Article's Done for the O.K.C.A. in 1995
KA-BAR's Military Commemoratives
From it's humble beginnings in 1942 until today, the name KABAR has been synonymous with the style of knife known correctly as the U.S.N. MK-II or the U.S.M.C. FIGHTING / UTILITY knife. That knife known for it's rugged dependability, classic style and large numbers available was produced by the KA-BAR firm until the end of World War II. With the large numbers taken home by sailors, soldiers and Marines it's easy to see why the need for this knife on the market was non-existent. So production was halted on the MK-II by KA-BAR. That is until 1976, when it was brought back to life in the form of a commemorative.
The special occasion that was to mark the reemergence of the MK-II into the KA-BAR line was none other than the 200th birthday of the UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS. What better way to announce the "new" product, than to commemorate the men who made it famous. This knife was to be made according to the original blueprints still on file at the KA-BAR factory. But that's all that would be the same, for it would be highly embellished with gold plating and engraving like no other factory fighting knife was before. It was also to be produced in limited numbers so that it would be eagerly sought out by collectors also. The production numbers given by the KA-BAR collectors club places the total at 1500. The original prices for this knife were as follows. Serial numbers 2 - 49 $300.00, 50 - 99 $200.00, 100 - 199 $150.00, and 200 - up $100.00. The knife was available in a walnut case with blue velvet lining and a gold plaque inside saying that this reproduction was made in the same factory and by some of the same craftsman as the originals. The knife itself was silver plated on all metal parts, engraved on the guard and pommel with oak leaves and the pommel was capped with the famous GLOBE and ANCHOR of the U.S.M.C.. The blade itself was laser engraved, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS / 200TH ANNIVERSARY / 10 NOVEMBER 1775 - 1975 in gold. Needless to say the knife was a big hit and is nearly impossible to find one for sale today.
The next commemorative to be released by KA-BAR was in 1978. This knife was to commemorate the U.S.M.C. FIGHTING KNIFE OF WORLD WAR II. It was a much simpler affair then the previously issued knife. The finish on this knife was the only difference from the regular production item, this knife had a very deep gun blue on all the metal parts. It was also available in a presentation case to mark it as a commemorative and was serial numbered. Prices are as follows. Serial numbers 2 - 100 $150.00, 101 - 500 $75.00, 501 - 1000 $60.00 and 1001 & up $50.00. The total production figures for this knife are 1200.
It wasn't until 1990 that KA-BAR released it's next commemorative of the MK-II knife. This was to commemorate the 50th ANNIVERSARY OF WORLD WAR II. This knife had a laser engraved blade, over the parkerized finish. It was not serial numbered and seemed to be their regular production knife with an engraved blade. The original price was $45.00 and a wooden case with a Plexiglas cover for mounting on a wall was optional. Original production numbers on this knife are not available but I would guess them to be high due to the low asking price. The example I have is in it's original box and has the price tag still on it, $100.00.
In the very next year 1991, KA-BAR released their next commemoratives. Yes two were released in 1991. The first was the U.S.M.C. PEARL HARBOR 50th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE. This is the rarest of the commemoratives released by KA-BAR to date, as only 942 total knives were produced. The blade was laser engraved and gold filled with a battle scene of the Pearl Harbor attack. It also included the dates 1941 - 1991. This knife was also available in a wooden presentation case as an option. The price was $48.00 for the knife. 1991 also marked the year KA-BAR changed their finish on the MK-II. The new finish was more like a coating than the old Parkerizing finish. The second knife was the DESERT STORM COMMEMORATIVE. This knife also had a laser engraved and gold filled blade depicting an eagles head, ships, tanks and aircraft of that war. The dates JANUARY 17 thru FEBRUARY 28 1991 are engraved in a ribbon over the scene. This knife is also not serial numbered and came in a desert camouflage nylon sheath. A wooden presentation case was optional. The price was also $48.00 for this knife. The total production numbers were 5,256, the highest yet.
The year 1993, the new issue THE VIETNAM COMMEMORATIVE 1965 - 1973. Twenty years after the war ended KA-BAR was there to commemorate it. This knife was much like it's predecessors in that it had a laser engraved and gold filled blade. The scene depicted helicopters, tanks and men in battle. The ribbon above the scene was engraved VIETNAM Heroism Never To Be Forgotten 1965 - 1973. This knife is also not serial numbered. The total production numbers are not known as this knife was still available in 1994. The price was $60.00 and it came with a woodland camouflage nylon sheath. The wooden presentation case was also optional with this knife.
