The following is an in-universe article, published on May 15th, 2017, as part of "The Monday Advisor," an advice coloumn on the website of the American Republic Marine Corps' Officer Candidate School. ARMCOCS runs this service free of charge during training, and although trainees are not required to read it, they are heavily advised to. This particular article was written with advisement from established swordsmen* Tatiana Lebeda, Julio Wallace-Garcia and Yamamoto Akane, and was the first article to be included in "The Monday Advisor." I'm not sure this is the right part of the forum for it, but if it isn't I'm sure a staff member will move it.
*These characters are all entirely fictional. Any resemblance to any real person is entirely coincidental. Tatiana Lebeda, age 21, (no relation to Alaxander or Anatoly Lebed) is a member of the Naval Special Warfare 6th Division, which is roughly equivalent to the US's Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Julio Wallace-Garcia, age 24, is a member of the Marine 6th Counteroffensive Combat Unit, which to the best of my knowledge has no real-world US equivalent. Yamamoto Akane, age 16, is a civilian, a practitioner of Kendo for twelve years and winner of both the national Kendo championships in both Japan (2012) and the American Republic (2016) and a Kendo instructor in Seattle starting in 2014.
Just as Vietnam taught the United State's Air Force that having missiles did not excuse them from needing guns, (a lesser we taught them again in the revolutions, finally pushing the flying bus into retirement) the revolutions taught those of us in the infantry that having guns did not excuse us from needing melee weapons. While enlisted men typically carry cheap, simple weapons with little requirement in training and maintenance such as the axe, officers are universally issued more potent weapons. Namely, swords. Unfortunately, while OCS provides adequate instruction on techniques and maintenance, on the subject of tactics it is much less helpful and in the use of swords against users of ranged weapons it is of no help at all.
This is understandable, as until the revolutions melee was largely a non-issue as not only was ammunition abundant and combined arms a norm, most military engagements were completely one-sided. To the best of my knowledge, the only melee weapon commonly issued to US troops was a knife, and they rarely used it because they were "fighting" barely armed civilians and their (highly suspect) default tactic was just to lay down suppressive fire and call for support. There are a number of reasons this isn't done anymore, and a number more why the American Republic never engages in such a tactic. For starters, support is not always available in symmetrical conflicts and ammunition is much less abundant than it used to be, making it more expensive and less likely to work. This tactic is also much less effective against trained soldiers than untrained civilians, making it a poor decision regardless. Finally, here in the American Republic we have something called "ethics," which makes any tactic that not only causes a great deal of unnecessary collateral damage and usually civilian casualties but appears to be specifically designed to do so completely unacceptable. The standing policy of nations being forced to pay for any harm done to noncombatants and their property in war was the final nail in this tactic's coffin. To the best of my knowledge, ten officers have ordered the use of this tactic since its ban. Nine of them were executed and the last was "merely" court-marshaled.
The side effect of this tactic being excised from usage is that engagement range has become much shorter and more conflicts take place inside buildings. Between this, the drastic reduction in available support, chronic ammunition shortages and the "berserker phenomenon" melee has become important to warfare once again. However, during the fourth world war officers had been reported doing anything and everything to avoid melee combat to the point of ordering their troops to hand over their own ammunition so the officer could continue to use their rifle, and uselessly firing their pistol at enemies in body armour. When pressed into using melee weapons, officers have demonstrated unbelievably bad judgement and used such appallingly poor tactics it's hard to imagine what thought process lead them to it. Hence, this article.
If used properly, a sword is an alarmingly effective killing implement. A single sword stroke can sever limbs, cut through many muscles and bones, ruin entire systems of organs, disembowel, decapitate or even bisect an opponent. A thrust may pierce the thickest armour, reliably finding organs to perforate and doing more damage than any field medic can possibly hope to treat. Thanks to our founders' fascination with eastern weapons, culture and history, you have all been issued nihonto, and unlike the shoddy pieces of cheap steel issued to your subordinates these weapons live up to their reputation. I would use the term "razor sharp," but that doesn't quite do them justice, as a few of you across the coast have accidentally discovered. One cadet in Seattle actually managed to accidentally cut off two of his own fingers, and in so doing earn himself a summary dismissal from the academy. (Don't worry, they let him keep the sword.)
Your training does a good job teaching you how to use your sword properly against other sword users and how to combat berserkers with it, so today I'm going to give advice on combating firearms with it. First, I need to dismiss some of the myths surrounding both weapons.
First off is the idea that a sword is useless against a firearm. This is blatantly false, and once a sword user gets in range the opposite is closer to reality. A firearm is an unwieldy weapon in close quarters, especially a long arm. It is difficult to track fast-moving targets, and even if you can track it's hard to get good enough shot placement to stop them in such a short period, especially since most firearms would require multiple shots to do so. This is further complicated when body armour comes into play, as even the light armour you wear into battle comes with hard, ceramic inlaid plates that although not capable of surviving multiple impacts are quite capable of stopping a bullet at least once, fully cover the heart and most of the chest. Firearms also have a hard minimum range in which they are completely useless, which is roughly the length of the weapon itself, and can only fire in one direction, limiting their options in combat to "hope they charge straight at you," "hope they keep their distance," "hope they don't notice you reloading," "use it as a club if the former three don't pan out" and "just drop the damn thing."
Second is the idea that just holding a katana means you can deflect bullets. While your katana is quite capable of deflecting a bullet with little or no damage to itself, you are not capable of getting into the right position to do so. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to predict its path before firing accurately enough and time your swing precisely to make that count, and it is outright impossible to track a bullet in flight and react quickly enough to bring your sword to it. Against a firearm, your sword is an offensive weapon only. Attempting to use it defensively is just a good way to get shot.
