By Bill Porter
Ed Note; This article previously appeared in the Society Of American Bayonet Collectors Journal.
Johnson "Dagger" Bayonet
"Unknown European Bayo Lot 432" is what the tag read. It was thrown into a lot of miscellaneous bayonets in a March 2009 auction of items from the collection of the late Bruce Stern. Fortunately for me most people who saw it probably did not know what this unusual bayonet was. My good friend and fellow SABC member Stan Tranquillo brought it to my attention.
I donít know if one would classify this as a prototype, experimental or simply a pre-production bayonet, but it is one of the first bayonets made for the Johnson automatic rifle. What little information I was able to find on this bayonet came from Bruce Canfieldís wonderful book Johnsonís Rifles and Machine Guns.
Attorney and firearms enthusiast Melvin Maynard Johnson developed his design for a new automatic rifle in early 1937. This was around the same time that the U.S. Army was testing the M1 Garand rifle. Johnson contracted Marlin Firearms to fabricate two rifles based on his design with the first being completed in March, 1938, followed shortly thereafter by a few more. These rifles were presented to the U.S. Army Ordnance Department at Aberdeen, Maryland for testing in March, 1938. In May of that year Marlin informed Johnson that they would not be able to do any more work on his weapons. Marlin felt that their engineering staff had taken the design as far as economically feasible. 1
With Marlin out of the picture, Johnson approached the engineering firm of Taft-Peirce in Woonsocket, Rhode Island to refine his design. Taft-Peirce developed full blueprints including specifications for all tools, fixtures, jigs and gauges necessary to produce each part. To verify accuracy of the prints they then built three rifles by hand. Johnson continued to pursue the U.S. Army and in June, 1938 demonstrated the original rifles made by Marlin at Fort Benning.2
Johnson decided in the Fall of 1938 that to have a sufficient number of rifles available for evaluation and testing, Taft-Peirce would be commissioned to manufacture 14 more rifles, seven in a military model and seven commercial models. At least one of the military rifles was equipped with a full length stock and set up to take a standard bayonet (1892 Krag or 1905 Springfield). The weight of the bayonet proved to be a problem with the rifleís recoiling barrel, interfering with the proper functioning of the mechanism. This rifle was mainly fabricated to satisfy the U.S. Armyís requirement of the rifle being able to mount a bayonet. 3
In March 1939 while demonstrating his rifle in England, the new British No 4 Mk I bayonet caught Johnsonís interest. The bayonet was light and could be manufactured quickly and cheaply. This basic simple and lightweight bayonet concept would later be utilized in the standard bayonet made for the production rifle. 4
During the fall of 1939 Taft-Peirce continued to produce very limited numbers of Johnson rifles. Most of these were military rifles with various types of bayonet attachments. Some were fitted with "dagger" bayonets and at least one rifle that had an impressive wicked-looking sword bayonet attached beneath the barrel. This bayonet was not mounted directly on the barrel in the standard manner so the barrel was free to recoil without interference from the added weight of the heavy sword bayonet. 5
The dagger bayonet pictured with this article is very well made and is completely machined. It appears that time was spent to provide smooth contours and edges. The Taft-Peirce rifles had two mounting blocks or studs for the bayonet at the muzzle end of the barrel. The bayonet would be mounted on the larger rear block and then slid forward, latching on the forward stud mounted directly beneath the front site. This bayonet does not have a muzzle ring like the standard issue bayonet. The bayonet that was used with the production rifle turned out to be much different from the original dagger or sword bayonets.
The dagger bayonet has a contoured two-piece wood grip, secured by two button head machine screws and hex nuts. These standard hardware store fasteners contrast greatly from the overall high quality machine work seen on this piece. The press stud is located at the right front side of the hilt and there is a flat leaf spring on the opposite side. The one-piece hilt and blade has a deep gun blue finish.
The leather scabbard is identical to that used for the standard issue bayonet. It is not know if this is original to the dagger bayonet or was added at a later date.
1Bruce N. Canfield, Johnsonís Rifles and Machine Guns (Woonsocket, R.I., 2002, 2006), pp. 22-27
2Bruce N. Canfield, ibid., pp. 27-31
3Bruce N. Canfield, ibid., pp. 39-40
4Bruce N. Canfield, ibid., p. 44
5Bruce N. Canfield, ibid., p. 46
Special thanks to Bruce Canfield for permission to use the photographs of the Johnson rifles.