It may not be quite as rare as a British WWII Fairbairn-Sykes Commando dagger, or the later Randall Model 7 of Vietnam Green Beret fame, but we’d humbly submit that the good old US Marine’s favorite Ka-bar has probably conducted more serious business than any other mass-produced combat knife.
The Camillus Company of New York made about a million of them in World War II for the US Navy and Marine Corps. The Union Cutlery Co. made about a million more.
The Navy called them the US Navy Utility Knife, Mark 2, and the Marines called them USMC Mark 2 Combat Knife, but they were the same knife. Everybody eventually called them all simply the Ka-bar, the trademarked name Union Cutlery had been using since 1923 for its knives.
The ramped up, Greatest Generation producton numbers meant that by 1944, just about any US Marine or sailor in the front lines who wanted a Ka-bar, could probably lay his hands on one.
The US Marine Raiders (prototypical special operations commandos and certified bad-asses) of the 1st and 2nd Raider Battalions used various stilettos and bowie knives, with varying degrees of satisfaction and effectiveness. These specialty knives tended to kill quite folks quite efficiently, but not to perform everyday field chores nearly as well.
Somebody finally got a clue, and decided that for opening ration boxes and cutting commo wire and other sundry and mundane field tasks, a different sort of knife was called for…
Enter the Ka-bar.
It was a standard Bowie style knife with a stout, thick blade (the earlier USN Mark 1 utility knife knife had lacked this) that was as suitable for opening an ammo crate as it was slicing and dicing an enemy solider intent upon doing you serious bodily harm.
And make no mistake, Japanese combat doctrine called for nighttime infiltration tactics that made a sturdy fighting knife a welcome addition in a Marine’s foxhole.
The Japanese loved nothing more than to attack sleeping Marines in their holes…and they didn’t always announce their approach with blood-curdling shrieks of “Banzaii!!!!”
The Marines valued their .45 pistols, grenades, and Ka-bars every night when they bedded down with fanatical Japanese soldiers and Imperial Marines within earshot...and spoiling for a fight.
VCH has a 1960s era Camillus-made USMC issue Ka-bar in its collection, complete with its still sharp original factory edge and leather sheath. It’s a fine example of its breed, and we wouldn’t want anybody to come at us with it.
If you’re a vet, we thank you for your service.
PS. Happy Birthday, USMC on November 10th. And Happy Veterans Day, November 11th.