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In my alternative history story, taking place at the end of the 20th century, one country has an army with platoons of airborne scouts. But unlike modern special forces they don't use combat knives as side-arms, but combat axes. Like this one:

Modern axe

So, question is: why do they use them instead of combat knives? Is there any advantage?

My ideas are:

  1. Traditions (maybe the ancestors of these soldiers were lumberjacks)
  2. When you have to drop in forested areas an axe can be much more useful to chop wood, make shelters, including long-lived shooting points, or traversing young forest areas.
  3. There was a Soviet Union soldier who captured a Nazi tank using an axe during World War II

I know that in close-quarter combat killing with a knife is usually faster; you can kill with a single well-placed jab, and an axe requires space to make a swing. An axe is also harder to conceal. But the main soldier's weapon is an automatic rifle, not a knife or axe.

UPD: As Nex Terren mentioned, an axe, like a shovel, can be used as entrenching tool. Furthermore, Soviet Army used small sapper shovels:

Soviet Spetsnaz units had advanced training with the MPL-50, which they mostly used not for entrenching, but for close quarters combat. The spade is well balanced, which allows it to be used as a throwing weapon.

So using axe not just as a tool but also as a last-chance melee and throwing weapon looks possible.

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    $\begingroup$ An axe is less efficient for hand to hand combat against an unarmed foe than a knife. The only reason to use an axe instead of a knife would be cultural. I only read the first book of Wayfarer Redemption, but it had a prominent axe culture, where the axes were basically a symbol of man's victory over the trees (by chopping them all down). Modern SF units in that world might pride themselves on their axes. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 30 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ To those downvoting and voting to close: Remember to always leave a comment explaining your reasoning if no comments currently exist (such as is the case now). $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Sep 30 '16 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Did 4 years in the Marines and our unit actually bought axes similar to that for the guys deploying(not special forces). Multi-functional and depending on the mission those could be more useful. They were not meant to replace a knife although most guys never bothered to carry a knife. An empty M16 is a very strong "bat" $\endgroup$ – bluerojo Sep 30 '16 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question, though it seems to be another one of those questions where we're being asked not to help decide how to make a world consistent with some underlying causes but rather to come up with causes to justify a decision that's already been made. It seems the real reason these soldiers carry axes is because the author thought that would be cool. $\endgroup$ – David K Oct 1 '16 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ As an infantry soldier that carried an axe into combat, I can say with certainty that it's because an axe is about 4000 times more badass than carrying a knife. And that's really it. It is very hard to attach the axe in a convenient spot on your gear, however, and it's stated purpose is for breaching (e.g. doors). But it's fairly well understood that it's just pretty badass. $\endgroup$ – L0j1k Oct 3 '16 at 7:36

16 Answers 16

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Breaching

I'm surprised no one has mentioned breaching.

Urban combat is much more common than it used to be, especially with anti-insurgency suppression and targeted rescue/kill operations.

An infantry company may all have to perform breaching or they may have a special unit for breaching, but in these scenarios an axe has much more utility and versatility as a tool than a knife.

Close Quarters Combat

An axe also has more reach and requires less dexterity than a knife, which can be useful with less training where visibility is low and corners are common. It can also cause more damage with a glancing blow and can be reversed to cause the same puncture damage with less force due to levering action with the handle.

References

Googling around, I was easily able to find references to axes as mechanical breaching tools, often used when explosives are overkill, too dangerous to use in enclosed spaces, or collateral material damage is unacceptable (like public spaces or inhabited buildings).

For example, this is from a US military Infantry Rifle Company handbook chapter on urban operations:

Explosive breaching includes using nonelectrical demolition systems; ballistic breaching includes using direct fire weapons; and mechanical breaching includes using crowbars, axes, saws, hooligan's tools, and sledgehammers.

There's also more online on WWII Axes

The main role of an axe during WWII was to cut wood or material for things such as building a fire, building shelters, etc.

The US Army Ranger Handbook also mentions using hatchets as standard issue (tho headlines with a quote from 1759).

Let the enemy come till he's almost close enough to touch, then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.

Later it mentions a hatchet as in the Level 3 Survival Kit:

Level 3 Kit (carried in assault pack or ruck) water proof container with more of the materials listed in the level 1 and 2 kits plus shelter making materials (poncho, tarp, bungee cords, or space blanket) and a hatchet or saw.

