German WW1 M1898/05 n.A. mS 'Butcher' Sawback Bayonet, Dated 1915 by Simson & Co.
Straight blade with distinctive ‘butcher blade’ profile, broadening towards the point, 14 3/8 inches long (19 5/8 inches overall). Wood scale grips with diagonally cut notches held by two screws, with oil hole. Steel hilt with quillon and partial muzzle ring, steel flash guard and steel pommel. Black leather scabbard with steel chape and throat with frog hook. Black leather frog, fabric Troddel knot suspended from the frog’s midsection with white riband, yellow stem, red crown and white tassels.
The ricasso of the blade is stamped with the maker’s mark ‘Simson & Co. Suhl’. The spine of the blade is stamped with a crowned ‘W’ over ‘15’, indicating that the blade was manufactured in 1915, during the reign of Wilhelm II. There are stamped crown marks on the spine, hilt and pommel, as well as the throat piece of the scabbard.
Assuming the bayonet and its Troddel knot are an original pair, the colours of the knot would indicate that this bayonet was for the 10th battalion of its regiment – although without a unit mark one cannot say which regiment.
This is one of the first of the ‘neu Art’ model of the 98/05 produced from early 1915, which incorporated a flash guard. These became standard on all wood-gripped German bayonets to prevent damage to the grips when firing the Karabiner 98 rifle with the bayonet fixed, something which had been rare before the war but was increasingly common due to the more widespread issue and carry of the carbine during WW1, particularly by assault troops. The scabbard is the first-pattern leather type, which is interesting to find with a neu Art as an all-steel replacement was also adopted during 1915, the leather scabbard having proven to be too fragile under field conditions.
Standard German practice, following a Prussian rule, was for 6% of the bayonets to be made with the sawback, and issued to infantry NCOs, pioneers, and machine gun crews. Its purpose was to clear obstacles or brush, a successor to the fascine knife (faschinenmesser) of earlier eras.
Many German bayonets of all types had these sawbacks removed during the war; officially this was because the saw was deemed unnecessary, especially as the British and French eventually replaced their wooden barbed wire posts with cast iron and there was little vegetation left to cut on most battlefields, but it is also likely that the German command took notice of a pervasive rumour that soldiers using them would be victimised if captured by Allied forces, on the basis that the saw blade was ‘inhumane’. There is no clear evidence that such ill-treatment actually took place, but there were instances of German soldiers refusing to go to the front line while equipped with sawback bayonets because of it, which would have been reason enough to reconsider their use.
After a survey in early 1917 by the Bavarian War Ministry found unanimous support from all units for their withdrawal, it cancelled all further production, restricted their use to pioneer units only, and recommended abolition to the General Staff. In September 1917 the Prussian War Ministry agreed, ordering all sawback bayonets to be immediately withdrawn from frontline units and exchanged with non-sawback versions held by rear-echelon units, garrison troops or prison guards. Removal of the sawback by grinding began in early 1918 to make these usable in combat once more, and any left in original condition by the war’s end were most likely destroyed by the Inter-Allied Military Control Commission. The survival of German WW1 sawback bayonets today is, ironically, largely due to their reputation making them popular as trophies and souvenirs.
The blade is bright with only a few small spots of patination and some light pitting at the very tip. Its sawback shows some light wear from use but with no broken teeth. The hilt and flash guard are also bright, the exposed tang and pommel have an even grey finish. The wood grips are particularly fine with only a couple of shallow dents and one tiny (~1mm wide) chip.
The scabbard leather is quite hardened by age with some scuffing to its surface. The blade will sheath but is held tightly due to shrinkage of the leather – I recommend storing the blade outside the scabbard to minimise the risk of damage while drawing it out. The throat and chape pieces of the scabbard have some even patination. The leather of the frog has rubbing and flaking in high-wear areas and some cracking where the leather flexes. The stitching on one side of the front section has partly opened, but the rivet keeps it in place. The yellow wool stem of the Troddel knot has frayed in its upper section and the slider has been lost.