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~ Introduction ~

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Variations Of The F-S KnifeVariations_Of_The_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html

~ Variations Of The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife ~



The Third Pattern

The Second Pattern F-SSecond_Pattern_-_Variations_Of_The_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html

November of 1940 is the start of the Fairbairn-Sykes (or F-S) Fighting Knife story.  With the development, production and subsequent adoption of that which we now refer to as the ‘First Pattern’ (F-S), this knife was destined to evolve through numerous variations throughout the Second World War and beyond.  Most (if not all) of the changes to the original design were motivated not by any attempt to improve upon the initial concept, but rather to address issues around expediency of manufacture and/or the increasing shortage of valuable raw materials during war-time production.  To this end, the design was simplified with the introduction of the ‘Second Pattern’ in August of 1941 and once again in October of 1943 with the introduction of the ‘Third Pattern’ (the subject of this article).

The war-time Third Pattern F-S Knife is a broad area of study, not least of which is due in part to this pattern of F-S likely being the most prolific of all F-S variations.  For this reason I have decided that this F-S variation would best serve the subject matter by dividing it into two parts.  Part One will deal specifically with Third Pattern F-S knives manufactured from October 1943 to approximately February of 1944.  These knives are most often distinguished by their thick (hand-ground) blade profile.  I generally refer to these as ‘mid-war’ knives.  Part Two will focus on the ‘late-war’ knives; those manufactured from approximately February 1944 to war’s end and are fitted with much thinner (machine-ground) blades.  Please note that some details understandably overlap between mid and late war knives, so although covered in either Part One or Two will, where appropriate, apply to both types of Third Pattern.

Dating any specific F-S variation is always going to be a challenge as factual details are very scarce indeed.  Aside from a few surviving records from Wilkinson, very little is known about who, when or in what number certain F-S variations were produced.  However we can make reasonable hypotheses based on the few details that have survived and of course by studying surviving examples of the knives themselves.  Although we would be remiss if we did not temper any subsequent conclusions with the understanding that any such assumptions will always be speculative.  It is with this caveat that I will continue.

~ Cast Grips & Mould Numbers ~

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We know from Wilkinson’s contract records that on the 20th October 1943 there was a slight reduction in price to the F-S supplied to the Ministry of Supply (MoS).  This was due to the introduction of the new zinc alloy grips which presumably were less expensive than the brass grips which they replaced, thus creating the ‘Third’ Pattern of F-S knife.  This then being the earliest recorded mention of the new Third Pattern is for all reasonably practical purposes our starting point for this pattern or variation.

The classic Wilkinson Third Pattern F-S.  Surprisingly rare especially in the Type II (all blued) version.  Such pristine examples as these are the exception and incredibly rare.

The original grip design found on both the First and Second Patterns was of brass with a machine-turned knurled grip cut into the central palm-swell.  Brass was a ‘strategic material’ and strictly controlled; no doubt this was the key consideration in the decision to find a replacement material.  The ‘new’ grip was of a cast zinc alloy (a non-strategic material).  The grip area that was previously machine-knurled was redesigned and now featured 27 concentric rings as an integral part of the casting.

Since the introduction of the cast alloy grip the Third Pattern has often been criticized for not having the same ‘feel’ as the earlier patterns, with the (incorrectly assumed) lightness of the alloy grip changing the balance of the knife.  This I have found to be somewhat inaccurate, as the overall weight of the Third Pattern is on average the same as, or ever so slightly heavier than, either the Second or earlier First Pattern knives.  Although it is true to say that in later knives the weight of the grip in comparison to the reduced weight of the blade did alter the balance.

The cast grips themselves were outsourced to foundries who specialized in such work.  From the various Wilkinson memorandums that have survived, ‘four’ such companies have been identified.  This is an important detail as the grips have a small ‘mould number’ as part of the casting located just below the pommel (shown below).  These numbers are always 1, 2, 3 or 4.  These numbers are believed to be a method of identifying the manufacturer to better aid in quality control.  These four makers are as follows:


    J. Maybry of London

    Perry Bar Metal Co of Birmingham

    Walsall Die Casting Ltd

    Wolverhampton Die Casting Company


With further examination of the records it has been possible to link the last of these makers (Wolverhampton Die Casting Ltd) to the mould-number ‘4’.  To date it has not been possible to allocate any of the other numbers to a specific maker.

