A bayonet is a knife, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit on the end of the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar firearm, allowing it to be used as a spear. From the 17th century to World War I, it was considered the primary weapon for infantry attacks. Today, it is considered a weapon of last resort; the term bayonette itself dates back to the second half of the 16th century, but it is not clear whether bayonets at the time were knives that could be fitted to the ends of firearms, or a type of knife. For example, Cotgrave's 1611 Dictionarie describes the bayonet as "a kind of small flat pocket dagger, furnished with knives. Pierre Borel wrote in 1655 that a kind of long-knife called a bayonette was made in Bayonne but does not give any further description; the first recorded instance of a bayonet proper is found in the Chinese military treatise Binglu published in 1606. It was in the form of the Son-and-mother gun, a breech-loading musket, issued with a 57.6 cm long plug bayonet, giving it an overall length of 1.92 m with the bayonet attached.

It was labelled as a "gun-blade" with it being described as a "short sword that can be inserted into the barrel and secured by twisting it slightly" that it is to be used "when the battle have depleted both gunpowder and bullets as well as fighting against bandits, when forces are closing into melee or encountering an ambush" and if one "cannot load the gun within the time it takes to cover two bu of ground they are to attach the bayonet and hold it like a spear". Early bayonets were of the "plug" type, where the bayonet was fitted directly into the barrel of the musket; this allowed light infantry to hold off cavalry charges. The bayonet had a round handle; this prevented the gun from being fired. The first known mention of the use of bayonets in European warfare was in the memoirs of Jacques de Chastenet, Vicomte de Puységur, he described the French using crude 1-foot plug bayonets during the Thirty Years' War. However, it was not until 1671 that General Jean Martinet standardized and issued plug bayonets to the French regiment of fusiliers raised.

They were issued to part of an English dragoon regiment raised in 1672, to the Royal Fusiliers when raised in 1685. The major problem with plug bayonets was that when attached they made it impossible to fire the musket, requiring soldiers to wait until the last possible moment before a melee to fixing bayonets; the defeat of forces loyal to William of Orange by Jacobite Highlanders at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 was due to the use of the plug bayonet. The Highlanders closed to 50 metres, fired a single volley, dropped their muskets, using axes and swords overwhelmed the loyalists before they had time to fix bayonets. Shortly thereafter, the defeated leader, Hugh Mackay, is believed to have introduced a socket bayonet of his own invention. Soon "socket" bayonets would incorporate both socket mounts and an offset blade that fit around the musket's barrel, which allowed the musket to be fired and reloaded while the bayonet was attached. An unsuccessful trial with socket or zigzag bayonets was made after the Battle of Fleurus in 1690, in the presence of King Louis XIV, who refused to adopt them, as they had a tendency to fall off the musket.

Shortly after the Peace of Ryswick, the English and Germans abolished the pike and introduced socket bayonets. The British socket bayonet had a triangular blade with a flat side towards the muzzle and two fluted sides outermost to a length of 15 inches; however it had no lock to keep it fast to the muzzle and was well-documented for falling off in the heat of battle. By the 18th century, socket bayonets had been adopted by most European armies. In 1703, the French infantry adopted a spring-loaded locking system that prevented the bayonet from accidentally separating from the musket. A triangular blade was introduced around 1715 and was stronger than the previous single or double-edged models, creating wounds which were harder to treat due to the propensity of healing scar tissue to pull apart the triangular incision; the 19th century introduced the concept of the sword bayonet, a long-bladed weapon with a single- or double-edged blade that could be used as a shortsword. Its initial purpose was to ensure that riflemen could form an infantry square properly to fend off cavalry attacks when in ranks with musketmen, whose weapons were longer.

A prime early example of a sword bayonet-fitted rifle is the British Infantry Rifle of 1800–1840 known as the "Baker Rifle". The hilt had quillons modified to accommodate the gun barrel and a hilt mechanism that enabled the bayonet to be attached to a bayonet lug. A sword bayonet could be used in combat as a side arm; when attached to the musket or rifle, it turned any long gun into a spear or glaive, suitable not only for thrusting but for slashing. While the British Army discarded the sword bayonet, the socket bayonet survived the introduction of the rifled musket into British service in 1854; the new rifled musket copied the French locking ring system. The new bayonet proved its worth at the Battle of Alma and the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War, where the Imperial Russian Army learned to fear it. From 1869, some European nations began to develop new bolt-action breechloading rifles and sword bayonets suitable for mass production and for use by police and engineer troops; the decision to redesign the bayonet into a short sword was viewed by some as an a

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