sticks which began to replace training bayonets in the 1930s. Unfortunately, pugil sticks lent themselves more toward staff techniques, emphasizing swinging attacks at the expense of more efficient thrusts.

Many instructors, attempting to inure troops to the horrors of battle, went out of their way to make bayonet drills traumatic. U.S. drill instructors stuffed dummies with animal entrails, while the Japanese army took the next horrific step and ordered soldiers to execute bayonet attacks on bound, helpless prisoners.

The Russians learned a profound respect for the bayonet during the Russo-Japanese War, where the Japanese had successfully executed unnerving banzai charges at night. Unfortunately, this experience encouraged both sides to labor under badly out-dated tactics. The First World War caused other countries recognize that success in modern warfare depended more upon small-unit actions and individual close-combat rather than mass bayonet charges. Russian and Japanese drills, however, continued to teach soldiers how to perform bayonet charges in tight formations. Both nations would revise their tactics as the war progressed, but bayonets still played an important role. The Japanese became masters of night-time infiltrations, creeping through enemy lines to bayonet sleeping soldiers in their foxholes. The Soviets employed similar tactics, especially in urban combat zones like Stalingrad.

While mass bayonet charges were obsolete, rifle-bayonet fencing still held value for any unit that anticipated close-combat skirmishes with the enemy. For this reason paratroopers, marines, commandos, and units specializing in jungle or urban warfare received extensive bayonet training.

The simplest bayonet fencing programs taught footwork, weapon handling, parrying, thrusting, and striking with the butt of the rifle. More comprehensive programs added throw-point lunges, slashing attacks, feints, leg sweeps, and combination maneuvers. Some instructors also taught soldiers the proper way to use their rifle as a club when the bayonet was dismounted.

Few soldiers received sufficient training time to actually qualify for the Bayonet Fencing styles described below. In a realistic campaign, run-of-the-mill riflemen will not possess any special training beyond one or two points of Spear skill. Only elite troops, close-combat instructors, and other specialists should qualify to study Bayonet Fencing or Juken-Jutsu. On the other hand, the style is especially well suited for heroic and cinematic campaigns!

On Guard!

Rifles make clumsy hand weapons: they are covered with knobs, buttons, levers, and other protuberances; they are not specifically balanced for use as hand weapons; and after several rapid-fire shots, their barrels get too hot to handle safely. A fixed bayonet is used with Spear skill at a -1 penalty. With or without a bayonet, the rifle may also be used with Staff skill at -1 (see weapon table below). When grasped by the barrel and swung like a club, a rifle uses Two-Handed Axe/Mace skill at -1. When mounted, a bayonet disturbs the rifle's balance and alters the vibrations of the barrel, degrading accuracy. Apply a -1 penalty to Guns skill.

Many techniques for parrying attacks and striking with the rifle butt depended on stances taken from staff fighting, especially as pugil sticks supplanted training bayonets for sparring. It requires a Ready action to switch from spear to staff grip and vice-versa. Instructors taught soldiers to aim butt strikes at the head, abdomen, and groin; while bayonet thrusts were aimed at the abdomen, chest, or throat.

Weapon Table

Staff (Two hands, Parry at 2/3 skill)
















Rifle Butt














Staff skill -1















Staff skill -1

Bayonet Fencing

This style template describes the European forms of Bayonet Fencing. It includes no complementary grappling or brawling techniques; these were covered in other hand-to-hand combat drills, and were not holistically integrated into bayonet instruction. Similarly, use of the dismounted bayonet as a knife was taught elsewhere.

GMs should feel free to tinker with the template. During WW2, bayonet drills varied not only from nation to nation, but often from unit to unit! For example, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps adopted completing systems (see the Biddle style below). For realistic campaigns, it is certainly reasonable to limit players to watered-down versions of this style. Nations issuing spike bayonets would omit the Tip Slash. Programs that emphasized pugil stick sparring often lacked thrusting maneuvers like the Lunge. In general, bayonet instruction became more simplified in the later years of the war.

Soldiers picked to compete on fencing teams would emphasize the sport-oriented bayonet skills (some critics argue that pugil stick sparring only teaches the "Sport" version of these fighting skills).

