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The Good Idea Fairy Strikes: American Trowel Bayonets

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Ian introduces some interesting, unique weapons in this video: trowel bayonets. He says it is easy to dismiss this as another time the good idea fairy whispered in someone’s ear. But the truth is a lot more intriguing and complicated than that.

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What he has is an 1869 pattern of US-issue trowel bayonet. This is one of the first designs developed, modeled after the socket bayonet which goes over the muzzle end of a rifle, and on the original ones, has a big cruciform spike on it. There were around 200 of these made, developed as a trial pattern and were issued for field testing.

It would be expected that this would make both a poor bayonet and a poor trowel. But to Ian’s surprise, when he read up on the weapon’s history, many officers wrote that this was a useful tool and should be adopted. The reason was this did not replace an entrenching tool in the military service.

Breech loading rifles made the bayonet obsolete, because the mechanism allowed for faster reloading. But officers were not yet willing to let the bayonet go. So when the idea to create a combination tool came, they jumped on it right away.

The utility of the firearm as a trowel needs to be discussed, as well. The trowel was not intended to dig a foxhole, much less a trench. The idea was for it to be able to dig a shallow fighting pit. Ian explains how this works and how it kept troops shielded from enemy fire. As a result of field trials, the military approved a slightly more developed design. 10,000 were issued in 1875, and they didn’t last very long. Politics got in the way, and the US started to look at combining a trowel with a fighting knife.

The trowel came in a kind of belt hanger. One thing that struck Ian is the strength of the center rib, and he points out the variations in manufacturing and design.


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