Soviet Red Army: the Secret of Hand-to-Hand Combat


Original Russian Language Article By: Yuferev Sergey (Юферев Сергей)

(Translation and Research by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

For the German fascist invaders (who attacked the USSR on June 22, 1941), the superior ability of the Red Army soldiers to fight with bayonets, sapper shovel-blades and knives, was as unexpected as the T-34 medium tank. or the legendary Katyusha rocket launchers . The Germans were able to witness the bayonet attack of the Soviet troops (and its effectiveness) from personal experience during the first hours of the war, in the Brest Fortress. In this experience, there is nothing surprising, because in the Red Army, almost from its very inception, the military began to actively train to develop their speed, endurance, agility and strength, whilst receiving political education to develop Socialist moral and psychological qualities in the fighters. In this Soviet context, the principle of hand-to-hand combat became a very important facet for the training of Red Army soldiers.


At the same time, the history of the bayonet in the Russian army began long before the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). It originated from the time of Peter I. The introduction in 1709 of bayonets instead of baginets – made the gun quite suitable for action in combat, not only with fire and butt, but also with bayonet. Unlike the baginet, the bayonet did not need to be separated from the gun before each new shot (during the reloading process). Joining the bayonet with a rifle significantly increased the offensive strength of the Russian infantryman. Unlike the armies of European countries, in which the bayonet was used as a defensive weapon, it was used in the Russian army as an offensive weapon. A strong bayonet strike became an integral part of the tactics of the Russian army. Over time, the Russian method of conducting bayonet combat so intimidated the enemy that according to the Geneva Convention, the traditional blow to the stomach was replaced by a “more humane” blow with bayonet in the chest.

Officially compulsory classes in gymnastics and knife fighting began in the Red Army in 1918. These were combined with mandatory exercises in shooting and hand-to-hand fighting, which necessarily included martial gymnastics – various movements with weapons, a shovel, rolling and jumping, and overcoming various obstacles. During the years of the Civil War (1918-1921), it was possible to accumulate a very large experience of hand-to-hand fighting, on the basis of real combat conditions. Further development of hand-to-hand combat in the USSR proceeded. Beginning in 1924, the country began to publish the first official (Socialist) military manuals for the physical training of fighters and citizens of pre-conscription age.


Before the Great Patriotic War, the army managed to pass a sufficient number of reforms, which significantly changed the principles of hand-to-hand combat. The drills associated with bayonet drill, throwing grenades and shooting were combined into a single operation. Great lessons had been learned from military conflicts with Japan and Finland. The experience gained by the Red Army proved that the bayonet battle, or at least the readiness for it, was still the decisive and final element of any attack. The same experience clearly showed significant losses in melee fights both inflicted due to the competent use of the bayonet, and as a consequence of the inability to use the bayonet properly.

The Red Army soldiers were constantly taught that their bayonet was an offensive weapon, and that the essence of the bayonet battle was interpreted as follows: “The experience of war shows us that a large number of soldiers were killed or wounded only because they could not properly use their weapons, especially the bayonet. At the sametime, bayonet fighting is the decisive factor of any attack. Until the last opportunity, the bayonet battle is preceded by shooting. At the sametime, the bayonet is the main weapon during night battle.” The soldiers of the Red Army were taught that in the course of hand-to-hand fighting, the retreating enemy should be constricted in movement with bayonets and hand grenades as the line advances. A pursuit of the enemy should be achieved through quick, accurate and calm fire.


Recalling the campaigns in Europe, the soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht more often in conversations between themselves, and in their letters to their homeland. expressed the following thoughts: “Whoever fought the Russian and did not experience hand-to-hand fighting, did not see a real fight.” Artillery fire, bombing, shooting, hunger and cold, and exhausting marches in the mud, could not be compared to the violent and short fights, in which it was very difficult to survive.

“We fought for one house for 15 days, using mortars, machine guns, grenades and bayonets,” wrote the German lieutenant of the 24th Panzer Division in his letter home during the battles in Stalingrad. “On the third day of fighting (on staircases, and in cellars), we left the bodies of 54 of our companions. The “front line” in this war was walking along the corridor that separated the burnt rooms, and on the ceiling between the floors. Reinforcements came up to us through fire escapes, chimneys, and from neighboring buildings. In this fight, it was from morning to night. From one floor to another, we, blackened by the soot, throw each other grenades, fighting in the rumble, clouds of smoke and dust, among pools of blood, heaps of cement, fragments of furniture and fragments of human bodies. Ask any fighter what half an hour of melee combat means in such a battle. And then imagine Stalingrad. 80 days and 80 nights of hand-to-hand fighting. In which the length of the street is now measured not by meters, but by abandoned corpses.”

Basic Methods of Bayonet Combat

The following main methods of bayonet combat were practiced in the Red Army: a piercing stab, striking with the butt, and parrying.