Third is the idea that a sword is incapable of penetrating modern body armour. The thought process behind this is easy to spot, idiotic though it may be. "Well, swords couldn't penetrate medieval body armour (yes they could) and modern body armour is better (no it isn't, at least in this instance) so clearly a sword must not be able to cut modern body armour, (yes it is) right?" Wrong. For starters, a sword would break, tear and sometimes even cut through medieval armour. Even if it lacked the force to penetrate with a slash, it could easily stab through armour. Getting the sword back out was more of a concern than getting it through in the first place. Second, armour technology adapts more than it actually advances. Modern body armour is not better than medieval body armour in most ways, and is worse in many of them. It is not designed to combat edged weapons and cannot do so effectively. Kevlar provides about as much resistance to a sword as a sheet of cardboard, and won't so much as slow your katana down. The small quantity of chainmail in your armour is there to stop shrapnel, and is not rated to stop a sword. The plate only covers part of the chest and you can easily stab up from under it to bypass it entirely. Even if you can't cut through for whatever reason, you can always stab through, and although that's not as damaging it still works just fine.
The most important thing is where and how to engage. If you have any choice in the matter, get as close to your opponent as possible before you engage. You should try to engage from behind or, failing that, from the side. If you can pick a side, make it their mainhand side, as it is more difficult to track in that direction with a rifle. If you engage from behind, move as quickly and as quietly as you can to get behind them. If they look to be turning around, forget stealth and move as fast as possible. With any luck, you will be able to kill them before they can react. If you engage from the side, move as fast as possible from the start and move in an arc, aiming to come around behind them. Their weapon is clumsy, you should be able to avoid their line of fire this way. If you must engage from the front, you should still try and engage from no further than ten metres. Move in an arc, preferably around their mainhand side.
According to Seattle Kendo instructor Yamamoto Akane, the best techniques against an opponent in modern armour are going to be a horizontal slash across the abdomen or lower back, as these are easy targets where the armour is weak. A single slash in either location should be sufficient to immediately incapacitate your oppoent, but you should always land additional hits to be sure. Your position after a horizontal slash is perfect for a thrust, and if you do thrust you should attempt to aim up under their plate and into their heart. Failing this, aim for the centre of their lower back, around the L1 vertebra. Severing their spinal cord at this point will cause them to collapse and likely loose consciousness from the associated drop in blood pressure.
There exists a chance that your blade will get stuck if you stab through an inlaid plate, or the metal bands found in some heavy armour. Rarely, swords have gotten stuck in bones, especially the spinal column. If your sword gets stuck, pull on it as hard as you can but do not pull more than once. If you are in the right position to do so, kicking an opponent on the centreline of their torso while you pull should be enough to wrest your blade free. If this does not work, just let go of the blade because you will not have time to struggle with it in combat. You should have a shorter sword or a knife with you, that will have to suffice against any remaining enemy combatants.
I consulted blitz trooper Julio Wallace-Garcia on the subject, and he gave a number of quick tips.
1. Do not stop moving while in the middle of a group of enemies. Any time you are not moving makes it harder for you to avoid fire for the rest of the engagement. 2. Try not to slow down if you get shot. As much as moving with a gunshot wound is bad for you, getting shot again is by far worse. 3. Do not try and break an enemy's rifle. This will render the weapon inoperable but you might also damage your sword. The better use of your sword is on your opponent's body. 4. Once you kill an opponent, move on as fast as you can. If you take too long your enemies will spread out or draw their own melee weapons, making the fight much harder. 5. If the enemy does spread out, disengage immediately. Get back to cover as soon as possible and keep moving, rifle rounds can and will go through most things you'll find to hide behind.
Naval special forces operative Tatiana Lebeda was with him at the time, and she gave advice on when to use your sword and when not to. She advised to use a sword when indoors, but to be aware of the size of the room and thrust if you think a swing might hit the wall or ceiling. She also advised using the sword in urban environments if you could get behind the enemy and move in close without being noticed. In cases of supply shortages, she advised using the sword in low-risk engagements if it is reasonably practical. Beyond that, she also advised not using your sword when outnumbered, especially in wide open places where your enemy can spread out. She also advised moving fast and low to the ground while engaging, especially if you are significantly shorter than your target. Finally, she advised using explosives on opponents before leaving cover as the injuries and disorientation the explosives will inflict upon them makes engaging them with a sword much easier and much less risky.
Beyond this, I urge caution. Use your discretion before you engage, plan out your attack and when the time comes act quickly so your opponent will not have time to react. Whenever you attack with your sword, you taking a risk. It would be unbecoming of an officer to take such a risk without taking proper precautions first.
I submitted this as an interest-check, and to see if I could get some feedback. It isn't just entertainment, I'd like to know if anybody would like me to write more of these and see if there's any way I could improve the column.
If anybody is confused by his "barely armed civilians" line, he is referring to a project the military was involved in for over twenty years known as "Operation: Gray" or "The Clean-Up." Check my setting timeline thread for info on how it came about.
There were a lot of raiders, looters and scavengers in Europe during the clean-up, and a lot of angry locals who were sick and knew the US was to blame. Then the US military comes through with ACVs and armoured hazmat suits into the place it thoroughly ruined ruined and starts doing noisy, irritating, attention-grabbing work and It's not hard to figure out the rest.
Edited by Jeremy Williams, 02 May 2013 - 09:42 AM.