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The fluff:

As part of the world I'm building there is modern technology of firearms. However there is a problem: there are some categories of creatures (from some of my previous questions) that just keep comming until the ammo is depleted, and then swarm the fireteams with what is left.

The biggest problem category would be the archetypical biological swarm attackers like the Flood, Zerg, Tyranids etc. In my world the lionshare would be medium dog sized (up to the knees) and not actively organized. These would attack in small bands with total combined populations of tens of thousands. For various reasons that arent important things like artillery, air support and heavy vehicle power are all limited.

To have a higher chance of survival these fireteams are equipped with melee weapons as backup.

The question:

What melee weapon(s) would be best as backup for fireteams?

Additional information:

  • the most common enemy will be between 0.4m and 1m tall and be the target of the melee weapons. Both quadrupeds and (unarmed) bipeds will be present.
  • the fireteams consist out of 4 individuals who have to be able to support one another in defeating the enemies. Each is allowed to carry a different melee weapon to synergise with one another.
  • a quarter of the enemies is lightly armored.
  • the enemies are spread in groups of 8.
  • the melee weapons when stowed away in the gear are a maximum size of 70cm. With access to modern materials you are allowed to use things like telescopic hafts to increase the length once the gear is used, assuming it does not weaken the weapon too much.

Constraints:

  • this question is NOT about finding alternatives to carrying melee weapons, so no answers similar to "they would carry more ammo instead".
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    $\begingroup$ Trying to stab a swarm of small predators to death seems like a good way to get overwhelmed and eaten. Sheer numbers will destroy you in very short order. If you can't kill at industrial scale, you're gonna get slaughtered... pointed sticks are no substitute for machine guns and grenades. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ They don't need to be actively organised. Sheer numbers will do it in very short order, unless they follow the classic trope of only attacking one at a time. Being outnumbered is death, if you're trying to fight on the same terms as your attackers. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ What is the tactical situation of your fire teams? Do they operate in open terrain, woods etc? Do fire teams operate independently in enemy territory, like SEALs? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 20 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan "everywhere and anywhere they happen to be when the attack begins" - attack on what? (this is important to understand) In a hostile world like this, I assume all human settlements would be well protected (moats, walls etc). Other scenarios may include a convoy protection, or, as I mentioned, a small fire team operating on its own deep in enemy territory. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 20 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan there is quite a big of difference in which non-firearm weapons can be available on a castle wall vs on transport vs constantly carried by a person. I have a feeling that you mean the latter, but would like to get a confirmation. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 20 at 18:30

8 Answers 8

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Kopis (and scutum!)

enter image description here enter image description here

The ideal weapon should have decent reach, but not be useless in close quarters if an animal gets within their guard, as a collapsible spear would be. I recommend a Greek-style kopis, (essentially a longer kukri). The general Xenophon recommended the kopis/machaira for mounted combat:

because from the height of a horse’s back the cut of a machaira will serve you better than the thrust of a xiphos [a double edged straight short sword]

and being humanoids fighting 1m tall creatures, you’re essentially cavalry in terms of height advantage (but not speed / momentum of a horse charge, therefore, no cavalry sabers). The heavy leading edge is made for cutting meat, and is unlikely to get caught or stuck. Thrusting, which is important to counteract heavier armor armor, is not as essential here. A kopis grants the power of an axe while not losing edge closer to the body, and has no head to get lodged inside a rib cage.

While electroshock weapons like batons have their place in herding cattle and less-lethally subduing civilians, they are neither reliable enough nor permanent enough to be a practical solution, and will be much less useful against even lightly armored foes. Like maces and clubs, they also lose much (though not all) of their effectiveness when an enemy gets within the wielder's guard. As @KerrAvon2055 notes, a spear, while excellent against single targets, is not an ideal solution when outnumbered, because it is easily fouled by the corpse of the first slain beast.

I also recommend that your troops should each carry a tall, and somewhat broad shield, ideally of polycarbonate, like the Roman scutum or the modern riot shield to pair with their kopises. Despite weighing just 6-7 pounds, a riot shield is virtually impregnable to teeth and claws. I recommend a scalloped or sawtoothed bottom edge, enabling it to be planted in the ground and used as a barricade.

A squad of four should be able to make a sort of miniature pike square / testudo, protecting each other from every side.

The combined weight of two items will be ten pounds or so, and while a significant addition to your kit, are not imposssibly cumbersome.

