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Personal weapon

A personal weapon is a weapon that can be carried and employed by a single person, although its use may be restricted to specialist members of attack or defense teams. Some larger personal weapons may usually be operated by two man teams, an aimer and a loader.

Personal weapons are employed by:

Some examples and applications of personal weapons:

Antipersonnel weapons

These are intended to be used against other combatants.

Limited lethality weapons

These may be used to subdue an opponent with a lower risk of death when properly used.

Edged Weapons


Used in stealth, because of easy concealment and seemingly endless uses, or as a last resort in combat.

The knife is to be stabbed or sliced at the opponent in close quarters combat and self defense.

Knives are used today in many uses for countless jobs. The military still uses knives in the front lines if the primary weapon is unavailable, or attached to the end of a gun as a bayonet. A good military knife is often used for opening crates, breaking wires and fences, cutting 550 cord (parachute lines used for hundreds of military tasks), and opening MREs, to name only a few uses.

May be confused with the "shank"


A dirk is longer than the typical knife and is used as a stabbing weapon. The Highland Dirk is a traditional Scottish weapon and in the age of sailing ships British midshipmen (officer candidates) were issued this weapon for personal defense. Dirks are still presented to officer candidates in many navies as a symbol of the completion of their initial training (for example, in the modern Russian navy


The sword is an evolution of the knife. Its name literally means “hurting tool” from the Old German “Swert”. It is one of the most universally recognised ancient weapons and has taken many forms across many different countries. It is used to both slash and stab in much the same way a knife does.

During the Middle Ages, most European swords had double edged straight blades made for both slashing and stabbing. Examples of these swords include the one handed arming sword and the two handed longsword. Curved swords such as the falchion existed in Europe during the Middle Ages but were not as prominent as the straight ones.

The primary sword used in Japan is the Katana, which has a curved blade that is short in comparison to the Rapiers or Longswords of Europe. It is known for its sharpness and formed an integral component of the culture of the Samurai. The weapon remained in use even as other weapons of the time were neglected. It eventually disappeared after The Satsuma Rebellion. The weapon had a renaissance during World War II where it was used by Japanese soldiers in the Pacific theatre. Although the katana is seen as the primary sword of the Samurai, many other types of swords were used by the Samurai. These include the uchigatana, the odachi, the nodachi and the tachi

In its use by Roman forces the sword was relatively short, but effective in combination with a shield, since the soldier could block a downward slash with his shield and then thrust from below and upward into the midsection of an opponent. This technique was extremely effective when in a closed formation. Examples of the successful use of this technique include the defeat of the outnumbering forces of Queen Boudica in the Battle of Watling Street in the year 60 CE.

The sword was used differently in more modern Europe. It was a very long, cylindrical, and narrow blade with no edge and was used to stab rather than slash. It is the source of fencing as we know it today. Most middle and upper class men would be trained in fencing with the smallsword as it was the primary duelling weapon.

The Scimitar was a curved but short blade used in the Middle East. Its name is derived from the Persian shashimir. The weapon is vaguely similar to the European Sabre in that it is a curved slashing weapon.

The sword fell into disuse after Europe discovered gunpowder and related projectile weapons. Duelling and fencing for social purposes continued well after the invention of the handgun. Duelling fell into disuse even before the end of the 20th century and with it the sword ceased to be used in any practical sense.

For more types, see List of swords. For more information on swords in general see sword.

Bludgeoning Weapons

War Hammer

A large hammer on a handle that may be two feet or more in length. See war hammer.


A club is an asymmetrical stick of moderate length, swung from the light end, similar to a bat used in games. Easily formed from a tree branch this, was probably one of the first weapons. May be relatively light for primary use as a walking stick. Also known by various ethnic names such as knobkerry or shillelagh.


A Mace is a club with spiked enhancements. It may be a head mounted on a fixed handle. Often confused with a flail, which is a brass spiked ball, on the end of a length of chain.

There are a few more under "Bashing Weapons" on the List of mêlée weapons.

Chopping Weapons


May be thrown or used offensively or defensively at close quarters (obsolete in modern warfare). The indigenous North American version of this is the Tomahawk


Used commonly in medieval warfare as the primary chopping weapon. It was liked because it could be thin enough to be swung at high speeds, but heavy enough to crush or break an opponent's armour or shield. Today they are used to cut down trees and to shape timber for temporary fortifications, but are otherwise obsolete in warfare. It must be borne in mind that "obsolete" is not the same as "useless".


