Forgotten Weapons Short: Yataghan Bayonets

What is the explanation for the odd recurved Yataghan-style bayonet popular through the second half of the 19th century? It may have been named after a Turkish sword, but it doesn’t really match that pattern of blade. It isn’t any stronger that a straight or single-curved blade, and its balance makes for a lousy short sword.

What many sources appear to overlook is the practicality of the design when attached to a muzzleloading rifle: it offsets the pointed tip several inches from the shooter’s hand when reloading with a ramrod. Not an insignificant benefit!

 

16 Comments

  1. Was this adopted by the USA? I don’t remember seeing this in any Civil War photo’s or artwork. It is something I had not encountered before.

  2. As a fencer, the balance of a Chassepot bayonet seems fine to me when being used as a sword. I don’t think the curve offers any benefit, but it doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect upon the handling.

  3. Supposed benefit of yatağan type blades, especially in swinging motions, should be keeping the impacts just below the strike location of arc motion where the gained momentum still in highest level. Somewhat similar to advanced primer ignition. lMHO.

    • The question is how one performs a quick slashing job. The curved blade will pull through the victim with less “blade bounce” than a straight-edged blade. R Lee Ermy demonstrated the difference between a curved cavalry saber and a rapier when slashing sandbags from horseback. The saber slashed the bag open with no problem but the rapier bounced off when its cutting edge cut into the bag. Did I mess up?

      • Assuming the “rapier” was an actual rapier, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Rapiers were primarily thrusting swords with only a small degree of cutting ability.

        • Sorry, MG, but a real Rapier has a lot of cutting power, depending on your training and intent. Back in the day, sharpening the blade of a Rapier was usually one or both edges for the leading 1/3rd portion of the blade. The rear 2/3rd or so was left pretty much as was so as to provide a much more rugged parrying area. Razor edges are not so resilient to being beaten to death by another steel blade. (We’ll discuss Katana technique another day.)
          But a Rapier sharpened with a particular intent is a very versatile instrument and retains it’s capacity to kill, wound, or slap a poser silly with the flat while doing no serious damage other than a radiant and embarrassing technicolor bruise up one side the face. This was and is a very important consideration in a society (Civil or military) with explicit laws regarding duels. One could find oneself doing Big-Time-Prison-Time or even the executioners attention by “winning” a duel.
          And yes, the real heydays of more modern duels are usually with what we’d call 18th century type “Small Swords” equipped with little or no edge but a needle point, with no flat (e.g. no selection of use) and virtually guaranteed a fatality.
          Upon being challenged to duel, Mark Twain stipulated “Dirt Clods.” I seem to recall Chris Stashiff required squirt guns launching purple dye.
          Patton’s final sword design, copied from the Brits, largely resembles something from 1618…with no curve to the blade but a useable edge, while France’s Saber of that period had no edge at all and was essentially a rod with a sharp point.
          Evolution rolls on, doesn’t it?

  4. If you look at the older epee’ pattern socket bayonets for muzzleloaders, the early ones, like the “ring” bayonets that came just before them, had fairly straight blades. But the ones from about the 1770s on had either a longer “neck” to offset the blade from the bore, or the tip was slightly curved down and away from the bore line. Some had both features.

    As with the yataghan blade, this didn’t affect their efficiency in skewering somebody, but it did reduce the chances of the soldier skewering his hand on the thing while reloading the musket.

    cheers

    eon

  5. My understanding is the earliest bayonets that allowed firing when fitted had the blade offset to allow safe loading at the muzzle, but that fitting allowed use as a knife or sword almost impossible. Is this correct?

    If the above is correct: when were handles added to allow multiple uses of the bayonet? If the Yataghan replace a socket bayonet then the shape of the blade as a sword is irrelevant, coz it’s better than holding a short piece of pipe with a spike stuck on the side.

    If it replaced a bayonet with a handle; then it didn’t matter about the shape if it saved French soldiers from losing fingers.

    Once the French adopted it then obviously every other Army wanted it, even if they did not understand anything about it. So unlike our own enlightened times

    • Hi

      The French muzzle loaders muskets and bayonets are a mess:

      The model 1842 “yatagan” bayonet was introduced with the model 1842 rifled muzzleloading short caplock musket (carabine des chasseurs modèle 1842). This “rifle” was provided to professional troops. The previous rifled musket (model 1837) had a sword bayonet with a removable handle: you had to take off the handle to lug the bayonet.

      The standard infantery weapon (model 1842 smoothbore caplock musket)had a traditional spike bayonet without a handle.

      From 1842 until the advent of the 1866 chassepot:
      -smoothbore muskets had spike bayonet
      -rifled muskets (for professional soldiers) had a yatagan bayonet.

      From the “Gazette des Armes 138”

      Hope it helped

      Regards

  6. Another posible explanation heard once in a while for this style of bayonet is that it was fashionable, and that’s why it was used for a relatively short time.
    During the Franco-Prussian war, since their production was insufficient, many of the french bayonets were made in Spain (factories in Pacencia and Toledo).
    It was later adopted here virtually unchanged in the late 1850’s, including the Rolling-block pattern rifles.

    Article in Spanish about this type of bayonets (with a few unnecessary political commentaries) and countries that adopted it at http://amodelcastillo.blogspot.com.es/2015/05/bayonetas-yatagan.html
    There is a smallish picture of a confederate soldier with one.

  7. As a “pretty good” renaissance fencer much depends on ones choice of weapon. If your atack is based on the slash either by intent or in the confusion of a melee the yatagan gives a “three-for-one” chance of scoring against your opponent. Sword or bayonet basically makes little difference.
    1. By intent or desperation the point always remains dangerous.
    2. A simple thrust forward with a markedly curved blade gives a strong slashing effect with a straight-line thrust.
    3. The withdrawal gives another reverse slash to your opponent with considerable strength.
    This technique was taught to me by the only man I ever met who had actually killed a man (or two or three or more) in the 20th century.
    With a sword.
    The ex-Polish Cavalrymen said, “ The @#$& dammed Germans had to come out of their @#$&* panzers sometime and we’d be waiting.”
    An interesting fellow. He was about 80 at the time, I was about half that age.
    I was never even close to beating him in a match or a Melee.

    • Interestingly some Polish armored cavalry shot up a Panzer column from within after getting lost in the heat of battle. The German tanks freaked out when they realized that there were angry Poles right within their ranks. And as for Polish horse cavalry set against German infantry, remember that bolt-action rifles are less than ideal if the warring parties are within lance/pistol range when the infantry are on the march (no time to set up the machine gun). I could be wrong…

      • That was our guy.
        He had more to say about that bit of history, mostly while beating the besnockers out of (much younger, and soon to be much less prideful me.)
        But this is a family presentation and his well and most honorably earned language about the events are likely a littl too colorful.

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