A bayonet is a blade which is designed to be fixed to the muzzle of a rifle. Classically, bayonets are used in close-quarters combat, when firing a rifle could be dangerous or inadvisable. The use of bayonets as practical military weapons is on the decline, although many militaries continue to issue them for morale reasons and for use as all-purpose knives and blades. There are a number of different designs, and some people collect various versions from around the world.
This weapon appears to have originated in Bayonne, France, a region famous for its cutlery. The first bayonets were issued in the 1600s, in a design known as the plug bayonet. These knives were actually fitted inside the barrel of the gun, making it impossible to fire, and they were designed primarily as a weapon of last resort. Later, armies began making and issuing socket bayonets, which fitted around rather than in the barrel, and modern bayonets are either permanently affixed, or attached to a sliding rail which will not interfere with the operation of the gun.
Bayonets can vary in length. The sword bayonet, a popular design, is long enough to double as a short sword when detached, although it can make handling the gun extremely difficult. Shorter versions are actually preferable and more effective, but they lack the symbolic power of a longer and more intimidating blade. Ceremonial blades fixed during special ceremonies may be longer because their owners do not need to worry about practicalities.
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Charges with bayonets fixed do still occur in various regions of the world, although they reached their height during the trench warfare of the First World War. Soldiers are also given bayonet training so that they know how to use the blades if necessary. Full dress uniforms may include a fixed bayonet in some regions of the world, and soldiers are expected to keep their skills up in the event that the blades are called for.
While older bayonets tend to look more like swords, modern versions are similar to knives. Depending on the region, soldiers may have blades which can be used on an assortment of weapons or a particular family of guns, such as the American M-series, or specific blades may be developed for particular guns. In all cases, fitting the blade properly and quickly is crucial, as a badly-fixed bayonet can wobble, which is a very undesirable state of affairs.