Bowie Knife Bayonet and Bolo Bayonet for the US Krag

Lot 164 (Bolo bayonet) and Lot 165 (Bowie bayonet) in the September 2020 RIA Premier auction.

When the US adopted the Krag rifle in 1892, a remarkably efficient and simple decision was made regarding its bayonet. The old spike socket bayonet was clearly obsolete; all the modern European armies were adopting knife bayonets; the Swiss knife bayonet was a really good example; so the US would simply copy the Swiss M1889 pattern bayonet for the Krag. They did, and it was a very good bayonet – clearly this decision could not last without a challenge!

In 1900, the Good Idea Fairy suggested that perhaps a combination bayonet and entrenching tool could be devised to reduce the amount of of gear issued to troops. Ignoring the failures of this idea in 1873 and 1880, Springfield Armory went ahead and designed a Bowie knife style bayonet and made 2,000 of them for field trial in 1900. It was a dismal failure; inefficient and awkward as a bayonet and nearly useless as a digging tool. In response, a US Captian named Hugh Long in the Philippines crafted his own concept of a useful bayonet for that theater, patterned after the local bolo knifes. This would at least be good for hacking through thick vegetation, which was a major issue for US soldiers on the islands. Captain Long sent his sample back to Springfield, where it 56 more were made for testing (50 in 1902 and 6 in 1903).

Development of the Krag bolo style bayonet was cut short by the adoption of the new 1903 Springfield rifle, which abandoned the detachable bayonet altogether in favor of a return to a rod bayonet. However, the bolo would make a brief comeback on the Springfield in 1915…but that’s a story for another video.

47 Comments

        • You go by the presumption it was meant to be put down in the first place. Judging by how the last two decades went, that has never been the case. I have two theories as to why: Just kept on a low boil to keep other powers out. Or the USA are totally unable to achieve anything nowadays. Well or a bit of both.

    • Because cavalry charges are so very common on todays battelfields? Bayonet training has as much use today as the line formation or the Anglo-Saxon shield wall or chariots. Giving bayonets a use besides being used as a baynoet proves, that there is not much use for bayonets actually and ways to give it a reason to still exist are being saught. Today most bayonets are actually field knives you can also attach to the rifle and many armies have done away with bayonets besides ceremonial duties. And the rifles get ever shorter and shorter. Case in point the US Army that has been issuing the M4 carbine generally instead of a rifle for decades. Such a short gun sucks for bayonet fighting. But even the rather long stick that is an M16 is still rather short as a spear really. Bayonets are obsolete.

      • Interestingly the Brits have one of the world’s worst bayonet platforms, yet still use bayonets in the assault. Perhaps b/c they have one of the world’s worst rifles?

        • It is indeed a shit rifle and shit bayonet.

          There appear to be several strands of history behind it.

          In the 1981 Falkland Islands war, most of the British ammunition along with the tracked vehicles and helicopters for troop transport was lost when the ship carrying it was sunk.

          The British troops therefore walked between the battle sites, carrying their guns and all of their supplies on their backs. Incidentally, the Falkland Islands have a shitty climate, gale force winds and sleet or snow are possible at any time of year, and the ground is a mixture of tussocky grass, rocks and peat bogs, it’s not pleasant walking…

          Due to the absolute shortage of ammunition, and weight constraints, battles did end up with bayonet fighting.

          Fortunately for those British troops the rifle and the bayonets were FAL, not that SA80 shite.

          And the Galtieri regime had garrisoned the islands with demoralised conscripts, and kept the professional troops at home to deal with the expected civil disturbances as the Argentine economy went through yet another collapse. The conscripts didn’t want to meet either professional squaddies or ghurkas, armed with anything at all.

          Thatcher seemed to be gambling the other way.
          She was incredibly unpopular before the war, but fighting it and winning it, arguably won the bitch and her rancid party another two general elections

          Directly leading to the expensive POS SA80 and its investment cast, steel handled bayonet

          Iirc that bayonet cost something like £8m to develop in the 1980s, at a time when a £ sterling was exchanging for about four or five $US!

          Jan Stevenson’s “Handgunner” magazine commented “Good job th[ose young and inexperienced graduate engineers] weren’t tasked with developing the wheelbarrow”

          If the war hadn’t been fought, the Galtieri Junta would have been ousted anyway after a few months. Ready for the next cycle of argentine government borrowing and then wiping out the savings and capital of the population with yet another hyperinflation (Americans beware – that could soon be your future too).

