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(USMC) Knife, Fighting Utility (USN Mark 2 utility knife)
Commemorative USMC Ka-Bar knife
Type Knife
Place of origin  United States
Service history
Used by United States Marine Corps
United States Navy
Wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Invasion of Grenada
Operation Just Cause
Gulf War
War in Afghanistan
Iraq War
Production history
Designed 23 November 1942
Manufacturer Camillus Cutlery Co.
Union Cutlery Co.
Pal Cutlery Co.
Robeson (ShurEdge) Cutlery Co.
Produced 1943–present
Weight 1.23 pounds (0.56 kg)
Length 11.875 inches (30.16 cm)
Blade length 7 inches (18 cm)

Blade type Bowie
Hilt type Stacked leather washers
Scabbard/sheath Leather (USMC) or Plastic (USN)

KA-BAR (trademarked as KA-BAR, capitalized) is the contemporary popular name for the combat knife first adopted by the United States Marine Corps in November 1942 as the 1219C2 combat knife (later designated the USMC Mark 2 combat knife or Knife, Fighting Utility), and subsequently adopted by the United States Navy as the U.S. Navy utility knife, Mark 2.[1][2][3] Additionally, KA-BAR is the trademark and namesake of a related knife manufacturing company, KA-BAR Knives., Inc. (formerly Union Cutlery Co.) of Olean, New York, a subsidiary of the Cutco Corporation.

Although KA-BAR Knives, Inc. currently makes a wide variety of knives and cutlery, it is best known for the KA-BAR Fighting/Utility knife, which has traditionally used a 7 in. (178 mm) 1095 carbon steel clip point blade and leather-washer handle. Other, more modern versions of this knife feature single or dual-edge blades and synthetic handles made of Kraton (a non-slip rubber substitute).[4]

History[edit | edit source]

The owner of KA-BAR trademark, the Union Cutlery Co. of Olean, New York, began using the name on its knives and in its advertising in 1923[5] after receiving a testimonial letter from a fur trapper, who used the knife to kill a wounded bear that attacked him after his rifle jammed.[6] According to company records, the letter was only partially legible, with "ka bar" readable as fragments of the phrase "kill a bear".[7][8][9][6][10][11] In 1923, the company adopted the name KA-BAR from the "bear story" as their trademark.[5][6] Beginning in 1923, the KA-BAR trademark was used as a ricasso stamp by Union Cutlery Co. on its line of automatic switchblade pocket knives, including the KA-BAR Grizzly, KA-BAR Baby Grizzly, and KA-BAR Model 6110 Lever Release knives.[12]

World War II[edit | edit source]

After the United States' entry into World War II, complaints arose from Army soldiers[13][14] and Marines[15] issued World War I-era bronze or alloy-handled trench knives such as the U.S. Mark I trench knife for use in hand-to-hand fighting. The Mark I was relatively expensive and time-consuming to manufacture, and reports from the field indicated that the knife's large 'brass-knuckle' fingerguard handle made it difficult to secure in conventional scabbards while limiting the range of useful fighting grip positions.[4][16] Another criticism was that the Mark I's relatively thin blade was prone to breakage when used for common utility tasks such as cutting wire, opening ammunition crates and ration tins.[4] A final impetus came from the War Department, which had determined the need for a new multipurpose knife capable of fulfilling the roles of both a fighting and a utility knife, while at the same time conserving strategic metal resources.[17]

The Marine Corps authorized limited issuance of a fighting knife with a stiletto blade design, the Marine Raider Stiletto designed by Lt. Col. Clifford H. Shuey, a Marine Corps engineering officer. Shuey's pattern was essentially a copy of the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife with altered material specifications designed to reduce dependence on critical strategic metals. The Raider stiletto was initially issued to elite Marine forces, including the entire 1st Marine Raider Battalion commanded by Colonel Merritt A. Edson,[18] the USMC 1st Parachute Battalion, and to Marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson.[19] Primarily intended as a thrusting (stabbing) weapon, the Marines of the 1st Raider battalion found the Raider stiletto to be well designed for silent killing, but was of little use for any other purpose, and too frail for general utility tasks.[18] After their first combat, many Marines in the 2nd Raider Battalion exchanged their Raider stilettos for No. 17 and No. 18 Collins general-purpose short machetes (machetes pequeños) purchased with unit funds.[19] The Collins machetes,[20] which superficially resembled a large Bowie knife, were also issued to some Army air crews as part of the Jungle Emergency Sustenance Kit of 1939.[19]

