Hand-to-hand combat in modern military conflicts

Hand-to-hand combat is a synonym for a fight without weapons which refers to a battle where the participants were armed at the first stage. Hand-to-hand

Roland Bartetzko


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 refers to a battle where the participants were armed at the first stage. Hand-to-hand combat rarely happens, but it’s usually over very quickly if it does.

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 astonished 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 unfazed. He smiled when he told me what he had done.

Bayonet 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.

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


As it was mentioned before, hand-to-hand combat is rare to happen. But if it happens, it will end quickly. There are no 10 minutes long martial art scenes like in the movies. Often a situation where you have to fight your enemy barehanded results from 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 rarely 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 terrible idea. I think that some units use daggers or bayonets simply for the psychological effects 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.

Roland Bartetzko

Bartetzko served in the German Army, the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) during the Bosnian War and with the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) during the 1999 Kosovo War. Last year he published a study about radical Islam in Kosovo. Bartetzko has a university degree in law and is currently working for a law firm in Pristina, Kosovo.


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