          Perhaps Thatcher’s regime would have fallen a little later, and with much less loss of life.

  1. Clearly you can weigh troops down with equipment. Be good to have a single bit of gear accordingly in principle, obviously hard to achieve in practice. Modern defensive… Holes are still dug by an entenching tool “a wee spade” seen some additions to these; Finnish Rass armour plate; barricade, type idea. And other stuff, but the earth is still the best/handy resource to avoid flak.

    With drones being used to aid artillery, and artillery being… Well the idea of everything being “strike” lighter stuff I.e. Heavy armour, Tanks etc, being relegated somewhat… In theory. It does make me wonder, why we don’t make more use of explosives to make quick hidey holes to avoid flak; quick being important. Not by engineers I mean by infantry, a sort of auger that folk can carry in sections maybe- Hollow pipe middle; attach the sections together “drill a hole” using 2 bayonet sheaths as “twisty handles via the fold out saws being used to join them or such” pop a tube of dynamite someone has handy down the hollow auger pipe; boom! Losen the ground. Ok you still need a spade, but it could be plastic now so lighter as the ground is less compacted.

    You simply issue an auger section as bayonet. Each section is tubular, and you attach it to the end of your rifle; has teeth like those torches you can smack on folks heads- So it kinda works as anti body armour bayonet, as because of armour your now supposed to jab the enemy in tge face with it.

    Da’da! What.

    • In the 60’s, the US Army designed a kit for creating fighting holes with explosives. The were 2 components. First, a shaped charge bores a narrow, deep hole, then the second charge was inserted into hole to enlarge it. I never actually saw one of the kits, just a description and photographs in a FM.

      • I guess that with both the concussion from the shaped charge and then with the second charge showering stones everywhere

        It would be useful to have a hole in the ground to shelter in 😉

        Catch 22 at work.

    • The problem with that is the same as the problem with bayonets as utility tools going back to the mid-1800s. Namely, the rifle.

      During the American Civil War, Springfield Armory came up with an experimental “entrenching bayonet”;

      https://image.invaluable.com/housePhotos/Lostnfound/45/671345/H22541-L208487797.jpg

      Contrary to what many collectors think, this was not a “field made” item, but was actually an official accoutrement that was issued.

      About 1870 in Britain, Lord Elcho came up with his “sword bayonet” for the Martini-Henry;

      http://www.martinihenry.org/image/cache/data/Bayonet-elcho-up-1-500×700.jpg

      Note the saw teeth on the back. it was to be issued to “pioneers” (combat engineers) instead of, you know, an actual saw.

      (Yes, it tended to break in two in service due to the microfractures in the blade cause by cutting the saw teeth in- at the narrowest part, to boot.)

      And finally, in the 1870s and up to the turn of the 20th Century, “trowel bayonets” became the “in thing” in several armies, including ours;

      https://www.forgottenweapons.com/the-good-idea-fairy-strikes-american-trowel-bayonets/

      They all foundered on the same rock. That being that a rifle isn’t built to handle the torsional forces resulting from it being used as a shovel or pick handle. In short, the rifle bends or even breaks.

      And this was with big, heavy, sturdy weapons made of steel and wood and weighing up to ten pounds each. Trying the same thing with a modern, lightweight 5.56 “carbine” made of aluminum and composites is probably asking too much of the poor little thing.

      As for using a bayonet on the end of the rifle for actual CQB, its main function there is weapon retention in MOBUA- house clearing, IOW. A well-sharpened bayonet on the muzzle can be an unpleasant surprise for some miscreant who tries to grab the rifle’s barrel as you go through a doorway.

      The one thing that really should be retired once and for all is the “fix bayonet” part of close-order drill for ceremonial purposes. This is especially true of the L86 and AUG “bullpup” rifles.

      No soldier, however immaculately turned out, can look serious when gripping the butt of the bullpup between his knees while fixing the bayonet. In combat, you don’t worry about how it looks. For the Coldstream Guard on parade, it just doesn’t work.

      cheers

      eon

    • “(…)single bit of gear accordingly in principle, obviously hard to achieve in practice.(…)”
      In 1930s Workers Peasant Red Army there was some tinkering with how to do that with shovel, finally from these 3.7 cm Spatengranatwerfer 161(r) was born:
      https://pynop.com/37-mm-minomyot.htm
      it proved to be poor as shovel and poor as mortar.