It is worth noting that only war-time manufactured grips carry these mould numbers, so as a general rule a good guide is that if it has a mould number then it is a war-time knife; if no mould number is present then it is almost certainly of post-war manufacture.

~ The Mid-War Third Pattern - Part One ~

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The early version of the Third Pattern is in every respect a very fine knife and a worthy successor to the popular, successful and prolific Second Pattern.  It shared most of the same component parts as the Second Pattern, but also retained many of the same inspection/ownership marks.  At the heart of the knife is of course the blade and the early ‘mid-war’ Third Pattern F-S still retained the same blade as its predecessor.  These blades were very sturdy and were purportedly ‘hand-ground’ and finished.  At its thickest point the blade was a full ¼”; such a robust thickness did cause one problem during the assembly process, as it was too thick to be fitted through and fully flush with the crossguard.  The solution was to grind down a small area to resolve this issue and as a result, these blades are left with a distinctive ‘triangular’ section at the ricasso.  This small triangular grind gives us just one of a number of features which helps us correctly identify these early mid-war Third Patterns.

Including the blade thickness the other dimensions remained consistent with its predecessor.  The normal blade length for an F-S is between 6¼” (at its shortest) to 7” (at its longest) with the average length normally being around 6¾” to 6⅞”.  At its widest point (the 'ricasso' - where the blade meets the crossguard) the normal width is usually around ⅞”.  When discussing blade dimensions one needs to always consider that variations will occur.  The final grinding, polishing and sharpening will always result in subtle differences in size, shape and form and such details should be considered normal.  I have on rare occasions observed totally correct and unused Wilkinson F-S knives with blades as short as 6¼” and as narrow as ¾” at the ricasso.  Such irregularities are rare but one must remember that the F-S knife was never a sealed pattern and as such, was never subject to the the very strict requirements applied to so many other items of equipment procured for the War Department.

The crossguards associated with these early mid-war Third Pattern F-S knives are identical in shape and size to its predecessors.  The standard ‘lozenge’ form remained unchanged and the approximate size of 2” (length) by ⅝” (width) by ⅛” (thickness) remained constant.  The quality in finishing of this component part also was very high and reflected that of earlier patterns.  As we will see in Part Two, the crossguard was an area that later on would show less consistency both in quality and form.

A mid-war Third Pattern has a number of features that distinguish it from later versions - not least of which is the hang-ground blade easily identified by the V grind at the ricasso.

Four seemingly identical knives safe for the cast mould numbers into the grip indicated they were cast by different foundries.

For the most part any official markings found on a mid-war Third Pattern F-S Knife (those with hand-ground blades) will be located on the crossguard and most often on the side adjacent to the grip (rare exceptions are known).  Perhaps the most often encountered marking is that of the Indian ownership mark of an ‘I’ atop a Broad Arrow.  Unusual for the study of F-S Knives, we actually know quite a lot about these knives with their associated markings.  Wilkinson was approached and asked to fill an order for 2,500 knives on the 17th December 1943.  From surviving records we know that there was an express request stating that “In order to expedite this order, no additional markings such as Trade Mark etc., are required.”.  In other words, Wilkinson were instructed not to add their usual etching panels.  The order continues “Please note the Inspection docket attached to this letter...”.  The ‘docket’ in question requests (amongst other things) that the approved knives should be marked with the Broad Arrow and ‘I’ (i.e. Indian Ownership).  A small detail, but it is interesting to note that on the docket the details illustrated show the Broad Arrow ‘above’ the letter ‘I’ where in fact the the knives are stamped with the Broad Arrow ‘below’..!  Perhaps just an oversight but a detail that may be of interest to some collectors.  

This mid-war Third Pattern has the MoS inspection mark of an ⩚I denoting Indian Government ownership.  This was part of an order for 2,500 knives on the 17th December 1943 supplied by Wilkinson.  The marking is always found stamped into the grip side of the crossguard.