Bayonet Fencing


7 points/-- points

Primary Skills: Spear, Staff.
Secondary Skills: Body Language.
Optional Skills: Fast-Draw (Bayonet), Spear Sport, Staff Sport, Tournament Law (Bayonet Fencing), Two-Handed Axe/Mace.
Maneuvers: Hit Location (Spear or Staff), Lunge [thrust] (Spear), Pass [thrust] (Spear), Retain Weapon (Spear or Staff), Tip Slash (Spear).
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None.

Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle (1874-1948) was a pioneer of hand-to-hand combat training in the U.S. Marine Corps during the First World War. In 1937, the Corps published Biddle's close-combat instruction manual, Do or Die. The Corps recalled him to active duty in 1942 at age 68 to serve as a close-combat instructor. Biddle's bayonet fencing style drew heavily from swordplay; Biddle insisted attacks be parried with the bayonet blade and restricted use of butt strikes. Some questioned the real combat effectiveness of Biddle's program; U.S. Army close-quarters combat expert Rex Applegate dismissed Biddle's "duelist approach." Nonetheless, the Marine Corps taught Biddle's system throughout the war.

Biddle Bayonet Fencing


9 points/-- points

Primary Skills: Spear, Staff.
Secondary Skills: Body Language.
Optional Skills: Fast-Draw (Bayonet), Spear Sport, Staff Sport, Tournament Law (Bayonet Fencing).
Maneuvers: Feint (Spear), Hit Location (Spear), Lunge [thrust] (Spear), Pass [thrust] (Spear), Retain Weapon (Spear), Sweep (Spear), Tip Slash (Spear).
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None.


Like most nations, when Japan adopted the bayonet they also inherited the French bayonet fencing style. Finding the French program unsatisfactory, the Japanese army supplemented it with techniques from Sojutsu (spear fighting) and Bojutsu (staff fighting). The unified style, Juken-Jutsu, was formalized in the late 19th century. In addition to field training, most large Japanese bases had dojos dedicated to bayonet training, where various kata could be demonstrated and practiced.

While all Japanese riflemen studied Juken-Jutsu, few could dedicate enough time to qualify for the full style description below. GMs running realistic campaigns may restrict players to diluted versions of the style. Like most Asian martial arts, Juken-Jutsu was infused with mystical import and lends itself well to cinematic abilities.



14 points/18 points

Primary Skills: Brawling, Spear, Staff, Sumo Wrestling.
Secondary Skills: Body Language.
Optional Skills: Fast-Draw (Bayonet), Brawling Sport, Spear Sport, Staff Sport, Tournament Law (Bayonet Fencing).
Maneuvers: Hit Location (Spear or Staff), Kicking, Knee Strike, Lunge (Spear), Pass [thrust] (Spear), Retain Weapon (Spear or Staff), Spinning Strike (Spear or Staff), Sweep (Spear or Staff), Sweeping Kick, Tip Slash (Spear).
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: Kiai, Power Blow (Spear), Sweeping Counter Parry (Staff or Spear), Whirlwind Attack.

WW2 Bayonet Catalog


Owen Mk. 1 Knife Bayonet

254mm (10") single-edged blade with semi-spear point. Treat as a regular Bayonet.
Fits Owen submachineguns.

In 1943 Australia introduced this bayonet for its native Owen machine carbine. It was essentially a shortened version of the British Pattern 1907.


m/27 Sword Bayonet

420mm (16.54") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a Long Bayonet.
Fits VKT Kivääri malli 27, 28, and 28-30 rifles.

Among their improvements to the Mosin-Nagant M1891 rifle, the Finns replaced the Russian spike with a sword bayonet.

m/39 Knife Bayonet

300mm (11.81") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a regular Bayonet.
Fits SAKO Kivääri malli 39 rifles.

Believing its sword bayonets too cumbersome, Finland introduced the Kiv/39 rifle in 1941 with a shorter, handier knife bayonet.


Epée-Baionette Mle 86/35

335mm (13.19") cruciform spike. Treat as a regular Bayonet of Cheap quality with no cutting edge.
Fits Lebel Model 1886 rifles.

These old Lebel epée-style bayonets were retooled and shortened in 1935. The thin spikes still frequently bent or snapped under duress. The original Mle 86 bayonets boasted a 520mm (20.5") blade. Some could still be found in service during WW2 (treat as a Cheap-quality Long Bayonet with no cutting edge).

MAS 36 Bayonet

330mm (13") cruciform spike. Treat as a regular Bayonet, with no cutting edge.
Fits the MAS 36 rifle.

