The evolution of a bayonet

When the United States entered World War II, most of its military was still equipped with the WW I era, bolt-action M-1903 Springfield rifle, accompanied by the M-1905 bayonet. Military doctrine of the First World War dictated “over the top” charges by mass infantry formations, closing with the enemy and engaging in close-quarter hand-to-hand combat. The bayonet designed for use with the M-1903 rifle reflected that doctrine. The rifle was just under 45 inches in length while the bayonet measured another 20 inches. Even unloaded, this presented a formidable weapon for use in close quarters combat. That bayonet is pictured at the bottom of the accompanying photo.

In the late 1930s, the U.S. adopted the .30 caliber, semi-automatic M1 Garand as the standard service rifle. One of the requirements was that the bayonet used on the M-1903 rifle must also fit the new Garand. As the M-1903 rifle was phased out and gradually replaced by the Garand, the M-1905 bayonet was still being issued. However, the nature of warfare had changed dramatically since its inception. The mass infantry assaults from the trenches of 1917 were a thing of the past. The military had mechanized, the horse cavalry was gone and more than ever before, the U.S. soldier found himself in a variety of vehicles. The 20-inch bayonet of WW I was awkward and difficult to wear in vehicles. It was impracticable and of little use for anything other than its intended purpose. Complaints began to come in from the troops.

The military responded in 1943, adopting a shorter bayonet measuring 14 inches in total length. But with WW II raging and material shortages everywhere, the U.S. could not afford to scrap some 2 million M-1905 bayonets in service. Instead, these blades were cut down to the 14-inch length, reconditioned with a parkerized finish and plastic grips and re-issued.

As the war dragged on, millions of men were inducted into the military and millions of Garand rifles were produced, thereby exhausting the remaining supply of M-1905 bayonets. U.S. armories pivoted on a dime, producing the M-1 bayonet specifically designed for the Garand to meet 1943 specifications.

It is identical to the reworked M-1905 version in size and finish, but a key difference allows you to tell them apart. The “blood groove” — that slight indention that runs along the flat side of the blade — stops about two inches before the tip in the current version, as it also does on the original M-1905. While on the reworked M-1905 version, the blood groove runs all the way through the shortened blade.

Can you tell which of our three blades is the retrofitted M-1905 version and which is the M-1 version designed for the Garand?

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Steve Corbo

A founding member and corporate secretary of the Italian American Veterans Museum, Steve Corbo is the museum’s curator and a military consultant for Fra Noi. He has served for 25 years as president of S.A. Corbo & Associates Inc., providing professional liability insurance to health care providers. The son and nephew of World War II veterans and a passionate military historian for over 50 years, he has written and published articles on a variety of topics, including military history, and serves as the military consultant for Fra Noi, the Chicago-area Italian-American magazine.

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