Fighting knives used by British commandos and SOE during WW2


Forming of Commandos.


Text by by
 O. Janson

Special honour should be given to:

  • Robert Wilkinson-Lath
  • Ron Flook,
  • Roy Shadbolt.

Who have given me much assistance.  

On the picture to the left:

LeeEnfield SMLE NoI MkIII


Victoria Cross (reproduction)


updated 2015-05-04



Forming of Commandos
The Shanghai fighting knives
1st Pattern F-S Fighting knife
2nd Pattern F-S Fighting knife
2nd Pattern F-S Fighting Private Purchase knife
2nd Pattern F-S Fighting w/o Wilkinson B2, Fat Man, Reverse Knurling
3rd Pattern F-S Fighting knife
Beaded & Ringed - Roped & Ringed

Steel hilt and Different hilts

Wood handles.

US Marine Raider Stiletto OSS - Stiletto w.'Pancake Flapper' and

Odd knives

Three Indian F-S Commando Knives

UK Commando knives; Postwar production



I do not claim to cover all knives used by British Commandos and SOE in this article, I just want to expose some of them and share some knowledge with you.

Best regards Olof Janson


It was not until the beginning of WW2 British Military authorities officially issued fighting knives to there troops.

During the First World War some regiments and smaller units issued knives but it was most common with private purchased knives at that time. Some of these knives were used also during WW2.

Some of these knives used by the British during the Great War you will find here>>>

After the German victory in Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, France and the humiliating defeat of British forces at Dunkirk, there was a desperate need to prove that the British troops were able to strike back against the modern well trained German forces. Churchill came up with the idea to set up a guerrilla type of force, which could spread terror along the enemy coast.

On the 4th of June 1940, Winston Churchill wrote to General Ismay in the War Cabinet Secretariat concerning the need to start a new unit to combat the German Blitz Krieg. The British formed special commando units to carry out raids. On the 8th of June 1940, Section M09 of the War Office was brought into being.

The name commando was taken from small effective mobile Boer units during the war in South Africa 1899-1902 (2nd Boer War).


Boer Commandos


The units consisted of about 500 men. These units were organized in ethnic formations. The first two formations No. 1 and No. 2 Commandos were not ready before No. 3 Commando from Plymouth was put in action 14th and 15th of July 1940 at Guernsey in the Channel Islands. The mission was not very successful but it provided experience which was evaluated for later operations.



British Commando Knives






The RBD hunting knife

When the Commandos were formed they were equipped with ordinary Infantry equipment with some extras like climbing boots. They were issued hunting knives. They should use these knives as hunting knives and fighting knives. In an article published by the Army Bureau of Current Affairs on the 7th of February 1942 it was explained that each commando should be able to use his knife for butchery besides using it as a fighting knife.

Wilkinson Sword issued a hunting knife called RBD. Privately purchased knives were also permitted.


From Wilkinson Sword Catalogue
courtesy of Robert Wilkinson Latham


Here is a RBD hunting knife of postwar production made by Wilkinson Sword.


The RBD hunting knife was first made by Wilkinson Sword in 1869 for R. Beauchamp Drummond Esq. whose initials were etched on the design drawing (hence the name ‘RBD’). A very popular design, Wilkinson Sword began to sell the knife commercially in the 1880s. Wilkinson Sword had a stock of these knives which they not had been able to sell before the war. Now after Dunkirk there was a desperate demand for all kinds of weapons including knives. It was now that the importance of this particular knife was fully recognised. The last of the RBDs were assembled and dispatched for the Commandos in 1940.


Here is a picture of Cpt. John Shaw at British Commandos from Lofoten Islands. This was the Claymore raid in Norway on 4th of March 1941

Operation Claymore was a raid on the Lofoten Islands. It was carried out on the 4th of March 1941 by British Commando and Royal Naval units on the remote islands off the coast of Norway. The raid was conducted by approximately 1000 men of No. 3 and No 4 Commando, 52 Norwegians of Norwegian Independent Company 1 and demolition teams from the 55th Field Squadron Royal Engineers.

The raid was very successful.


Thompson Submachine gun M1928A1 was used by the early Commandos here with vertical front grip.

UK was the first country during WW2 to adopt this Submachine gun.

(Private Collection)





Picture to the right Imperial War Museum Nr H2646A


Here is a picture from Operation Archery in Norway of Commandos on Vaagso
27-29th of December 1941.

A complete newspaper article about the raid
"I was there"


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British Knuckle Knives used by Commandos






There was a great need for real Fighting Knives 1940. Knuckle knives were very populare during the Great War. Some were used again during WW2. Here is such a knuckle knife.


Due to this popularity a similar knife was introduced in WW2 and it was called BC41.

Some collectors believe it stands for "British Commando" and 41 represent 1941, which seems unlikely. Very little is known about these knives what so ever. BC might stand for Birmingham Casters or Bliss Casters, which might be true because the grips are certainly cast. There are also knuckles without the blade marked in the same way with BC and 41. These knuckles are much rarer than the knives for sure. It is also clear from war documents that both knuckles and the knuckle knife both were accepted by the British.

Private collection


This BC41 knife is very rare.

