Modern militaries are often showing off their latest and greatest stealth fighter planes or tanks or usage of robots for combat related roles. The dependence that militaries (and society in general) have on technology leads people to forget that all important tool that supported militaries throughout history: knives.
Before there were guns, tanks, planes, and trucks, armies moved on horseback and by foot and didn’t carry rifles with them, but swords and knives! Modern warfare has changed tactics quite a bit, but only as recently as World War I! That means that if you want to understand military history, you must understand the evolution of knives! Below are the 5 most revolutionary military knives in history.
- Bronze Age Sword
- Rifle Bayonet
- Modern Military Survival Knife
1. Bronze Age Sword
One of the most significant inventions in military technology in human history was the Bronze Age Sword. This was championed by the Minoans, a civilization that lived near modern day Greece thousands of years ago.
Bronze Age Swords were adopted quickly by other ancient civilizations, most notably the Greeks city-states. City-states like Athens and Sparta quickly added the bronze sword to their ranks and used it to help them optimize the tactic that would shape how militaries fought until World War I: the phalanx.
After hundreds of years and the fall of the Roman Empire, militaries shifted in their size and tactics. Rome had united much of western Europe for hundreds of years. But now that it was gone, Europe descended into what is known as feudalism as a way to organize themselves. Feudal kingdoms depended on a warrior class known as knights to defend their lands against other rival kingdoms. The knights’ weapon of choice was the longsword.
Longswords provided knights with a powerful weapon that was effective at close and far range. Knights didn’t need to get nearly as close to the enemy as they had when using Bronze Age Swords, which changed combat as well. Sometimes, knights would fight against each other one on one rather than in large formations. The longsword made this possible. A great show to watch the use of the longsword is a show called The Witcher.
One of the most influential military weapons on this list is the Katana. Developed in ancient Japan, the Katana is one of the longest used military weapons of all time. Japanese warriors known as samurai carried Katana into battle for hundreds of years. They were even carried and used in combat by Japanese officers as recently as World War II!
Each Katana is different, depending on the sword’s forger. Japan, much like Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire, was divided up by various kingdoms. Each kingdom was led by leaders called Daimyo. The Daimyo would have Katana made for their samurai that was unique to the fighting style used to train each samurai.
4. Rifle Bayonet
As militaries began to shift to meet the threat of firearms, a new spin on the military knife occurred. Militaries still used the same tactics known as phalanx formations to organize themselves on the battlefield and march against the enemy. Armies would line up in rigid formations and march towards each other so that each side would take turns firing volleys of musket rounds at each other. The side that broke ranks first and began retreating often felt the sting of bayonets soon thereafter, due to the opposing side chasing them down with a bayonet charge.
Bayonet charges were very effective during the age of muskets. The last time they were used successfully was during the Spanish-American War, especially when Theodore Roosevelt led his rough riders up San Juan hill! Make sure you read more about that story here.
But the tragic thing about the bayonet charge is that developments in weapons made the bayonet charge obsolete by World War I. But that lesson wasn’t learned until millions of men had discovered that themselves.
5. Modern Military Survival Knife
With modern technology like shoulder fired, gas operated, magazine fed rifles and stealth fighter planes, the use of the military knife has gone from the main combat tool to a tool needed to survive in the austere environments that militaries are deployed to. While some soldiers still carry full-tang combat knives, most choose to carry knives that are easier to carry, like a foldable knife.
Foldable knives make carrying a knife much more convenient for soldiers as they allow for more ammunition and grenades to be carried on their kit. They’re lighter than combat knives and much easier to carry. Be sure to check out this review of some of the best foldable survival knives around to see what modern military members value in their knives.
Military weapons have changed quite a bit over the last 100 years. Hand-to-hand combat is much less common, which has made the modern soldier reconsider the usage of knives in their kits. But remember, knives and swords influenced so much of military history. Tactics and strategy were shaped around the employment of various knives and swords all the way up until World War I! To understand military history, you must understand the development of military weapons.