The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife is a double-edged fighting knife resembling a dagger or poignard with a foil grip developed by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai based on concepts which the two men initiated before World War II while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police in China.
The F-S fighting knife was made famous during World War II when issued to British Commandos, including the SAS. With its acutely tapered, sharply-pointed blade, the F-S Fighting knife is frequently described as a stiletto, a weapon optimized for thrusting, although the F-S knife is capable of being used to inflict slash cuts upon an opponent when its cutting edges are sharpened according to specification. 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 / clandestine / raiding units. It features in the insignia of the British Royal Marines, the Dutch Commando Corps, founded in the UK during World War II, the Australian 1st Commando Regiment and 2nd Commando Regiment, and the United States Army Rangers, both founded with the help of the British Commandos. A solid gold F-S Fighting Knife is part of the commandos’ memorial at Westminster Abbey.
The first batch of fifty F-S Fighting Knives were produced in January 1941 by Wilkinson Sword Ltd after Fairbairn and Sykes had travelled down to their factory from the Special Training Centre at Lochailort in November 1940 to discuss their ideas for a fighting knife.
The F-S Fighting Knife (having little other practical application except for use in hand-to-hand combat) is now of interest mainly to collectors, though it remains in production because of continued collector interest.
The F-S 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 blade’s design is especially suited to its 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.
The Fairbairn-Sykes was produced in several patterns. The Shanghai knife on which it was based was only 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 which was not present on the original design and the presence of which has not been explained by the manufacturers, under the S-shaped crossguard. 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” on the handle side of the cross piece. Some may also be stamped with a number (e.g., 21) on the opposite handle side of the cross piece. Above the number may also be stamped a triangular symbol. 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 and could be cast from a cheaper and more plentiful alloy instead of using up scarce quantities of brass stock which were of course required for ammunition casings and other such vital applications. 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.
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 that was anticipated to be worn in the war, namely that of Soviet greatcoats. 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 regards to size of blade and particularly of handle. The design has influenced the design of knives throughout the many decades since its introduction.