      “(…)quick hidey holes(…)”
      Are you considering BTM-3 not quick enough trench creator:
      http://www.military-today.com/engineering/btm_3.htm
      ?

      • He did it because like the epee’ pattern angular bayonet it was supposed to replace, it might have been good for stabbing somebody, but it was utterly useless for the plebeian camp chores for which a strong, sharp fixed-blade knife is indispensable.

        He saw no point in the infantryman being forced to add to his kit by carrying a sheath knife in addition to the bayonet when a properly-designed knife bayonet could take care of both jobs.

        T.R. mentioned this regarding the “mechanics” of camping in his book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman.

        One of my ancestors who served in the Union Army in the American Civil War wrote a letter home to his hometown newspaper in 1862, advising all recruits to provide themselves with a good, sturdy sheath knife with about a 6 inch blade, a sturdy one or two-blade Barlow-type pocketknife, and if they could find one a camper type knife-fork-spoon combination.

        He stated that all three would be useful in camp or “on campaign”. And that the angular Springfield socket bayonet had exactly three uses in camp. As a roasting spit, a candle holder, or as tent-peg.

        The rod bayonet didn’t even have that many uses in camp.

        cheers

        eon

  2. The Swiss model looks as if it had been sharpened and even hand-honed. True?

    Sure glad the US Army never encountered the kukri. Kukri bayonets? Well, they might have worked against Gurkhas, who would’ve collapsed guffawing.

  3. I did not spend too long searching the net, but it was tricky to come up with any more information on the Bowie bayonet than what was presented here. This is really too bad, as the design looks worthy of further discussion.

    …Getting balance on a knife is a tricky affair, and even modern fighting knives can be fairly lackluster – probably even more so, as their apparent importance in combat is generally diminished these days. In fact, most of the veterans I’ve asked said they think much more highly of the M7 than the other options out there, which draws its heritage all the way back to the M3 fighting knife of WWII!

    A blade generally patterned after the Bowie bayonet seen above might be a winner, but a cut-and-thrust weapon (which a Bowie inherently is) needs to be capable of cutting. If the balance is too much like that of a dagger, you are relying on the minimal inertia, sharpness, and the energy you hold in your hand to do the work for you – which might not be a whole lot. The challenge with knives is that too much authority in the cut might also amount to excessive weight, which can make the blade unwieldy. A great example of this was Ontario’s OKC-10 bayonet, which failed to win an Army contract a few years ago. If you ever get your hands on one, it’s very cludgy, though perhaps not more than an M9 (which I’ve not actually ever toyed with).

    With the Krag Bowie, that medial rib is really striking. Indeed, by incorporating it, you are certainly going to remove mass from the blade and put the CG towards the handle. The idea must have, in part, been to get a wide blade for digging. A shovel also tends to be fairly thin, in part for piercing the ground. So, that may explain some of that. What is most curious, however, is the partially-sharpened section on the false edge – perhaps this was for use with a fire-starter / flint? The impression I’m really left with, however, is that a cutler at the arsenal was charged with making another “do-all” weapons/tool, but came to the conclusion that he could only make one of those aspects work out well, and thus chose the weapon aspect. I’d hate to imagine digging with that thing!

    Regarding bayonets in general, I think one needs to also remember that rifles make crappy polearms. They are both heavy AND short; while that weight may give them some nasty inertia while in motion, they are otherwise fairly ponderous to use in melee. Therefore, adding extra weight at the end with a blade may very well just make the “pokey rifle” even slower to respond…

    …However, I am curious how nasty a cut you could give with the Bowie bayonet on the rifle as compared to the dagger-type bayonet. Likewise, I’m curious of how much LESS effective the Bowie bayonet would be in the thrust as opposed to the dagger-type bayonet. Perhaps some reproductions are in order here? 😀

    I will conclude that the finish and grinding on both the bolo and the Bowie are outstanding, and their last curator did a wonderful job keeping them in good condition. They don’t make those kinds of grinds on blades in both quality and quantity anymore!

    • The Bowie knife traditionally had a sharpened false edge on the clip point. This was due to the way it was to be used in a knife fight.

      It was to be held in the hand “true edge up”, with the thumb against the back of the lower quillon. This automatically put the blade in line with the forearm without canting it to either side.

