My book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques is available from Paladin Press. This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More on Col. Anthony J. Drexel Biddle

The following article on Colonel Biddle, WW II hand-to-hand combat instructor, is from the June 17, 1942, issue of Yank: The Army Weekly. It focuses on bayonet training, but is worth a read if only for the "Dead-End Kids"-style dialog between the recruits.
THE BITTER BAYONET OF COLONEL BIDDLE
By Pvt. Lloyd Shearer

Sixteen inches of steel at the end of a rifle can be a lease on life when "Assault Fire" comes and men fight hand-to-hand, no holds barred. The bayonet is the last souvenir of days when men slugged it out with sword and battle-axe. Artillery and automatic weapons kill at a distance, chemicals sometimes inflict casualties days after first released.

There is nothing delicate or deceiving about a bayonet. Grooved for blood letting and cast for bitter service, it is a fearful weapon in the hands of a trained fighter.

It is the weapon of the individual soldier, it is vicious. And it is still important in warfare of tanks and mechanized equipment. Today we fight not in masses but in combat teams in which every man is a unit within himself.
The supposedly-expert Jap felt American steel burn on Bataan. Those same Japs have been accused by Chiang Kai-Shek's guerillas of refusing the challenge of man-to-man fight. But if the Jap's courage to face steel is questioned, his training in the weapon is not. He is drilled incessantly in its use.

British Commandos have developed the bayonet and a dozen variations of it. Their use of steel is as great as the German's aversion to it. The long, thin blade of the Russian soldier has helped withstand Hitler on the Eastern Front.

The bayonet cannot and does not pretend to be more effective than fire power. But as long as there are armies there will be bayonets, because where there are armies men will come together in personal combat.

In that kind of fight steel wins.

From time immemorial, it has been the same. Caesar had his battle pikes, and what were they but bayonets when you come to think of it. In the Middle Ages, they had their swords, and swords slash like bayonets.

You know the part the bayonet played in the World War. The part it played in China.

A pot-bellied fellow with eagles on his shoulders and store teeth up-stairs pointed his bayonetted rifle toward a hard-boiled regiment at Ft. Bragg.

"All right, now," he shouted, "kill me."

Nobody moved.

The chicken-claws pointed to the ranks.

"You, come and get me." But the kid he singled out was scared. "Dammit, I want you to cut my throat."

The Private made a half-hearted bayonet thrust.

"You're yellow," the Colonel yelled, prancing up and down in his black sneakers. "I want a man who's not afraid to kill. Step out, you there," he commanded a tough-looking 30-year-old sergeant. The buck stepped from the ranks.

"Now come running at me with your bayonet," he ordered, "and go for my throat."

The sergeant wet his lips. He clenched his gun and lunged full speed at the Colonel's neck.

Col. Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, who knows more about bayonets, knives and jiujitsu than any other man, parried the thrust with his own bayonet. Before the sergeant could mumble, "Holy smoke," Biddle had his own bayonet alongside the sergeant's throat, and the big buck was sweating.

"That's how it's done," the Colonel said. "Now let's all try it."

Ever since World War I, in which he saw actual service on a half dozen fronts, Marine Corps Colonel Biddle, now 67, has been risking his Adam's Apple on behalf of recruit training. Loaned to the Army by the Marines, the former world's amateur heavyweight boxing champion has taught the fundamentals of in-fighting to parachutists at Lakehurst, raider battalions at Quantico, and thousands of camp trainees along the Eastern seaboard.

Of the scores of ambitious recruits who've tried to beat the old boy, either in jiujitsu, wrestling, boxing, or bayoneting, only one succeeded. A marine at Quantico supposedly got him in the groin with a knife. Thus far no one has been able to locate a witness to the event or find out the marine's name. Marine Headquarters says, "So far as we can determine, it never happened."

The present crop of Army men he's trained swear by the Colonel. "Biddle is the real McCoy," they say. "In one hour this old guy teaches us more about bayonets and self-defense than we've learned in a whole year. He really knows how to kill. Some of us who've been in the artillery shooting shells five miles away never realized that death could be dished out to us six inches away."

Private Joe Hill of Ft. Bragg, N. C., said: "I tried to get him myself today. You know what the old geezer did? He knocked the damn gun outa my hand. I think this Biddle is nuts."

"Nuts?" another yardbird asked.

"Yeah," Hill answered. "Look at him. He's a Philadelphia Biddle. He's got more money than you could shake a stick at. He's old enough to be our grandfather. And still he wantsa risk his neck. I tell you he's nuts. Only trouble with Army is that we ain't got more nuts just like him."

