While there are multi-tools abound these days, we consider a good knife to be the original American Multi-tool. Our fighting men have been known to use them for more than just fighting: prying, wedging, digging, eating, general kitchen implement and more. One of our favorites is making a comeback, and not in a shitty flea market way. Mad Duo
During the First World War the bayonet was the primary issued edge weapon, with the entrenching tool coming in a close second. Marines and Soldiers often bought and made their own fighting knives, finding the long issued bayonets too long for close combat. Limited availability of early trench knives often let to bayonets being cut down for night raids and hand-to-hand roles. In the American military, fighting knives changed little before the Second World War began in 1939. Even with the adoption of the famous Ka-Bar in November 1942, and M3 fighting knife in March 1943, shorter bladed knives were generally only issued to those carrying weapons which lacked bayonet mounts.
With the onset of WW2, the British military immediately began to stand up more commando and specialty units. The UK’s own addition to a more practical fighting blade came in the form of the Fairbairn–Sykes knife, with the first run being produced in January 1941 by Wilkinson Sword Ltd. As America entered the war in 1941, we began to stand up commando, airborne and specialty units of our own. The First Special Service Force (FSSF) was activated on 9 July 1942, as a joint Canadian/American commando unit. Its commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Robert T. Frederick desired a combat knife that could be used to silently eliminate enemy sentries as well as perform well as a close-quarters combat knife.
According to legend, Col. Frederick saw the early Fairbairn–Sykes commando knives while stationed in England and the design heavily influenced the V-42 design. The knife had a more narrow blade than the F-S commando knives, reminiscent of older stiletto daggers. Its blade profile is designed to optimize deep tissue penetration when thrusting, a realistic concern for thick wool uniforms and winter layering. Its said the V-42 could easily penetrate a steel helmet with liner without breaking.
The distinct skull-crushing pommel was attributed to the input of Major Orval J. Baldwin, the FSSF Supply Officer. Perhaps the knife’s most notable and unique feature is the thumb groove on the V-42’s ricasso. This serrated “thumb print” was designed to promote a flat grip with the thumb over the crossguard. Holding the knife in this fashion positioned the double-edged blade horizontally. This hold promoted thrashing and thrusting techniques taught at the time, and helped the blade slip between the enemy’s ribs when stabbing.
W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company, commonly called “Case”, received the order for the V-42 and began production in Bradford, Pennsylvania, where the factory still stands. The knives were hand made, with each blade meticulously ground by master knife makers. Since they were custom made for a small commando unit, they remain as one of the most rare and prized knives of World War II. Since then Case has had two factory replicas runs, in 1992 and again in 1998. Both times the V-42s were offered in limited numbers, and quickly snatched up by collectors. Because of the interest in these knives and the history they hold, there have been many copies of the V-42 over the years. They range from crude pot-metal replicas to dead-on, but lacking the original name.
Case has announced that they’ll bring this classic fighter back for another run, available for purchase soon. The company was purchased some years back by another famous Bradford, PA company, Zippo. Two distinct American companies, with a lot of war stories behind both. It’s interesting to think of a FSSF soldier carrying both a V-42 and cigarette lighter made in the same town, both with expert craftsmanship and dependable ruggedness. This is the knife that became the symbol of American commandos for the rest of US Special Forces history; it’s even the dagger featured on the Green Berets crest! The knives should be out for sale soon, so keep your eyes peeled for your chance to own a real deal V-42. We plan on getting one if the opportunity arises, since we missed our chance before.