True Shanghai fighting knife,  
   and many fakes!!!!


Text by by
 O. Janson

An excellent book by Prof. Kelly Yeaton
about the knives from Shanghai


Special honour should be given to Robert Wilkinson Latham,  Ron Flook, Michael Silvey  and Tom Parker for their assistance with photos of some very rare items.

updated 2013-02-10



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

The Shanghai fighting knife.


To understand why the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting knife became such a very good composition, we have to study the history of their lives and this especially from their time in Shanghai.

William Ewart Fairbairn

 William Ewart Fairbairn (28th of February 1885 – 20th of June 1960)

William Fairbairn left his home in Rickmansworth, Herts, England when he was fifthteen and joined the British Royal Marines. He was very skilled with fighting with bayonets. He won the annual championships for the military. 1917 he resigned and started to work with Shanghai Municipal Police force, (SMP). This was a police force for the international colony in Shanghai. At that time Shanghai was considered to be the most dangerous place in the world. He was once attacked by a gang of Tong members in the red light district. They left him on the ground more dead than alive. He was lucky and survived. He realised that he might not be so lucky next time. He started to train Jujutsu with professor Okada in Shanghai. Later he was accepted by Kodokan Judo University in Tokyo. He got the third degree of the black belt 1931.

W. E. Fairbairn founded the first SWAT team.
1921 he became inspector and in charge for the training in man to man fighting and fighting with small arms. 1935 he became assistant chief of the police with SMP.

He started a special attack unit in Shanghai for riots called Reserve Unite. This unit was the first SWAT team (Special Weapons And Tactics team) in the world.


Eric Anthony Sykes

Eric Anthony Sykes (5th of February 1883 – 12th of May 1945).

”Bill” Sykes was born in Barton on Irwill. He came from an upper middle class family and his family name was Schwabe. He had been an officer at a sniping unit during the Great War. He changed his family name to Sykes which sounded more British.

He worked with a security company in Shanghai which selling small arms. This company was run by the British Secrete Service Here in Shanghai he met Fairbairn. They became very good friends.

These gentlemen realised that anybody who expects to be involved in a fight better use all the upper hands possible. Fairbairn said that a man with the knife as the upper hand compared to an unarmed man, even if he is well trained in martial arts.

This passport photo is the only known picture of  ”Bill” Sykes.


According to the some sources the history start in Shanghai

It was here in Shanghai 1931 they started to develop a new type of knives. The knives were made at the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) Armoury. It was under the supervision of a former White Russian Colonel, Nicholas Solntseff, his staff made knives on a custom basis for U.S.M.C. officers and others.

A young US Marines officer - Second Lt. Samuel Sylvester Yeaton (1907 - 1979) was also involved in the composition  of Shanghai knife. His correspondence with his family gives good information about these early activities. His brother Prof. Kelly Yeaton has written a book about this called
The First Commando Knives

This is an excellent book and it describes the only true Shanghai knives.

Outside Prof. Kelly Yeaton's book you can see a true Shanghai Fighting knife!

In this book you can see some examples of the very rare original Shanghai knives. It describes the life in Shanghai from 1932 onwards. It is a very nice book and on the outside you can see the knife of the Yeaton brothers.

The knife was carried in a scabbard hidden but easily accessible. This scabbard was a very important part of the knife system.

Nobody knows how many custom knives were made; the number of known examples is extremely small.


Most Shanghai knives you will find are fakes or copies!

Most serious collectors nowadays agree too that the only true Shanghai knives are those pictured in Prof. Kelly Yeaton’s book. Unfortunately there is some very well known literature in English from a very well known author, which is not reliable. The pictures shown in that book are fake Shanghai knives!

Dr. Windrum believed in these knives. Let us make some criticism of his sources. If we analyse his writings we will soon become aware of that many of these knives came from the same source. This source had a very strange ability to "uncover" or “find” all sorts of odd prototypes and experimental knives owned by Fairbairn.

All known Shanghai knives with reference to Dr. William Windrum are fakes,
according to well known experts!

Like in many fields of collecting, the fakers can completely mess things up!




As you can see the so called Shanghai knives shown below here are all fakes and differ from the originals shown in Yeaton's excellent book in terms of materials and some design features.


 Lee Metford M1888 bayonet later pattern.

Note the two bolts through the wooden grip, which will make it unsuitable as raw material for a fighting knife.

Private collection


Some say that the son of William Fairbairn, John Edwin Fairbairn, who also was working with SMP in Shanghai, has told the story how the knives were built. They used British Lee Metford bayonets M1888. These bayonets had excellent steel.

We are told that they cut the bayonets in two parts and made two knives from each so they became rather short. The width of the blade was kept like the bayonet blade.

This can however not be entirely correct, because if we study the tang of a M1888 bayonet it has two or three big holes for assembly of the hilt. For this reason the tang has to be repaired or at least extended which will make the construction weak.