The adjacent original document dated 17th December 1943 is an urgent order for 2,500 F-S knives and scabbards.  Of interest to us here is the need for “the blades to be delivered for inspection before mounting” and also that “In order to expedite this order, no additional marking such as Trade Mark etc, are required”.  The letter also mentions the attached ‘inspection docket’ which can be seen below.  This indicated the addition of the ‘Broad Arrow I’ marking for India stores

Another Wilkinson manufactured Third Pattern F-S Knife carrying official ownership/inspection markings are those examples stamped ‘⩚B2’.  For a long time the origin of this mark was unknown and open to a great deal of speculation.  That is until some documented evidence was unearthed by Robert Wilkinson-Latham which conclusively established a link with Wilkinsons with the ⩚B2 ownership/inspection mark.  This mark is most often encountered on Second Pattern F-S knives and indeed in this respect is the most common marking found on any war-time F-S.  However this mark does appear on Third Pattern knives, all be it rarely which makes it worth looking out for.  One final word on the ⩚B2 mark in general, is that it is often poorly stamped - often leading some observers to misinterpret the marking.

Aside from the above mentioned markings ( ⩚I & ⩚B2 ), other similar marks are known, for example: ⩚5, ⩚21, ⩚42 & ⩚A3, the latter being extremely rare.  An example of the ⩚21 mark can be clearly seen in photograph below.  Always be very cautious when encountering markings on mid-war Third Patterns that are in any way different from those mentioned here.  I have also on occasion encountered fake markings.  If in any doubt seek then my advice is to always seek the advice of an experienced collector or expert on this topic.

Trying to allocate specific mid-war Third Patterns to any particular maker is almost impossible, save for those known to have been produced by Wilkinson Sword Co Ltd of London.  As previously noted, those knives that carry the ownership/inspection marks of ⩚I & ⩚B2 stamped into the crossguard have through documented evidence been conclusively linked to Wilkinsons.  Of course there are also those seldom seen Third Pattern F-S knives (not covered in this article) that have the standard Wilkinson and now familiar F-S etching applied to the blade.  These knives  can be found with either blued or polished blades and on very rare occasions can even have a personal etched banner, an option offered by Wilkinson at their Pall Mall showroom.

Aside from those marks already mentioned that we can conclusively link to Wilkinson, we are left with those examples marked ⩚5, ⩚21, ⩚42 & ⩚A3.  These as yet have not been attributed to a specific maker and in all likelihood may never be.  For the most part, the quality of these knives is on par with Wilkinson knives and it may be possible that some or all of these were manufactured by Wilkinson.  However as no evidence to date has been found to indicate such an attribution this, for now, at least, the origin of these fine knives must remain a mystery.

~ The Late-War Third Pattern ~

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The original incentive for the Third Pattern F-S knife was motivated not by a desire to improve upon the concept but by a need to speed up production whilst cutting down on the use of strategic materials.  This approach would inevitably result in the ‘late-war’ Third Pattern F-S along with reduction not only in blade thickness but overall quality.  It may be true that when compared to earlier knives and especially the superbly crafted First Patterns, the last incarnation of the Third Pattern, does not compare favorably, however in its own respect it is an interesting knife with many subtle distinguishing details which make it a joy to collect and study.

Although we do have a reasonably accurate date for when the initial production of the Third Pattern started (October 1943), this date was clearly for those mid-war knives produced by Wilkinson.  Pinning a commencement date down for those late-war knives with the thinner machine-ground blades is never going to be easy but based on manufactures records and also MoS purchase contracts I believe this would have been around February/March of 1944.  This is based on a number of circumstantial details that I have observed.  Not least of which was the fruitless attempt by Wilkinson in February 1944 to yet again modify the F-S (see Published Articles - Knife World December 2011).  Also the significant drop in price paid to a number of manufactures during March where for the first time we see a price of under 9 shillings per unit.  This price (8/9 & 8/10) remained constant for the remainder of 1944/5 and was paid to a great many companies that supplied F-S Knives.  For ease if we round it up to 9 shillings this would give us a price today of approximately 45 pence (GBP) or 56 cents (USD) per unit.