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    $\begingroup$ Not sure where the downvote came from, but this is far and away the best answer so far $\endgroup$
    – Harthag
    Jan 20 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know why someone down voted this. This is along the lines of what I would have recommended. A shield and a sweeping weapon. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Jan 20 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ If high tech is available, make the shield deployable and make the hilt of the sword extensible to turn it into a two handed pole arm that someone in the back row could use over the heads of the teammates. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Jan 20 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ I would think the downvote is because a basic riot shield is not a melee weapon and exceeds the size requirement. (I didnt downvote) $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jan 21 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan Ah, sorry, I should have clarified: my recommended weapon for the answer is the kopis, for its cutting power and combining the characteristics of an axe and a sword. The shield is just recommended gear to go along with the sword — and which would make the kopis an even better choice. I feel strongly that the kopis would still be a better answer than shock batons and spiky poison armor without the shields. I'll reformat the answer to emphasize this. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 21 at 8:32
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Buckler, shock baton and steel capped boots

First - shields are good. With access to modern materials and a handwaved requirement to go into melee, a clear riot shield is preferable but a small transparent buckler can be carried more easily on the belt. (Which is why rapier-and-buckler was the go-to combination for impromptu duelling back in the bad old days, the young toughs could stick their instruments of violence on their belts to wander around town looking for trouble without being overly burdened by physical weight.) Note that the way to use a buckler is held in the off hand, not strapped to the arm. So if a beastie lunges forward to bite a soldier they punch their buckler-protected hand out to block it, no wild swinging of the arm.

Second - electroshock weapons are good for incapacitating an enemy immediately. Forget the scenes in the movies where the tough guy grits his teeth and keeps fighting through the shock (eg the elevator fight in Captain America - the Winter Soldier). The way an electroshock weapon works is to disrupt the messages from the nervous system to the muscles. It does not matter how tough, pain resistant and/or hyped on drugs the subject of a hit is, they are going down until their nervous system can do a reboot. A 70 cm long shock baton is just what the (evil) doctor ordered to take out attacking beasties. No need for wild swings that may endanger friendlies, just a quick jab-and-shock to disable a target.

Speak of a "reboot" - give the soldiers steel capped boots and use them to finish off the opponents twitching on the ground. Minimal additional weight (although it will slow down running speed somewhat) and some protection if something does bite them on the boot.

Given the specification that soldiers are expected to fight in groups of 4 against swarm attacks, it may be worth having one or two soldiers carry extendable spears. If the fireteam is desperately (and probably futilely) fighting back-to-back in open ground then they each need to hold their own quarter of the circle, requiring the same weaponry. However, if they are able to take advantage of buildings and hold one or two doorways then it would be preferable to pair up - a buckler-and-shock baton trooper simply stuns each attacker while their buddy reaches past them with a spear to administer the coup de grace to the twitching beastie. (Spears and other stabbing weapons are not feasible as primary weapons against swarms of suicidal non-sapients - the first beastie will impale itself on the spear and its buddies will be all over the wielder before the spear can be freed.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Please note that the technology you are describing is an electroshock weapon, not a taser. A taser specifically delivers electric shocks at a distance via wires attached to probes shot into the target, and would be very inconvenient in this situation. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 20 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielB thanks for picking up the error in the terminology, will correct now. $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 7:34
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If you're fighting things that attack in packs, and are so bloody-minded that they'll just keep on coming even while you blow their pack-mates away wholesale just so that they can run you out of ammunition, you really don't want to be stuffing around with them. Whatever you use to protect yourself should be as quick and effective as possible.

So, for when your supply of ammunition is exhausted, I propose not merely simple melee weapons, but an entire melee system.

Firstly, each soldier should be wearing head to toe body armour capable of resisting whatever natural weapons that these critters possess. If they're small, there must be a corresponding limit to their weight and strength.

Secondly, each soldier should have a large transparent riot shield. If you have advanced materials tech, make it a folding shield that can be expanded when necessary. Being shaped so that a fire team can form a testudo is important, and if the shields can physically lock together so that they can't accidentally come apart or be pulled apart by enemy action, all the better. There should still be gaps through which a melee weapon can be thrust.

Next, each soldier should carry a collapsible single-handed morningstar style mace. This would not be a simple metal weight with spikes and a handle, this would be a sophisticated modern weapon. The head would have an Osmium core for added weight, a non-conducting layer over the core, and a high-voltage source attached to the spikes like an electroshock weapon. The spikes would also be hollow, capable of injecting a toxin, and the haft would contain a large supply of this toxin.

Such a weapon would be useable very quickly. It need not be aligned to the direction of a swing in order to be effective. Mere contact would result in a disabling shock, a scratch would inject a lethal poison, and a solid hit might be immediately disabling or fatal even if the power and toxin runs out.

