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Kill or Be Killed | U.S. Army WW2 Training Film | Self Defense and Combat Techniques, Hand Weapons

30 May 2019

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This World War 2 era military training film created by the U.S. War Department demonstrates that there are no rules of sportsmanship or fair play on the battlefield, especially in a self-defense situation. As expressed in the film: "anything goes when the stakes are kill or be killed". Soldiers were encouraged to use any weapon that comes to hand in order to defend themselves. Weapon could be anything from a rifle, to a bayonet or hand grenade.


The first U.S. Army Combatives Manual was published in 1852. It was a translation of a French bayonet fighting manual. Since that time the Army has always had Combatives training doctrine although not always successful combatives training. Bayonet fencing, as outlined in the 1852 manual remained the universally accepted training method, not only in the U.S. Army but in every European style army in the world until its effectiveness was shown to be lacking on the battlefields and in the trenches of World War 1. (In the confined space of a trench the techniques and weapons designed with the fencing strip in mind proved themselves worse than useless.)

This time saw the first attempts to teach unarmed fighting to Soldier in an organized way on any kind of large scale. In the late 1800s, there were several attempts to teach Jiu-Jitsu and Judo in the U.S. Army. With the rapid expansion of armies demanded by the World War 1, there was little time available to teach the average Soldier the complex techniques of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. Because of this and the failure of Bayonet fencing as a training method for trench warfare the Army lost faith in skill based Combatives training. In the interwar years such non-skill based training methods as Pugil sticks and the bayonet assault course gained prominence.

World War 2 saw a flowering of attempts at successful Combatives training. Many of the top names from boxing and wrestling at the time were brought in to train the various services. Most had very limited success, once again because of the limited amount of training time available with the demands of fielding an Army of several million men. The most successful programs were offshoots from the British Commando training taught by William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes. These two had trained the police force in Shanghai, China before the war and with their depth of real world experience, Fairbairn was also a second degree black belt in Judo, had been brought back to Britain early in the war. Personally in the case of Fairbairn, and through their American protégé COL Rex Applegate, their program of practicing a limited number of simple, effective techniques, emphasis on aggressiveness and stressing the incivility of real fights (COL Applegate wrote a manual titled “Kill or Get Killed” in 1943 and Fairbairn often referred to what he taught as “Gutter Fighting”). They were able to somewhat overcome the limitations of limited training time. COL Applegate also used feedback from the field to adjust the curriculum. By the end of the World War 2 thousands of Soldiers had been trained in their methods.

World War 2 combatives were close quarters combat techniques, including hand-to-hand, advanced firearm point shooting methods, and weapons techniques (knife / bayonet / improvised weapons). Distinctions between World War 2 combatives and modern combatives include: 1) The former is based upon explosive high percentage gross motor strikes to vital targets, whereas the latter is based upon fine motor skill grappling. 2) The former seeks primarily to disable the enemy as quickly as possible at all costs, whereas the latter seeks primarily to build "warrior ethos" and the courage to close with the enemy.

Kill or Be Killed | U.S. Army WW2 Training Film | Self Defense and Combat Techniques, Hand Weapons

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