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Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife

Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife
F–S fighting knife – ring grip pattern
Type Dagger
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1941–present
Used by See Users
Wars World War II-present
Production history
Designer William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes
Designed 1941
Manufacturer Wilkinson Sword Ltd
Produced 1941
Length 11.5 inches (29 cm)
Blade length 7 inches (18 cm)

Blade type Dagger
Hilt type Metal
Scabbard/sheath Metal
Head type Metal
Haft type Metal
F–S fighting knife diagram from FMFRP 12-80, Kill or Get Killed, by Rex Applegate, who worked with Fairbairn

The Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife is a double-edged fighting knife resembling a dagger or poignard with a foil grip developed by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai based on concepts which the two men initiated before World War II while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police in China.[1]

The F–S fighting knife was made famous during World War II when issued to British Commandos, the Airborne Forces, the SAS and many other units, especially for the Normandy landings in June 1944. With its acutely tapered, sharply pointed blade, the F–S fighting knife is frequently described as a stiletto, a weapon optimized for thrusting,[2] although the F-S knife is capable of being used to inflict slash cuts upon an opponent when its cutting edges are sharpened according to specification.[3] The Wilkinson Sword Company made the knife with minor pommel and grip design variations.

The F-S knife is strongly associated with the British commandos and the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Marine Raiders (who based their issued knife on the Fairbairn-Sykes), among other special forces / clandestine / raiding units. It features in the insignia of the British Royal Marines, the Belgian Commandos, the Dutch Commando Corps, founded in the UK during World War II, the Australian 1st Commando Regiment and 2nd Commando Regiment, and the United States Army Rangers, both founded with the help of the British Commandos. A solid gold F–S fighting knife is part of the commandos' memorial at Westminster Abbey.

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.[4]

The F–S fighting knife remains in production because of continued use in hand-to-hand combat situations around the world.


  • Design 1
  • Copies 2
    • OSS version 2.1
  • Other knives by Fairbairn 3
  • Users 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


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 blade's design is especially suited to its use as a fighting knife. 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.[5]

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" (a U.S. legal requirement when importing the surplus knives into the USA after WWII, as they had to show the country of origin) on the handle side of the cross guard. Some may also be stamped with a "Broad Arrow" /|\ British issue mark and a number (e.g., 21) on the opposite handle side of the cross guard. Third-pattern knives also have a similarly sized seven-inch blade, but the handle was redesigned to be a ringed grip. This ringed 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 and could be cast from a cheaper and more plentiful alloy instead of using up scarce quantities of brass stock which were, of course, required for ammunition casings and other such vital applications. 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 for NATO use.

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 introduction.


Because of the success of the Fairbairn-Sykes Knife in World War II and in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, many companies made their own versions of the F–S fighting knife, such as the 1966 Gerber Mark II.

Almost two million of the British knives were made. Not all of these were of good quality; post-1945 versions were notably inferior. Early production runs were extremely limited and demand was high, with many British troops attempting to buy their own.

OSS version

Representation of the knife used by the OSS with its distinctive scabbard. Collection of the CIA Museum.

The OSS Stiletto was a double-edged knife based on the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife. It was so admired that the U.S. military created several other fighting knives based on it. Unfortunately, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services's knife manufacturing bid was approximately one-fifteenth of the British equivalent. As a result, the U.S. version of the knife, manufactured by Landers, Frary & Clark, of New Britain, Connecticut was improperly tempered and inferior to the British F-S Fighting Knife in materials and workmanship, and its reputation suffered accordingly.[3] A total of 20,000 units of the OSS version were produced. The OSS dagger was officially replaced in service in 1944 by the U.S. M3 Fighting Knife.[6] The scabbard for the OSS Stiletto looks like a pancake spatula but this is because of the design so that can be worn high or low on the belt, or angled either left or right. In theory this gave a very adaptable mounting system, but the sheet metal was like a knife itself, especially to a parachutist. Contrary to the oft repeated myth, the one-piece metal part of the OSS Stiletto scabbard was not made from a spatula die. Spatulas do not have a "C" notch for a rubber "O-ring" nor do they have a scabbard spine and scabbard tip. This is the blade that Col. Jerry Sage refers to quite often regarding his training and its usage in his autobiography "Sage: Dagger of the OSS".

Other knives by Fairbairn

General Robert T. Frederick of the Devil's Brigade (First Special Service Force) is credited with a similar weapon, the "V-42 Commando Knife" V-42 Stiletto, itself a derivation of the F-S design. The V-42 was manufactured by W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. in the USA circa 1942-43 and is distinguished mainly by its markings and the presence of a small, scored indentation for the wielder's thumb, to aid in orienting the knife for thrusting. Fairbairn has been given full or partial credit for the design of several other fighting knives, including the smatchet.


Member of the Cambodian 911 ParaCommando on USS Essex. Note the F-S Commando dagger on his webbing belt.

See also


  1. ^ Chambers, John W., OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II, Washington, D.C., U.S. National Park Service (2008), p. 191: Fairbairn joined the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in 1907. During his service with the International Police in Shanghai, Fairbairn reportedly engaged in hundreds of street fights in the course of his duties over a twenty-year career. Much of his body, arms, legs, torso, even the palms of his hands, was covered with scars from knife wounds from those fights.
  2. ^ Dunlop, Richard, Behind Japanese Lines: With the OSS in Burma, New York: Time Life Co., ISBN 0-8094-8579-6, ISBN 978-0-8094-8579-6 (1991): "Fairbairn had invented a stiletto as precise as a surgeon's scalpel. He wielded it with a flashing, slashing vigor that invariably proved fatal to an opponent. 'Why is it so long and thin?' I asked him one day in a question period during my own course of instruction. 'It doesn't have a cutting edge.' 'It doesn't leave any marks on the body,' he replied. 'Scarcely more than a tiny drop of blood.'"
  3. ^ a b Cassidy, William L., A Brief History of the Fairbairn–Sykes Fighting Knife
  4. ^ Allan, Stuart. Commando Country. Edinburgh: National Museums Scotland, 2007. ISBN 978-1-905267-14-9.
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Chambers, John W., OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II, Washington, D.C., U.S. National Park Service (2008), p. 191

Further reading

  • Buerlein, Robert. (2002). Allied Military Fighting Knives: And The Men Who Made Them Famous. Paladin Press. ISBN 1-58160-290-1
  • Flook, Ron. (1999). British and Commonwealth Military Knives. Howell Press Inc. ISBN 1-57427-092-3
  • Locken, Alan. (1995). The Collectors Guide to the Fairbairn Sykes Fighting Knife. Alan W Locken.
  • Peter-Michel, Wolfgang: The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife: Collecting Britain's Most Iconic Dagger. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-3763-7
  • Wilkinson-Latham, Robert. (2009). Wilkinsons and the F.S. Fighting Knife. 2nd ed. Pooley Sword Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84336-156-5

External links

  • Fighting knives used by British commandos and SOE during WW2
  • The Fairbairn Sykes Fighting Knives
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