Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife: Silencing Foes Since 1941

London's Wilkinson Sword and other makers produced nearly 2 million knives by the end of World War II. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)
London's Wilkinson Sword and other makers produced nearly 2 million knives by the end of World War II. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)

When Major William Ewart Fairbairn, chief of police for the British concession in prewar Shanghai, China, collaborated with Eric Anthony Sykes to design a special knife, he had murder on his mind. Conceived for the close-in combat then common in Shanghai’s streets and back alleys, the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife saw wartime use by several Allied assault forces. London’s Wilkinson Sword began full-scale production in January 1941, and by war’s end it and other manufacturers had produced almost 2 million knives of varying patterns and quality, some 20,000 seeing service with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. Brig. Gen. Robert T. Frederick, commander of the American-Canadian 1st Special Service Force (aka Devil’s Brigade) designed his own variation of the knife, the V-42 stiletto, manufactured in western New York by W.R. Case & Sons.

Still in use today, the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife graces the insignias of the British Royal Marines, U.S. Army Rangers, Dutch Commando Corps and Australian 2nd Commando Regiment. It also features prominently in both the Combined Services Memorial in Westminster Abbey and the Ranger Monument at Fort Benning, Ga.

3 Responses

  1. Spiggy

    My Uncle Basil ( who I never met. He was killed in Burma in 1944 by an American friendly fire incident – they dropped a case of tinned pineapples on him from 1500 feet ) , used to tell my father that he found the most effective part of his FS fighting knife to be the lead filled boss on top of the hilt. Unless his enemy ( usually Jap sentries ) was wearing a steel helmet, they could be pole axed stone dead by a swinging blow to the head ( the temple was best ) . He even killed one who was wearing a steel helmet by this method, but the clanging noise it made woke up ALL of the other Japs within half a mile, only to then be finished off by Uncle Bas’s company of Ghurkas with their khukris.

  2. Spiggy

    I was given a Wilkinson Sword, Fairbairn Sykes fighting knife some years. I was told it had a family history but can’t verify that ( I know it’s not Uncle Bas’s knife because his son ( my cousin has that one . It has the family motto ” What I Have I Hold ” engraved upon it ).

    My knife is a ” Wasp ” version. This means it had a handle made out of alternate black leather and yellow brass washes . It’s blade is blackened. At first I though that the handle was black too, so foolishly I cleaned it with metal polish and by doing so removed its patina. Even so, it’s gleaming handle looks gorgeous. Cleaning did not remove the blackening from the blade


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