Last Updated on April 12, 2020

Tomahawk History: Not so long ago, we published in our website Tactical Gears Lab a small selection of the best Tactical Tomahawk, or as they are called differently tactical axe. The discussion covered all aspects of using an axe from chopping trees in the village to sabotage, storming bastions and even swimming styles.

Tomahawk History

We could not afford just to leave this topic, and decided to understand in detail what exactly is this tactical tomahawk, where did it come from and where is it used? You will be surprised, but the tomahawk as a special tactical weapon exists in the armies of the world almost in the mid-50s.

Tomahawk History

Tomahawk – a weapon extremely unusual for pale-faced brothers. Having a huge history, this type of cold steel remains the highlight. Delivered to the troops in small quantities. But this unusual weapon today is increasingly conquering the hearts of the military as a convenient and practical weapon for close combat. Why? Let’s turn to the story.

Tomahawk, Tomahawk, or in other words “Battleax” – is a melee weapon used by the Indians of North America. A true Native American tomahawk did not look exactly like we used to see them in films about Indians. However, he is not even “Indian.” In pre-Columbian America, the word “tomahawk” (tomahiken, tomehogan, tummahakan, tomahak, tumahguak, etc.) meant a club with a pointed stone tip, often serving simultaneously as a pipe.

So, during the war – weapons, in peace – the pipe of peace. And the very name of the hatchet “tomahawk” in general, in fact, is not Native American, but rather European. It comes from the English transliteration of the term of various East Algonkin languages. Initially, this was the name for a variety of batons and clubs, later – small iron, bronze, or brass hatchets on a straight hilt. Used by Native Americans as a melee and throwing weapon.

White Man’s Gift

The Indians did not initially use tomahawks in large numbers in battle or hunting, as we used to see in feature films. It was the Europeans who brought iron axes to the American continent. Which made an indelible impression on the locals and became one of the best-sellers: the natives gladly exchanged them for furs. Tomahawks were made right there or imported from Europe.

The Indians turned the Tomahawk iron axes from a working tool into a formidable weapon. They were used in close combat, and they learned to throw with amazing skill. At the same time, the Indians were taught to fight with a tomahawk precisely by European immigrants who knew how to use an ax during boarding or how to carry a tactical tomahawk.

Native Americans turned out to be very diligent students and soon prepared Indian wars threw the tomahawk at a distance of up to 20 meters, while precisely hitting the target. At the same time, the Indians appreciated the white man’s new weapon because in a close fight the tomahawk was more convenient than a knife and a spear.

After all, even a weak person could inflict a terrible wound due to a lever handle. For example, to chop off a limb. Plus, due to the handle-ax, not long or short, it was easy to wield both in a dense crowd and in one-on-one fights.

Tomahawks were used not only in war but also in hunting to kill wounded animals. The preferences of various forms of tomahawks by Indians of different tribes changed over time and was determined by the offer of manufacturers. Until the mid-19th century, the Missouri battle axes were very wide in the Missouri River area.

Another type, in the form of a spear, often with decorative swirling processes at the base of the blade. This “spontaneous (spontaneous) tomahawk” came from a polearm with the same name that the sergeants of the European armies were armed with.

To expand the market and increase demand, European blacksmiths tried to cater to the tastes of the natives: the decorations of the blades and handles became more sophisticated and luxurious, more and more new original models were invented. For example, tomahawks were made for diplomatic purposes: with artistic engraving, inlaid with gold and silver.

They were presented to the Indian leaders as gifts emphasizing peaceful intentions. The blades were made first of simple iron, later of iron or brass with a steel insert of the cutting edge, of brass. On the butt (the reverse side of the blade) did a sharp spike, a hammer. The most popular tomahawks with a hollow handle and a butt with a chibouk for smoking tobacco.

The Indians themselves began to master blacksmithing only at the beginning of the 19th century. Still, they preferred not to bother with ore mining and smelting of iron, but more often, they simply reforged the “iron scrap” of Europeans. They polished the handles, encrusted them with various materials, cut out and burned patterns, wrapped them in strips of leather or fabric, copper wire, and painted.

And, of course, various (often symbolic) ornaments were attached: feathers, porcupine needles, pieces of fur, beads, hair, human scalps. Tomahawks became a symbol of power and status among Indians by the middle of the 19th century. The dance and ceremonial tomahawks had at the end of the handle various suspensions in the form of beaded leather triangles with fringe, bells, strips of cloth or fur.

