Mark I trench knife

Mark I trench knife
On the left a Mark I knife used to dig up an anti-personnel mine. The mine is an S-mine

The Mark I trench knife was an American trench knife designed by officers of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) for use in World War I. It had a 6.75 in (17.1 cm) double edged dagger blade useful for both thrusting and slashing strokes, unlike previous U.S. trench knives such as the M1917 and M1918. The handle is made of cast bronze and uses a conical steel nut to hold the blade in place.[1] The Mark I's blade was blackened with a gun blue type finish, the bronze handle was chemically blackened, with cast spikes on the bow of each knuckle. The spikes were intended to prevent an opponent from grabbing the knife hand, as well as to provide an additional striking surface when employed in hand-to-hand combat.



M1918 Trench Knife

The Mark I was a development of the earlier U.S. M1917 and the slightly improved M1918 trench knives designed by Henry Disston & Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[2] Both the M1917 and M1918 used a triangular blade and a handle equipped with a guard designed to protect the user's knuckles.[2] By 1918 it was apparent that the M1917 and M1918 designs were too limiting to succeed in their intended role[3], and a new trench knife design was requested.[4]

On 1 June 1918 a panel of AEF officers conducted an exhaustive field test of various trench knives, including the U.S. M1917, the Hughes trench knife[5][6] and the standard-issue trench knives of the British and French armies, respectively.[2] The field test was performed to examine the qualities of each knife based on the following criteria: 1. Serviceability - ability to carry one-handed while performing other tasks; 2. Quickness or rapidity of employment in action; 3. Security of grip, in case user was stunned or knocked unconscious; 4. Ease of carrying when crawling in low prone position; 5. Probability of knife being knocked out of hand during a struggle; 6. Suitability of blade weight, length, and shape; and 7. Shape of handle.[2]

Testing confirmed that the existing M1917 and M1918 designs were in need of improvement.[2] Therefore a replacement trench knife designated the U.S. Trench Knife, Mark I was jointly developed by officers of the AEF and the Engineering Division of U.S. Ordnance.[2] This knife was entirely different from the M1917, bearing a flat double-edged blade, a unique metal scabbard, and a cast-bronze handle with built-in guard for individual fingers.[2] The AEF stated that the Mark I was a combination of all of the best features of the trench knives evaluated, and the Mark I's double-edged blade was taken directly from the Couteau Poignard Mle 1916 dit Le Vengeur, a trench knife design then currently in service with the French Army.[2][7]

With the end of hostilites in World War I, large scale wartime contracts for Mark I knife production were cancelled. Most Mark I knives that were produced by U.S. manufacturers were never issued, and remained in Army storage stateside. During World War II, stocks of Mark I knives were released for issue to Army units with a need for a close-combat fighting knife, though in terms of actual numbers the Mark I did not see widespread use during the war.[8] Of those Mark I knives released for service, most were issued in 1942 and 1943 to soldiers serving in elite Army Ranger and airborne formations[9][10], though some Mark I knives were used by Marine units in 1942 and 1943, in particular marines serving with the four Marine Raider battalions.[11] Army and Marine field reports concerning the effectiveness of the Mark I knife were mixed; some men liked the design, while others complained that Mark I was poorly balanced, with a relatively thin blade that was prone to snapping at the blade/handle junction, particularly when employed for utility tasks.[12][13][14] Other reports noted that the Mark I's large 'brass-knuckle' fingerguard handle was expensive to produce and limited the number of useful fighting grip positions, while preventing the knife from being carried in a conventional leather sheath or scabbard.[15] The Mark I also came in for criticism from Marine Raiders for its poor balance, relatively slow deployment speed and limited quick-kill penetration capability when used in an offensive role (the Raiders would eventually adopt a combat knife with a stiletto-style blade patterned after the Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife). Additionally, U.S. war planners had anounced a need for a general-purpose trench knife that could fulfill both the fighting and utility roles, while at the same time conserving strategic metal resources.[16]

The Mark I trench knife was replaced in Army service by the M3 trench knife in 1943[17], while the U.S. Marine Corps issued its own combat and utility knife the same year designated the 1219C2, later known as the USMC Mark 2 Combat Knife aka the USMC Knife, Fighting Utility.[18]


In order to save time in getting the new knife to troops in the field, the first Mark I trench knives were procured from a French manufacturer, Au Lion (Au Lion/Société Générale, France).[19] Subsequently the U.S. government placed orders for 1,232,780 Mark I knives with several U.S. contractors, including Landers, Frary & Clark (L.F.&C.) of New Britain, Connecticut; Henry Disston & Sons (HD&S) of Philadelphia; and Oneida Community Limited (O.C.L.), with deliveries to commence in December 1918.[2] Ordnance records note that the end of the war in November 1918 caused Ordnance to cancel all orders for the Mark I with the exception of a single reduced order for 119,424 knives from Landers, Frary & Clark Co. (L F & C).[2] Despite this apparent cancellation, otherwise original U.S. Mark I trench knives have been found with HD&S and O.C.L. stamps, with grip handles cast in either bronze or aluminum.