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  • $\begingroup$ Especially appreciate the sources to back up your assertions. Nice answer. $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Sep 30 '16 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ Also in CQ battle, the axe head can be used like a hook to grab an opponent, throw them off balance or to pull their feet out from under them. $\endgroup$ – Wossname Oct 2 '16 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ However, an axe is a very bad choice for CQB. There simply isn't room for swinging an axe, and both the backswing and the follow-through in case you miss are hazardous to your buddies. As an entertaining example of the process (although with a sword, not an axe - but the principle is there) see the scene in "Kill Bill 2" where Daryl Hannah is trying to kill Uma Thurman with a sword in a trailer. Plus, of course, who in the world would bring an axe to a gunfight? $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Oct 2 '16 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to point out that an axe of the size a soldier would be carrying as a backup hand-to-hand weapon would be quite small, as in the picture in question. Such an axe would probably be quite ineffective for breaching, unless we are talking paper doors as in japan. $\endgroup$ – Tuncay Göncüoğlu Oct 3 '16 at 9:26
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Combat knives as side arms are falling out of favor across modern militaries. Why? Getting into a situation in which your main rifle and sidearm both are no longer viable and effective yet the knife is effective is rare. Knives are typically provided as tools foremost instead of weapons now.

To this end we can make an axe easily work. Sure we can leave the axe as a weapon (a last ditch effort), but first and foremost we'll focus on it being a tool.

First we'll start out with the basis of an entrenching tool.

Entrenching Tool

These tools vary in form and function (the above image is just one possibility) allowing a variety of purposes:

  • Shovel
  • Saw
  • Mallet
  • Pick
  • Hoe
  • Prying Tool
  • Nail Puller
  • Paddle
  • Frying Pan

...To name a few.

Well we can certainly adapt this to our needs. Obviously the tool pictured above centers around the idea of a shovel first and foremost. We just need to tweak it, and change the shovel head more into an axe head. Perhaps this is because these troops are deployed to forested regions, and not only do they sometimes have to clear trees and brush, but on-site basic fortifications made from trees are common, and so axes are useful.

Toss in a dash of cultural ties to axes, as you mention, and it's really not that much of a stretch to say that the entrenching tools would be more axe-like, and obviously serve as last-ditch defensive tools.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 The rule for anything carried into combat is that it must provide enough utility to warrant the cost of carrying it with you. Because you have an angry human trying to kill you, the most obvious way to provide this utility is in making sure they don't kill you (by killing them first). However, that's just one form of utility. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 30 '16 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ As someone who spent time in the military, the sentence saying "Combat knives as side arms are falling out of favor across modern militaries." strikes me as odd. I never knew a Marine or soldier who did not have a knife on them for daily work in Afghanistan. It is an extremely useful tool and is a last resort lightweight option. $\endgroup$ – bluerojo Sep 30 '16 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @bluerojo I never served, so this is from personal research over the years. I'm not trying to imply that knives as equipment are going away (indeed, I don't know of a military force that doesn't equip their soldiers with knives of some sort), but rather globally their designs are trending towards being tools foremost and weapons second, which was the segway into my design for the axe; a tool before a weapon. $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Sep 30 '16 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @NexTerren that I couldn't agree more with you. They are definitely used as tools 99.9% of the time and just about every Marine/soldier carries them as a last resort weapon. $\endgroup$ – bluerojo Sep 30 '16 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ Eheh, heh. "...entrenching tool... last ditch.." We see what you did there. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Oct 1 '16 at 22:20
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This kind of axe, light as it is (the example is 2.1lb according to its Amazon.com sales page) is about twice the weight of a large knife. This may well be too light to be really effective as a woodcutting tool: things labelled "tactical" for sale to the public often aren't practical military equipment.

Soldiers always have too much weight to carry, and justifying an extra pound of weight as standard equipment is only likely if there's a real expectation that it will be used. Real world infantry units do have axes, sometimes, but it's one per platoon or company as the normal scale of issue. Paratroopers need their equipment to be as light as possible, which makes the weight issue more pressing.

Fighting in a wooded area would likely make a case for issuing more axes, but every man having one seems implausible. Incidentally, you don't drop paratroopers into woods. Far too many of them will get caught up in trees, take time to get down, and have additional accidents along the way. You drop them near the wood and let them move into it.

So you need a positive reason to have axes, for which tradition will serve, and you need to make them as light as a knife. That's relatively easy if you make them out of magnesium alloy with a steel insert for the edge, although the best alloy for the job may take some development. It needs calcium for reduced flammability, and manganese for reduced corrosion. You'll need some kind of plastic to bed the steel insert in the magnesium, to avoid corrosion, and you do want steel for that, because it holds an edge well.

