Fighting knives used by British commandos and SOE during WW2


Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife - First Pattern.


Text and pictures by
Olof Janson unless otherwise stated

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:

  • 1st Pattern Wilkinson Sword F-S
  • 2nd Pattern Wilkinson Sword F-S
  • 2nd Pattern Wilkinson Sword F-S


updated 2013-02-09



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


Wilkinson Sword Company

Wiliam Ewart Fairbairn Eric Anthony Sykes
Courtesy of Phil M and James Farthing
John 'Jack' Wilkinson
Courtesy of Robert Wilkinson-Latham


The demand for a good fighting knife was so very urgent that a meeting was arranged in November 1940 between W. E. Fairbairn, E. A. Sykes and Jack Wilkinson Latham at Wilkinson Sword Company.

Fairbairn and Sykes described the type of knife they envisioned and the purpose for which it was intended. As discussion continued, preliminary sketches were drawn up and modified time and time again.

- As Robert Wilkinson Latham tells it: 'In order to explain exactly their point, the two men rose to their feet and one, it was Fairbairn my grandfather mentioned, grabbed the wood ruler from his desk and the two men danced around the office in mock combat'.


It is not easy to make new designs concerning one of the oldest weapons belonging to a man.
  • The new Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting knife is best described as a new composition.
  • The blade is double edged and has the shape of a double edged dagger
    and the handle resembles the grip of the old rapiers.
  • The shape of the grip reminds us about a Coca cola bottle.


The meeting resulted in the Fairbairn Sykes Fighting knife, as it should be called properly.


There is plenty of pure guesswork on internet about what happened to the first knives. I hope to spread some more light about what really happened by quoting Robert Wilkinson Latham with his own words:

“To my knowledge the first knife after the meeting with my grandfather was made up by Charlie Rose, Wilkinsons top development/experimental engineer, possibly “tweeked” a little, shown to F and S again and that was that. That knife was modified in line with the tweeking, taken apart and given to the tool makers and the bits scrapped. (metal was scarce then). I got this first hand from Charlie Rose when I worked for him as a craft apprentice at Wilkinsons in his department in 1962. It was he who gave me the Wilkinson 1942 FS drawing, plus drawings of the No5 bayonet and the drawings and examples of experimental bayonets that later evolved into the No7 plus notes of meetings etc with people from CISA department.

 Any knives given to Fairbairn and Sykes were production models and I know that a small number of production knives were made available to Fairbairn to give away in the US (Also in the Wilkinson wartime newsletter there is a piece on a Commando coming to talk to the social club members and as he had lost his knife on a raid, he was given another.”


One of the first tools in human history.

Already during the ice age the knife was a vital part of human equipment for survival. The knives at that time were made by parts of bones, which had been sharpened. These men hunted animals to have protein. They had no possibility to stay in one place long enough to grow crops to eat. These people were nomads. Protein was essential for there survival. They used their knives for slaughtering and cutting the captured animals. For this reason the knife was an essential tool for survival. It was one of the very first tools used by men in the history of human beings. This happened some 20 000 years ago. Later on knives were made from different types of stone like flint, copper, brass, iron and at last steel.

 The knife or dagger is also one of the oldest weapons in the world and it is most likely impossible to make  inventions any more. The unique feature of the F-S Fighting knife was the composition and the perfect balance.

 For sure Fairbairn-Sykes brought with them some specific ideas how they wanted a true fighting knife to look like. Jack Wilkinson Latham had a tremendously experience of different types of knives. In the archives of Wilkinson Sword a drawing has been found with his stamp and double dates on. One date is 4th of November 1940 – the same date as they met. The other date goes back to March 1931 - Years before the Shanghai knives.

 The design of the F-S resembles a classic dagger design which was common in Europe for hundreds of years.

When we admit that the unique feature of the F-S Fighting knife was the composition and the perfect balance, we perhaps have to look for a forth man who contributed to this feature -
 Captain (later Colonel) Leslie Wood R.E. was a key figure in SOE, the Commandos and others. He remembered:

‘… I helped to get Fairbairn and Sykes over to us from the Shanghai Riot Police … 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.’

We have to remember that there was a war going on and the British needed to encourage the public opinion in every possible way. The Commando units were an invention by Winston Churchill. A special knife for these Commandos was a strong contribution to the propaganda war.

For sure this knife is not a one man show but a joint design by W.E. Fairbairn, E.A. Sykes, L.J.C. Wood and J. Wilkinson Latham to bring out the best Fighting knife for the best of the best as Fairbairn said.