In the absence of suitable officially issued knives, a number of Marines deploying for combat in 1942 obtained their personal knives through private purchase, usually hunting/utility patterns such as Western States Cutlery Co.'s pre-war L76 and L77 pattern knives, both of which had 7-inch (180 mm) Bowie type clip blades and leather handles.[2] The Western States L77 was stocked at the San Diego Base Exchange at the onset of the war, and knives of this pattern were carried by many Marines in the 1st Marine Division as well as by Marine Raiders in the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson.[2][18]

In response to a specification requesting for a modern individual fighting knife design for the U.S. Marines, ordnance and quartermaster officials requested submissions from several military knife and tool suppliers to develop a suitable fighting and utility knife for individual Marines, using the U.S. Navy Mark 1 utility knife and existing civilian hunting/utility knives such as Western's L77 as a basis for further improvements.[1] Working with Union Cutlery, USMC Colonel John M. Davis and Major Howard E. America contributed several important changes, including a longer, stronger blade, the introduction of a small fuller to lighten the blade, a peened pommel (later replaced by a pinned pommel), a straight (later, slightly curved) steel crossguard, and a stacked leather handle for better grip.[1][2] The blade, guard, and pommel were coated with a non-reflective matte phosphate finish instead of the brightly polished steel of the original prototype.[1] The design was given the designation of 1219C2.[1] Notably, the 1219C2 used a thicker blade stock than that of the USN Mark 1 utility knife, and featured a stout clip point.[1] After extensive trials, the 1219C2 prototype was recommended for adoption.[21] The Marines' Quartermaster at the time initially refused to order the knives, but his decision was overruled by the Commandant.[8][9][10] The Marine Corps adopted the new knife on November 23, 1942, still under the designation 1219C2.[2]

The 1219C2 proved easy to manufacture; the first production run was shipped by Camillus Cutlery Co. on January 27, 1943.[2] After the U.S. Navy became disenchanted with blade failures on the USN Mark 1 utility knife, the latter service adopted the 1219C2 as the US Navy Utility Knife, Mark 2.[22] The Marine Corps in turn re-designated the 1219C2 as either the USMC Mark 2 Combat Knife, or simply the Knife, Fighting Utility. In naval service, the knife was used as a diving and utility knife from late 1943 onward, though the stacked leather handle tended to rot and disintegrate rapidly in saltwater.

The Marine Corps issued USMC Mark 2 combat/fighting utility knife throughout Marine forces, with early deliveries going primarily to elite formations. In late 1943 the 1219C2 replaced the Marine Raider Stiletto in service, a change welcomed by the marines of Col. Edson's 1st Raider Battalion, who found the Raider stiletto ideal for silent killing but of little use for anything else.[18] As the knife went into large-scale production, the Marines issued the Mark 2 Combat/Fighting Utility knife to reconnaissance and engineering units and to any Marine armed with the pistol, M1 carbine, BAR, or crew-served machine gun (rifle-armed Marines were typically issued a bayonet). Marines were often issued knives with "U.S.N. Mark 2" markings when Navy-issued Mark 2 knives were all that was available.[2] By 1944 the USMC Mark 2 Combat/Fighting Utility knife was issued to virtually any Marine in the combat branches who desired one, and was in use by Marine Corps close combat instructors for training new recruits.[23] Unlike the prior Marine Raider stiletto, Marines were taught to use their new knife primarily as a slashing weapon in the initial phases of hand-to-hand combat.[24]

As its new name implied, the "Knife, Fighting Utility" was designed from the outset as a dual-purpose knife: it was both an effective combat knife and a utility tool, well-suited to the type of jungle warfare encountered by Marines in the Pacific theater.[23] This dual-purpose design resulted in some initial criticism of the pattern as being less than ideal for knife fighting, but combat experience of returning veterans as well as field reports from the battlefield soon dispelled any doubts about its combat effectiveness.[23][25]

After the Second World War, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps continued to use the Mark 2 Combat/Fighting Utility knife. In addition to military contract knives, the knife was produced for the civilian market, and the pattern enjoyed some popularity as a general-purpose hunting and utility knife.[26]

Manufacturers and the "KA-BAR" name[edit | edit source]

Camillus Cutlery Co., the first manufacturer to supply the 1219C2 combat knife under contract, also produced the largest number of such knives, producing over 1 million examples marked "Camillus.N.Y." on the blade's ricasso before the war ended.[2] Besides Camillus, the Union Cutlery Co., Robeson (ShurEdge) Cutlery Co., and the PAL Cutlery Co. all produced the Mark 2 combat/fighting utility knife under military contract during World War II.[27] The Union Cutlery Company, the first company to manufacture a knife trademarked KA-BAR, was founded in 1897 as the Tidioute Cutlery Co.[5] The Tidioute Cutlery Co. was dissolved and its assets taken over by Wallace R. Brown, who renamed the company Union Razor Co. which shortly thereafter became the Union Cutlery Company in 1909, headquartered in Olean, New York.[5]