The French version of the Mark I is stamped on the blade ricasso with a recumbent lion, and the words Au Lion, while the grip is typically stamped "U.S. 1918", and fitted with a four-sided pommel cap. Made under wartime conditions, the French Mark I knife is generally more roughly finished than U.S. contracted examples, and incorporates several deviations from production specifications. Several versions of the French model exist - some with grooves on top of the grip, some without, and some bearing letters and numbers cast into the bronze fingerguard. As steel was a strategic material in wartime France, the French-manufactured Mark I was issued with a proprietary unmarked scabbard made of iron.

U.S.-contracted Mark I knives are stamped on the right side of the brass grip "U.S. 1918", with the contractor's initials located just below. The U.S. knives utilized an eight-sided pommel cap. Like the French-made version, U.S. Mark I knives came with proprietary scabbards designed to accommodate the Mark I knife with its oversized grip, but fabricated of steel instead of iron. Both blades and scabbards were issued with a blackened finish to prevent reflection. However, many soldiers (and later, civilian owners) attempted to polish the blades and/or scabbards, believing the blackened finish to be tarnish. As a result, many original Mark I knives and scabbards have lost their original finish. American-made steel scabbards for the Mark I trench knife were marked "L.F.&C. 1918".

See also


  1. ^ Cassidy, William L., The Complete Book Of Knife Fighting, ISBN 0873640292, 9780873640299 (1997), p. 47
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Crowell, Benedict (1919),America's Munitions 1917-1918, Report of Benedict Crowell, Assistant Secretary of War (Director of Munitions), U.S. War Department, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, pp. 88, 228
  3. ^ Cassidy, p. 45: Both the M1917 and M1918 had a narrow triangular stilletto-type blade which was not only prone to breakage, but restricted them to use as stabbing weapons.
  4. ^ Cassidy, p. 46
  5. ^ Military affairs: journal of the American Military Institute, American Military History Foundation, American Military Institute, Kansas State University, Dept. of History (1937) Vol. I, p. 153
  6. ^ Hughes, Rupert, Letters Patent No. 1,315,503 issued September 9, 1919, Washington, D.C.: United States Patent Office: An experimental design submitted by its inventor, U.S. Army Captain Rupert Hughes, the Hughes trench knife was a curious device consisting of a folding spring-loaded knife blade attached to a hasp which was fastened to the back of the hand by a strap, leaving the palm and fingers free for grasping other objects. Pressing a button on the hasp automatically extended the knife blade into an open position and locked position, much like a switchblade. Unfortunately, after testing the board found the Hughes design to be of no value.
  7. ^ Cassidy, p. 47
  8. ^ Cassidy, p. 47
  9. ^ KNIFE - U.S. KNIFE MODEL 1918 MKI TRENCH Springfield Armory Museum - Collection Record
  10. ^ Canfield, Bruce N., U.S. INFANTRY WEAPONS OF WORLD WAR II, Lincoln, RI: Andrew Mowbray Publishers, ISBN 0917218671, 9780917218675 (1994)
  11. ^ Shackleford, Steve, ed. (2009), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values, Krause Publications, ISBN 9781440203879, p. 387
  12. ^ Cassidy, p. 47
  13. ^ Walker, Greg, Battle Blades: A Professional's Guide to Combat/Fighting Knives, Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, ISBN 970873647327 (1993), p. 77
  14. ^ Cassidy, William L., The Complete Book Of Knife Fighting, ISBN 0873640292, 9780873640299 (1997), p. 47
  15. ^ <Cassidy, p. 47
  16. ^ Blending Metals to Arm Our Fighting Men, Popular Science, Vol. 142 No. 6 (June 1943), p. 104
  17. ^ Cassidy, p. 47: While the M3 largely replaced the Mark I in service in 1943, the latter was not formally declared obsolete until January 1945.
  18. ^ Shackleford, Steve (ed.), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values (7th ed.), Iola, WI: Krause Publications, ISBN 9781440203879, p. 387
  19. ^ Cassidy, p. 47


  • Crowell, Benedict, America's Munitions 1917-1918, Report of Benedict Crowell, Assistant Secretary of War (Director of Munitions), U.S. War Department, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1919)
  • Walker, Greg, Battle Blades: A Professional's Guide to Combat/Fighting Knives, Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, ISBN 970873647327 (1993)

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