However, that's not all. The armour would similarly be equipped with spikes on the toes, heels, knees, knuckles, elbows and head that are both electrified and envenomed, so in the event that a soldier gets swarmed under, every movement that hits a critter can be immediately disabling and eventually lethal. The batteries for the shock weapons should be charged by body movements, so as long as the soldier is moving, the shock weapons should be functional.

In addition it should be possible to electrify the exterior of the body armor so as to be able to shock any critters that are clinging to the wearer.

As for the toxin, it should ideally be something that is rapidly lethal in microlitre quantities, and would be carried by the soldiers in litre or greater quantities. While the OP's question wasn't about these soldiers' firearms, I'd suggest using the toxin in their ammunition too, just in case a shot isn't immediately lethal.

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  • $\begingroup$ Have the soldiers been somehow made resistant to the toxin? Sooner or later, someone will have to take off their protective gauntlets, and there are lethal spikes in a lot of easy to reach places. $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ @EscapedLunatic Use a toxin specific to the critters. From the sound of it, they're sufficiently different for that to be possible $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 21 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ I hope so. If not, I'd be the first guy in the unit to get fatally scratched. 😃 $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 10:01
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If they have rifles they can use it as extensions for the melee weapons, and use something that can be attached to their end.

Instead of, or combined with, the bayonet they could attach an axe or a hammer, and swing it around. Something like an halberd or a pole axe.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes I thought about something like that, but some weapon types would need more thought behind it. A rifle with hammer attachment would be better balanced if the hammer is at the stock rather than the end of the rifle, but if you just fired your weapon its going to be hot and you need some solid gloves to handle that heat comfortably, besides that not all rifles would be well suited for such a modification. Even for a dedicated bayonet I would think a more dedicated alteration would be needed to make it more useful against enemies. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jan 20 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan Something to remember is that if a backup weapon is too heavy cumbersome, or unwieldy people won't have it on hand to use it. In a fight a bayonet is strictly worse than a dedicated spear. But you're riflemen won't be carrying around a spear in addition to the rest of their kit. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 20 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Also, a bayonet gives you a good way to work around the 70cm limit. The bayonet may be less than 70cm, but at the end of a riffle, it gives you almost the reach of a proper spear. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 24 at 22:35
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Katara

The Katar is often criticized as a terrible battlefield weapon, but that is because they were not made for fighting humans. It was historically used in pairs for hunting quadrupedal predator's like lions and tigers. The Katar is not nearly as good at parrying as a more traditional knife or sword, but against an animal that fights with tooth and claw, the advantages they do have can far outweigh the disadvantages.

  • It does not have great range, but since the OP put a 70cm cap on the weapon, the same will be true for all other options as well. (Collapsing weapons break way too easily.
  • It is bad for slashing, but this is okay because some of the monsters are armored which means you need to focus on thrusts to get between the joints in its armor.
  • It is easier to deliver a deeper and more precise thrusts than a sword of similar size which makes it further useful at dealing with the monsters with armor.
  • Some Katara had armored hoods which gives you a perfect bite zone. When fighting humans, wild animals will generally bite whatever they think they can get ahold of first to try to take you down before moving in for a more fatal bite. So, when humans fight quadrupedal predators, the first place you get bitten is normally the hand or forearm. The hood means that you can let the monster bite your hand, and then use that to manipulate the creature exposing its neck or chest to be struck by your second Katar.
  • You can keep two enemies on point at once. Several answers so far have suggested a shield in the offhand, but this is not a great idea with only 4 man firesquads. Not only do shields long enough to protect you from shorter attackers, not fit the size requirements given by the OP, there is no way you can line up with only 4 shields to form a proper shield wall against 8 enemies unless you are in a hallway. Given the rules of this battle, a second weapon will offer a much bigger advantage. Also, at 70cm or less, 2-handed weapons are not going to be optimal either; so, 2 short weapons gives you the best coverage.

enter image description here

How to Improve on the Katar

While the katar works well for killing a quadrupedal predator, it suffers the same vulnerability that most other melee weapons have: draw time. If you run out of bullets and don't have time to reload, there is a good chance you also don't have time to draw a sword, axe, club, or fix baronets. That said, a punch blade does not need to be a hand-held weapon, it can be integrated into a gauntlet or bracer. This means you can fire your last bullet with that one last monster just a few feet away and leaping at you full force. With just a slight twist of your hand you go from holding your gun to pointing your punch blade at the monster without having to return your hand to your body somewhere to draw your weapon.

