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Hand-to-hand combat in modern military conflicts

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gurkha regiment posing for picture with khukri knife

A friend of mine got into a hand-to-hand fight during the Bosnian War. He was walking through a forest in the no-man’s-land when he saw an old bunker position. He decided to check it out, but just when he wanted to get inside the bunker, an enemy soldier came walking out of it. My buddy was so surprised that he just took his rifle and threw it at the enemy. Luckily, the enemy soldier was as surprised as he was and ran away immediately. My friend was spooked from what had happened and this was the last time he ventured into the no-man’s-land alone.

On another occasion, a soldier from my unit in Kosovo ran into an enemy soldier during the night. As they were not far from an enemy checkpoint, he didn’t dare to shoot his gun and instead, he decided to use it as a club. One swing, his rifle butt connected with the enemy’s head and his enemy went down immediately. I spoke to our soldier the next day and he was totally unfazed. He smiled when he told me what he had done.

The only time I saw a soldier going into a bayonet fight was during my first battle in Bosnia. It didn’t end well:

We encountered another small group from our unit nearby. They had made out an enemy position at the far end of the refinery and decided to attack it. I saw one of the guys fixing his bayonet to his AK rifle. Then they disappeared. We also decided to move, but in another direction, towards a big warehouse building next to the refinery.

When the battle was over we were informed that the soldier with the bayonet had been killed. A week later I attended his funeral.

Hand-to-hand combat rarely happens, but if it does, it’s usually over very quickly. No 10 minutes long martial art scenes like in the movies. Often a situation where you have to fight your enemy barehanded is the result of not one, but multiple errors and mistakes that you have made: misjudging the tactical situation, unpreparedness, negligence, and ignorance of the most basic infantry combat rules.

You will almost never attack your enemy barehanded; there is always something that you can use as a weapon: a spade, a chair, a knife, your rifle (as a club), even a pencil is better than nothing.

Bayonet fighting is a very bad idea. I think that some units use daggers or bayonets simply for the psychological effects that these weapons have on the enemy. A good example is the famous Gurkhas with their big Kukri knives. Nevertheless, there is no place for bayonet fighting in modern combat.

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