The last KA-BAR commemorative to date was released in 1994. This knife is very unique in that it is the only KA-BAR (OR ANY OTHER MAKER FOR THAT FACT) to be blade stamped U.S. ARMY ! This knife is to commemorate the 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE D-DAY LANDING AT NORMANDY FRANCE. It also has a laser engraved and gold filled blade. The scene depicts Landing Craft beached with men wading ashore, tanks, aircraft, and parachutist above. The ribbon engraved above the scene is etched, LIBERATION D-DAY WORLD WAR II JUNE 6, 1944. This knife is also not serial numbered and production is still active, so total figures are not available. The knife comes with a leather sheath stamped KA-BAR (over the U.S. ARMY EAGLE and SHIELD) U.S. / ARMY. The price is $60.00 and a wooden presentation case is optional. The box shows a picture of the original blueprints and are labeled "modified" with the U.S. ARMY blade stamp. Could it be the ARMY turned down this knife in 1942 ?
That's a run down of the commemoratives officially offered by KA-BAR. As you can see the MK-II lives on, and is a great platform for this type of collector piece. Easily recognizable as a fighting knife that has been handed down through the years and holds a special spot in many hearts.
A Series on theU.S. Fighting Knives of World War II
In this series I will try to cover the Standard Fighting Knives issued to and used by U.S. forces.
Many knives were used by the U.S. Servicemen of World War II and to try to cover each and every one would take many volumes. Instead we will focus only on what the records prove to be standard issue. The years to be covered will be 1941 to 1946, in this way we can also touch on the pre-war period and findings for the post years. This list is by no means meant to be complete, but is only what I think to be original from the records I could find.
M1918 Mark 1 Trench Knife
For those of you who think I've lost it already by the above date's, hold onto your hat's and humor me for a few more lines. At the start of W.W.II the U.S. did not possess a standard issue fighting knife. As a matter of fact the only standard knife in the "combat" inventory was the M2 Parachutist switch blade knife. Used for cutting static lines in the plane or shroud lines if caught in a tree, this knife did little to help in battle. The 1918 Mk 1 Trench knife was declared "Limited Standard" in 1927 and was not replaced by any other type of fighting knife, hence at the start of W.W.II the U.S. was without a fighting knife. While the Ordnance Department was besieged with requests for knives the Infantry Board recommended them to proceed with development of a new knife. But the inventory still showed 139,000 Mk 1's as ready so it was immediately issued to the troops on the front lines. Thus our first fighting knife of W.W.II was 23 years old. These knives were used to fill the demand while the new program commenced. These knives were issued to Rangers, paratroopers and other special units. Initially the Ordnance Department considered re-standardizing this knife and starting up production, but other considerations scrapped this idea. First and foremost was the high use of brass, a strategic metal in the making of shell casings, and the uncomfortable grip, that could only be held one way, spelled the end of the line for the Mk 1.
The 1918 Mark 1 Trench knife was made by 3 U.S. companies and 1 French concern. The large majority of these knives were made by L.F.& C. (Landers, Frary & Clark) of New Britain Connecticut. These knives had an all brass handle, and a 6 3/4" double edged blade. The handle was cast with the maker and the date "U.S. 1918 (over) LF&C - 1918". The entire knife and iron scabbard was chemically blackened so as not to reflect light. Most knives found today have had this black finish removed by it's previous owner as none were issued this way. This is perhaps the most common Mk 1 Trench knife found on the market today.
The second U.S. company to make the Mk 1 was H.D.& S. (Henry Disston & Sons) of Philadelphia. H.D.& S. was a large tool maker at the time of the awarding of the contract. This knife was marked in the same way as the L.F.& C. by having the date and name cast into the handle" U.S. 1918 / H.D.& S. 1918". Very few of these knives were made and are a real rarity to see for sale today. The blade had the same double edged profile and the iron scabbard was identical.
The third U.S. company to produce the Mk 1 was O.C.L. (Oneida Community Limited) believed to be of Oneida N.Y. This knife was produced (if it was produced at all) in only prototype amounts. Of the two I have examined the fitting was not good on either. In Cole's book III he shows only the handle. I have a 24 March 1944 dated Ordnance supply catalog that still lists the Mk 1 Trench knife and the Higher Echelon Spare Parts to be carried. In this catalog the handle is a part that could be ordered for replacement. Perhaps O.C.L only made handles for spare parts and a few samples for testing on the contract bid. This example is by far the rarest Mk 1 Trench knife made. It's marking's are the same as the others U.S. 1918 / O.C.L. 1918.
The one French knife was made by AuLion. This knife was made before the U.S. companies could get the production started during W.W.I. This knife like the others has a 6 3/4" blade but it was left bright. It is also stamped on the blade Au lion underneath a reposed lion. The handle has only the date cast into it "U.S. 1918". As for the handle there were two styles made, one has two grooves running the length on the top and the second lacks these grooves. The handles were left bright brass.
Many of these knives are now found with leather sheaths made during W.W.II. None were issued in leather. Another common modification was to cut off the guard on the side closest to the body for a more comfortable and closer wear. During the war these knives were prized by the older veterans who had last held one in the Great War. Many were given to sons by their veteran fathers who also used them in that conflict. The knife filled the gap until the U.S. contractors could get up to speed on the next generation fighting knife. Any guesses what knife is next in the series?