Of the four wartime manufacturers, Union Cutlery Co. was the sole wartime knife manufacturer to stamp all Mark 2 Combat/Fighting Utility knives they made for the military with their "KA-BAR" trademark on the blade's ricasso, and was second only to Camillus in terms of production, producing about 1 million knives during the wartime contract.[2] Because of this prominent trademark, Marines as early as 1944 began universally referring to their new combat knife as the "KA-BAR", regardless of manufacturer.[23][28] The popular designation of the knife as the "KA-BAR" may also have resulted from contact with Marine Corps close combat instructors in San Diego, who appear to have used the term "KA-BAR" when training recruits in the skill of knife fighting.[23]

After the end of World War II, Utica Cutlery Co., Conetta Cutlery Co., Camillus Cutlery Co., and (beginning around 1980) the Ontario Knife Co. all produced the Mark 2 under contract for the U.S. military.[2] From approximately 1945-1952, Weske Cutlery Co. of Sandusky, Ohio purchased leftover and overrun parts from wartime Mark 2 knife contractors and assembled them into knives for commercial sale, polishing out the original manufacturer and military markings, and fitting them with ungrooved leather handles.[29] Though W.R. Case made two prototype 1219C2 knives as part of a contract submission in 1942-43, no contract was ever awarded to Case for the production of military Mark 2 Combat/Fighting Utility knives, either during or after World War II. In 1992, Case would release a modern commemorative of these prototypes, the Case XX USMC Fighting Utility Knife. The Case XX USMC Fighting Utility knife is actually manufactured for Case by Ontario Knife Co[citation needed].

From 1923 until 1952, KA-BAR remained a legal trademark of Union Cutlery Company. However, in 1952 Union Cutlery renamed itself KA-BAR Cutlery Inc. in order to capitalize on widespread public recognition of the "KA-BAR" name and trademark, which had by then become synonymous with the well-regarded but confusingly titled USMC Mark 2 Combat Knife or Knife, Fighting Utility of the late war.[2] While the company name changed, KA-BAR, Inc.'s headquarters are still located in Olean, New York. Cutco Corporation, manufacturer of Cutco Cutlery, acquired the company in 1996.[30]

Knifemaker Duane Dwyer of Strider Knives has made custom versions of the USMC Fighting Utility knife featuring pattern welded blades.[31]

Service[edit | edit source]

In USMC service in Iraq, 2005.

