Sunday, July 15, 2012

History in the Woodwork

You just never know where you'll find a piece of history and what it has been through.

Below are three bayonets I've had for several years.  I decided I'd like to display them in some kind of a frame to hang on the wall.

click images to enlarge
Top to bottom:

~WW1 German "sawback" bayonet

~WW2 Japanese "last ditch" bayonet

~WW2 German 1943 dated bayonet

I paid $30 each. The WW1 German and WW2 Japanese bayos were purchased at a garage sale while the WW2 German bayo was bought at an antique shop.

While the WW2 Japanese 'last ditch' bayonet (called such because it was a very crude, simply produced utilitarian bayonet made very late in the war of whatever little raw materials were available) and the WW2 German 1943-dated bayonet are very interesting and rare, especially the 'last ditch' bayo, it's the WW1 German 'sawback' bayonet that intrigues me.

It's called a 'sawback' because of the saw teeth on the spine of the blade, shown above.  These 16" (!!) bayonets were most often issued to German Pioneers (combat engineers) and machine gun crews to help them construct entrenchments, cut down small trees and in general clear obstructions.  The British, however, saw such sawback bayonets in a morbid light and, according to stories of the time, would sometimes execute German prisoners on the spot if they were found with such a bayonet.  It is for this reason that German sawback bayos are often found nowadays with the saw teeth ground down; German soldiers didn't want to be executed because of their bayonets!

This particular bayonet has some damage to its handle.  The steel portion has been bent and mangled enough that it will no longer fit onto the bayonet lug of a Mauser rifle and half of the wood grip on the left side is missing.  The scabbard is also dented.

This damage looks to be old (the wear and aging on the damaged section matches the wear and aging found on the rest of the bayonet) and must have taken quite a bit of force to create.  Combat damage?  I believe it to be.

Now we get to the interesting part.
The bayonet and scabbard are matching, meaning both pieces were issued together and have remained together for nearly a century.

On both the bayonet and scabbard we see a series of numbers and a letter.  These indicate a unit and weapon number.

After much research here's what I've come up with:

This WW1 German bayonet was weapon number 228, assigned to the 3rd Company of the 21st Pioneer Regiment of the 25th Division. From what little info I can find it looks like that company fought at the First Battle of the Marne, the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme along with the Third Battle of Ypres. They were right in the thick of it.

I believe this bayonet to be a battlefield pick-up from the damage that's been done to it.  Who knows when and from where it was retrieved and by whom.  It could have been during one of the battles listed above or during a smaller, lesser known one.  All I know is that somehow in the last 100 years it journeyed from France to, of all places, small town USA.

If this bayonet could talk I'm sure it would have quite a story to tell.


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