A Series on the U.S. Fighting Knives of World War II
PART II IN THE SERIES
The second fighting knife to be issued to U.S. forces during W.W.II was not then even thought of as a knife. The piece of cutlery pressed into service as a fighting knife was none other than the Collins # 18 Machete. The Collins # 18 had been available in the Army Air Corps survival kits as early as 1934. This is thought to be were it was first seen and "appropriated" by several fighting men. But by far the best know version of this piece is referred to as the "Gung Ho Knife". The name "Gung Ho" is a Chinese term meaning roughly "work together". The term was brought into the U.S. Military by then Major Evans Fordyce Carlson. You see Carlson had already served a long detached duty with the Chinese 8th Route Army as an observer during the Sino-Japanese War. It is also noted that Carlson was a New England Yankee so it is certain that he had come into contact with other Collins tools. The first of the "knives" to see such usage was a special order coming from Capt. William E. Schwerin C.O. of F.Co. 2nd Raider Bn. Possibly 6 special order Collins #18's were sent for directly from Collinsville. These pieces could be distinguished from the Air Corps models by having a nickel plated guard and commercial Collins markings. One of these "knives" was then shown to Carlson and his Executive Officer Major James Roosevelt (son of then President F.D.R ). The thought immediately came to mind of how useful they could be in the proposed jungle fighting area of the Raiders. Needing to pack light, this one tool could be used for many purposes such as Machete (how about that), Intrenching tool. and Fighting knife. This last purpose is the subject we are most interested in. The thought of having a "big knife" went a long way in the morale department. So the order was placed directly with Collins for 1000 #18's by the U.S. Marine Corps to be issued to the 2nd Raider Bn. This order took place sometime early in 1942. The "knives" were received and issued in late August 1942.
On November 4, 1942 the 2nd Raiders landed on the island of Guadalcanal and made their famous 30 day patrol behind enemy lines, utilizing their "Gung Ho" knives for numerous purposes. As a side note it was during this patrol that the 2nd Raiders inflicted more casualties on the enemy than it's own numerical strength. This feat also landed now Lt. Col. Carlson his third Navy Cross, our Nations second highest Medal. The Raiders went on to perform other marvelous feats during the war and this is what brought the "Gung Ho" knife into prominence.
This style of "knife" was also made by other companies during the war but all were meant to be survival kit machete's. The Collins was the only one to be issued as a fighting knife. The others who made this style were Case, Kinfolks and Western. All are highly collectable today and the variations of these basic models could raise or lower the price by hundreds of dollars. It is also interesting to note that they are commonly referred to today as the V-44, this is a case of mistaken identity. The real V-44 was a non-folding machete made by Case for the U.S. Navy in 1944 hence the V-44. Somewhere over the years this name was applied to the Collins #18 and it stuck.
Of the "knives" made by Collins there were four variations made during the war. The first of these was the original Air Corps issue with Green Horn handle and Yellow Brass rivets and Guard. The second was also with Green Horn handle and Brass rivets but had the Nickel plated Guard over Red Brass. The third version is what we commonly refer to today as the "Gung Ho" knife. It also had Green Horn Handles with Yellow Brass rivets and a Heavier, thicker Yellow Brass Guard. The fourth and final version to be made during W.W.II was with Black Plastic Handles Red Brass Guard and Steel Rivets. Apparently Yellow Brass was getting harder to come by as Collins switched back to the Red Brass that they had used prior to the war. I am sure that during the switch over period that Brass rivets were used on Black Plastic Handles so for the person that has one, you have a very interesting and rare piece.
All the above versions were issued in the Collins #13 sheath. This sheath was not meant to be worn on a web belt and had no provisions for hooks. It was also made of thin leather and could not stand up to the moisture it encountered in the jungle climates. Many "knives" today are seen with replacement sheaths, the most common being the U.S.M.C. Hospital Corps bolo sheath made by Boyt Leather. The original Collins sheath was made by Page Belting Company. After they were received by Collins many had oval rings attached to the bottom to be used as a leg tie down thong. This proved to be annoying to many Raiders, catching on brush, as many sheaths can be seen today with the bottom cut off.
This design was largely copied in the Pacific area and many Australian knives show the Collins lines. One of the most copied knives of that time was the "Ranger" cast brass handled knife made by Leech Casting Company of Sydney. One word of caution, this knife has been reproduced many times over the years so be careful if you are to buy one and demand documentation as you won't be able to sell it without it. Another interesting piece that has been associated with the Raiders over the years but in reality was never issued to them was the Aluminum Handled "Gung Ho" knife made in New Zealand. Col. Carlson's son Evan C. Carlson was Transferred from the 2nd Raiders to the 1st. Bn, 21st. Marine Regiment in Feb. 1943 and while stationed there he had 1000 knives made up for his Battalion. These knives were reminiscent of the "Gung Ho" knives but had cast Aluminum handles and Guards. As by this time Lt. Carlson had no connection with the Raiders they were not issued to Raiders at all.
So concludes the second part in the U.S. Fighting "Knives" series. What are your guesses on number 3 ?