7 Small Inventions that Led to Big Military Victories

Sometimes small inventions bring about big change, either in our everyday lives, or in times of war. Wartime brings about innovation, born out of necessity. That innovation doesn’t just take the form of large weapons of war, but also of smaller inventions and efforts to assist the war effort. In some cases, these small changes led to the significant victories, ranging from single battles to the Allied victory in World War II.


In the early 17th century, French hunters hunting boar began attaching knives, called bayonets, to their muskets. The French army first adopted the bayonet in 1671, and by the end of the 17th century, bayonets were a standard part of military issue equipment. The bayonet eliminated the need for pikemen in the military. Previously, pikemen had served as a guard for the musketeers as they reloaded; however, the guard was no longer needed once the muskets included a bayonet.


The introduction of the bayonet changed the role of the musketeer and led, overall, to a period of reduced specification of tasks. Since pikemen were no longer needed, musketeers took on an increasingly important role in the armies of the 18th century. As gun technology advanced, the bayonet became less important. By the Civil War, only one percent of fatalities could be attributed to the bayonet.

Bayonets could fit in, on or over the muzzle of the musket. The knife served a range of roles in warfare, from all-purpose cutting implement to close combat.  The earliest bayonets fit into the muzzle of the musket, but adaptations soon offered alternatives. These allowed the bayonet to remain in place while the musket was shot. Bayonets ranged from saw-bladed tools to short swords.

The bayonet played a key military role for quite some time, even as guns took less time to reload; however, by the beginning of the 20th century, the impact of the bayonet was largely psychological, causing the enemy to retreat.  In World War I, specially crafted bayonets served as digging tools and bayonets became shorter. Many modern assault rifles retain the ability to attach a bayonet.

Pikemen had, throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period, been an essential part of the fighting force. After the introduction of the bayonet, pikemen were gradually removed from the armed forces, although still occasionally played a ceremonial role.