Throughout the history of weapons there have been several models that have played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the wars they were predominantly used in. In World War 2 – FS knife was one such item that played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the war. The fact that several countries other than Britain created almost identical versions of the knife pretty soon is the testimony of the great work of Captain Fairborne, Captain Sykes and the Wilkinson Sword Company.
Britain entered into the second world war when it came to the aid of Poland. However, with a German victory complete in the Northern Europe it was clear that the German conquest of France and thereby the invasion of Britain was not far ahead. Hence, it had become painfully obvious for the British that if Britain was to engage with Hitler’s troops in more than ‘defensive ways’ their strategy had to change drastically.
Winston Churchill who had participated in the South African war (1899-1901) knew the effectiveness of guerilla fighters and the mayhem that could be inflicted by well trained raiding groups. On 4th June 1940, Churchill wrote to war cabinet secretariat about the need to create well trained raiding parties to conduct surprise raids and leave behind a trail of German corpses that would send shivers down the enemy’s spine. Soon enough a commando formation of 500 personnel, divided into ten troops, each having 47 men and three officers, plus a headquarters staff of 35 officers was created. Each commando of this elite force was expected to serve as a mountaineer, marine, saboteur and a foot soldier.
Initially the commandos were issued regular infantry items like rucksacks, scaling ladders and climbing boots, oilskins and Mac West lifebelts. One important item that was issued to all commandos was a camping-type sheath knife which was to act as a survival knife. Initially an earlier design of the Wilkinson Sword Company called the RBD was primarily used.
However, soon enough the need of a better design was felt as the sheath knife had to be used for several purposes. This was because the commando team was created as a self sustained team. Thus in addition to close combat killing the knife also was to be used in gathering capturing, killing and cooking livestock. Many designs were tried but could not meet the requirements of the commandos.
Fairbairn – Sykes
Captain W.E. Fairbairn and Captain E.A. Sykes had both served in the Shanghai international police and had returned to Britain in 1939 as instructors specializing in unarmed and close quarter combats. Their experience in Shanghai had taught them the science to killing silently and quickly. In November
1940, they approached the war office and offered their knowledge in the development of the sheath knife. After initial discussions it was clear that the Fairbairn-Sykes or FS for short had clear insights of what the knife should be. They were then forwardrd to Mr. john William Latham of the Wilkinson sword company and together they produced the first version of the FS Knife. When sent for testing the results were outstanding – it was just what the commandos needed. It was designed for killing and did the job extremely well.
The Silent Kill
The image to the left depicts commandos being taught to kill the enemy in total silence and with the most lethal blow. Captain fairbairn considered a knife thrust into the carotid artery in the neck one of the best moves in an assault. The artery is large and easily accessible and death can occur witin twelve seconds. It is also accessible from the back and the coup can be effected with greater surprise. Note that the subject too carries his FS knife in the thigh pocket.
The near perfectness of the design of this survival knife can be assessed from the fact that in addition to the team of British commandos, Wilkinson was supplying the same knives to the orders of governments in exile such as the Dutch and the Norwegian. In addition, FS knives also began to be sold for private sales. in 1942, Captain Fairbairn was seconded to the US government to train instructors in the knife fighting techniques. Soon enough the Americans developed their own version of the FS knife that was almost identical to the original design – a flattering tribute to the two ex-policemen from Shanghai.
During the course of second world war FS knife was made in three different patterns as follows:
1. First Pattern :All Nickel plated with Ricasso to blade.
2. Second Pattern: Diamond cross section of the blade, no Ricasso, nickel or black grip and cross guard, bright or black blade.
3. Third Pattern: Ringed ‘Rogers’ styled alloy grip, All black finish.