Hand-to-hand combat in modern military conflicts

British Gurkhas posing with their Kukri knives
British Gurkhas posing with their Kukri knives (Photo: XY)

Hand-to-hand combat is a synonym for a fight without weapons which reffers to a fight where the participants were armed at the first stage. Hand-to-hand combat rarely happens, but if it does, it’s usually over very quickly.

Hand-to-hand combat in Bosnia

A friend of mine got into a hand-to-hand combat fight during the military conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1990s. 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.

hand-to-hand combat in modern military conflicts
U.S. soldiers training hand-to-hand combat (Photo: U.S. Army)

Hand-to-hand combat in Kosovo

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.

Bayonnet Fight

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-47 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.


As it was mentioned before, hand-to-hand combat is rare to happend. But if it happends, it will end quickly. There is 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.

British gurkha regiment posing for picture with khukri knife
British Gurkha soldiers posing with their Kukri knives (Photo: XY)

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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