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Knives in the Military

Written by Bob Taubert

As much as some of the futurists in the military decry cold steel as a viable weapon for today’s conflicts, fixed blades, bayonets and folders abound as essential items of equipment for the contemporary warrior. Whether employed primarily as a tool, as a silent instrument for special operations, or a last ditch extension of personal power at the end of a rifle, the blade persists as does the pistol for close-quarters combat.

In Vietnam, I was issued a razor sharp, carbon steel KA-BAR, a traditional USMC fighting and utility knife since WWII. Although prone to rust in a tropical environment, they were highly prized as trading items for many.

Army Times

Last year, the highly respected Army Times conducted a write-in contest for military readers to describe their favorite blade and its use while deployed. The grand prize was a KA-BAR fixed blade FIN knife. The results encompassed a mix of traditional fixed blades and more modern folders, as well as one-of-a-kind, custom knives and multi-tools.

The division deck officer on board a navy amphibious ship that lands Marines across the beach was concerned about corrosion. He tried several “super steel” knives whose blades held up, but the locking systems corroded. By trial and error, he eventually settled on Spyderco’s H1 “Corrosion Proof Steel, Atlantic Salt Knife.” This folder is substantially sized, easy to sharpen and is quite affordable for junior officers and enlisted personnel. At sea, retention of any handheld item is a problem.

The Spyderco not only has an excellent clothing clip, but it sports a lanyard loop hole. The officer noted that the knife came in a variety of edges and could be obtained in straight edge, serrated or a combination of the two.

Uniquely, the tip is rounded, and this helps to reduce the chance of puncturing inflatable gunnels on rigid hull inflatable boats when cutting line. In his opinion, “Every sailor should be issued one.”

Marine Green

A Joint Forward Support Element Marine sergeant, who is currently in the rear with the gear, relies on his “Rugged and dependable Benchmade 9100 SBT Auto Stryker Tactical.” Whether he carries it in the field, on overseas deployments or at home, he said it has never failed him. The folder conceals easily and can be brought into battery from its “machined handle with lightning speed.”

The Benchmade automatic offers economy of movement and does not require additional effort upon the draw to open it. He has never had to employ it in a life-threatening situation, but he has the utmost confidence that it would “come through to accomplish the mission at hand, or at blade.”

The KA-BAR

As set forth above, the KA-BAR has lethally adorned the pistol belts and load-bearing vests of American Marines since WWII, but the efficacy of its Bowie-like blade as a fighting knife and field expedient tool are legendary. And its reputation has not been lost on the other branches of the service. Ever since he joined the Army almost 10 years ago, this 25th Infantry or Tropic Lightning Division staff sergeant has carried his KA-BAR. Next to his M4 carbine, he considers it his “most trusted piece of equipment in Iraq.”

Although the grip had been worn smooth, its blade is still good to go. Its inherent flexibility has been amply demonstrated during two tours in Iraq. He has used it to clear fields of fire, establish hasty fighting positions, probe for and clear mines, open rations and false walls while searching for weapons and explosives, and for benign tasks such as fixing gear.

Judged to be the winner of the contest, a gunnery sergeant with 26 years in the Corps considers every war zone equipment inspection “incomplete without his original leather sheathed KA-BAR affixed to my belt.” He uses it for a weapon and a tool, and it is “dependable and efficient.” In a tool mode, it has been “used as an opener of all things deemed Marine-proof.” Activities such as, “cutting, stabbing, slashing, sticking and pounding have left there signature on my blade and handle.”

In addition, he carries a Benchmade folding knife with a “quick-release blade with one-hand employment for those ‘oh crap’ situations that occur.” He also carries the new Marine Corps bayonet for those surprise episodes that commonly compose what is known as combat. Although all are “great weapons and tools,” they “augment my KA-BAR, which is my personal favorite and friend,” he said.

Two similar rust-proof and pointless Spyderco folders were selected for examination because the naval officer’s newspaper description was not definitive enough. However, the Atlantic and Saver Salts are both made of a nitrogen-based alloy called H1, which is a non-rusting premium steel.