Stored and mounted in a hole in the rifle's forearm, the MAS 36 bayonet was designed to never leave its rifle. No scabbard was issued, and it lacked a proper handle for use as a knife when dismounted (apply a -1 penalty to Knife skill).


S84/98 Knife Bayonet

250mm (9.84") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a regular Bayonet.
Fits Mauser 1898 carbines and rifles.

The standard bayonet issued to German riflemen during WW2.


Modello 91 Knife Bayonet

300mm (11.81") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a regular Bayonet. Fits Mannlicher-Carcano Fucile Modello 91 rifles and carbines.

The standard bayonet for older versions of the Modello 91 rifle.

Modello 91/38 Folding Knife Bayonet

175mm (6.87") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a Small Knife or as a regular Fixed Bayonet when mounted.
Fits Mannlicher-Carcano Fucile Modello 91/38 rifles and carbines.

This design folded like a pocket knife, allowing the blade to fold down below the barrel when the bayonet was fixed. The folding mechanism proved fragile and later designs deleted the feature altogether.


Type 30 Sword Bayonet

395mm (15.55") single-edged blade with clip point. Treat as a Long Bayonet.
Fits the Arisaka Type 38 and 99 rifles; Type 100 submachineguns; Type 11, 96, and 99 light machineguns.

This sword bayonet was issued to Japanese troops from 1897. Quality was Good until the final months of the war, when material shortages reduced production versions to Cheap quality.

United Kingdom

Pattern 1907 Sword Bayonet

432mm (17") single-edged blade with semi-spear point. Treat as a Long Bayonet.
Fits SMLE No. 3 rifles and Lanchester SMGs.

Leftovers from the First World War, the Pattern 1907 saw use in the Pacific and other secondary theaters where the old No. 3 rifles were still plentiful. The Australians and Indians were particularly fond of them. Factories in Britain, India and Australia continued to produce the Pattern 1907 through 1945.

No.4 Spike Bayonet

200mm (7.88") spike. Treat as a regular Bayonet of Cheap quality with no cutting edge.
Fits SMLE No. 4 rifles (and Sten SMGs from 1944).

Britain converted to this crude spike in the late 1930s primarily to conserve resources and ease manufacturing burdens. It was uniformly disliked by troops. It lacked a handle for use as a knife when not mounted, though Home Guards were issued a "broomstick" attachment that allowed it to be used as a close-combat thrusting weapon (use Knife skill at -1.)

No.5 Knife Bayonet

203mm (8") single-edged blade with bowie point. Treat as a regular Bayonet.
For the No. 5 "Jungle Carbine" version of the SMLE rifle, the British returned to a proper knife bayonet design. It was accepted for service with the No. 5 rifle in September 1944.


Model 1905 Sword Bayonet

405mm (16") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a Long Bayonet.
Fits the Springfield M1903-A3 and M1 Garand.

The U.S. began the war with this vintage sword bayonet. U.S. arsenals manufactured a virtually identical copy, designated the Model 1942, in 1942 and 1943.

M1 Knife Bayonet

253mm (10") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a regular Bayonet.
Fits the Springfield M1903-A3 and M1 Garand.

Believing that the 1905 and 1942 bayonets were unwieldy and wasteful of resources, the U.S. military decided to shorten the blades of existing sword bayonets. This shortened design was dubbed the Model 1905E1. When the 1905E1 proved successful, manufacture of the new design was accepted in 1943 as the M1.

M4 Knife Bayonet

172mm (6.75") single-edged blade with spear point. Treat as a Small Knife or as a regular Fixed Bayonet when mounted.
Fits the M1 Carbine.

The army approved this bayonet for use with the M1 carbine in July 1944.


Mosin-Nagant 1891 Socket Bayonet

500mm (19.69") cruciform spike with flat-head screwdriver point. Treat as a Long Bayonet with no cutting edge.
Fits Mosin-Nagant M1891 rifles.

Fitting with Red Army doctrine, this bayonet was designed to always be fixed to the rifle. It had no handle for use as a knife when dismounted and was not issued with a scabbard.

SVT-40 Knife Bayonet

244mm (9.62") single-edged spear point. Treat as a regular Bayonet.
Fits SVT-40 rifles.

In a break from Red Army policy, this bayonet came with a sheath and was mounted only when needed. The earlier SVT-38 rifle was originally issued with a 362mm (14.25") blade (treat as a Long Bayonet).

Further Reading

Article publication date: August 29, 2003

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