People often talk of how the AK-47 rifle (and to a lesser extent the M-16 which opposed it) is a symbolic weapon. Not only has it played a role in pretty much every world conflict since its inception, it even appears in silhouette on the flag of Mozambique.
There are several famous knife styles whose profiles are recognizable and carry outsized symbolism. The Ka-Bar and Bowie-style knives come to mind. However, there is probably no other knife that has the historical significance and symbolism of the Fairbairn-Sykes (or F-S) Fighting Knife. This knife’s silhouette is featured on the battle flag of the WWII British Commandos, it is on the emblems for Commando Units of the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. It is even a part of the US Army’s Special Forces insignia (technically its close-cousin and decedent the v-42 is represented) as well. This isn’t just symbolism though, the F-S remains an issue knife for forces in Malasia, the UK, and Greece.
In a sense, the name “Fighting Knife” is a bit of a misnomer. When employed as designed, there is very little “fighting” involved. This is an assassin’s knife. It is meant for thrusting through layers of clothing, between the ribs, and into the vital organs. Designed by William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes, it drew on their experiences serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police in the years before WWII.
My introduction to this famous knife came in about the 8th grade when I was reading WEB Griffin’s The Corps series of books, where the main protagonist – a young Marine named Kenneth McCoy carries one, and uses it early in the series when he kills an Italian Marine in a street fight in self-defense.
I have wanted to do a “Know your Knives” piece for a while now, but in my initial research I was finding either Wikipedia-level histories which were a bit on the general side for TTAK, or sites like the quite informative Fairbairnsykesfightingknives.com which is encyclopedic in its detail and history, but not the easiest site to try and blog about. It worth checking out if you want to explore the topic further. There is also a recent book by Leroy Thompson: Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife which looks to be well done, though I have not seen it myself.
One of our readers sent me a link that hit the sweet spot between superficial and bogged in minutia. “This Commando Blade was for Stabbing Nazis in the Back” comes from Medium.com, and is a fantastic read.
From the article:
“David Decker, a U.S. Navy veteran and Fairbairn-Sykes knife collector, said training with the blade taught confidence and aggression. In the hands of a properly-trained individual, it’s a fearsome weapon.
“The knife has tremendous capacity for penetration of an enemy’s clothing, web gear and person,” Decker told War Is Boring. “A vital part of the training was the instruction in hitting lethal targets on the human body.”
“Many of these targets had to be reached through the rib cage, so the slender blade was most efficient,” Decker added.
“The approximately seven-inch blade is capable of reaching all vital organs. Fluid in the hands, the grip was designed like that of a fencing foil to enhance the maneuverability of the knife.”
Someday I would like to get my hands on one to add to my collection. It isn’t a knife I have much of a use for, I just like the history. In the words of Mr. Decker:
“At least one knife-maker was quoted as saying he made knives for stabbing Germans, not peeling potatoes”.
Since I encounter very few Nazis in the course of my daily activities, I think I will stick with something more EDC friendly for the time being.