MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why US troops in World War I ditched the bayonet for the shovel

World War I brought a new kind of fighting to the world. Wars were no longer conducted on an open field of battle with colorful uniforms in an effort to outmaneuver the opposing armies. Wars from henceforth would be mechanized factories of wholesale slaughter, fought by men covered in mud, killing each other with any means at their disposal. But in those grim early days, it was a surprise to all involved. Like most troops, however, those fighting the Great War adapted pretty fast.

One of the weapons they adapted saw the development of their entrenching tool as a weapon of war.


They had a lot to work with.

Trench Warfare was not something the troops or planners ever anticipated, so troops were sent into combat with pretty basic weapons and supplies. The primary weapons for American troops were the rifle and bayonet, even though the United States didn't enter the war until much later. Fighting in the trenches changed the way soldiers fought the war and thought about future conflicts. Clubs and knives became common among all troops, and British troops in particular, brought maces and other medieval devices to the fight. Americans came with all sorts of ready-made weapons, including brass knuckles.

The most terrifying but effective battlefield innovation actually saw soldiers ditching their rifle-mounted bayonets in favor of a more versatile weapon that could be used at close range, over and over, with terrifying effect.

There was way more to fear than just trench shotguns.

World War I soldiers found that using their bayonets could result in their primary weapon being lodged in the viscera of an enemy troop, leaving that guy dead but them at the mercy of anyone else whose bayonet was not lodged in an enemy. To get around this, some soldiers stopped leading with the bayonet and favoring their entrenching tool as a more effective means of dispatching someone who doesn't want to leave their own trench.

It turns out the edges of American entrenching tools could be sharpened to an almost razor-fine edge, making it the perfect melee weapon for pouring into the German lines and pouring Germans out of those lines by force. Another great bonus of using an e-tool to entrench enemy troops into their new graves was that it was much shorter than the bayonet, and could be used more effectively in close quarters combat. As the war drug on, however, the armies of the world got the hint and developed better weapons. But soldiers on the front lines in every conflict since have always developed an easier means of killing the enemy with what was at their disposal.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.