Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife

The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife is a double-edged stiletto 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, then in No. 2 Commando. 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. The Wilkinson Sword Company (England) 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, the OSS, the Marine Raiders, et al., 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 Abbey.


Unlike the U.S. Marine Corps' Ka-Bar, designed for fighting and as a utility tool, the FS 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 inches long in the blade. First pattern knives have a 6.5 inch 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 cross guard. Pattern two knives have a slightly longer blade (slightly less than 7 inches), 2 inch wide oval cross guard, knurled pattern grip, rounded ball, and may be stamped "ENGLAND" on the handle side of the cross piece. 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 for throwing.

The length of the blade was chosen as it gave several inches of blade to penetrate the body after passing through the three inches of the thickest clothing that was anticipated to be worn in the war, namely that of Soviet greatcoats. Later production runs of the FS fighting knife have a blade length that is about 7.5 inches.

In all cases the handle had a distinctive foil like grip to enable a number of handling options. Many variations on the FS 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.


The success of the Fairbairn Sykes knife in WWII, and in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, many companies made their own versions of the F-S Fighting Knife. This double-edged knife was so admired that the U.S. military created in-house versions. The Gerber Mark II (1966) became the second-most famous knife to the U.S.M.C.'s Ka-Bar knife. To date, there are more than two hundred fighting knives based upon the Fairbairn Sykes Fighting Knife.

OSS version

The U.S. Office of Strategic Services's per-knife manufacturing bid was approximately one-fifteenth of the cost of the British version. The U.S. version was of inferior materials and workmanship; its reputation suffered accordingly. Furthermore, U.S. Marines were improperly trained in using the knife; they complained of malfunction and of limited attack opportunity, however, it was not a utility knife; Fairbairn did have opportunity to properly train soldiers in the correct use of his fighting knife.

British Major Fairbairn, who had been chief of police in Shanghai before the Japanese capture of the city, taught the Fairbairn method of assault and murder. His course was not restricted to Camp X, but later given at OSS camps in the United States. All of us who were taught by Major Fairbairn soon realized that he had an honest dislike for anything that smacked of decency in fighting.

In contrast to the OSS version (some 20,000), the British knives were almost two million units (not all of equal quality; post-War versions are of dubious quality). Early production runs were extremely limited and demand was high as British troops attempted to buy their own.

Other knives by Fairbairn

General Robert T. Frederick of the First Special Service Force is credited with a similar weapon, the V-42 combat knife, itself a derivation of the F-S design. The V-42 was manufactured by W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. during this period 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 was also credited with design of the smatchet.

See also

Further reading

  • Buerlein, Robert. (2002). Allied Military Fighting Knives: And The Men Who Made Them Famous. Paladin Press. ISBN 1581602901
  • Flook, Ron. (1999). British and Commonwealth Military Knives. Howell Press Inc. ISBN 1574270923

External links

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