Let us never forget those brave men and women who are in service, those veterans who have served, and those who died for our freedom. And for those "men" who refuse to stand for the national Anthem you have my eternal disdain. Remembering my Father who was the consummate warrior and lived for a good fight. God Bless America and all our troops, watch over our Nation and our President.
So what types of knives were available and suitable for those troops not enamored with the F-S format? Wilkinson, early in the war, provided what small stock it had of hunting knives and daggers. Many of these were referred to as RBD knives, so named after the designer R. Beauchamp Drummond Esq. whose initials were on the design drawing. These were Bowie like in style and came in a variety of lengths. The Shakespear knife was also an option. They were designed by adventurer Capt. William Shakespear who hunted dangerous game in India. Wilkinson made these knives too.
Then there were all of the assorted punch daggers, knuckle and trench knives from WW-I. Whether they were suitable for combat in WW-2 or not is questionable. But some men either modified their issue knives to have knuckles or ordered custom knuckle knives. The BC-41 is the iconic knuckle knife and some say the “BC” stands for British Commando. To be honest I have not thoroughly looked into that.
Simple hunting knives were a good option, since they provided greater versatility and functionality than the double edged F-S. I have seen photos of commandos reportedly butchering livestock with their command daggers. There is no knife more poorly designed for that chore than an F-S knife! A good folding knife would have been far more useful for those domestic or survival chores.
Many “combat” knives were modified from kitchen knives, made from files or other sharp or pointy tools like awls or sharpening steels. Bayonets and swords were chopped down to more manageable sizes and re-purposed into fighting knives. I even saw a fighting knife made from ½ of a sheep shears. Desperate times demand desperate methods. Many collectors focus on theater-made or modified knives, those created in the theaters of combat. Many of those primitive knives gave more mental comfort than martial advantage. Often the blades were poorly shaped and questionably heat treated. The up-side for today’s collector is they are usually inexpensive to buy and are limitless in style.
So not everyone wanted a Fairbairn-Sykes and many who were issued one did not carry it. I was contacted by one person whose grandfather preferred his leather washer handled dagger over his Wilkinson First Pattern. When you wonder how it’s possible for mint condition F-S knives to show up in sales and auctions, remember not everyone was in love with the F-S knife and some troops probably stuck them away in a footlocker or sea bag and carried their trusted hunting knife.
My next post will be a segment from my F-S book.
In the past 40 plus years I have amassed what may be one of the largest and most diverse collection of Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knives anywhere. At an early age I fell in love with the clean lines and no-nonsense functionality. Notice I did not say utility. The F-S knife is very much a one trick pony. It is a knife specifically designed to kill enemy sentries or soldiers in hand to hand combat.
It was not beloved by all military men during World War 2. Many soldiers complained that it had small metal handles, cold to the touch, slippery when wet, and the round shape made orienting the knife in one's hand in the dark difficult. Some troops wrapped the handles with cordage, leather thongs, or even tape to build up the diameter. These modification also improved the gripping and gave a warmer feel to the handles. They were less concerned about the precise balance than Fairbairn was.
Some of the more adventurous had the handles replaced with various materials. These included stag antler, varieties of wood, kitchen cutlery handles, wooden file handles, leather washers, washers of Plexiglas and metal among other options. Many times the knives so modified provided a better solution than the original handles. On some occasions the owners also replaced the guards but this was not as common a modification. A fighting knife is the most personal weapon a man ever carries and personalization of the knife was often just to reflect his tastes.
The better ones were converted by machinists and people having access to lathes and drill presses. The less successful ones were field modified, sometimes categorized as "Theater-made." Once I had satisfied my appetite for collecting standard models I branched out in search of what are known as "variants." Now variants, unlike theater made knives, are different designs but production made. Some are more common like the ubiquitous wood-handled, while others are more scarce like the hexagonal alloy gripped knives, or the "Polish" smooth handled knives.
Once you begin collecting these there are greater chances of buying a fake or a treasure. The difficulty is knowing which is which. Hopefully once my book is in print you will have a guide to assist you in determining which you have before you put down your hard earned cash. The real enjoyment comes from finding a knife unlike any you have seen before. One tip I would offer is to try to buy knives that have their original sheaths. Usually a person making fake knives does not go to the effort to make a sheath for it.
The next blog will be about alternative knives that were popular with the troops.
You can find out more about me on the "Stories" pages. My hobbies have included training in Japanese martial arts, including Kenjutsu, many forms of knife fighting, long range rifles and tactical firearms. I have written several self published books on muzzle-loading firearms, knife-fighting and textbooks on gas engines and compressors. I am working diligently on my 400+ page F-S book.