H1 also has excellent edge-retention capabilities and its “Sheepfoot,” flat, saber-ground blades with rounded tips are designed to work around inflatable small craft without the danger of puncturing a tube. Medics will find them just as useful when cutting around flesh in emergencies. The oversized 14 mm hole makes for easy and positive opening even in wet and cold weather.

Colorful, easy-to-spot grips are made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon resin textured in a grip-adhering waffle pattern. Ambidextrous pocket clips with lanyard holes provide these Spydercos with a variety of carry options. They can be obtained with plain or SpyderEdge edges, and the under 4-inch blades weigh 2.2 to 2.5 ounces.

The Benchmade Auto Stryker knife is one of my favorites and accompanied me on my successful wild boar handgun hunt. Its Tanto-shaped combo plain and serrated edge blade easily opened the boar’s chest cavity for a necropsy. The 58-60 Rockwell hardness blade is coated with “BK 1,” which gives it excellent non-reflective blade protection. Its point gives good penetration, and a thick blade spine absorbs shock.

A blade lock safety prevents accidental opening, but its button release requires a concerted push to release the 3.70-inch, ATS-34 stainless steel blade. This blade will hold its edge under harsh conditions. Its opening is relatively quiet, and stealth can be maintained by easing the blade open with fingers. Once in battery, the same lock fixes the blade in place.

Locking liners are constructed of extremely durable G10 scale-covered Titanium. It can also be acquired with a spear point and weighs just short of 5 ounces. Its carry clip and lanyard hole afford numerous methods of personal transport.

One of the most famous in a long line of edged weapons made for the U.S. military continues to remains popular with our troops today. The famous KA-BAR traces its lineage from WW II and has faithfully fought in every American war since. The parent company that forged this military icon is itself 110 years old.

As I shift the legendary blade from hand to hand, it brings back memories of my own service 40 years ago in Indo-China where the sturdy carbon blade like my M14 rifle seemed to attract a perpetual patina of rust in that near-liquid climate. I fought the oxidation battle with whatever was at hand, and the KA-BAR was simply thrust into abrasive sand to scrape off the days crud. Even with point snapped off, it never failed me throughout my 32 months as a grunt in country. I am also fascinated by the similar profile that the new USMC bayonet shares with the old war blade.

Weighing in at .68 pounds, with a blade length of 7 inches, it exhibits an overall length of just under 12 inches. The flat ground 1095 CroVan, straight edge, clip point steel blade has an HRc of 56-58. The handle is still leather, and it comes in a Marine Corps emblem embossed leather sheath. The butt cap is composed of powdered 1095 carbon steel. In addition, KA-BAR offers numerous fixed blade varieties on the KA-BAR theme to appeal to any potential customer.

Awarded to the winner of the essay contest was KA-BAR’s lethal looking FIN Fixed blade fighting and utility knife. Designed by Peter Janda, the FIN is available with clip or Tanto points and plain or serrated edges. High wear resistance, extreme durability and ability to hold a keen edge is characteristic of D2 tool steel, and that is the material chosen to create the full tang, 4.875-inch FIN blade. Overall, the length is 9.75 inches and it weighs 9.6 ounces.

Both ends of the blade are a threat, and the bone crusher pommel augments the fighting capabilities of the knife. KA-BAR has added jimping to the back of the blade’s dorsal surface for increased control during vigorous slashing and thrusting. The curved ergonomic grip is made of two panels of GFN-PA66 and has a fish-scale texture with index divots to aid in retention. A hard plastic sheath with a retention strap and snap lock over the hilt is provided with each knife. Sheath slots and a lanyard hole in the pommel provide the owner with several carry options.
 
The selections of knives by military personnel that are described in this article represent a mix of old and new style blades. By no means are they all inclusive of what accompanies our warriors as they go about the business of executing two wars. All of them are quality tools or weapons and provide admirable service for the jobs they were intended to fulfill by their owners. And, congratulations to the winner of the FIN KA-BAR.

Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2009

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