Carter Rila's

Carter's Cutlery Commentaries

October 2006



Myth: The U.S. Services issued special pattern Commando knives to "commando" units.

This myth is based on two different lines of reasoning. One is the many members of U.S. Ranger units raised in Great Britain during WW II trained by British Commando troops for their hit and run role, consequence members were allowed to privately purchase and wear the British Fairbairn Sykes Commando knives. This whole subject is more than adequately covered in Robert Buerlein's excellent work on Allied fighting knives and will be not discussed further here. 

Suffice it to say that though both the organization and tactics of the Army's Rangers and the Marine Corps’ Raiders were based on those of the British Commandos no ground combat special duty units designated as such ever existed in the Army or the Marines then or since.

The second basis for "the commando knife" myth are the numerous Cattaraugus Cutlery Company ads featuring "U.S. Marine Commando Knives" published in World War II magazines. Several of these have been reprinted by Cole. 

The knife featured in these ads has a heavy six-inch long flat-ground, offset spearpoint polished blade with a one third false edge, stacked leather washers handle, and a three-piece pommel made of metal plates riveted together.  These knives are marked "Cattaraugus 225Q." Knives with the identical blade pattern made by Case are "marked "337-6"-Q. The blade pattern is made of flat stock with a three quarter fuller. This is a copy of the well-known Marble’s Ideal pattern which has been around for almost a hundred years now.

Similar six-inch blade hunting knives with clip point blades made by Pal, Kutmaster, Ka-Bar, and Queen City are shown on the same and subsequent pages. Ka-Bar stated in a flyer reproduced in Cole that this knife was their six inch commando "produced during World War II for the Armed Services." 

I believe the similarity of the latter four patterns to the 225Q to be coincidental. The Pal RH36 is a copy of a former Remington design also copied from the Marble’s Ideal (RH = Remington Hunter) produced on the former Remington machinery. The Kutmaster and Ka-Bar have a hilt design of grooved leather washers almost identical to that of the later M3 trench knives adopted in early 1943 and a V-cross section. The Queen City is of lighter construction and has a slightly different un-fullered blade pattern and an un-grooved hilt. Though the hilts are different in length both the 225Q and the 337Q have distinctive thick pommels punched from steel plate which do not correspond to any commercial pattern available then or now. The 225Q pommel is composed of three metal plates and the 337Q pommel is of one piece of the same thickness. No other military design pattern knives have these triple thick pommels. The stacked construction appears otherwise only on the later U.S. pattern M4 bayonets and some foreign patterns where the catch is sandwiched in between the outer and inner plates.

For many years I had believed that those two pattern knives, Cattaraugus 225Q and Case 337Q were made for private sale to military personnel ("PX knives".) I have found in the Signal Corps files photos of them being carried in North Africa in November 1942 and in the South West Pacific in 1944 thus indicating use throughout the war. Well, I was wrong.

In recent years these knives have become known as "Q" knives and generally recognized by historians as a Quartermaster design. However, no QMC catalog of wartime publication ever has been found listing them.

In 1987 the Corps of Engineers World War II records became available at the National Archives. Among many other useful discoveries I found documentary proof that the 225Q was a U.S. Quartermaster Corps design. Judging by the identical blade pattern and the quoted Case statement in Cole, so is the 337Q. The Q in this case, signified a Quartermaster design.

Bill of material per 1000

B/M No. T-JC7 Date 12/1/42

Nomenclature Special Hunting Knives, 6", No. 225

904 lbs High Carbon hot rolled cutlery blade steel.

Carbon content 1.0 to 1.1

211 lbs cold rolled SAE 1010 for butt plate and guard.

This is definite proof that the knives were a U.S. Army design.

Whether production continued past the Ordnance Department's introduction of the M3 trench knife, I do not know. It seems unlikely for though the "Q" knives are neither plentiful nor scarce, they are certainly not rare. Although the Q knives are sturdy and handy they are "over-built". The amount of steel in their blade appears to be three times that in an M3 blade.

As to the repeated assertions in the magazine ads that the knives are "U.S. Marine Commando Knives" This is simply advertiser's baloney. Though some Marines may have carried these knives why would they have to when at Bougainville in mid 1943 they had their Fighting/Utility Knives adopted in November 1942? Finally it may have been that they were sold in the PX after they were dropped as official items. The Woodman’s Pals were so sold.

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Copyright 2006 Carter Rila