A halberd is a combination of the axe's blade and the spear's length and point. Commonly used in the front line because it could keep enemies at a safe distance for the men in the rear to launch arrows, yet could still be used in close combat if one side's line broke. It also found use, as did the spear, as a weapon for disabling warriors on horseback. Today, halberds are obsolete in combat.

Penetrating Weapons


The spear is a stabbing weapon made from mounting a sharp point on a pole. It is one of humanity's oldest weapons due to its simplicity, has been used since prehistory and has existed in one form or another throughout all of human history. In warfare it is extremely useful when used in large groups. The idea of a spearman is the basis for many military forces throughout history. For more information see spear.


The pike is essentially a very long spear not intended to be thrown; this was used by pikemen to defend archers, infantry, musketeers, etc., against cavalry by rooting the shank against the ground and positioning it against advancing opponents. More mobile tactics were developed in the 15th century by the Swiss Confederacy (see pike square) (obsolete).


The Rapier is a light sword-like weapon without an edge, being used with a single handed grip only to parry (deflect the opponent's weapon) and to thrust or to slash with the tip. It is today used only in the sport of fencing.


Attached to a rifle, a bayonet allows the rifle to be used as a short spear for thrusting. It is still issued to soldiers in even the most modern of armies today.


The bow has the advantage of relatively long range and quiet (stealthy) operation. It's obsolete as a mass use weapon, but still useful in stealthy covert operations. For such operations a complex compound bow may be used that includes special sighting devices. A modern crossbow may be used for the same tasks.


The crossbow may be used where a standard bow is inappropriate; one would not waste highly-trained longbowmen when more plebeian crossbowmen could be used. The crossbow requires less training, but is much slower with which to fire a second shot. It is especially suitable for use by less skilled or weaker soldiers. This became an effective medium-range weapon for use against metal plate personal armour. Also used in massive numbers as an area defense weapon in the protection of fortifications, propelling short arrows called bolts or fléchettes (fr. "little arrows"). In this use it was not aimed at a specific target but sent on a high, arcing path into masses of opponents. The crossbow is obsolete as a mass use weapon. It remains an effective stealth weapon for special operations, though of limited range.


Handguns are firearms that can be operated with one hand. Their small size makes them convenient for extended carry as well as the primary option for concealed carry.

Over time, handguns have gone from single shot muzzle loaders, to revolvers, to the modern semi-automatic pistol.

Handguns are used today for personal defense and as a primary firearm in today's armies and police forces. In the military, they are typically used by officers and guard captains for short-range self-defense in combat, rather than as an attack weapon. The seven shot Colt M1911 automatic pistol is exemplary of this type, although modern types tend to carry a greater quantity (more than a dozen) of lighter, but less powerful, 9 mm rounds. Even when semiautomatics were preferred for general military use during the 1960s, U.S. Navy pilots were equipped with allegedly more reliable .38 cal. revolvers for self-defense, loaded with tracer rounds for distress signaling.

Long Guns

Musket (obsolete)

The musket fires a round lead ball from a smooth bore and is loaded from the discharge end (and is so called a muzzle loader). Owing to the relatively loose fit of the ball (as compared to a rifle), a relatively high rate of fire of about three rounds per minute is possible with training and practice. Muskets are most effectively applied by a group of soldiers forming a row three deep. The front of row is the firing group, who move to the back row upon firing and then reload while moving forward. All firing and movements are controlled by a platoon leader, typically a junior officer. The weapon was especially suitable for use by relatively unskilled soldiers, but effective employment required substantial military discipline as the musketeers are usually exposed to enemy fire from similarly equipped opponents and from cannon fire. Under U.S. law, muzzleloaders such as muskets are defined as weapons and not as firearms.

Early Rifle (obsolete)

Unlike the musket, the rifle has a grooved barrel to spin the bullet with gyroscopic forces. The spinning increases the accuracy and range, because a cylindrical bullet creates less air resistance and has greater range.