So these troops need a command structure that will pay out for additional expensive equipment for them, of dubious usefulness. Make them a long-established unit that's only recently taken up parachuting, and that will be OK.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point that the axe needs to be heavy in order to be functional. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Oct 1 '16 at 22:23
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In a word, symbolism. It's not as if combat knives are generally useful as weapons. In conventional war, if you're close enough that you have to use a knife rather than shooting the enemy, you know that things have gone irredemably tits up. Of course, soldiers do worry about this sort of situation, and there is something atavistically comforting about having a heavy piece of cold steel for just that sort of situation.

With that said, your unit is airborne scouts. I'd suggest that (to use a US analogy) they symbolically trace their origins to an earlier unit such as Rogers' Rangers, who actually did use hatchets or tomahawks in battle, although this was the days of muzzle-loading muskets and a secondary weapon was a really good idea. See here for a discussion of the unit orders which specifically mention that every man should have both a hatchet and a gun. The units have adopted the hand axe as both a symbol of their roots and as a useful tool. Along the same lines, I refer you to "Mouthful of Rocks" by Jennings, who served several years in the French Foreigh Legion. He states that about the only non-issued equipment a legionnaire carried were his sunglasses and his combat knife - and the only thing a combat knife was used for was opening ration cans. A small minority of troops in Vietnam carried personally-owned tomahawks, and as far as I know got about the same amount of use out of them.

With the adoption of the hand axe as a trademark unit weapon, some bright lad would undoubtedly come up with a reasonable fighting technique for using them. Certainly such a weapon would be more damaging than a knife, and probably useful in a full-out aggressive attack, where the backswing takes place out of range of the knife. There would be all sorts of disadvantages to missing the first strike, of course, but every style has its pros and cons, and military groups in particular tend to focus on the pros associated with their equipment and tactics.

Plus, of course, they look bad-ass. And that can count for a lot among late-adolescent males.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Appealing to late adolescent males is, I bet, surprisingly important. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Oct 2 '16 at 23:17
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These are TOMAHAWKS. There is a long tradition of 'hawks as combat tools as well as a lot of utility in a hatchet over a knife/saw (if you could only carry one). Current soldiers are using 'hawks more for the utility aspect, especially in urban warfare where they can be used to chop through cables, doors, and even thin walls (if only to make a hole large enough to peep/shoot through). Plus they can hook on top of a wall and help a soldier climb over.

The major downside to a 'hawk is that it can not (easily) be attached to a rifle as a bayonet. Of course as the bayonet loses combat utility (mainly because rifles are now so small and fragile that they can not be used as a melee weapon anymore) the bayonet/combat knife falls from favor, a folding multi-tool with a knife blade is far more practical for most soldiers.

If you want to entrench the 'hawk as a common piece of a soldier's kit, it simply needs a tradition. Perhaps the military unit extends from a warrior culture that heavily utilized axes or tomahawks (like the Ghurkas using kukri knives or Japanese soldiers with gunto katanas). The benefit to 'hawks over swords is that the hawk has relevant battlefield utility. As for the combat aspect, even the knife/bayonet gets pretty superficial treatment in basic training. The combatives training is more focused on unarmed techniques. So teaching use of the 'hawk can be as simple as a few basic moves, like a couple of strikes, some hooks, and some blocks. You don't need anything near like a dedicated martial art to justify issuing a melee weapon, current soldiers certainly don't get much training in the use of the bayonet (and I bet many never get them issued at all).

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  • $\begingroup$ >The VTAC [("Vietnam Tactical Tomahawk")] was issued a national stock number (4210-01-518-7244) and classified as a “Class 9 rescue kit” as a result of a program called the Rapid Fielding Initiative; it is also included within every Stryker vehicle as the “modular entry tool set”. This design enjoyed something of a renaissance with US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as a tool and in use in hand-to-hand combat. –Tomahawk $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 30 '16 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ My buddy's (that was in Iraq) utmost regret was not absconding with his on the way home. His favorite part was the glass-break on the bottom of the handle. "modular entry tool set" - indeed ;) It's not for killing people (according to my bud, that's what the radio is for). It's for everything else. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Sep 30 '16 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I could see mounting a tomahawk on a rifle like a bayonet - of course you'd end up with something more like a halberd than a spear. Whether or not that would be useful is another matter... $\endgroup$ – Comintern Sep 30 '16 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Comintern, I was actually thinking about a rigid sheath for the head of the hawk. The head locks into a lug with the haft pointing alongside the barrel. The butt of the haft has a spike, making the rife into a stabbing spear. Couldn't do the usual bayonet slash, but I think a piercing weapon is more effective. Most modern weapons with collapsible buttstocks couldn't do an effective buttstroke ( more than once anyway) so the "bayohawk" wouldn't be much less effective than a regular bayonet, and would be more practical as a field tool than a large knife. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Oct 1 '16 at 21:35
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Most conventional infantry carry bayonets which are designed to have at least some utility as a medium sized knife (although with varying success). So although a small utility knife may be a useful addition carrying a large knife and a bayonet is a bit redundant.

