Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife

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Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife
F-S fighting knife – ring grip pattern
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1941–present
Used bySee Users
WarsWorld War II – present
Production history
DesignerWilliam Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes
ManufacturerWilkinson Sword Ltd
Length11.5 inches (29 cm)
Blade length7 inches (18 cm)

Blade typeDagger
Hilt typeMetal
Head typeMetal
Haft typeMetal
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. It was developed by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai based on ideas that the two men had while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police in China before World War II.[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 optimised for thrusting,[2] although the F-S knife can be 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. It features in the insignia of the British 3 Commando Brigade, the Belgian Commandos, the Dutch Commando Corps (founded in the UK during World War II), and of the Australian 1st Commando and 2nd Commando Regiments and United States Army Rangers (all founded with the help of the British Commandos). Large numbers of Fairbairn Sykes knives of varying types, including some with wooden grips, were used by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division that landed on Juno Beach on "D" Day and by the men of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. A solid gold F-S fighting knife is part of the commandos' memorial at Westminster Abbey.

The first batch of 50 F-S fighting knives was produced in January 1941 by Wilkinson Sword Ltd. Fairbairn and Sykes had travelled to their factory from the Special Training Centre at Lochailort in November 1940 to discuss their ideas for a fighting knife.[4]

A batch of 1500 knives of this first pattern was ordered in Nov 1940. An order for 38,000 of the second pattern (slightly revised for wartime exigencies) followed in 1941. By the time of the third pattern of design refinements (dating from October 1943) the knife was being produced by several manufacturers. No formal specification existed until after the war, but the 1949 UK government specification E/1323E remains current.[5]

In December 2019, an SBS commando in Afghanistan used an F-S knife during an ambush by ISIL fighters.[6]


Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife at Fort William Museum

The F-S fighting knife was designed for surprise attack and fighting, with a slender blade that can easily penetrate a ribcage. Grip is provided by a vase handle, and the blade's slender, sharp-pointed blade is designed for 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.[7]

The Fairbairn-Sykes was produced in several patterns. The Shanghai knife on which it was based was 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 under the S-shaped crossguard; this was not present on the original design and its presence has not been explained by the manufacturers. 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 US legal requirement when importing the surplus knives after WWII) 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 disappointed 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 quantities of scarce brass stock. William Rodgers, as part of the Egginton Group, produce an all-black "sterile" version of the knife, devoid of any markings showing maker for NATO use.[8]

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 expected to be worn in the war, that of Soviet greatcoats.[clarify] 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 size of blade and particularly of handle. The design has influenced the design of knives throughout the period 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.

Almost two million of the British knives were made. Early production runs were extremely limited and demand was high, with many British troops attempting to buy their own.

OSS version[edit]

OSS knife and its distinctive scabbard (Collection of the CIA Museum)

The US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) stiletto was a double-edged knife based on the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife. It was so admired that the US military created several other fighting knives based on it. The OSS's knife manufacturing bid was approximately one-fifteenth of the British equivalent, but the US 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. 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 US M3 fighting knife.[9] The scabbard for the OSS stiletto looks like a pancake spatula, a design 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 metal belt attachment risked injury to those wearing it, especially parachutists during airborne operations.

V42 and smatchet[edit]

General Robert T. Frederick of the Devil's Brigade (First Special Service Force) is credited with a similar weapon, the Fighting Commando Knife, Type V-42, better known as the 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 US c. 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 with a F-S commando dagger on his webbing belt.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chambers, John W. (2008). OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II, Washington, D.C., US National Park Service, 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 (1991). Behind Japanese Lines: With the OSS in Burma, New York: Time Life Co., ISBN 0-8094-8579-6, ISBN 978-0-8094-8579-6: "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 Archived 2012-01-09 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Allan, Stuart (2007). Commando Country. Edinburgh: National Museums Scotland. ISBN 978-1-905267-14-9.
  5. ^ "The history of the Commando Knife". Sheffield Collectible Knives. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  6. ^ "British Commando Took Out ISIS Fighter with a WW2 Fairbairn-Sykes Knife". 29 December 2019.
  7. ^ Fairbairn, W. E. (December 1996) [1942]. Get Tough (new ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-002-0.
  8. ^ All Black Commando Knife. "Also available as NATO Stock Number 1095 99 963 2037". Eggington Group. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  9. ^ Chambers, John W., OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II, Washington, DC, US National Park Service (2008), p. 191.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Thompson (2011), p. 60.
  11. ^ "Meet the Group of Tough People Who Are Secretly Keeping You Safe | News | Rojak Daily". Archived from the original on 2020-08-12. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  12. ^ a b c d Thompson (2011), p. 61.
  13. ^ a b c d Thompson (2011), p. 77.
  14. ^ Thompson (2011), p. 43.
  15. ^ a b Thompson (2011), p. 75.
  16. ^ Thompson (2011), p. 72.
  17. ^ a b Thompson (2011), p. 76.
  18. ^ "New commando uniform for Royal Marines". royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy. 27 June 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  19. ^ "Introducing the Army's latest cap badge: Ranger Regiment". army.mod.uk. British Army. 25 November 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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
  • Thompson, Leroy (2011). Fairbairn–Sykes Commando Dagger. Osprey Weapons no. 7. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1849084314.
  • Wilkinson-Latham, Robert (2009). Wilkinsons and the F.S. Fighting Knife. 2nd ed. Pooley Sword Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84336-156-5

External links[edit]