Muskets, smooth bore pistols and early rifles are classified by the ignition mechanism (called the lock) used to fire the weapon. These include matchlock, flintlock and wheelock types. Until the development of the Minié ball the rifle had longer reloading time than the musket. This was because the rifling made it more difficult to ram a bullet down the barrel. The Minié Ball was slightly smaller than the barrel and had a divot in the end of the bullet. The fact that it was sub-caliber made it easy to ram the Minié Ball down the barrel, but the gases produced by the gunpowder would expand it to full size once it was fired. This development rendered the rifle superior over the musket in all ways. The pre-Minié Ball weapon was less effective in field maneuvers, but possessed a long and accurate range. When used by a skilled operator a rifle was highly effective in defense where a long field of fire had been cleared and the weapon was used for selective fire, rather than as a volley of simultaneous fire. Unlike the musket it was also suitable as a sniping weapon by attackers against a fixed defense and for use after a stealthy approach.

Under U.S. law, muzzleloaders such as early rifles, or replicas thereof, that do not use cartridges, are defined as weapons and not as firearms.

Breech Loader

The successor to the muzzle loader was the breech loading rifle. Instead of loading from the muzzle, the breech loader loaded from opening the breech some way. Breech loaders had a much higher rate of fire and can be reloaded from a prone position, greatly increasing the survivability of troops. This ability was particularly advantageous in defense where the troops may be lightly protected by low revetments and shallow trenches.


A rifle that has been shortened (in comparison to the original variant) and been made lighter. These were originally made for use on horseback. Currently, carbines are used for close quarters combat, where their smaller size is an advantage, for guard duty, where their light weight reduces fatigue, and are issued as Personal Defense Weapons in some militaries.


Modern rifles are almost always breech loading, although some muzzle loaders exist. They are usually semi-automatic, fully automatic, bolt action, lever action, or single shot. A battle rifle is a military-issue/surplus full-length rifle which fires a major caliber (30-caliber/7.62 millimeter and above). Rifles are used for almost everything from target shooting and hunting to warfare. The battle rifle, at that time a muzzle-loading musket or rifle, is considered to be the primary weapon in mind when the Second Amendment to the American Constitution was drafted. Examples of rifles include those of the British SA80 and the American M16, both of which fire a 5.56 standard sized round.

Sniper rifle

Sniper Rifles are weapons designed for precision firing at an enemy to allow a more precise impact point on the enemy, to fire from a longer range than usual, or both. Sniper rifles usually have telescopic sighting devices and fire a more powerful cartridge that has a flatter trajectory and more power than the intermediate cartridges typically employed by assault rifles. Examples of sniper rifles are the M24, M40, and the Dragunov SVD. Sniper rifles are typically employed by specialist operators selected for their competency. They are often trained in stealth and in intelligence-gathering operations and employed as a one- or two-person unit. A sniper team will consist of a two snipers with one operating the sniper rifle in the role of shooter and the other assisting with a spotting telescope as a spotter to assist in set-up, determining the opportune time to fire, and assessing the results of the shot. Team employment was seen in the 2005 movie production Jarhead, based on a US Marine sniper's autobiography. See also sniper.

Fully Automatic Weapons

Full automatic fire allows multiple rounds to be fired with a single trigger pull. Ammunition may be stored in long clips or drums for lighter weapons or on "belts" of linked cartridges.

Submachine Gun

A submachine gun is a weapon designed to fire a pistol cartridge in automatic mode and is employed in close quarters battle. They were the first fully automatic hand-held weapons. Nowadays they are used in close quarters when an assault rifle would be too bulky or may have too much penetration. Some popular submachine guns are the WW2 Thompson submachine gun, the HK MP5 and the IMI Uzi.

Assault rifle

The assault rifle was born in World War II when the Germans developed the Stg44, revolutionizing the battlefield. The main characteristic of the assault rifle is the usage of an intermediate cartridge, smaller and less powerful than those used in the battle rifle but with greater speed and power than those used in pistols and submachine guns. Depending on the model, an assault rifle's effective range can go from 300 m to 500 m. The assault rifle is now the standard weapon used by infantry for most of the planet. A selective fire function will allow single shots to be fired, and modern doctrine encourages the provision of an automatic fire mode of short bursts of three rounds, both to increase kill probability compared to a single shot while conserving ammunition compared to full automatic mode.

The main characteristics of assault rifles compared to battle rifles are: less recoil, less weight, less power, less range, bigger magazine capacity, higher rate of fire.

Compared to submachine guns, they have more recoil, are heavier, have more power, and more range.

The two best known assault rifles in history are the Russian AK-47 designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov and the American Colt M16, originally designed by Eugene Stoner. Both have hundreds of rifles based on them, either copies or extreme variants.