There is also a school of though that the main purpose of a bayonet is not so much for actually using so much as a visible statement of intent both for the troops using it and the enemy ie 'we are coming to get you...'

There is a notable exception in the Gurkha regiments of the british army who famously carry the kukri, a large knife which functions well in both utility and combat roles and is not very different from a hatchet in its handling and use.

Also special forces soldiers, due to the nature of their role tend to have much more autonomy on their choice of weapons and are much less likely to have a need for a bayonet as they aren't so much about assaulting and taking ground as conventional infantry and in any case rarely have the numerical superiority to directly assault fixed positions.

So in this context it is entirely reasonable that a particular special forces unit might decide that a hatchet represents a good balance between a utility tool and side arm. Although it is also worth saying that special forces are unlikely to dogmatically stick to one type of weapon and will tend to use what is most appropriate for the expected circumstances.

In terms of pure practicality hatchets are often preferred in a woodland environment where timber, especially smallish trees and saplings are a useful and available resource (eg in the birch and pine forests of Scandinavia).

The 'special forces' role also covers a huge amount of ground with different units in various armies having a huge range of roles. There are also increasingly specialist combined arms formations tasked with the job of supporting special forces operations with transport, logistics, communications, intelligence etc etc . Indeed the term 'Ranger' is often used for troops with a role somewhere between conventional infantry and true special forces.

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You should equip your paratroopers rifles with bayonets that are removable, its not a sidearm but could be useful for many survival situations and cutting things like para cord loose. They could then carry the axe for a side arm but I would provide a sheath that covers the head because of the many dangers involved with parachute landings. On a side note, I wouldn't trade my K BAR for anything.

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Edged weapons in modern armies are last ditch weapons. It's what you pull when your ammo is depleted and you've made your peace with this world. That said, edged weapons, particularly knives and hatches and even the venerable collapsible shovel are outstanding tools for infantry and specialist alike. But that's obvious and boring.

Your military should carry them based on tradition; on some long gone era of mortal combat wherein your race excelled with the hatchet, tomohawk, battlewax, whatever. This tradition should be so ingrained in the culture - People of the 'hawk - that would-be warriors were tatooed with a stylized blade across shoulder and chest as a rite of passage.

Their ancient enemies trembled at the rhythmic beating of 'hawks prior to battle knowing that all who fell would be beheaded and the heads left in a horrific mound alter in honor to the war gods. All passersby would know what happened and the outcome.

While the 'hawk is a symbol of days long gone, your military still trains with brutal efficiency, preferring it for CQB operations over small caliber firearms, placing great prestige on the warriors most effective with the weapon.

That sounds more fun to me.

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My best guess:

Practicality

If you're stranded from your unit / regiment, an axe is more useful than a knife: You can cut trees and collect wood easier; it will kill animals with greater ease; and is more intimidating, which can increase your odds in a fight.

However

An axe is heavier than a knife, thus requires more energy, so carrying one around could prove detrimental.

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As many have pointed out, yeah, axes as tools make a lot of sense. If warfare shifts and armament changes, the equipment ought to shift with it. If the targets shift enough, axes could become a reasonable weapon.

When fighting targets that involve armor, an axe provides some advantages in popping the plates off or even punching through. These will generally be long-handled axes, especially if punching through. With lighter weight armors, though, speed would be more valuable. (In those situations, though, people tend to go with multiple weapons.)

If combat gear has developed enough to make small arms fire less lethal, assault weapons may become large armor piercing rifles with axes as one of the only reasonable choices for melee.

This goes farther, though:

Straps and cables are easier to cut swiftly with an axe than a gun or knife, as a pretty fixed rule. If such strapping plays a role in warfare, you have a reason to bring an axe.

If combatants rely on some piece of technology that's strapped down, well, there is a good reason to bring an axe.