The Forward (Piercing) thrust

The forward (piercing) thrust, of course, was the main method of bayonet combat for the Red Army soldier. The main point of the bayonet battle was the projection of a rifle with a bayonet directly at the enemy, threatening his throat and threatening the rest of the body. To execute the thrust, it was necessary to thrust the rifle (or carbine) forward with both hands (directing the point of the bayonet to the target) and fully straightening (and extending) the left and right arms, keeping the weapon strongly gripped with the fingers and resting firmly within the palms. Simultaneously, it was necessary to straighten the right leg and, directing the bodyweight sharply forward, into the bent (forward) left leg. After successfully piercing the enemy with the bayonet, it was necessary to immediately retract the bayonet and assume the starting position.

Depending on the combat circumstances, the forward (piercing) thrust could be applied either with or without the need to attempt to deceive the enemy. In those cases when the enemy’s weapons did not prevent a forward (piercing) thrust, then it was necessary to stab directly (a thrust without deception). When the enemy has covered the attack with his own weapon, then a straight forward (piercing) thrust cannot be applied. In such a situation, it is necessary to create a feinting thrust (using ‘deception’), thus causing the enemy to quickly move his weapon and open the target area – which should then be quickly attacked with a forward (piercing) thrust. Pressure should be maintained with repeated (fast) thrusts, as any hesitation often led to the death of the Russian soldier.

Mastering the technique of making a strike for Red Army soldiers (during training) was carried out in the following sequence: 1) stationary forward (piercing) thrust (into mid-air) without a straw-target, 2) stationary forward (piercing) thrust into a straw-target, 3) single step to deliver a forward (piercing) thrust with no straw-target, 4) running toward a single straw-target to deliver a forward (piercing) thrust, 5) running forward (with changes in direction) to strike multiple straw-targets, 6) attacking trenches, forest environments and urban settings, practising forward (piercing) thrusts into straw-stuffed targets spread randomly around.

During the training and study of the forward (piercing) thrust, emphasis was placed upon the development of strength and accuracy. As part of the study, the soldiers of the Red Army memorized the dictum of the Russian General Drahomirov: “It must be remembered constantly that with the use of cold weapons the eye is undoubtedly more important than when conducting fire alone: for the incorrectness of the hand, or an error in determining the distance to the target leads to the loss of the bullet, here (with bayonet fighting) such errors can lead to the loss of your life.”


Striking with the Rifle Butt

Sometimes the enemy closes too quickly to be bayoneted with a forward thrust, in such a situation, the body of rifle can be turned sharply so that the butt can be used to strike the opponent from any angle, be it up, down, left or right, diagonal or straight. Momentum can be added by steeping forward with the right leg as the blow of the butt is landed from the outside in. A butt blow can also be added straight after a successful forward (piercing) thrust.

To strike forward with the butt whilst not changing stance, it is necessary to push the butt up with the right hand, holding it above the right shoulder, whilst withdrawing the rifle (or carbine) slightly back, (keeping weight on the left foot), then the butt swung downward and forward to strike the enemy.

To strike the base of the butt, it is necessary to turn on the heels of both legs to the right and turn the body around (with the knees not straightened), at the same time thrust the base of the butt forward. The body turns away from the opponent to facilitate this strike. transferring weight to the right foot, strike a blow to the enemy’s head with the base of the butt.


In order to strike the butt above from the top with maximum power, the rifle must be grasped by both hands around the barrel area and lifted above the head before being brought sharply down with power. Training is often carried-out on straw-stuffed targets whilst the soldiers are attacked with a large stick with a ball attachment. Blows have to be sharp, well-aimed and full of power.

Parrying Incoming Attacks

The parrying defense was used by the Red Army to protect themselves from the attacks of the enemy during the attack, when weapons in the hands of the enemy prevented forward (Piercing) thrusts. After repulsing the opponent’s attack, it was then necessary to carry out a forward (piercing) thrust immediately, or to strike with the butt. The parries were performed to the right, left, down and up.  depending upon the level and direction of attack, the defending Red Army soldier would parry using small, semi-circular movements which deflected the enemy strikes away from their body. Once the parry was carried-out successfully, a counter-strike was immediately launched.

For efficiency reasons, parry had to be performed with small circles, usually with the left-leading hand only. This is because if a parry was to big, it opened an opportunity for the attacker to counter through the gap. A parry, although defensive, was used by the Red Army as an attacking move that always led to an attack, be it a forward (piercing) thrust, or a heavy blow with the butt of the rifle. A parry was never an end in itself.

During the Great Patriotic War, a huge number of melee fights took place. It was a vital necessity. At the same time, statistics clearly shows that in most hand-to-hand fights the initiators were precisely the fighters and commanders of the Red Army. According to statistics, the opponents of the Red Army decided on hand-to-hand fighting only in 29% of cases, which indicates their fear of this kind of battle, while the Red Army soldiers, on the contrary, sought to impose a hand-to-hand fight on the enemy.

Further Reading:

Original Russian Language Article:

Рукопашный бой: секретное оружие Красной Армии

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