Using the description ‘machine-ground’ blade may be a little misleading and somewhat inaccurate especially for those amongst you who have experience in the knife making process.  However this term has found its way into common usage amongst F-S collectors to describe these late-war knives so perhaps a little further elaboration is appropriate.  

The mid-war Third Pattern as mentioned in Part One had the same blade characteristics of its predecessor - the Second Pattern.  These blades were obviously thicker than later knives at a full one-quarter of an inch, but they were clearly hand-ground and polished, resulting in a very fine, smooth finish to the blade's surface.  This is not usually the case with late-war knives.  Aside from the thinner blade which normally is no thicker than three sixteenth's of an inch, these blades do not show the fine hand-polishing and finishing but rather, when viewed closely have the transverse striations leftover from the grinding process (see photograph above).  

Along with the above mentioned differences there is one other identifying feature worth pointing out.  Due to the thinness of the blade, there was no longer a requirement for the central ridge to be ground down to facilitate assembly as we see on the mid-war knives; the blades tang being thin enough to pass cleanly through the crossguard.  The thinner blade clearly allowed for the elimination of yet another step in the production process - another evolutionary step for the ever-increasing quest for a faster, more streamlined  production process.

With these observations on the thinner late-war blades and their subsequent, often unfavorable comparison to the earlier, thicker and higher quality blades, you could be forgiven for thinking that I am not a fan of these late-war knives.  However you would be completely incorrect.  In fact with their affordability, relative availability and with such variety of inspection marks I think they are a fascinating area of study and well worth the attention of any serious F-S collector.

The transverse striations found on the thinner late-war ‘machine-ground’ blades is often clearly visible as on this example shown above.

This late-war Third Pattern is a splendid representation of this pattern of F-S, not least of which because it is in as new and unissued condition, incredibly still retaining some of its original storage wrapping.

The crossguards found on late-war Third Pattern knives are certainly more diverse in both form and quality than those found on earlier knives.  In comparison, the first thing one notices is that the quality of the finishing is rarely up to the same standard of those earlier knives.  In fact some examples appear to have had very little cleaning up prior to finished bluing/blackening being applied.  The other, and often more noticeable detail, is the shape of the guard itself.  Whereas many examples still conform to the now standard ‘lozenge’ shape, some examples have a much more simple form consisting of straight sides with the ends terminating in a simple semi-circle.  The latter design being the less often encountered of the two but worth noting none the less.

This image shows many of the features that distinguish the late-war Third Pattern; transverse blade striations, the lack of a ground V section to the ricasso and the ferrule marked MoS mark (⩚8), this location becoming the norm from now on.

Ownership/inspection markings found on the late-war Third Pattern F-S is perhaps one of the most exciting and interesting areas pertaining to the late-war Third Pattern F-S knife and from my perspective, one of the areas that makes these specific knives such a fascinating area to study and collect.  In contrast to the mid-war knives, the late-war examples are generally never marked on the crossguard.  Rather, these official markings are found on the ferrule portion of the grip and always with a much smaller stamp.  For the most part these inspection/ownership marks consist of the ubiquitous Broad Arrow placed atop a number (not usually the letter/number combination found on earlier knives).  The arrow is alway on top and pointing towards the blade of the knife.  The number is alway read in the same way, i.e. when holding the knife with the blades tip pointing away.

The quantity of markings is much greater than those found on earlier knives and those numbers thus far noted are as follows:  2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13 (all placed ‘below’ a Broad Arrow).  The last number in this series (13) is often mistaken for ‘15’ but all examples that I have examined have been ‘incorrectly’ identified as ‘15’, when looked at under magnification they do indeed turn out to be ‘13’.  The number ‘7’ is also often mistaken for the number ‘1’.  I have noted the number ‘1’ used on other F-S knife patterns but not (as of yet) on the late-war Third Patterns.

All of these numbers are thought to be associated with an individual Ministry of Supply inspector.  From those examples mentioned, it appears that there were at least nine inspectors tasked with issuing such marks to those manufacturers of F-S knives.  I have noted other number markings on F-S knives as well as on other military products but as yet, the numbers listed and shown here are the only numbers found on the late-war Third Pattern F-S.  If you have an example that has a different number and can send me a high resolution image, I would be very interested to hear from you.