The design of the F-S resembles a classic dagger design which was common in Europe for hundreds of years.
Here is beautiful dagger ("Lady knife") which was made in England around 1870.

Private collection



Three Patterns

There are three well known standard types of Commando knife – these are called First (1940) with 3" and 2" cross-guard, Second (1941) and Third Patterns (1942 to present). This was well documented by Robert Wilkinson-Latham in his article in the magazine "Antique Arms and Militaria"

1 FS Knife, all nickel plated with ricasso to blade.
2 FS Knife with
  • diamond cross section of blade,
  • no ricasso,
  • nickel or black grip and crossguard,
  • bright or black  blade.
3 Commando knife as 2 but with ringed ‘Rogers’ style alloy grip. All black finish.

Beside the three main Patterns there are many variations. Some of these variations are well known like the "Beaded and ringed" while other might be more difficult to categorise.


From top to bottom: Pattern 1; Pattern 2 and Pattern 3

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The First Pattern.

The very first 1st Pattern F-S Fighting Knives were made in November 1940. In January 1941the full war full production started, according to Robert Wilkinson Latham.

The grip was made from solid brass and cut by 16 lines per inch in a diamond pattern. The grip and hand guard were nickel plated. The hand guard was curved to S-shape.

The blade was grounded by hand. For this reason it is difficult to find two blades of exactly the same size and shape. This model was produced in very limited numbers.

The very first 1st Pattern Wilkinson Sword F-S knives were ordered the 14th of November 1940. Order 294 mentions 500 'RBD and Commercial knives' but possibly less. They were called in this way in the order to disguise the actual type of knife.

The 1st Pattern was delivered from November 1940 until April 1941. 17th of December 1940 5 000 “hunting knives” were ordered. This order concerned the first 1st Pattern knives. Price for each was 13 s 6d. All together 6 779 - 1st pattern were made according to Robert Wilkinson Latham.

Here is the 1st Pattern with 2 inches cross guard. (Photo by Roy Shadbolt)

The scabbard without wings (leather tabs) on this early scabbard.


The first order for proper F-S knives, with new tools, was made 17th of December 1940. This order was marked “Hunting Knives” to disguise the actual type of knife. This was told by the Forman Jack Mappin. In The Wilkinson Gazette 1943 September issue it is told that he grounded the 1st Pattern F-S knives and also the Stalingrad Sword.  He started to work for Wilkinson 1914 as a grinder. 1932 he was made Forman of the mill.

(Courtesey of Robert Wilkinson Latham)

(For more information about the Stalingrad Sword – please visit the special page about this Sword.)




On one side and


on the reverse appears Wilkinson's trademark: 





Here are two 1st Pattern

(Private collection)


Regarding Numbering on grip near the pommel.

There are grips of 1st Pattern knives with numbers like this one.

Gordon Hughes the author of
'A Primer of Military Knives',  believes that it is a serial numbers marked AFTER DELIVERY from WSC and Ron Flook agrees in his book with the comment that it is more likely that it is a store number (page 53 plate107)


These numbers are most likely stores marks according to Robert Wilkinson Latham

He told me that serial numbers were never stamped near the pommel by Wilkinson. According to the sword makers he talked with, who made these knives, they would never stamp articles in such an erratic and untidy fashion over the nickel-plating.

Robert Wilkinson Latham says that the marked knives never were issued for combat, but only for training. When the soldier had finished his training he was issued a ‘chit’ for a knife which he collected from Wilkinsons at 53 Pall Mall London.


Production Figures 1st Pattern

(Courtesey of Robert Wilkinson Latham)


Specifications for First Pattern 

Length over all

11.6" - 12.1 "

290 - 306 mm

Length of blade

6.5" - 7"

160 - 175 mm


230 - 270 gram

230 - 270 gram


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3” Handguard variation

Here is one  3” handguard variation. 

According to Robert Wilkinson-Latham there are no proofs that WSC ever made any F-S knives with 3” wavy cross-guards!

There are no documents or drawings of such a knife. The original Wilkinson Museum at Southfield Road, London, W3 from 1920 until 1970 never had such a knife in their collections of F-S knives. It is not likely that such experienced experts like Cpt W.E. Fairbairn and Cpt E.A. Sykes would have foreseen such an error in design like a wide 3” cross guard which would snag in the clothes when drawn or even worse get stuck in the clothes of the enemy when used.

Robert Wilkinson-Latham believes that they might come from a small special order later during WW2.

Ron Flook says:

"The 3 inch is real but it is unfortunately a variation whose story has been messed up by the problem of fakes."

If you want to read more and see his picture please go here>>>

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Mini F-S knives and so called Agents Knives


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.