Mark I Trench Knife: Doughboys’ Double-Edged Dagger

The brutal realities of trench warfare spurred development of crude close-quarters stabbers that developed into the American Mark I trench knife. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)
The brutal realities of trench warfare spurred development of crude close-quarters stabbers that developed into the American Mark I trench knife. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)

 

Opposing army units on the Western Front often livened up the quiet spells with trench raids, usually to snatch prisoners for interrogation. These prompted development of specialized close-quarters weapons, epitomized by the trench knife.

Originally handmade, early trench knives included the German Nahkampfmesser (“close combat knife”), a 6-inch, single-edged steel blade with a wooden slab grip and metal sheath, as well as the crude “French nail,” fashioned from a steel barbed-wire stake, its blunt end heated and bent into a handle. Also popular among the poilus was the poignard baïonette (“dagger bayonet”), a stiletto-like stabber with a cruciform blade, cut down from a standard Lebel M1886 bayonet. Replacing it was the double-edged couteau poignard modèle 1916, popularly known as the Avenger, which added a steel knuckle guard.

When the American Expeditionary Forces entered the trenches, its troops carried the M1917 trench knife, based on the French type but with a triangular blade. A metal knuckle guard curved down from the blade to the pommel. It proved unwieldy, though, and within months gave way to the M1918, with a modified knuckle-duster grip. Soldiers still found the design limiting.

Then came the definitive American trench knife, the Mark I, designed by a board of AEF officers. Similar to the French couteau poignard, it boasted a full tang, double-edged blade with a cast-bronze hilt, a knuckle-duster grip and a skull-cracking conical nut on the pommel. Issued too late for frontline service in World War I, it saw use in World War II by airborne troops, Army Rangers and Marine Raiders.

One Response

  1. Gord Woollard

    May be of interest; I have a WW2 Machete which had been invented as an all purpose farmers/woodsman tool with several interesting features which included a digging edge a brush hook, a cutting edge, sword handle. The scabbard was made to attach to a soldiers web belt in the military version. In the scabbard is a pocket containing little booklets. One contains instruction on how to use it in the civilian mode. The other one, which really intrigues me is the fighting mode which includes little drawings of Japanese soldier complete with slanty eyes being attacked using the Machete. I carry it in my car as an all purpose tool. Not for fightg off course but it is so well balanced it is a great brush cutter. Gord Woollard Retired cdn army WW2 and peacetime Vet.

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