Second World War issued Fairbairn-Sykes Clarke & Son manufactured ‘Ribbed and Beaded’ variant of the 3rd Pattern 2nd type Fighting Knife, and hence extremely rare when marked up to this maker with this form of grip. This version with a plain oval cross guard without the makers details, but with distinctive flatter pommel nut and the grip stamped up with the War Department broad arrow mark and Ministry of Supply acceptance number ‘4’, indicating this dagger was by J. Clarke & Son of Sheffield in the period from October 1943 when the 3rd Pattern came into existence. This being the rarest version from this maker with its distinctive ribbed and beaded brass grip which is seen on some of the 3rd Pattern knives only. The full length blade is of the thin ‘machine-ground’ form hence indicative of manufacture from February 1944 through to the end of the war. Complete with original leather scabbard, this with all four tabs still attached. A superb example of type.
Condition: Generally good consummate with age and usage, the blade maintaining most of its original peacock coloured blueing and is of full length, the scabbard chape with some dents, leather work generally good.
The Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife is a double-edged fighting knife resembling a dagger or poignard with a foil grip developed by William Ewart Fairbaurn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai based on ideas which the two men had 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, 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, 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, though a small number of other makers are known to have fulfilled Ministry of Supply quotas, those made by the firm of J. Clarke & Son being an example.
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 Belgian Commandos, the Dutch Commando Corps, founded in the UK during World War II, and the Australian 1st Commando and 2nd Commando Regiments, and the United States Army Rangers, both 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 who jumped and fought on the same day. 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 to their factory from the Special Training Centre at Lochailort in November 1940 to discuss their ideas for a fighting knife. In December 2019, a SBS commando in Afghanistan used a FS knife during an ambush by ISIL fighters.
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" (a US legal requirement when importing the surplus knives after WWII, as they had to show the country of origin) 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 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. 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 for 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 regard to size of blade and particularly of handle. The design has influenced the design of knives throughout the many decades 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, such as the 1966 Gerber Mark II. 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.
The J. Clarke & Son manufactured knives as taken from an article found online :
Those F-S Knives we can attribute to J. Clarke & Son are indeed an interesting area to study. There was a time when the only knives conclusively attributed to this maker were those high quality Second Patterns that along with their makers stamp also carried the date of 1942. This is now not the case as the story of J. Clarke and the F-S Knives it produced has now expanded to also include the Third Pattern, unmarked examples of both patterns and surprising even the possibility of the Ribbed & Beaded F-S also. What follow is a brief study of this area of the F-S and as new knives and information becomes available, what is likely to be an increasingly fascinating topic.
We know that J. Clarke & Son were manufacturing the F-S Knife and fulfilling MoS contacts in the last few months of 1942. These details are bore out by two facts. Firstly that Wilkinson at the request of the Ministry of Supply had provided a set of (Second Pattern) technical drawings as of 2nd October 1942, so it is unlikely that any maker would have been producing such knives prior to this date. Secondly, those J. Clarke knives of the Second Pattern that are maker marked always include the date of 1942. Along with the reality that such knives are excessively scarce, it most likely that these knives were amongst the first batch of such knives produced by Clark and date from mid to late October (at the earliest), November & December. I have not been able to find a specific 1942 date for this contract as yet but strongly suspect that all of these early Clarke knives were part of the initial oder during this time period and by October 1943 had been supplanted by the Clark Third Pattern.
The original Clarke Second Pattern F-S appears to conform precisely to those specifications laid out on the technical drawings supplied to the MoS by Wilkinson in October of 1942. Although one must remember that the F-S was never a ‘sealed’ pattern and as such there was no requirement to manufacture any F-S to exact tolerances - one of the reasons we have so many variations surviving today. As a result and in the case of these early Clarke knives there are quite a few subtle but unique manufacturing details that clearly made this variation distinctive, one of the reasons some knives without the makers mark evident can be attributed with reasonable confidence to this maker.
The ‘Ribbed and Beaded’ variant grip version:
The so-called ‘Ribbed & Beaded’ variant of the F-S Fighting Knife has attracted this moniker due to the somewhat ornately designed grip which has a series of ‘ribs’ interspersed with concentric rings of ‘beads’. The reason for this, one would assume, was someone's idea of creating a secure grip. Whatever the original logic behind the design, it did create what, for a utilitarian weapon, is a very aesthetically-pleasing design and as such has translated into a very popular variant amongst the many F-S Knife collector. This ‘Ribbed & Beaded’ F-S Knife can be found with many subtle variations, manufactures anomalies and inspection marks and can be a study in its own right. The reason for the rarity of this type when manufactured by the firm of J. Clarke & Son is that it is marked up as such with the Ministry of Supply acceptance number. Most ribbed and beaded variants are generally accepted as having been manufactured during 1943 to 1945 on the 3rd Pattern knife.