On the Topic of Hand to Hand Combat

On the topic of Hand-to-Hand Combat
Captain S. Feldman
Translated by MicroBalrog from Vrazvedka.ru (Translator’s note: Obviously this is a document from the late 1940’s (the site I saw it on doesn’t state a source, but it’s clearly not originally theirs. It is also clear there are some typos in it since the numbers don’t quite match up, but it is still very interesting.)

The question of hand-to-hand combat, and in particular, the use of the bayonet, has been repeatedly discussed in the press. During this discussion, two movements have formed – one which states that the bayonet has lost its purpose, and training should not pay much attention to bayonet combat. Others believe in the necessity to enhance training in hand-to-hand, and especially bayonet, combat as an important means of enemy suppression and extermination.

In his article “On Close Combat”, Major Malinin writes: “In the past war, hand-to-hand combat using cold steel was rare. It was only common in cities, forests, etc. In normal circumstances it reduced itself to the use of hand-grenades. Lt. Colonel Gankevich, in his article “The Infantry Fighter’s Training” (“Red Star”, from January 1st, 1940 [translator: I believe this to be a typo in the original], agrees with the Major: “The Patriotic War proved that the old-type heavy rifle with its bayonet is leaving out its age, replaced by the submachinegun. The submachinegunner does not accept close combat. He can destroy the enemy with a short burst from any position – in a trench, on a tree, in an attic – while retaining freedom of motion. Close combat is now defined not by the bayonet but by the range of aimed submachinegun fire.

Lt. Colonel Gerasimenko disagrees. He writes in Red Star: “The proliferation of small arms persuades some officers to believe that this diminishes the value of the bayonet.” The author goes on to state that bayonets and other close combat weapons are indisipensable in the hands of a brave, well-trained fighter. “Imagine an operation in low-visibility condition (night and fog) to capture ap risoner. This is decided by the knife-dagger or the bayonet.. There are many examples were our reconnaissance teams used this method to remove guards and capture prisoners, even officers.” In his article: “The key factors of Infantry Tactical Training” (“Red Star”, 1946, vol .63) Lieutenant-General Gerasimenko writes:

“At a range of 40-50 meters the assaulting infantry ceased fire to rush the enemy trench in one decisive burst of movement. At 20-25 meters it utilizes hand-grenades thrown on the move, followed by point-blank fire and the use of hand-to-hand weaponry.”

Comparing hese statements to the statement of our regulations: “The infantry strength is in gunfire and the forward movement, culminating in the decisive bayonet assault”, it becomes clear that the bayonet has not lost its usefulness. Materials collated by us confirm this. We have polled a large amount of veterans of the Great Patriotic War, who have fought in assaults that culminated in a hand-to-hand combat. This work took a year of time, but was worth it as it allowed us to replace idle speculation with factual material given by men who experienced assaults and hand-to-hand combat.

In total, 2018 men were polled, of them 648 officers, (31.1%), 966 sergeants (47.8%), and 404 privates (20.1%). Of these, 1,990 participated in assaults (98.6%). These divide as follows: 22 sappers, 92 motorized infantrymen, 313 tankers, 364 artillerymen, 1199 infantrymen. Between them, these men participated in offensives 7754 times (on average, 4 times each), as well as having witnessed 415 attacks by other units (about 4 attacks each), as well as to repel enemy attacks.

The numbers (over 16,000) suggest that the assault is the most common decisive path to success in modern combat, and that all troops must be trained for it. Of the 1990 participants of assaults 883 had to use hand-to-hand combat (about 44%). They utilized: bayonet strikes – 399, stock blows – 390, stabs with a parry – 11, knife blows – 116, entrenchment tool blows – 96, large shovel blows – 53.

This data shows that attacks do conclude in hand-to-hand combat, forcing the infantryman to use not merely the bayonet, the stock, and the dagger-knife, but also the small and large infantry shovels. The bayonet-equipped rifle is by far the most common weapons.

Hand-to-hand combat occurred: in the field (1410 incidents), in forests (11185 incidents), in cities (196) and in other, rarer conditions. Thus, training for the assault must include special training for various conditions.

Also curious is the following data: out of 1282 assaults, the enemy accepted (engage in hand-to-hand combat) 372 (29%), while in 910 cases (71%) the enemy avoided hand-to-hand combat. Clearly our troops attempt to get into hand-to-hand range rather than stop at the aimed submachinegun fire range, as Gankevich believes.

The data also confirms the steadfastness of our forces on the defenses. Comrades polled notes 9405 assaults by the enemy (including 1025 counterassaults). In this context, hand-grenades were used in 1134 cases (69%), the bayonet in 270 cases (16%), while other tools, including improvised ones – in 134 cases (15%). Thus we must conclude that hand-to-hand combat is a major means for developing the needed moral qualifies for battle.

Interesting also is the issue of hand-to-hand combat in reconnaissance. According to the same poll, 822 reconnaissance troops used the following in combat with enemy units or troops: knife-dagger stabs (182 incidents), bayonet strikes (92 incidents), buttstock blows (86), an unarmed struggle of one man vs. several opponents (61 incidents), blows with the entrenching tool (48), blows with other improvised means (34), unarmed single combat (18 incidents), and other means (57). These numbers point to the special quality of reconnaissance action: the dagger-knife is the most popular here. We must clearly engage in special training for reconnaissance men.

Of course, this is not enough for final findings – especially given only 2018 men were polled. But, comparing this data with our combat regulations and the opinions of front-line generals and officers published in the military press, we can make the following conclusion:

1. Modern hand-to-hand combat must also include bayonet fighting.
2. Hand-to-hand combat is part of all military activities in wartime and must be studied and improved with more attention.
3. Apart from its direct use, hand-to-hand is to also be seen as a means for developing the needed moral and psychological qualities.
4. Hand-to-hand training must be introduced in all branches of the armed services.