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Crash Combat Third Edition Out Now!

I am pleased to announce that the Third Edition of Crash Combat has now become available.
This version has been extensively expanded, being about 30% longer. More content, extra illustrations, more techniques, new techniques and generally much more book for your money. In addition, much of the book has been rewritten and restructured so information is more easily assimilated and learnt.
While Crash Combat was originally written for a military context, it remains relevant to any individual wishing to learn to protect themselves in this dangerous and uncertain world.
Visit the Author Spotlight for my other books.
May be purchased direct from Lulu.com in either print or epub format. It will take a few more days or more for this version to appear with other retailers. Buying from Lulu costs you less and more of the money goes to the author.

Update!

I have just received and approved the proof copy of the print version. Very pleased with how it looks and reads. Treat yourself!
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Phillosoph

Soft-Core Pack: Military Version

The battle order suggested in the previous blog raises an interesting question: How does the soldier carry his poncho? Items such as bayonets and ammunition have obvious places on the webbing. Not only must a poncho be carried when not worn, but it must be protected from unnecessary damage.
The official solution was most probably to carry the poncho in the butt-pack. As I have discussed in previous posts, there are objections to using a butt-pack or similar. Its capacity is a temptation to carry extra gear. Its position makes it hard to easily access and it is inconvenient if sitting in a vehicle for any time.

Military Soft-Core Bag

In a previous post I described my “soft-core bag”. This idea can easily be adapted to military applications. The military version of the soft-core bag would actually be lighter than my version. Items such as the fire-kit, first aid kit and sweets can be omitted, since these roles will already be met by items carried on the soldier’s webbing or person. For the same reason, the water-bottle can be omitted unless operating in particularly arid conditions.

Contents

What should the military soft-core bag contain?
• A poncho. This should ride at the top of the bag for easy access.
• Accessory clothing items such as warm hats, gloves, spare socks, bananas, shemagh. Many outdoor coats lack sufficient pocket space to carry such items, and you may need your pockets for more tactical items. The soft-core bag is a practical solution. Wrap in plastic bags to waterproof them.
• A spare shirt, jumper, jacket or liner. Useful if the temperature drops or you reduce your actively level. Wrap in plastic bags to waterproof them.
• Toilet roll in waterproof bag. As well as the intended use, good for fire starting.
• Items such as cordage and space blankets are optional for the military soft-core pack. You may decide these are better carried in your trouser or shirt/jacket pockets.
• A “non-soft” item of equipment that might be carried in your soft-pack are your goggles. These can get in the way if you are not wearing them. When not in use they need to be covered for camouflage purposes. Stowing them in your soft-core bag is a very practical solution. Place them in the middle of clothing to provide padding and protection.

Carrying Bag

Like the other version, the military soft-core bag fits in a simple draw-cord bag. This is stowed in the top of your rucksack so the poncho or other contents can easily be accessed if needed. When you stow your rucksack you pull out the soft-core pack and wear it as part of your battle-order. When seated in a vehicle the soft-core pack should act as additional padding for your back.

Camouflage

Ideally, your draw-cord bag should be of an effective camouflage pattern. A grey-beige-brown scheme may be more versatile than the green-dominant examples shown in the photos. Sewing some textilage to the outer side is a good idea too. If you cannot get a camouflaged example, a suitably neutral-coloured bag can be camouflaged with a few passes of spray paint. Making a camouflage draw-cord bag will be within most reader’s capabilities. Note that the bags shown have carrying cords created by taking the cord down to eyelets at the bottom corners. If your bag lacks these, they can easily be added. Dark or unsuitably coloured cords are easily replaced with something such as “desert-camo” paracord.
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Phillosoph