Light Machine Gun

An example of the light machine gun (LMG) would be the M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) used by the U.S. army. Light machine guns use a rifle round, either a full power or intermediate round, and are operated using a bipod or a light tripod mount. They are usually belt fed or have a larger than normal magazine. This allows LMGs to have more firepower than assault rifles. A light machine gun (LMG) is used to provide covering fire to friendly troops.


Shotguns are useful only at short range, so they are used in close quarters combat or in home defense situations. Shotguns are also used commonly to hunt birds. The main advantages of shotguns are their ease of use and high lethality at close range. Their disadvantages are a short range and limited magazine capacity. Most shotguns are of break action, pump action or are semi-automatic, although muzzleloading shotguns still are used for special-season hunting. The most common antipersonnel shotgun shell is buckshot, which is a number of metal balls, usually lead, that diverge on firing. The balls are called shot. There is also birdshot which is the same concept with smaller shot. They can also be used with a large "slug" round effectively giving the user a high-caliber, high-impact round. A number of special rounds have been developed for the shotgun including flechette rounds which consist of tightly packed metal darts, incendiary rounds, less-than-lethal cartridges that use rubber balls or flexible bags of shot, and anti-material rounds.

Under U.S. law, muzzleloading shotguns, whether originals or replicas thereof, are defined as weapons and not as firearms.

Grenade Launcher

A grenade launcher is a device that launches a rifle grenade. Modern rifle grenades resemble small artillery shells or very large pistol cartridges. These grenades are typically launched from an accessory for a rifle in the form of a launcher mounted under the rifle's barrel, as in the case of the M203 grenade launcher. There are also stand-alone models, such as the M79 and modifications for the M203 and AG36. The western countries usually use 40mm grenades, while 30mm grenades are more common in the East, and especially in the former Soviet Bloc. Older rifle grenades look more like hand grenades with stabilizing fins. They are launched from a device that is mounted on the muzzle of a rifle. With older rifle grenades, a blank round (a cartridge without a bullet) is used to generate the propelling gas to launch a grenade. Modern rifle grenades have the advantage that they can be used at the same time as the rifle and have a greater range. There are even fully automatic grenade launchers, like the Mk 19, which resemble belt-fed machine guns.

Hand Grenade

Hand grenades are small explosive devices that are thrown. A soldier will typically have several of these. Hand grenades usually have a time delay fuse of several seconds. Some types of grenade have impact fuses, usually anti-tank grenades.

Fragmentation type

An explosive charge is contained within a rigid shell scored so that it breaks into small fragments propelled at high speed. This increases the effective radius of the weapon. The standard U.S. military M67 grenade has a kill radius of 5 meters, a wounding radius of 15 meters and danger radius up to 150 meters.

Concussion type

Concussion grenades have an explosive charge that is intended to shock with a pressure wave, potentially with lethal effect. The lack of fragments limits the effective range and offers greater safety to the person employing this weapon. Concussion grenades are used in situations where the operator has limited cover from fragments, and in enclosed/semi-sealed spaces when the user can remain outside the space.

Anti-tank type

Anti-tank grenades use the shaped charge principle to penetrate a tank’s armor. They usually have impact fuses, but some types, like the No 74 sticky bomb, do not. A shaped charge only works if it hits head on, so most anti-tank grenades have some sort of fins or streamers to insure a successful impact. Due to the effectiveness of modern tank armor, anti-tank grenades are mostly obsolete.

Flash type

A grenade with a low probability of lethality, this makes a loud report with moderate concussive force and a bright flash and does not throw shrapnel. It is intended to shock, temporarily blind, deafen, and disorient persons in a confined space so that they may be overcome and restrained. Typically used by SWAT teams in police units and in commando operations attempting a live capture for subsequent interrogation.

Smoke type

Smoke grenades are used to provide cover for movement and for signaling, with the latter usually employing various colors of smoke.

Anti-matériel weapons

Anti-matériel rifle

An anti-matériel rifle is a very large caliber weapon used primarily to destroy lightly armored or unarmored targets, or unexploded ordnance. They are similar to sniper rifles. Common calibers used are .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun), 14.5mm, and 20mm. An example is the M82 Barret.

Anti-matériel shotgun shell

A shotgun shell may contain various loads of the same gross mass, from fine shot to large shot to solid slug. One loading is devised to destroy equipment, particularly electronics and computers, and is composed of a solid cylindrical and hard mass divided into four to eight solid segments, with sharp edges and corners. These are effective in penetrating and destroying delicate electronic equipment. There are also shotgun shells that are filled with a metal powder for door breaching. The powder stays together as a mass to destroy the latch, but dissipates upon impact so nothing on the other side of the door is hurt.


