Updated April 4, 2004
Bayonet Points #18 - April, 2004
Notes on the M8A1 Scabbard
This article is mostly some comments and observations with very little hard facts. Hopefully it will lead to some answers or further information. If anyone has any information I would certainly appreciate your sharing it and I will pass it on in a later article or an update of this one.
Back in Bayonet Points #6 and #7 I showed some details of the M8A1 scabbards that were made by the Beckwith Manufacturing Company and its subsidiary, Victory Plastics during and after World War 2. For information on these scabbards, please go to these articles.
Modifications of the M8 Scabbard to M8A1
As mentioned in the previous articles, the M8 and M8A1 scabbards made by Beckwith/Victory Plastics are marked under the top plate of the throat with a mark reading B */* N, with the asterisks being either numbers or blank spaces. The original M8 scabbards are numbered from B /1 N to about B 2/2 N. The M8A1 scabbards (still marked USM8 on the throat) start at about that point to around B 3/1 and then the marking switches to USM8A1. These numbers are useful in helping to determine whether a scabbard marked M8 on the throat was manufactured as an M8 or M8A1.
A very early M8A1 marked as such. The mark is B 3/1 N, the lowest number I have actually observed on a marked M8A1 although there may be some lower.
The only difference between the M8 and M8A1 is the length of the web hanger and the addition of the double hook to attach the scabbard to the load bearing equipment. The M8 hanger, measured from the top of the throat to the top of the webbing is 4 7/8 inches, while the M8A1 measures 5 1/2 inches. These measurements will vary slightly as the webbing can stretch or shrink from use.
The lack of the double hook prevented the M8 from being carried on anything other than the Belt, Pistol or Revolver or other narrow belts that it could slide over. Why the double hook was not used from the beginning on this scabbard is a mystery, as the M6 scabbard that it replaced had it and Beckwith certainly would have had no problem in providing the scabbard with the hook.
When the M8A1 was standardized, there was no immediate plan to recall the M8 scabbards in service to modify them to the new pattern. However, some units did their own modifications to make the scabbard more "user friendly".
The simplest modification was to simply sew the double hook into the top of the hanger. This could be done on any heavy-duty sewing machine as available in some quartermaster units. The problem with doing this was that is narrowed the opening in the hanger enough that it would no longer readily slide over the pistol belt. This of course was not a major problem since that is why the double hook was being added anyway. Although not common, this modification is seen enough today to indicate it was done on a fairly large scale. However, some collectors and sellers have cut the stitching out to remove the hooks and restore the scabbard to the more "collectible" M8 configuration.
An M8 Scabbard modified to M8A1 by sewing a double hook into the top of the hanger.
A second method, rarely found in my experience, was to rivet the double hook into the top of the hanger. This would be a fairly easy modification to do on almost any unit level.
An M8 Scabbard modified to M8A1 by riveting a double hook into the top of the hanger.
Another fairly uncommon modification is far more complicated, and may have been done in order to retain the full opening in the original M8 hanger. A steel wire, about the same diameter as that of the double hook, is run through a short loop of webbing containing a standard double belt hook. The web loop is sewn across the center to retain the double hook in position. The wire is neatly bent into the top of the original M8 hanger. This produces a finished scabbard that has about the same length hanger as the M8A1, and does not significantly reduce the size of the belt loop of the original hanger. This is complicated enough that it could not be readily done on a small unit level and must have been done in a fairly large facility.
The obvious question is by whom and when. Two European collectors sent me photos of this modification and said they were fairly uncommon but not really rare in their area. I don't recall seeing one on eBay but will admit that I don't watch every auction.
A few weeks ago I got an email from Richard Hamer, a collector/dealer in Colorado, who had gotten a few of these. He was kind enough to sell me a couple of them for my reference collection, one of which is pictured here. All of the ones that I have seen show quite a bit of use, and often 3 or 4 layers of paint. One of those I received had been painted at least twice, including the webbing. Since I wasn't going to hurt anything by doing so, I cleaned and repainted it for display purposes.
This may have been an official US modification in Europe near the end of WW2, but if it is US I can't imagine it being done much past 1944-45 as the supply of new M8A1s should have been sufficient post-war. It is not impossible that this modification was done by some other country, in Europe or elsewhere, in order to make better use of M8 scabbards given to them postwar. Anyone who has information about this modification, please let me know and I will pass it on.
An M8 Scabbard modified to M8A1 by adding an extra loop of webbing containing a double hook into the top of the hanger.
For some reason, the obvious "fix" of simply replacing the entire hanger does not seem to have been done on a large scale. Although I don't have a large database, it is very consistent that all numbers from B /1 N to about B 2/2 N or so are M8s. Numbers from B 2/2 N to B 3/0 N are M8 marked but with M8A1 hangers. If the M8s had been converted, there would be a scattering of the numbers with M8A1 hangers, and it is very rare to find one in the M8 range.