      The true edge was to be used for upward slashes and stabs into the opponent’s midsection. The sharpened false edge on the “clip” was to be used for downward chopping strokes to the opponent’s hands, wrists, and forearms, to cripple or ideally disarm him.

      The clip could also be used for chopping strokes at the opponent’s neck, shoulders, or upper thighs. Any of these strikes could sever major blood vessels, resulting in bleeding and death.

      Never forget that the Bowie was designed as a fighting, meaning killing, knife, at a time when most firearms were single-shots that might or might not go off when needed, and then took a while to reload even if they worked as advertised.

      cheers

      eon

      • Thanks – that’s really interesting insight. I had no idea that the long (or true) edge was intended to be used as a short edge on the Bowie in general! Of course, you could use it either way, but no matter.

        • Most modern “Bowie” knives have finger grooves, scallops, or curvature on the side of the hilt with the true edge, because that’s how you grip a kitchen knife.

          The original Bowies usually had roughly symmetrical hilts with no “finger grooves” anywhere. They would just have gotten in the way.
          😉

          cheers

          eon

  4. The definitive study of the Krag Bowie and Bolo bayonets (and all other types for the Krag) is in “The US Krag Bayonets: History, Variations, Modifications” by Donald J. Hartman.

    Superbly researched with all details on both the issue types and numerous experimentals. He also has a newer book on U.S Entrenching tools from the Civil war to WW1 with similar superb research and photos.

  5. Ian expresses doubts about the Bowie being used as an entrenching tool,but the Army was slow to adopt a dedicated entrenching tool. At Rock Island Arsenal’s museum there used to be a display of the various tools tested in 1900 as part of an entrenching tool program. There was an e-tool with a heavy blade that could be used as an axe. There was the trowel bayonet, there were a half dozen designs — and all failed the test. Each was tested by digging a six-by-three entrenchment by six “intelligent” troops. Result? All the tools were rejected and the best performance was using the issue bayonet and the lid from an issue lard pail. Sometimes, when the job calls for a shovel, you need a shovel.

    • “Sometimes, when the job calls for a shovel, you need a shovel.”(C)

      This is the whole point.
      “Universal” means “for nothing”.

      Don’t like the SA80 bayonet? You haven’t seen anything at all. LOL
      The quintessence of this short-sightedness is, probably, the last Soviet bayonet for the AK74.
      This is such a useless piece of iron that words cannot betray.

      However, when the state is run by cooks, and the bayonets are designed by the inventors of the ass-combers, nothing else can be expected… 😉

      • Practically every bayonet today seems to have a hole in the blade and a lug and notch on the sheath for wire-cutting.

        About the only place you’ll see barbed wire concertina or etc. today is around a FOB. And generally, you don’t try to “infiltrate” those; that’s what artillery rockets and mortars are for.

        cheers

        eon

        • There are fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) several decent bayonets out there – immediately one which comes to mind is the M7 in whatever particular flavor it happens to be. The M7 really falls into the category of pure knife only, though I suppose some utility can be found in the design for other purposes. Supposedly it is a good throwing knife, but I have not opted to try that with mine.

          Next, the USMC OKC-3 is reportedly very good. Note that it is a utility fighting knife without extraneous features like a wire cutter. Also has that really neat Randall-Made blade pattern. I do not own one of these, so I cannot comment on the feel in hand, but I predict that it would be about the same as the Freedom Fighter I own – just slightly kludgy, though the ergonomics should be much better on the OKC-3.

  6. It’s easier, cheaper and more efficient to issue the staff with working knives for a couple of bucks (like Mora), for any kind of work.
    Just like a small shovel, machete, ax, saw, penguin, and so on, depending on the environment in which the action is taking place.
    It is unlikely that someone will come in handy with a machete in Iraq, a shovel in Afghanistan or an ax in Vietnam.

    And the bayonet itself, given how rarely it is used, should be long enough, light enough, tough enough and with good penetrating ability.
    All this corresponds to a folding needle-shaped bayonet.

    PS Bayonet did not die.
    In calming promotions, this is a very useful item.
    Aborigines are afraid of knives. Simply because everyone, at least once, wounded his own finger, and what a bullet can do, almost everyone saw only in the movies.
    It’s just that modern operators have largely lost the habit and have forgotten how to use melee weapons.

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