British Troops Were Ordered to Break Out Their Fixed Bayonets During the Iraq War

Photo Credit: ESSAM AL-SUDANI / AFP / Getty Images

Most weapons, no matter how successful they are, have a shelf life. As such, countries are constantly pushing to come up with the latest and most high-tech arms. The bayonet was first used in China during the 1600s. Over the next few centuries, it was a staple on battlefields, offering soldiers the opportunity to fire from far away, but also be armed during close-quarters combat.

After decades of not using their bayonets, British soldiers serving in Iraq were stunned to receive an order to equip the firearm during the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004.

Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War

Tony Blair and George W. Bush sitting together
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq in 2003. (Photo Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)

In 2003, a coalition of nations invaded Iraq. The largest part of the force consisted of 130,000 American troops. The United Kingdom also participated, sending 45,000 soldiers. US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a joint statement that read, “[The goal is to] disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”

Iraqi insurgents weren’t happy about the presence of international troops, who themselves had to be extra vigilant. They were in an unknown country and attacks could come from anywhere. Speaking with the BBC, British Sgt. Brian Wood of A Company, 1st Battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, said, “We were constantly under attack. If mortars weren’t coming into our base, then we were dragged out into the city to help other units under fire.”

The Battle of Danny Boy

Two British soldiers standing halfway out of the top of a tank
British troops taking part in the Iraq War. (Photo Credit: Mirrorpix / Getty Images)

On May 14, 2004, Iraqi insurgents attacked the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The offensive took place close to a checkpoint named Danny Boy, thus giving the looming battle its name. Sgt. Wood remembers, “We heard that there’d been an incident with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and someone had been hit by a grenade and another had been shot in the arm. Our role was to extract them.”

The British forces who answered the call for help were riding in a Warrior Tracked Armoured Vehicle. They felt safe and secure within the tank – however, that feeling didn’t last long. The vehicle soon came under attack from three insurgent groups with the Mahdi Army, prompting orders for the troops to exit the tank and take on their attackers.

An unusual command

British soldiers practicing firing with bayonets
British soldiers practice with bayonets in Cardiff, 1938. (Photo Credit: Richards / Fox Photos / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Once the troops left their tank, they received a strange command from leadership: fix your bayonets to your SA80 rifles. The era of using bayonets on a battlefield had long since passed. In fact, the last time the British military had used fixed bayonets was during the Falklands War in 1982.

Sgt. Wood recalls, “We’ve got a lot of firepower with the Warrior, so I’d never dreamt we would be told to dismount and engage in close-quarter battles. It hadn’t happened since the Falklands War and fighting in the trench with the enemy down at your feet was an experience I’ll never forget.”

The soldiers needed the bayonets, too. Over the next few hours, they fought in open terrain against a strong adversary, but in the end, they prevailed.

Claims of abuse were levied against British troops

Troops holding their weapons in the air
British troops took on insurgents from the Mahdi Army during the Battle of Danny Boy. (Photo Credit: Scott Peterson / Getty Images)

Despite the length of the battle and the weapons associated, the British amazingly lost no soldiers during the Battle of Danny Boy. It was a different story for the Iraqi insurgents. The Mahdi Army had begun the battle with around 100 men. Of those fighters, 28 were killed. A number were also taken prisoner.

Years later, there was a call for an investigation into the treatment of those prisoners. The resulting probe was known at the Al-Sweady Inquiry.

Al-Sweady Inquiry

Thayne Forbes standing outside a brick building
Thayne Forbes was named the Chairman of the Al-Sweady Inquiry. He found no evidence of murder or torture. (Photo Credit: ANDREW COWIE / AFP / Getty Images)

The Al-Sweady Inquiry began in 2009, after it was alleged British troops had murdered 20 prisoners and mistreated those who didn’t die. Among the allegations was that the troops had used interrogation techniques that breached human rights laws, which led lawyers for some of the detainees to ask for an independent public inquiry.

This request was granted, at a total cost of £25 million pounds. Hearings for the inquiry began in March 2013, and a year later, a British law firm acting on behalf of the families of the dead Iraqi insurgents announced it would be withdrawing the allegations, as there was no evidence the deceased had been alive when taken into British custody.

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The same was found when the results of the inquiry were made public. It revealed no hostages were murdered and that the bodies of those who had been killed in the battle had been identified and returned to their families. It was found that the nine hostages who had been taken were mistreated, but not tortured.