If we study the front part of the M1888 blade, it has a significant ridge and concave edge. None of the original reported Shanghai knives have concave edges. (See the picture on this page). There are several more technical indications about the contradictions in this story which are reported in Robert Wilkinson Latham’s book. We have to handle all these fancy stories with scepticism and remember that they were part of the propaganda machinery during WW2. To this we can add collectors who of course don’t know the true history but add what they believe to be true.

This is an acceptable way or converting an 1888 bayonet into a knife.
(see Ron Flook’s excellent book “British and Commonwealth Military Knives” plate 277)




Shanghai knife with a grip of Ivory.

The grip is made from ivory. 

(picture with courtesy of Tom Parker.)


The Ivory grip dagger is 241 mm (9.5 inches) long.
The blade is 140 mm (5.5 inches) long including habaki.
The thin aluminium crossguard is 64 mm (2.5 inches) wide. It was originally black, and it has the SMP tulip stamp on the top of the crossguard.
The white
ivory handle is 100 mm (4 inches) long and 19 mm (0.75 inches) thick.


The knife handles were made from a variety of materials, brass, wood, horn.

It is claimed that all blades were made from bayonet blades

The end pommel caps were made from shell casings.

Everything was made by hand, similar models are seen but with different handle materials or blade styles.

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Grip of Ebony


The grip is made from ebony. This is most likely a so called Shanghai knife.

Shanghai knives were made from the tip of the British bayonets only, like on this knife above. (The grip part of the bayonet could not be used.)

(picture with courtesy of Mike Silvey from Dr. Windrum collection.)


The leather scabbard can be hanging upside down or sewn in your clothing.

This is the knife on page 24, photo 3 in ' The Earliest Commando Knives' by Dr. William Windrum.

This might be a genuine Shanghai knife.

The ebony handle has horizontal grooves in the middle, there is crosshatching for the thumb ramp.

The crossguard is made of brass.

The knife itself is 248 mm (9.75 inches) long.

The blade is 143 mm (5.63 inches) long

It has a full tang in one-piece with the blade. The tang is attached to the ebony handle with a brass pin



Here are two Shanghai knives with handles of ebony and wood

These two knives from Windrums collection.

The bottom knife with white boxwood grip is concidered by many collectors to be a fake because of the ricasso. See more about this knife below.


Grip of Boxwood

The knife with light coloured wooden handles has 5.5 inches blades, thick aluminium cross-guards, brass ferrules, handles of wood and brass pommels with threaded tang holes drilled through.



This knife was made of a blade from a British M1903 bayonet which was made in March 1902. The ricasso has India acceptance arrow.

This is most likely a fake


Grip of Walnut.

This knife resembles the knife of the Yeaton brothers, except this knife lacks the engraving and fish haut cut handle.

This blade is 122 mm = 4.80 inches. It is the shortest known knife.


This knife also resembles the knife of the Yeaton brothers but this is also considered to be a copy.

This blade is 135 mm (5.3") and the length over all 245mm (9.6").

Private collection


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W.E. Fairbairn’s Shanghai Dagger 1937.


The dagger below is claimed to be W.E. Fairbairn’s personal dagger. This is most likely not the case! It is most likely a fake.

This knife is stamped on the tang-Shanghai-with the year date of 1937.

Overall length of the knife is 232 mm (9.13 inches).

The crossguard is 2.5 inches

Blade length is 125 mm (4.94 inches) long.


Claimed to be W.E. Fairbairn’s personal dagger?

As you can see from the picture below it is far too weak to be used by such an expert!


The blade is said to be made from the tip of a M1888 bayonet with sides of the diamond cross section blade. It has a full but welded tang.

The cross guard is thin aluminium, flat sided with semicircular ends. The grip is heavy knurled brass. It has roughly the same shape as all the other Shanghai fighting knives.



A whole goes through most part of the pommel and it is threaded in the end.

The pommel screws on to the blade tang and eliminates the need for a pommel nut.

The tang is stamped “Shanghai 1937.”

The tang has been welded to the blade as you can see.

This is not the way to make a fightingting knife or sword!


Upper blade from a
copy Shanghai knife





Compare it to the bayonet below!




Lower blade of a Metford M1888 bayonet showing the central rib and arrow point




W.E. Fairbairn retired from his command in Shanghai and returned to Great Britain 1940 together with his friend E. A. Sykes. Sykes very good connections with the Secrete Service arranged new challenges for them as instructors for the Commandos and SOE. Both became Captains. The man who helped to get Fairbairn and Sykes over to UK was Captain (later Colonel) Leslie Wood R.E.




There are many doubts about if this is the true story or just a fairy tale.

According to Robert Wilkinson Latham the entire story about manufacturing knives from old bayonets is impossible.

For sure there are many, many  fakes out which are made from cut up bayonets.

It is very hard to have confidence in the authenticity of any such knife!

My recommendation:

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Pre-FS, Test FS knives and John Paisley 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.