Consider if heavy bandoliers often carry useful intelligence (cryptokeys, personal shield generators, or whatever) or if infantry are often strapped to their rifles and/or combat frames. If sailing vessel or dirigible combat is expected, for example, axes become convenient. (or their sabotage, for that matter)

You included one good reason in the question, actually, to have a serrated saw/axe tool on hand: They are airborn. Their chutes could get stuck in trees. A lower tech solution than a reliable emergency release would be an axe.

They also might perform sabotage where chopping things loose quickly could help.

Also, field axes could act as ice or rock climbing axes. (They'd have the holes to tie in to, in that case.)

Several of these reasons would be specialized equipment for specific maneuvers rather than for standard gear, but if such come up a lot, well, they'd all train accordingly.

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If you are in a cold, icy region, an ice axe would make sense as a commonly carried tool. They are primarily used for climbing on icy surfaces. While not really the intended purpose, they can be used as a weapon. All three of the adze, the pick, and the spike at the bottom end of the shaft are sharp and dangerous.

An ice axe might make sense for an airborne force if it frequently lands in places where the soldiers have to climb to reach their destination.

It is of course up to you whether an ice axe would be an axe for your purposes. Technically speaking, they are generally adzes rather than axes. That may or may not matter for your story.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you're a ranger or other person who has to go places, it might very well be, if you're a local infantry garrison, you're not going to climb like that, you're instead going to plan your trek so that you don't encounter the need to climb. This will in other words be limited to SOF personnel, but it makes sense for them to having something like this in their toolkit. $\endgroup$ – Haakon Løtveit Oct 26 '17 at 7:12
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In the modern day military, I could definitively see axes making a comeback.

First off, let's have a look at this knife: A sami knife made by a traditional smith

It's a thing between an axe and a knife already. It has a multitude of uses too: It can open tinned food, it can chop trees (they don't grow very thick that far north), you can cut with it about as well as a normal knife (although not your first choice for fine knifework), and even if you wear out the edge a bit, and don't have a diamond tool ready for proper resharpening, it's heavy enough to get the job done with some extra force.

These are really popular with Norwegian soldiers. Conscripted and contracted both.

However, if you look at what Norwegians themselves wear on them when they go hiking, they still tend to prefer small knife + small axe. Why?

Well, culture is one reason, and Norwegians have probably used axes more than knives for the stuff that they need to do around a camp, but there are other reasons.

First off, an axe can be used as a hammer for tent poles, stuff that needs to be wedged in and similar. Secondly it's better at splitting wood, and as good at shaving it. (Not really sure what the English term would be. But you know how when you want to light a fire, you shave wood into shavings so that they have more air, and aren't as thick, and catch on fire easily? That's what I mean.)

While not immediately as good at opening tinned cans of food, you can always use a tentplug or bayonet with the backside of the axe for that.

So an army that spends a lot of time in the woods, either as long range recon troops, or light infantry, or similar would probably see the good reason in camping axes as tools. And as someone else above noted, if you're at the point where your rifle and pistol both doesn't work, it's not very likely that your knife or axe is going to do you much good. But if you already have an axe there? It makes sense to train them in how to use them, at least for a little bit. No point in drilling them for years, but the basics? That makes perfect sense.

Oh yeah, you've probably seen these types of axes before, but here's the type I'd recognize: Bright orange camping/hiking axe

Notice the bright orange there: It's so that you'll easily find it if you drop it.

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When you are in a combat situation, a knife is a weapon of last resort--mainly because in combat, knives absolutely suck. If you are in a situation where all other weapons are unavailable and you have to rely on a knife, you are in a charley-foxtrot of epic proportions.

The only advantage of a knife is that it's somewhat better than no weapon at all. Knives are kind-of concealable and kind-of useful, but they are more useful as utility tools such as the entrenching tool @Nex Terren mentions. And to be blunt, if I were in a hand-to-hand situation and had to choose between a knife and the entrenching tool, I'd take the shovel.

The big problem with the knife is it has very little or no reach. When you're in a hand-to-hand combat situation, you want to keep your opponent as far away from you as possible. Back on medieval times, the best way to do so was to use a spear or a pole-arm: that was your primary weapon, with a sword as a sidearm or secondary weapon. You prefer not to allow your opponent to get within reach of you, which means you definitely do not want to get within knife-fighting range. So using an axe can be explained as simple practicality.

One other thing to mention--it's actually fairly difficult to kill someone with a knife unless they are unconscious or incompetent. Knives simply do not do as much damage as axes, swords, or spears, and despite what we are shown in movies and on TV, the human body is relatively resilient to knife wounds compared to other weapons.