The flamethrower propels a burning stream of flammable fluid. It is primarily used against occupied fortifications. There many types of flamethrower, from backpack-sized units to ones that are mounted in place of a tank's main gun. Backpack flamethrowers have a very limited fuel supply, sufficient for only seconds of fire, and very short range. However, they are devastating both physically and psychologically.

Improvised weapons

  • Booby trap. This is typically left by retreating forces to cause death or injury to advancing forces or to re-occupying civilians. A typical employment would be to place a grenade, with the pin removed, under an object expected to be displaced by the new occupier, or within a can and attached to a trip wire. Many types of booby trap exist, ranging from the simple and small to the massive and complex.
  • Improvised explosive device (IED). Any weapon modified or created in a field expedient manner so as to explode, causing damage to personnel or matériel, By definition, an IED is a device that has been altered to detonate when it should not. A typical device may be constructed using an artillery round, some type of detonating mechanism, and a wired or radio operated triggering device such as a cellphone or garage door control. These are employed against road traffic and triggered by a nearby observer. During the Vietnam War anti-tank mines would be constructed by villagers supporting the NLF using explosive compounds removed from unexploded aerial bombs. IED's are used by insurgents in Iraq quite frequently.
  • Molotov cocktail. A thrown device, this uses flammable fluid in a breakable container and an ignition source. The ignition source may be an actual contact fuse or something as simple as a flaming rag that will ignite the mixture when the bottle breaks.

Anti-aircraft weapons

Anti-aircraft weapons exist in all types. The only ones that can be classified as personal weapons are shoulder launched missiles, also called MANPADS. These use either infrared guidance or ride laser beams. MANPADS have short range, but are a very serious threat to low-flying attack aircraft or attack helicopters. Modern examples of shoulder launched missiles are the FIM-92 Stinger, SA-16 and the British Javelin.

Anti-structure weapons

Satchel Charges

Large explosives intended to be placed or thrown at short range against structures or to destroy matériel useful to the enemy.

Antitank Weapons

Recoilless Rifle

A recoilless rifle fires a large shell that resembles an artillery shell. Instead of having a closed breech like a conventional gun, it is open on both ends. This allows the recoil gases to escape and balance the recoil. This has the disadvantage of creating a dangerous backblast. This concept is also applied to shoulder launched rockets and missiles. (For a shoulder launched German World War II example see Panzerfaust.) While recoilless rifles were invented in World War II, one variant, the Carl Gustav rifle, is still in use today.

Shoulder Fired Rocket

The shoulder fired rocket was designed as an anti-tank weapon, but nowadays it is often used as a general purpose weapon. They launch unguided rockets. Unlike disposable launchers, they can be reloaded. In addition to ground vehicles, shoulder fired rockets have been used effectively against infantry and even helicopters. The original shoulder fired rocket was the American Bazooka. Both it and its German counterpart, the Panzerschreck were developed during the Second World War. The most common type today is the RPG-7

Shoulder-Fired Disposable Rocket

Shoulder-fired disposable rockets designed to be fired from a one-use tube. These are distinct from missiles in that they are not guided. The first weapon of this type was the Panzerfaust, made in Germany during World War II. They are either for anti-tank or anti-matériel use. Modern examples include the LAW, the RPG-18 and the AT4.

Shoulder-Fired Disposable Tube Missile

A shoulder-fired missile is a guided missile that is fired from a one-use tube. Usually the guidance system is retained and another missile tube is attached, but this is not always the case. There are a number of guidance systems for missiles of this type. Often these missiles have a “cold launch” system where the initial propellant of the rocket is with a gas charge. This allows the weapon to be used in close quarters where the backblast of a normal launcher would be dangerous. Examples of this type are the American Javelin and the ERYX

Anti-tank rifle (Obsolete)

An anti-tank rifle is a large rifle designed to penetrate tanks, used in World War I and World War II. This may be mounted on a light wheeled carriage for increased mobility in the field. In World War II, they were only useful against lightly armored vehicles. See Boys rifle.



The "Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank" (PIAT) was used by the United Kingdom from 1943 to 1950. Instead of using a rocket to launch the warhead, the PIAT’s shell was launched by a large spring and then propelled by a charge.

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