There are some known that were done probably in the mid 1950s. These have the later type hangers (detailed a little further on) and are commonly found with MRT stencils on the back of the webbing.
An M8 Scabbard modified to M8A1 by replacing the entire hanger assembly.
Note the MRT (Mildew Resistant Treatment) mark on the back of the hanger.
There are several differences in the scabbards as made by Beckwith Manufacturing during World War 2 and those made afterward. Some of these are:
- The double hook used by Beckwith is made of a non-magnetic alloy. Those afterward are magnetic steel. Beckwith painted the double hook black, most of those made afterward are Parkerized.
- The blackened brass glove fastener used on the retainer straps by Beckwith is about .460 inch in diameter, and was either unmarked or marked UNITED CARR on the back of the male fastener. Later makers used a larger (about .600 inch diameter) fastener also of blackened brass. Makers will vary from time to time and maker to maker, and will be noted with the individual makers below.
- The two steel rivets retaining the web hanger to the throat and the one holding the retainer strap to the hanger were about .360 inch diameter on Beckwith made M8A1s and were about .325-. 330 inch in later production. These rivets have one side flush with the webbing and the other side sticks out about 1/32 inch. On production by PWH , TWB and VIZ the raised side is on the front, but on those made by V.P.CO, VIZ/WD, and WD the raised side is to the rear.
- The retainer strap tips on Beckwith production were blackened steel, while later production used blackened brass.
- The flange to which the hanger is attached extends out about .15 inch further from the body on later production than it did on the WW2 production and the 1953 Victory Plastics production.
- Beckwith retainer straps crossed right over left (as seen from the front) while later production crosses left over right. This is not an absolute as the strap is held only by a rivet and can be pivoted to reverse the crossing, but is correct for original production.
The top scabbard is a WW2 M8A1 (still marked M8 but made as an M8A1), the one below a M8A1 by PWH in the late 1960s.
Side view of the WW2 (top) and post-1960 M8A1 scabbards showing the extended tab holding the web hanger. The 1953 VP contract has the WW2 style tab. One source says it is because the M5 bayonet would not fit well in the earlier style as the guard and grip are much wider where they enter the scabbard and rubbed against the webbing.
Most of the differences mentioned above can be seen by comparing the two hangers.
All World War Two production was by the Victory Plastics Division of the Beckwith Manufacturing Company and was marked B.M.CO. on the throat.
Victory Plastics had a contract in 1953. These are marked V.P.CO. on the throat, with no metal protector on the tip of the body. The male glove fastener markings are DOT . DOT.
Victory Plastics had another contract in 1961, using the metal tip protector on the body. These also are marked V.P.CO. on the throat, and DOT . DOT on the male glove fastener.
(More details on the above can be found in Bayonet Points #6 and #7)
PWH According to various sources, including a now retired owner of a surplus company during the 1960s and 70s, this was the Pennsylvania Working Home for the Blind. So far I have been able to find little solid information on this contract. During the Vietnam War period a lot of military gear was produced by various companies that worked with the blind, so this is certainly in line with that policy. If this is the case, it is quite likely that PWH only assembled the components and packaged the scabbards as the prime contractor, with the actual parts being supplied on sub-contract.
The Pennsylvania Working Home for Blind Men was established in 1874 on Lancaster Avenue below 36th Street in Philadelphia. Some sources say the name was the Industrial Home for the Working Blind, which may have been an earlier name. In the CAGE code system, the code 86465 was assigned to the Pennsylvania Working Home for Blind Men.
There are a few slight marking variations, probably due to die changes. I have cataloged three and there may be more. I have no way to determine what order they were used, and it is probably of no significance. I have labeled them the small letter, large letter, and wide spacing, which are shown in the photo below. It may also be noted that the wide spaced letter variation also has no periods following the U and S.
The glove fasteners on the PWH scabbards are marked either RAU FASTENER CO PROV RI or RAU CO.
This maker is very common and it appears that they made large quantities of scabbards probably over a period of several years, probably the mid 1960s into the 1970s. Does anyone have any of these scabbards with their packaging so we can definitely pin down the maker and possibly some contract numbers and dates?
Some of the marking variations noted on PWH scabbards.
From top to bottom, small letter, large letter, wide spaced small letters.
TWB The only information that I have on this maker is from the retired surplus dealer mentioned earlier. He stated that he bought "overruns" of the M8A1 scabbard for sale in his business for several years from PWH, and that in the 1970s they changed their name to The Working Blind, and the scabbards were then marked T W B. Other than the information he supplied, I have located nothing about this marking. Although not rare, the TWB marked scabbard is uncommon.
The wide spacing of the letters, and many other small details of their marking and construction, are very similar to the wide spaced P W H scabbards and lend some credence to the statement that these are a continuation of the PWH contract.
A web search turned up the title of a publication that also tends to show a relationship between the names: REPORT ON A MANAGEMENT AND OPERATING STUDY OF PENNSYLVANIA WORKING HOME AND PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION FOR THE BLIND, INC. "THE WORKING BLIND." Arthur C. Kaufmann and Associates, Inc. 1967. 202 pp. So the statement that PWH became TWB certainly is possible.
