Carter Rila's

Carter's Cutlery Commentaries

February 2006


The "Ranger" Knife

The Myth: U.S. Army Rangers in WW II carried brass handled knuckle knives.

By one of those coincidences beloved by fate within a four month span each of the three major knife magazines came out with a feature article concerning these knives, each by a recognized writer. In thus the reader is spared a long recounting of their evidence. One may wonder then what further I may contribute to this discussion.

I find myself in agreement with Hughes’ analysis of the knife as a tool and with his research. He then concludes with "it might have been" with which I totally disagree. Hughes states that he was unable to find any photographs of Rangers carrying these knives in the ETO or in the Mediterranean Theatre. This is to be expected because these knives did not originate there but in the South West Pacific Theatre, specifically Australia and New Zealand. First, some other points need to be discussed.

To begin Harold L. Peterson stated in his American Knives that he had been told this by a veteran. This evidence of course, is hear-say, inadmissible in legal proceedings. Further he stated that he had no documentation. This attribution is only hear-say, the flimsiest of evidence.

Too much of what I have been covering in this article, is just that, hear-say. Second, Pete's book, was never intended to be the final opus, just a primer, for everything in it could be the subject of a book itself. Third, the book was written forty five years ago, and has been long in need of revision, as Pete and I discussed more than once. He just never found the time to do it.

That said, let us examine the knives themselves. How any one could imagine that such a crude, impractical, and clumsy design could be the product of any official organization makes one incredulous. The knives were made in some quantity like so many other crude "G.I." knives of WW II. The fact that the pattern’s hilt is made of brass, proves that it is not issue, for the use of this critical material for such items was simply not allowed by the War Production Board. Even the brass fittings on accoutrements were replaced by other metals. The Mk I Trench Knives were not re-standardized for this reason mainly.

When examining the knives it is also obvious that the blade pattern is a copy of the little machetes made for the Army Air Corps and which were widely worn in the South West Pacific Area Theatre in 1942 and early 1943. Also in order to fill empty emergency sustenance kits there was procurement of little machetes in Australia and New Zealand. The sheaths are direct copies of the flimsy ones for the little machetes. The conclusion is the knife pattern is a local machine shop made item originating in the S.W. Pacific Area.

The "well shod' M3 Trench Knife was in world-wide use by mid-1943 and appears in many views of the CBI Theatre so there would have been no reason to make these knives up in India for use in that theatre. Also when picking a personal item to carry in the C.B.I, most GIs carried the widely available Kukri which is perfectly adapted to that country. Though the "Ranger" knives are big their uncomfortable hilts would soon raise blisters when chopping bamboo.

To summarize the most recent evidence, Hardin surveyed a number of major collections and found many of the knives to have makers' markings from Brisbane, Australia, which was a major staging area for the U.S. Army troops who were sent to New Guinea in 1942. Further the personal markings found on many scabbards all refer to Pacific campaigns. However, I have found no official photos of these knives being worn so his conclusion that most of them were souvenirs is concurred in.

Dick took a far different route to his conclusion, in that he relied mainly on published photos and the texts of standard references on the campaigns of the 1st and 2nd Rangers, and found no textual or photo evidence of these knives. I can testify that after twenty seven plus years of photo research in the official files and elsewhere less than a hundred good photos can be found of my specialty, machetes and bolos, and they are far larger than knives. In addition I have found less than ten good photos of soldiers, Marines, and CBs using axes.

Both Hardin and Dick agree that the Ranger connection is a myth and they reiterate that Peterson's book was only a primer. Hardin also reviews the vagaries and difficulties of Archival research.

They raise the question, but leave it unanswered, as to what to call these knives since they are not "Ranger" knives. This is simple just call them what they are. —-Private purchase Australian brass-handled (or aluminum) knuckle knives. The terminology that has been applied to all these overseas made knives in recent years is theatre knives.

To elaborate on the aluminum hilts, there was certainly a lot of scrap aluminum all over the South Pacific, much of it contributed by the Japanese! Every Navy ship, CASU and Seabee base had the capability to make as much cutlery and hilt castings as you wanted.

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