Tactical Bed Rolls

I came across an interesting article called “Pedomic Mobility” in the October-November 1960 issue of “Infantry” magazine.
Pedomic_compressed
In the narrative, an officer watches his company conducting a “ruck attack” on a position. A ruck attack is an assault where the troops wear their rucksacs. This slows the soldiers down, makes them larger and more obvious targets and tires them out more quickly. Shooting from a prone position may be problematic if the pack prevents the soldier raising his head. Despite the obvious disadvantages, the ruck attack remains common in certain armies, both in training and actual combat operations.
The officer watches his near exhausted men and ponders if there is a better alternative.
The proposed solution has two parts. The first is the attacking force should be equipped thus:
• Clothing appropriate for the climate, season and weather
• Load-bearing equipment
• Helmet
• Weapon and ammunition
• Bayonet
• Water bottle, cover and canteen cup
• First aid packet
• Gas mask
• Poncho.
Personally, I consider a canteen cup a backpack item. The dynamics of operating in a platoon or company may change this, however.
If the unit was to stay in one place for any time, a bed roll for each soldier would be brought forth. A bed roll, as described in the article, consists of:
• Shelter-half with poles and pegs (“pins”)
Blanket
• Air mattress
• Sleeping bag
• One or two changes of socks and underwear
• Towel
• Toiletries
• Field jacket liner and trouser liner*
*The jacket and trouser liners were included if it was a “seasonally transitional period”. The mention of the blanket and insulated boots suggest the cold of Korea was still fresh in many soldiers’ minds.
If you have read Kephart, you will know that an outdoorsman’s pack was once exactly that: a package of items wrapped in canvas (above).
Soldiers carrying tactical bed rolls
Bed Rolls in Action. Note the man at the rear has transferred his entrenching tool to his bed roll for more comfortable carrying.
The bed roll was primarily intended to be moved by truck or jeep. When necessary it could be carried by the infantryman. The author suggest re-rolling the item into a horseshoe roll, or fitting the bed roll with a rope or carrying strap.
The use of a shelter-half for the outer layer is particularly clever. Being made of canvas, it is robust and relatively damage tolerant. It is better suited for this roll than a poncho or more modern nylon tent might be. Shelter-halves were widely available from military supplies and easily replaced. A shelter-half could be put to a number of other uses other than as a pup-tent. See this video for a “pegs before poles” method of setting up a shelter-half tent. The only objection to using a shelter-half is that most are green, rather than more versatile dull brown or camouflage finishes.
Also notable was this officer understood that toiletries were not something a soldier needed to carry on his person.
Can we adapt this concept to more modern equipment? An all-weather blanket that can serve as a ground cloth and for other uses would be a good addition. Air mattresses are not some common in modern users. I do know some soldiers who use self-inflating sleeping mats. Most, however, use foam kip-mats. Even when trimmed down, these tend to be bulky. Similarly, a poncho liner is rather bulky when rolled. I am not sure you could roll these up in a shelter half with a sleeping bag and still have a roll only a foot in diameter.
In the article, mention is made of stowing bed rolls in waterproof bags. An obvious extrapolation of this is to carry a bagged bed roll within a medium-sized rucksac. Packs would be clearly marked with name, squad, platoon and company, for example: Grant N. 471, 3-2-B. The pockets of a rucksack are a more convenient place to carry a wash-kit, canteen cup and some other items. A foam kip mat can be rolled separately from the bed roll and carried along side it within or outside the pack. Kip mats have uses in addition to sleeping on, so having them separate is more convenient.
When bed rolls are brought forward, rations and ammunition will probably be brought with them. If a unit has to fall back the rucksacks used to move the bed rolls can also carry some of the rations and ammunition too.
The specific contents of a bed roll with vary with climate and other factors.
When in transit, experianced soldiers will keep their bed roll close to hand. If baggage gets misdirected or delayed, the soldier still has the essentials necessary for a good night’s rest.
The article Pedomic Mobility was written for infantry companies conducting operations within range of support units. It may, however, provide some inspiration for independent outdoorsman both as to how and what they may carry.
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Phillosoph

Bandoliers for Budget Burdens

This interesting photo is from the Osprey publication, “Armies of the Vietnam War 1962-1975”.
Caption for the photo reads:US soldiers with Bandoliers

Soldiers of the 196th Light Inf.Bde., Americal Div., examine a VC cache near Chu Lai in December 1970. The abbreviated rifleman's equipment is typical of short-range operations at this period. Bandoliers are used to carry both magazines and grenades, and spare M-60 belt is looped around the riflemen's waists. The two XM203 grenadiers at the right wear the special grenadier's ammo vest; the man at far right also carries his rifle magazines in a spare canteen carrier, and ration toilet paper packs in his helmet band. Third from right has a Kabar knife sheathed in his trouser cargo pocket, and fourth from right has a civilian hunting knife on his belt.

A lot going on in that photo. The bandoliers used to replace, rather than supplement, the issue “ammo case” [pouch] are of particular note.
A previous blogpost discussed stripper clips or chargers. In this photo the bandoliers are being used to carry grenades and 20-round magazines.
More recent examples of bandolier can also accommodate 30-round magazines. In the photo below, a light-coloured thread is visible. Removing the thread makes each pouch deep enough to carry a 30-round magazine rather than a pair of stripper clips.
Bandolier with pull threadM16 Bandiolier
If you shoot 7.62 x 51mm (or 6.5mm Creedmore) you needn’t feel left out. Below is an Australian bandolier intended for use with the SLR/FAL.

Aussie Bandolier for SLR

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Phillosoph

The Brooksbank Carrying System

I have talked about using Claymore mine bags to carry ammunition on a number of instances. I was therefore intrigued by this idea from 1943, called the “Brooksbank” method. All credit to Karkee Web for the images and information:

(a) The gas cape folded flat, about 10 in by 12 in, is put on first in the normal manner.

(b) The small pack is slung over the right shoulder and the two valise straps fastened (firmly but not tightly) over the stomach with the bayonet and frog on the right hand side, slung on the valise strap.

(c) The respirator is put on in the reverse alert position, i.e., the haversack goes on the back resting on the gas cape with the sling (shortened as far as possible) on the chest, with a piece of tape on each lower " D " on the haversack coming round to the front and with the left tape underneath the brace, through the sling, fastening on the right with a slip knot. (The right tape therefore will be only approximately 4 in to 6 in in length).