Go ahead and have your soldiers use combat axes as their hand-to-hand sidearms--they'll be a LOT beter off than with combat knives.

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    $\begingroup$ This is factually inaccurate. Anyone who has done boot camp combat training knows that knives don't suck. An axe is mostly useless in hand to hand combat. The requirement to swing it with force means that the attack is badly telegraphed. Even boot recruits can figure out how to step into the swing and block the arm. You had an axe and fought an opponent with a knife, you'd be better off just dropping the axe and going in with fists. A knife acts as an extension of your hand; it turns soft punches into potential killing blows. You take the e-tool, I'll take the knife. Lets fight. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 30 '16 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ I can use an axe in a punching arm that you won't block with conventional means, with good blade design, I can even use it as a spear and not "telegraph" attacks so much (this is also a misconception, you don't need to swing too much when you move your body instead of the arms to hit) $\endgroup$ – Ando Jurai Dec 20 '17 at 9:21
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If your troops are in a mountainous area it might be a good idea to carry an ax for its utility. It could be used to gather wood, pointy side can help with climbing and it could be used as melee or throwing weapon. High utility is the keyword here. But that depends on the terrain. In jungle machete will have higher utility and in an urban setting, ax will not be very useful.

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I know this is an alternate history story, but given that little is really specified as to how this is alternate history, I propose an answer that might actually sound quite... bizarre.

First off, there is of course the usefulness of an axe over a knife. However, let's go a step further. I'm going to give a reason that they would use an axe as a primary weapon, which what I believe the asker intended. This could be given by several reasons:

  1. Guns have not developed in this world to a degree realistic with large scale wars. We assume all other technology has remained the same. People are just incapable of developing long-range guns for some reason, so they resort to medieval-style weaponry of which the axe would be most useful for penetrating metal tanks and other massive machines as well as serving as a weapon used in combat. After all, what war have you heard of fought 100% entirely with pocket knives? It's absurd.

  2. Bullet-proofing technology has advanced to the point that no known bullet can pierce it. This is a pretty obvious case. Essentially, people focused more on bodily protection than on other things. Hence, there is full body armor in this universe that is lightweight and impenetrable to bullets. Bullets might pierce it, but it takes many round to break through and so guns are simply impracticable. Hence, the armor-piercing axe takes the reigns in breaking down the enemy. A gun might still be carried to finish off an opponent whose armor is too far gone to protect them, or is stupid enough to take it off in the heat of battle.

  3. The enemy must be beat without them knowing you are there. Weirdly enough, this could make sense. Trees falling, random building sabotage, etc. could all be done with an axe. Guns might attract attention.

  4. There is an extreme gun powder shortage. Whether it is due to economics, a loss of natural resources, or a lack of factories to produce it, it is pretty hard to make bullets without any gunpowder. Why they swapped to axes is beyond me. Maybe they found it... convenient?

And finally the answer I referred to as 'bizarre':

  1. Simply put, your world considers killing another man in war to be murder. I know this is weird, but bear with me. What if the world was still ruled primarily by Christianity or some other religion (make one up if you have to) that considered killing another in warfare to be a crime. However, leaders twisted this to mean that you cannot directly kill another man in war. Hence, wars in this world consist of trap-setting and various other means of causing someone to simply... kill themselves. In this manner, an axe would serve as an amazing tool. It can set trees up to fall and sabotage buildings both of which I'd imagine would be major elements of this "no-kill warfare". Heck, I can even imagine people falling for their own traps in cases of mines, pitfalls, and other things. It's easy to fall for a trap even if you know of it, but much harder to get stuck in the enemy building's collapse, or a tree falling on enemy patrols chasing after you trying to incapacitate you with stun guns. This would also work well for executions, as a simple manner of execution (after all, it's not legal to execute) would be to drop the roof on the criminal... by knocking the supports of a simple hut out with an axe.
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During world War two there was a certain tribe of native Americans serving in the US military that went into the Belgian city of Chimay armed with only tomahawks. The US military were pretty concerned that this tribe did not want firearms so they usually placed them with other soldiers.

These native Americans proved far more effective than firearm wielding soldiers because tomahawk are a silent edged weapon that had enough shock to instantly silence the target, unlike throwing knives.

So they might use the Chimay axe as a silent edged weapon.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't believe you. Do you have any evidence that this urban myth is true? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Sep 30 '16 at 16:36

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