Also, by fixing the katar to an armored gauntlet, you can get much better armor coverage on your bite zone than you could with a hooded katar.

enter image description here

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  • Multi-purpose axe: You could have an axe blade on one side of the head for hacking and slashing soft tissue and limbs; a hammer or spike on the opposite side of the head for crushing armor and exoskeletons. Additionally, you could mount a spike on the top end for precise stabbing of vulnerable spots (e.g. the eyes)
  • Entrenching tool: Chances are your soldiers are carrying short fold-able spades as part of their standard equipment anyways. Sharpened spades have seen widespread and effective use as melee weapons in the World Wars. Using a tool in dual roles like this can reduce the overall weight and bulk of equipment a soldier has to carry.
  • Even with a dedicated weapon in place, I would still issue multi-purpose survival/combat knives as a last resort weapon and rifles that can mount them as bayonets. Even though your soldiers have access to better melee weapons, these might get lost or break and a knife is better than no weapon. Plus, knives can be used as survival tools as well.
  • If your soldiers are exclusively fighting critters like that, consider issuing chain mail instead of regular body armor. Shark divers use chain mail for protection, as do some present-day police forces when they expect knife-wielding assailants. While somewhat heavy, chain mail does not leave any gaps like a ballistic west would (e.g. under the arms) and a hauberk also protects the neck and head from critters that crawl/jump up or when you have been dragged to the ground. Complement this with chain greaves to protect the legs and some face/eye protection.
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(for the purpose of this answer, I am assuming that the enemies mostly bite)

The first thing you need to do is protect the legs. You're fighting waist high enemies, so they will want to grab your legs, drag you to the ground, and tear you apart. For that, you would ideally want some spiky armour. If you can make your lower half relatively safe, that radically simplifies melee combat. Covering an entire soldier in spikes isn't exactly practical (mobility would become an issue), but waist-high or even knee-high armour would make a big difference.

Next, the non-dominant hand would be used for protection. People who train attack dogs will wear thick, padded sleeves that a dog can safely bite into. You want your soldiers to carry around something like that. They can't wear it all the time because it's stiff and doesn't allow full use of the fingers, but when it's time to affix bayonets, they put on the sleeve. The sleeve is used as a shield. A bad guy lunges at you, and you swing the sleeve straight at his mouth or whatever other sharp thing he's using.

In the dominant hand, a machete. Stabbing weapons are nice, but you need to be able to attack downwards, so hacking is the priority. If an enemy gets a hold on the sleeve, you can use the machete to chop at it until it's dead.

Assuming these enemies are sort of animalistic, they will fixate on the sleeve. Once they get their teeth in, they will not let go, and you can attack them relatively safely.

Optionally, you can put a katar-type weapon on the end of the sleeve, but you don't want to risk exposing the hand, so don't think go for a second machete.

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Fist weapons

Humans are more adapted to use our hands in combat than tool-like weapons. Yes, we use tool-like weapons to great, if not amazing effect, but a lot of weapons require a great deal of training to use well. There's a 'method' to cutting or piercing well with a sword, while every Tom, Dick, and Harry knows how to throw a passable punch intrinsically.

Yes, getting the most out of the mass drivers that are our arms require training just like any weapon, boxers being case in point where the PSI delivered differs by an order of magnitude compared to a typical person, but that almost doesn't matter anymore once you introduce force amplifiers such as spiked knuckles. Smaller creatures can easily be punched to death by normal people without protection or force amplifiers, just imagine how much more dangerous a trained combatant with armour and spiked knuckles will be. If metal spikes won't work against the creature who're 'lightly armoured'(chitin-based perhaps?) then blunted force amplifiers like brass knuckles would work just as well if not better.

Another pro about fist-weapons are that they're less likely to catch or get stuck on/in something, allowing more attacks without such concerns and allowing you to deal with the swarm at a greater rate.

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    $\begingroup$ Punching seems like a very ineffective way to attack creatures that stand somewhere between your knees and waist. You can't even reach most of them without doubling over or kneeling, which would be a very awkward fighting stance. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearHoagie I would have suggested spike-tipped boots or shins for kicking away and possibly killing those anklbiters in the same action but they'd be likely to make the combatant trip in vegetated terrain or cluttered urban environments. Plus I'd rather have a way to dish out damage by more or less instantly punching whatever jumped me than first fiddling with a weapon hanging at my side. $\endgroup$
    – Lemming
    Jan 20 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ If I was cornered by dozens and dozens of angry beagles, I'd prefer a simple club instead of trying to punch my way out of the situation. We've been using sticks and clubs since giving up the arboreal lifestyle, so not too much training is required. $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ I think you're underestimating how important of a force multiplier a melee weapon, even a club or baton, is. In addition to letting you stay out of range of whatever you're fighting, extending your lever arm is a huge lift. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 21 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ most people are pretty crappy at throwing punches. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 25 at 21:42

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