Round mirrors could be sewn onto the latter. The Tomahawks became so entrenched in the spiritual culture of the North American Indians that even the pipes of the world, which were made from the sacred red stone of Minnesota, began to be made in the form of this battle hatchet. Gift and souvenir tomahawks-tubes had handles trimmed with silver, where even a silver mouthpiece was closed with a cap on a chain.

Vietnamese Tomahawk

European settlers used the Tomahawk: hunters, pioneers, and until the middle of the 19th century, the military, along with the “belt ax” close to it in terms of parameters. They were in service with the American forces during the War of Independence, the war of the North and South, the “Indian” wars.

For a long time about these weapons are not remembered, considering it a laggard and not effective, however, Peter Lagana, the true descendant of the Mohawk Indians, convinced the world of the opposite. A former Marine Corps fighter, he took part in World War II. At the end of the war, he taught hand-to-hand combat.

However, he taught, in addition to fighting without weapons, also the work of a tomahawk. Information about this reached the higher authorities. As a result of which in the winter of 1965, he was summoned to the Pentagon to demonstrate the potential of this weapon.

Despite the successful performance, the battle with the Tomahawk was not included in the official training program for the US Army. But Peter Lagana was already on fire with the idea of ​​an army tomahawk and did not want to retreat. A few months later, he made his own tomahawk, which has a special-shaped warhead that significantly increases the combat capabilities of weapons.

The blade of the Lagana tomahawk on the butt had the most pointed shape and could break through a Kevlar helmet or light body armor (which, unfortunately, was not available to the knife). And thanks to its high penetration, coupled with its weight, the tomahawk inflicted serious damage. Even if the blow was delivered from the elbow, without investing in body weight.

Consequently, it could be used in narrow passages and thickets, where the soldier simply did not have room for a swing. Interestingly, five of the seven faces of the acute part of the LaHana tomahawk were sharpened, so a tomahawk strike on any trajectory inflicted a wound on the enemy. But the most amazing thing about this ax was its balancing. Peter himself calmly threw any sharp object so that it stuck, but what could an unprepared fighter do?

Peter Lagana suggested throwing his tomahawk to untrained people, mostly women, and children. As a result, a total of 870 shots were fired from a distance of 4.5 to 6 meters. After processing the data and making the calculations, those proportions and weights were found that ensured that almost anyone could successfully reach such a range even without specialized training.

Tomahawk in the Modern Army

t is interesting that the tomahawk also considered the Soviet command as a weapon. However, when conducting tests, the sapper blade was practically not inferior in effectiveness to the battle-ax, so it was decided to leave everything as it is.

Tomahawks again pop up only during the US operation “Just Cause”, carried out in Panama. There bandits of drug cartels actively used in hand-to-hand skirmishes not only machetes but also battle-axes, from which more than forty soldiers were injured or died. A light and a maneuverable ax in dense thickets were several times more effective than a bayonet.

During the “Desert Storm” fighters are faced with the difficulty of penetrating into the premises, the doors have to be cracked with improvised means or blown up. Complaints of fighters do not reach the command, or the command does not attach any importance to them. Therefore, soldiers with huge red fire axes were not uncommon.

Prospects of Tomahawk as a Tactical Weapon

Currently, countless modifications of these axes (including the “Vietnamese”) are produced by Western companies. Many modern ax models with this name are designed for army use. Americans have widely used magnificent steel army tomahawks in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But what did the military find in the tomahawk? Of course, first of all, its versatility. An ax can carry out a wide range of work, and not just demolish the enemy. The pointed spike on the butt of the tomahawk easily reveals both metal barrels and cargo tires reinforced with steel tapes.

You can cut through the doors of houses, knockdown locks, make holes in brick walls with a long spike to climb walls (rocks and trees), and just use them for household needs and as a survival tool, along with the same tactical knives or “multitools.”

Well, as a melee weapon, the tomahawk exceeds the usual bayonet-knife by several times, especially when shooting with a rifle or pistol is impossible or undesirable (where there are ammunition or fuel depots).

The most common modern tactical army tomahawks today weigh a little less than 500 g, the length of the handle is 14 cm, on the butt – a pointed tenon about 8 cm long, which can be used as a chisel when planting doors.

Of course, a tomahawk is a weapon that is not suitable for everyone and not for any occasion. But taking into account the need for a high skill of working with such weapons, and the opportunities that it gives, we can say for sure that the tomahawk is the choice of exclusively professionals.


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