KA-BAR makes Army and Navy versions as well as USMC versions.[1] They are the same as the Marine version except for different initials at the bottom of the blade and different symbols on the sheath. Marines today often give the blades, guards and pommels of their knives a few coats of non-reflective matte black spray paint to reduce reflected light and give them a little more protection against saltwater corrosion.[1] Its moderate carbon and low chromium steel mixture allows the blade to hold an edge very well. The 1095 chrome-vanadium steel[citation needed] used in the blades of contemporary KA-BARs has a hardness of 56–58 HRC, while the guard and pommel are made from sintered 1095 carbon steel. Besides use as a fighting knife, the Mark 2 has proven its usefulness as a utility knife, used for opening cans, digging trenches, and cutting wood, roots, wire, and cable.[1] In 1995, the design was updated with a tool steel blade, synthetic handle, and synthetic sheath marketed as "The Next Generation".[4] As of June 2012 the "Next Generation" models have been discontinued.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Walker, Greg (2001). KA-BAR: The Next Generation of the Ultimate Fighting Knife. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press. pp. 13–20, 77. ISBN 1-58160-120-4. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Shackleford, Steve (ed.), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values (7th ed.), Iola, WI: Krause Publications, ISBN 1-4402-0387-3, ISBN 978-1-4402-0387-9 (2009), p. 387
  3. Petzal, David E., The 20 Best Knives Ever Made: The Jar-Head Favorite, Ka-Bar Marine Corps Fighting Knife, Field & Stream Magazine, Vol. CXIII, No. 2 (June 2008), p. 73: The USMC 1219C2 was first manufactured in January 1943 by the Camillus Cutlery Company of Camillus, New York
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Walker (2001)pp. 5-8 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Walker_NG" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Shackleford, Steve (ed.), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values (7th ed.), Iola, WI: Krause Publications, ISBN 978-1-4402-0387-9, p. 143
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 How KA-BAR Got Its Name
  7. Freeth, Nick (2005). Made in America: from Levis to Barbie to Google. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-7603-2270-3. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rottman, Gordon L. (2006). US Marine Rifleman 1939-45: Pacific Theater. London: Osprey Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-84176-972-1. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Rottman, Gordon L. (2007). FUBAR: soldier slang of World War II. London: Osprey Publishing. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-84603-175-5. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rottman, Gordon L.; Derrick Wright (2008). Hell in the Pacific: The Battle for Iwo Jima. London: Osprey Publishing. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-84603-335-3. 
  11. The legend of KA-BAR, Field & Stream Magazine, Vol. 83, No. 6 (October 1978), p.154
  12. Erickson, Mark, Antique American Switchblades, Chapter 22: KA-BAR, a trademark of Union Cutlery Co., Olean, NY, Krause Publications, ISBN 0-87349-753-8 (2004)
  13. KNIFE – U.S. KNIFE MODEL 1918 MKI TRENCH Springfield Armory Museum – Collection Record
  14. Canfield, Bruce N., U.S. INFANTRY WEAPONS OF WORLD WAR II, Lincoln, RI: Andrew Mowbray Publishers, ISBN 0-917218-67-1, ISBN 978-0-917218-67-5 (1994)
  15. Shackleford, Steve, ed. (2009), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values, Krause Publications, ISBN 978-1-4402-0387-9, p. 387: In addition to use by elite Army units such as the Rangers and U.S. airborne forces, some marines serving in Marine Raider battalions during 1942 and 1943 carried U.S. Mark I trench knives.
  16. Cassidy, William L., The Complete Book Of Knife Fighting, ISBN 0-87364-029-2, ISBN 978-0-87364-029-9 (1997), p. 47
  17. Blending Metals to Arm Our Fighting Men, Popular Science, Vol. 142 No. 6 (June 1943), p. 104: Demands for a modern fighting knife eventually resulted in the U.S. Army's adoption of the M3 trench knife in 1943.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Alexander, Joseph H., Edson's Raiders: The 1st Marine Raider Battalion in World War II, Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, ISBN 1-55750-020-7 (2001), p. 67
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Rila, Carter, Military Myths and Misconceptions #3: The Little Machetes, Carter's Cutlery Commentarires (2005), retrieved 23 July 2011
  20. Rila, Carter: The Collins short machetes were commonly referred to by the 2nd Raiders as "Gung Ho Knives".
  21. Sledge, E.B. (2007). With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. New York: Random House. pp. 21–25. ISBN 978-0-89141-919-8. 
  22. Trzaska, Frank, The USN Mark 2, Knife World, (August 2006): The original specifications designated the knife as the "Fighting Knife Mark 2".
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 Sledge, E.B., With The Old Breed: At Peleleiu and Okinawa, Presidio Press, ISBN 978-0-89141-919-8 (2007),pp. 21-22: "We were introduced to the Marine's foxhole companion, the KA-BAR knife."
  24. MCRP 3-02B: Close Combat, Washington, D.C.: Department Of The Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps, 12 February 1999: "Marines use slashing techniques to close with an enemy. Slashing techniques distract or damage an opponent so Marines can close in."
  25. American Rifleman, C.B. Lister (ed.), Vol. 92, No. 1 (January 1944), p. 26: "Not an ideal fighting knife, it is nevertheless a highly effective weapon in jungle fighting, and, too, a sturdy tool in time of need for digging a fox hole or for opening a can of "D"ration (sic)."
  26. Kertzman, Joe (2007). Sporting Knives: Folders, Fixed Blades, Pocket, Military, Gent's Knives, Multi-Tools, Swords. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-87349-430-4. 
  27. Shackleford, Steve (ed.), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values (7th ed.), Iola, WI: Krause Publications, ISBN 978-1-4402-0387-9, p. 387: Cattaraugus, Case, Western, Kinfolks, and others made huge numbers of 6-inch (150 mm) 225Q Quartermaster utility knives for the USN Quartermaster Department for opening and closing wooden crates; these knives are sometimes erroneously identified as Mark 2 Combat or Fighting Utility knives.
  28. Green, Michael, and Stewart, Greg, Weapons of the Modern Marines, Zenith Imprint Press, ISBN 0-7603-1697-X, 9780760316979 (2004), p. 19
  29. Trzaska, Frank, "Rumors and Urban Legends", Knife World (March 2002)
  30. "KA-BAR History – A Timeline". KA-BAR Knives Inc. https://www.kabar.com/history.jsp. 
  31. Warner, Ken (1998). Knives '98. Iola, WI: Krause. pp. 109–111. ISBN 978-0-87349-195-2. 

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