Note the cut ring to be able to fire a gun.

courtesy of Curt Johannesen



Special Operations Executive (SOE) was was initiated by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton and formed in Britain in July 1940 after the German invation of France. It should "foster passive and active resistance to enemy occupation forces by the inhabitants of lands which were overrun."

SOE's main activities were:

  • Non-cooperation

  • Industrial Sabotage

  • Ambushes

  • Guerrilla Warfare

  • Training and arming of secret armies.

The SOE directly employed or controlled just over 13,000 people. It is estimated that SOE supported about 1,000,000 operatives all over the world. 

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In March 1942 there was a branch of SOE established in Australia. From the beginning the idea had been proposed by General Blamey and it was accepted by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). In London the new organisation was known as Special Operation Australia (SOA).

In Australia the organisation was given a new cover name “Inter Allied Services Department (IASD)”.
This became synonymous with the shorter “ISD”.

"Z" Special Unit
One of the most secrete units was established in June 1942 by Australian service personnel. It was called "Z" Special Unit. "Z" Special Unit was equipped with mostly American arms rather than British. This unit is sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Z" Force. There is almost no documents remaining about this unit because they were destroyed after the war by an order of General Blamey.


General Thomas Blamey

Picture from Wikipedia


Another famous extremly rare knuckle knife used by
"Z" Special Unit with Austrailian proof mark.

Private collection

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Middle East Commando knife

51 Middle East Commando

Sgt Dov Cohen Pte Philip Koegel  Pte Dolph Zenter


Another famous knuckle knife was the so called Middle East Commando knife.

Private collection

Middle East Commando Knuckle knives were used by 50, 51 and 52 Commando and the Chindits.

Private collection

This is the same type of knife as you can see on the cover of the well known book "THE MIDDLE  EAST COMMANDOS" by Charles Messenger and Col. G.A.D. YOUNG DSO and Lt-Col S.M Rose OBE.

The knife was made from the blade of a German bayonet M98/05 often known as Butcher bayonet. These knives were made in the Bazars of Egypt.

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Two of the first instructors for the Commandos were Captain William Ewart Fairbairn and Captain Eric Anthony Sykes.

Captain (later Colonel) Leslie Wood R.E who had taken over as Commanding Officer of Aston House or Station XII in November 1939. He said:

‘…I helped to get Fairbairn and Sykes over to us from the Shanghai Riot Police…together they invented the famous Commando Fighting Knife…I was responsible for getting the well known “fighting knife” made and I seem to remember that I slightly altered the balance to ensure that they could be tossed from hand to hand without visual assistance.  I expect Fairbairn and Sykes helped with this.


1940 Cpt Fairbairn (born 28/2/1885) was 55 years old and Cpt Sykes (born 5/2/1883) was 57. These middle aged gentlemen trained the young soldiers in a new and difficult mode of close-combat fighting at the Commando Basic Training Centre, Achnacarry, Scotland.

Captain William Ewart Fairbairn and Captain Eric Anthony Sykes came with a new way of knife fighting.
As Cpt William Fairbairn said himself in his book from WW2:

“If a main artery is cleanly severed, the wounded man will quickly lose consciousness and die.

In the accompanying diagram (Fig. 112), the approximate positions of the arteries are given. They vary in size from the thickness of one's thumb to that of an ordinary pencil.

Naturally, the speed at which loss of consciousness or death takes place will depend upon the size of the artery cut.”



Alrewas Unveiling of Army Commando Memorial - 29th July 2007, at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Unveiled by His Royal Highness the Duke Of Edinburgh. 


The centrepiece is a 4ft solid stainless steel FS fighting knife. The dimensions taken from a genuine 1st pattern and then scaled up four times to within 1/1000 of an inch.

There are 104 hand cut and shaped copper laurel leaves in the wreath. As you know copper weathers to a green colour so as the years pass the wreath will become a green wreath .

An evolving 'living' tribute. 

Picture by Robert Wilkinson Latham





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Forming of Commandos
The Shanghai fighting knives

There are three basic modells of the F-S fighting knife.

1st Pattern F-S Fighting knife
2nd Pattern F-S Fighting knife
2nd Pattern F-S Fighting Private Purchase knife
2nd Pattern F-S Fighting w/o Wilkinson trademark.
like B2, Fat Man, Reverse Knurling
3rd Pattern F-S Fighting knife
Beaded & Ringed - Roped & Ringed

Steel hilt and Different hilts

Wood handles.

OSS - Stiletto w.'Pancake Flapper' and
US Marine Raider Stiletto

Three Indian F-S Commando Knives

Odd knives

UK Commando knives; Postwar production


The Stalingrad Sword made by Wilkinson Sword.


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Robert Wilkinson Latham His own web site
Alan W. Locken Commando 1940 - 1945
Robert A. Burlein Allied Military Fightingknives
Ron Flook British and Commonwealth military knives.
Fredrick J. Stephens Fighting Knives
Frank Trzaska The O.S.S. Stiletto - Knife World February 1998.
Frank Trzaska The Raider Stiletto - Knife World July 1997
Kelly Yeaton The First Commando Knives.
John Nowhill & son Sheffield
Michigan knives  
Dr. William Windrum  The earliest commando knivesAllan W. Locken – Commando 1940 - 1945.