Before we leave this topic it is worth noting that not all knives will carry the official ownership/inspection mark.  I have observed many examples that were totally correct in ever respect but did not have any ownership/inspection marks.  One could argue that these unmarked knives were destined for the commercial market but further evidence would lead us to discard this hypothesis.  The fact that many of these knives carry the U.S. import mark is evidence that they originated in military stores and were originally government property.

The subject of import marks is one that often causes much confusion and misunderstanding, however the topic is really quite straight forward.  Since the McKinley tariff act of 1890 (see dedicated article on this topic), any product imported into the US has to be marked with the country of origin.  The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife was no exception.  Shortly after the end of WWII the British government sold great quantities of military equipment as surplus.  Around a quarter of a million F-S knives were purchased and subsequently imported into the US by a California based company to be sold through various sporting magazines.  In order to conform to US import laws, these knives were marked ‘ENGLAND’.  This normally took the form of a stamping on the crossguard but there are rare exceptions with a ‘MADE IN ENGLAND’ stamp concentrically around the pommel.  

Simply put, if any F-S knife has the word ‘ENGLAND’ (not generally ‘Sheffield England’ which with few exceptions is almost always a post-war mark) stamped into the crossguard it is an indication that the knife is of war-time manufacture - but was imported into the US in the late 1940’s.  Such marks of course not only apply to late-war Third Patterns but also to mid-war examples as well.  In fact, many other variations of the F-S have been noted with this import mark.

Mould numbers found on the cast grips were to covered in Part One for the simple reason that the pommel nuts found on ‘all’ mid-war Third Pattern F-S knives are consistent and follow the same ‘doughnut’ form.  This, however, is not the case when dealing with late-war Third Patterns as the variety one can encounter is quite vast and clearly reflects the many different makers involved in supplying this knife.

Perhaps the most often-encountered pommel nuts are those with a ‘domed’ shape.  The is quite a large pommel nut in contrast to the earlier (mid-war) examples and has straight sides and a round top.  This small and often overlooked manufacturing detail could be a study in its own right, presuming of course one had enough examples to compare.  As the pommel nut is such a small component part it is unlikely that it could be used in isolation to create any conclusions as to the manufacturer, etc; any particular maker could have changed designs at some point.  However with that possibility aside and using the nut as part of the whole picture, it is certainly a detail that can be included in a more holistic approach to isolating a particular knife or knives for study.

The group image above shows a variety of pommel nuts but also represents all of the four (1 through 4) of the cast mould number mentioned earlier.  Note that the example carrying the mould number ‘3’ is in this case a mid-war knife, the pommel nuts on all the other (late-war) knives being visibly different both in form and size.

~ Manufacturers ~

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The Third Pattern and in particular the late-war knife was supplied by many different manufactures.  As of writing I have identified over two dozen different supplies of F-S Knives with single orders ranging from as few as 44 up to 38,700.  It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into such details here but I will in the future be working on a dedicated article covering in more detail those many makers of the wartime F-S Fighting Knife.

Late-war Third Patterns with a makers mark are very rarely encountered.  This splendid example by J. Clarke & Son is very much the exception.

FAKE...!

This ‘B2⩚’ marking is completely fake in every respect.  If you are in any doubt whatsoever about any F-S knife or marking ‘please’ contact me before you spend any money, as I’m more than happy to assist and share my knowledge.

Before leaving the Wilkinson ⩚B2 Third Pattern F-S it is perhaps worth noting that one can occasionally encounter knives that contain a ‘fake’ version of this mark!  As stated this mark is perhaps the most common of all inspection marks so why one would choose to fake it is beyond me, perhaps the over enthusiastic descriptions by some dealers and internet auction sellers have unwittingly convinced some individuals into believing it is worth faking?  Who really knows what goes on in the minds of these unscrupulous sellers.  Some of these markings have even been found on knives that are clearly not correct for this marking.  Nevertheless if unsure please exercise caution.

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