Royal Marines Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife
The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife is a double-edged knife with a foil grip
developed by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai before World War II, but made famous
during the War when issued to British Commandos, including the SAS.
The F-S Fighting knife often is compared to a stiletto; the comparison is
misleading, as the stiletto is for stabbing and has a longer, narrower (often triangular) blade that
typically features no sharpened edge at all.
The Wilkinson Sword Company made the knife with minor pommel and grip design
variations; currently, the F-S Fighting Knife is of interest mainly to collectors.
Because of its sleek lines and its commando association, theOSS, the Marine
Raiders, etc. it remains in production to date. Moreover, the knife is so symbolic of British Commandos
that a solid gold F-S Fighting Knife is part of the commandos' memorial at Westminster
The knife features in the insignia of the British Royal Marines, Dutch Commando
Corps, founded in the UK during WWII, the Australian 2nd Commando Regiment, and the United States Army
The first batch of fifty F-S
Fighting Knives were produced in January 1941 by Wilkinson Sword Ltd after Fairbairn and Sykes had travelled down
to their factory from the Special Training Centre at Lochailort in November 1940 to discuss their
ideas for a fighting knife.
The F-S Fighting Knife was designed exclusively for
surprise attack and fighting, with a slender blade that can easily penetrate a ribcage. The vase handle grants
precise grip, and the double-edged blade is integral to its design. Fairbairn's rationale is in his
book Get Tough! (1942).
In close-quarters fighting
there is no more deadly weapon than the knife. In choosing a knife there are two important factors to bear in
mind: balance and keenness. The hilt should fit easily in your hand, and the blade should not be so heavy that
it tends to drag the hilt from your fingers in a loose grip. It is essential that the blade have a sharp
stabbing point and good cutting edges, because an artery torn through (as against a clean cut) tends to
contract and stop the bleeding. If a main artery is cleanly severed, the wounded man will quickly lose
consciousness and die.
The Fairbairn-Sykes was
produced in several patterns. The Shanghai knife on which it was based was only about 5.5 in (14 cm) long in
the blade. First pattern knives have a 6.5 in (17 cm) blade with a flat area, or ricasso, at the top of the blade
which was not present on the original design and the presence of which has not been explained by the
manufacturers, under the S-shaped crossguard. Second-pattern knives
have a slightly longer blade (just less than 7 in/18 cm), 2 in (5.1 cm)-wide oval
crossguard,knurled pattern grip, and rounded ball, and
may be stamped "ENGLAND" on the handle side of the cross piece. Some may also be stamped with a number (e.g.,
21) on the opposite handle side of the cross piece. Above the number may also be stamped a triangular symbol.
Third-pattern knives also have a similarly-sized inch blade, but the handle was redesigned to include a ring
grip. This ring grip is reputed to have distressed one of the original designers as it unbalanced the weapon
and made harder to hold when wet, but it was used by the manufacturers as it was simple to produce.
Third-pattern knives may be stamped "WILLIAM RODGERS SHEFFIELD ENGLAND", "BROAD ARROW", or simply "ENGLAND".
William Rodgers, as part of the Egginton Group, now also produce an all-black "sterile" version of the knife,
which is devoid of any markings showing maker or NATO use. It has also been finely balanced
The length of the blade was
chosen to give several inches of blade to penetrate the body after passing through the 3 in (7.6 cm) of the
thickest clothing that was anticipated to be worn in the war, namely that of Soviet greatcoats. Later production runs of
the F-S Fighting Knife have a blade length that is about 7.5 in (19 cm).
In all cases the handle had a
distinctive foil-like grip to enable a number of
handling options. Many variations on the F-S Fighting Knife exist in regards to size of blade and
particularly of handle. The design has influenced the design of knives throughout the many decades since its