The glove fasteners on the few TWB scabbards that I have seen are marked RAU CO.
An M8A1 scabbard marked TWB
VIZ Viz Manufacturing was located at 335 E Price Street, Philadelphia PA 19144. VIZ Manufacturing made radiosonde and related meteorological products -- devices that measure temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity and wind speed. It supplied instruments to the National Weather Service and U.S. Defense Department. Sippican Inc. of Marion Mass bought them out in 1997 and the Philadelphia plant was closed.
In the mid to late 1960s they made both M8A1 scabbards and plastic sheathes for the 18 inch machete. In 1997 I spoke to a long time employee, Mr. Maury Friedman. To the best of his recollection, the VIZ contract was about 1967 (the machete sheath in a friend's collection is marked 1967 on the throat), and ran about 18 months. He did not recall that they sold any commercially, although he could not say for certain if any leftovers were sold after the contract was filled.
The glove fasteners on the VIZ marked scabbards are marked RAU FASTENER CO PROV RI.
An M8A1 scabbard marked VIZ
VIZ/WD This marking is both uncommon and unknown. It is stamped offset, with the VIZ centered as usual, and the /WD added to the side. It has been suggested that WD bought some finished but unused throats from VIZ and used them for the first part of their contract, but I have absolutely no documentation on this mark.
The glove fastener is marked on the female portion STIMPSON BKLTN.
An M8A1 scabbard marked VIZ/WD
WD I have absolutely no information as to who this maker is and when they delivered scabbards. As mentioned above, they are associated with VIZ with the double markings. I have one WD marked scabbard in my reference collection that has the Victory Plastics marking (VP /9) under the throat plate and the VP logo (VP 40) on the scabbard body. I have others than do not have any marks other than those on the face of the throat.
The combination of VIZ/WD may indicate that the contract was about the same time or shortly after the VIZ contract - that is, about 1968-69 at the peak of the Vietnam conflict. But certainly by that time Victory Plastics had long since closed (1964) so what are the VP markings doing on the underside of the throat plate and body of some of the WD production?
The glove fastener is marked on the female portion STIMPSON BKLTN.
An M8A1 scabbard marked WD
WP I also have no information on this maker. It differs from the other scabbards in some details, and is very much like the unmarked ones made for some of the early Colt marked M7 bayonets. The body is apparently a solid plastic material, and has the so-called "crinkled" finish that M. H. Cole described as "The scabbard is made of glass filled nylon with a crinkle type o.d. finish, stamped U.S.M8A1, and like the bayonet has no makers mark" when he described the scabbard used with the Colt/Imperial M7 bayonet.
On the enclosure (shown below) in the package this scabbard came in, the maker is identified as Western Plastics. The CAGE system shows several different companies with the name Western Plastics. Some are out of business, and the ones that I was able to contact stated that they had no knowledge of ever having manufactured these scabbards.
I have some doubts that this is a US contract scabbard.
The glove fastener is marked SCOVILL MFG CO on the male portion and S M CO in the female. A similar scabbard but marked only USM8A1 in my reference collection has very similar fasteners marked DOT.
An M8A1 scabbard marked WP, compared to an M8A1 that is not maker marked but appears to be quite similar. These are probably not US military contract.
There are a lot of questionable scabbards on the market. At least some of the contract makers also sold their "overruns" commercially, and there appears to be some that are out-and-out "fakes". One of the interesting things that I have found over the years are some labels found in the packaging that are identical except for the contractor names. Three are illustrated below.
Three labels found in M8A1 packages. Note the contract numbers and dates are identical, but the names of the contractors are all different. The top package contained a scabbard marked only USM8A1, no maker mark (shown in a photo above). The scabbard from the center one is marked USM8A1 over WP (also shown in the photo above), and the lower one is marked USM8A1 over WD (the one mentioned above with the Victory Plastics marks on the throat and body).
A few quick notes on the suppliers of the glove fasteners (also called ring snaps) used on the retaining straps by the various makers of the M8A1 scabbards.
RAU Fasteners, Providence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1912, bought out by Scovill in 1996 and the plant was closed.
Scovill Manufacturing Company, Scovill Fasteners Inc. Founded in 1802 in Waterbury, Conn. Famous for their patented buttons used on military uniforms, as well as a broad line of other products. Still in business in Clarksville, GA.
Stimpson Company. Founded 1852 in Brooklyn, NY. Now has two facilities, one in Bayport, NY and the other in Pompano Beach, FL.
United-Carr Founded as Carr Fastener Co. in 1912 in E. Cambridge, Mass. Combined with US Fastener in 1929 to create United-Carr. Sold to TRW in 1969, now a part of Johnson and Hoffman. They were the creators of DOT fasteners (such as Lift-The-Dot). The DOT line was purchased by Scovill in the early 1990s.
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