At the other end of the pole, Biddle, despite his outward leatherneck hard-heartedness, is sentimental about his charges. "All the men in this new Army," he says, "are a great bunch of fellows, fine boys to teach."

"Do you find many of them gun-shy," we asked, "or reluctant to use a bayonet?"

Biddle reflected for a moment, closing his right eye. "Not many of them. They're not like Mussolini's soldiers. When I come across a man who looks as if he might hesitate to use the knife on the enemy, I tell him, 'Son, when you meet a Jap in battle, say to him real fast, "How is your dear old mother?" Then cut his throat.'"

"Does that help any?"

"Don't know exactly," replied the Colonel. "But it's good for their conscience... specially on Mother's Day."
The Yank article says that only one man succeeded in getting his blade into Biddle, but in fact the old man had been wounded numerous times during his decades of bowie and bayonet sparring. In her book My Philadelphia Father, his daughter said that Biddle had 23 wounds in his chest and abdomen and his forearms were covered with scars. An article from 1929 reported a knife wound Biddle suffered in the left arm while training troops.
Major A. J. Drexel Biddle Wounded in Bayonet Contest

PITMAN, N.J., July 28.--Major A. J. Drexel Biddle of Philadelphia, head of the junior and senior marine camp here, received a dagger wound in the left arm during an exhibition engagement with First Sergeant E. J. Snell today.

Armed with bayonet-tipped rifles, the major and sergeant were going through the thrust and parry. The form of combat in which they were engaged permits either combatant to use a dagger lying on the ground in front of him. The sergeant, who was being bested, suddenly dropped his rifle, seized the dagger and lunged inside Major Biddle's guard. Despite the wound, Major Biddle continued the combat until his wife begged him to stop.

"It's all for the good of the cause," he commented, smilingly, as a nurse applied a dressing.

12 comments:

  1. The Marine in question at the Quantico stabbing was my father, Robert Hanly Morrell. The indicent happened in 1936, and it wasn't with a knife but a bayonet.

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    Replies
    1. So, Biddle's legacy of "no recruit or soldier ever being able to get near him," and "Biddle disarming squads of bayonet-carrying men" was just that- a tall tale?

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    2. A tall tale ??
      Let's call it a MOTIVATIONAL TEACHABLE MOMENT !!! COL Biddle demonstrated, honor, loyality, leadership, commitment, respect and affection for his fellow American trainees. Ditto.. re "physical courage & personal courage" these are specific military U.S. Army core values. Please look them up Sir !
      Regretfully, snarkey, pajama boy, computer call to duty gamers, measure today's version of virtual (manhood) sic, by their game scores, their office PC denuded bravado by courageously hanging motivational posters. Although some are pretty clever.
      I hope you are not one.
      Please do not focus on the minor inconsequential and miss the greater contribution.
      ED

      Delete
    3. A tall tale ??
      Let's call it a MOTIVATIONAL TEACHABLE MOMENT !!! COL Biddle demonstrated, honor, loyality, leadership, commitment, respect and affection for his fellow American trainees. Ditto.. re "physical courage & personal courage" these are specific military U.S. Army core values. Please look them up Sir !
      Regretfully, snarkey, pajama boy, computer call to duty gamers, measure today's version of virtual (manhood) sic, by their game scores, their office PC denuded bravado by courageously hanging motivational posters. Although some are pretty clever.
      I hope you are not one.
      Please do not focus on the minor inconsequential and miss the greater contribution.
      ED

      Delete
  2. Col. Biddle: what an outstanding chap!

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  3. Semper Fi Col. Biddle, wherever you are!

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  4. i have never seen combat, but i admire greatly men like Col. Biddle... God bless him for all the men's lives he saved, his service to our country and for the amazing skills he mastered and taught.

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  5. Col Biddle taught my father Irving G. Morgan the art of judo in the Navy and paid for him to train in the judo field. Irv "Chief" Morgan in about 1939- 1942. In August of 1942 he taught Pref-Flight recruits at the Chapel Hill N.C. Naval training facility in hand to hand combat, American Judo and self defense along with Physical Fitness and coaching. He was a Chief Petty Officer during WWII.

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  6. a good obedient killing drone for the .military industrial complex

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    Replies
    1. Please don't represent Gnostics with such base platitudes. While I don't support wars in general, Col. Biddle's contributions and strength of character should afford him respect no matter your opinions on the organization in which he served.

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  7. a good obedient killing drone for the .military industrial complex

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    Replies
    1. A predictable, soundbite, overly-simplistic response from a latte-drinking leftist leaning keyboard warrior that has never been at the sharp end of a sword.

      Delete