Commentary

Some clarification is in order. The “gas cape” or “anti-gas cape” was a protective garment against chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. It actually resembled a long, sleeved coat rather than a cape. The model in use in 1943 was provided with long tapes so that the rolled garment could be carried across the back of the shoulders. No webbing was needed to carry the cape in this fashion. In the figure on the reader’s right in figure 1 the tapes of the cape can be made up coming up from under the soldier’s armpits and disappearing behind his neck. The cape could be quickly unrolled down the back and put on without unfastening the tapes. An excellent source of information on these items can be found on this video.
What is possibly not made clear is that the small pack would spend most of its time across the small of the back, and would only be pulled around the side when ammunition or other items were wanted. A photo of how just the pack would be worn is shown on this page.
The Brooksbank method was supposed to save weight. While it does away with the ammo pouches, belt and water-bottle carrier, the soldier still carries his standard haversack contents, plus finding some room inside for carrying individual and squad ammunition. Although called a haversack, not many of the recommended contents of the 37 pattern small pack were actual clothing. The interior was divided into two compartments, the forward one bisected by an additional divider. One forward pocket held the soldier’s pair of mess-tins, the other a water-bottle. Carried in the main compartment was a groundsheet, towel, soap, pair of spare spare socks, cutlery and possibly an emergency ration and cardigan. Below is a photo of a typical British infantryman’s small pack contents, taken from “British Army Handbook 1939-45” by George Forty.
Many of these items should probably have been left with the truck rather than being carried into combat. I recently read a 1940s manual on street-fighting and soldiers were told not to bring their haversacks into action. Urban environments had plenty of shelter so groundsheets and gas capes were not needed. Haversack items that might prove useful could probably be carried by other means.
The groundsheet carried at this time is of interest, since this would probably be of some variety of MkVII, and was designed to also act as the soldier’s rain protection. The gas cape was supposed to be reserved for the event of chemical warfare, but in practice might be used as a raincoat.
Many years ago, I travelled down Italy, my belongings packed in a sports bag. At one town I had to walk longer and further than usual to located accommodation. Even though I could swap over the shoulder I carried the bag on the uneven weight caused me to sprain one ankle, resulting in a rather painful couple of days. Since then I have always used rucksacs. I don’t know if that would have been a problem with the Brooksbank method, but do feel more though should have been given to what was carried, as well as how.
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The Point of Bayonets

Reams have been written about the bayonet in the last one hundred years. Several US Army manuals begin by talking about “the Spirit of the Bayonet”. Much is written about the psychological effects training and using the bayonet is supposed to induce. We are even told “the bayonet is irresistible”.
As I noted in an earlier post, the practicality of the bayonet as a weapon was being questioned as early as the introduction of breech-loaders. Once machine guns became common, one would think the matter had been settled. Not so.

The Bayonet en Mass

Part of the problem with examining this topic is that many writers fail to distinguish between the use of the bayonet in massed charges and its use in personal combat.
Many bayonet manuals do not give much space to how a massed charge is to be actually conducted. Perhaps this was covered in other manuals. A US Army manual from 1916 informs troops that they should walk most of the distance to the enemy position so as not to unduly tire themselves. At 30-40 yards distance they may begin to move at double time, and rush the last few yards. A British manual from 1942 urges troops to approach the enemy position using all available cover. When reaching 20 yards distance, the unit was to form up for the charge and rush the final distance. When conducting massed charges it was felt important that a line formation was maintained. Given the effects of adrenaline and irregular terrain, this may not have been practical in many cases.
If one can approach to within 20 yards of an enemy position, there were probably better options than a bayonet rush. The position could be attached with multiple grenades, and automatic weapons used to sweep the visible sections of trench, for example.
Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart said:
“There are two thousand years of experience to tell us that the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old idea out.”
The conventional military mind seems to have retained its fascination with the bayonet charge long after such tactics should probably have been retired. Certainly bayonet charges have been used since the Second World War. Charges were used in the Falklands War, and in Afghanistan.

Hill 180 Korea

One of the last great bayonet charges, for American forces at least, was the bayonet charge by Easy Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, against Hill 180.
“Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51” by SLA Marshall has a chapter on the utility of bayonets, and the following observations about the attack on Hill 180:
“The tactical omissions, which accompany and seem to be the emotional consequence of the verve and high excitement of the bayonet charge, stand out as prominently as the extreme valor of the individuals. . . The young Captain Millett, so intent on getting his attack going that he “didn’t have time” to call for artillery fires to the rearward of the hill, though that was the natural way to close the escape route and protect his own force from snipers who were thus allowed a free hand on that ground. . . His subsequent forgetting that the tank fire should be adjusted upward along the hill. . .The failure to use mortars toward the same object. . .The starving of the grenade supply, though this was a situation calling for grenades, and the resupply route was not wholly closed by fire. . .The fractionalization of the company in the attack to the degree where only high individual action can save the situation, and individual ammunition failures may well lose it.

It cannot be argued that bayonet charges have not worked. And yet, one cannot help but wonder just how many lives have been needless expended because a massed bayonet charge was attempted rather than other more practical options. For a young officer the bayonet charge seems a gamble between a medal or a court martial. If they survive.

Individual Bayonet Use

Let us move to the more practical topic of the use of the bayonet as a personal weapon. In the second edition of “Crash Combat” I suggest that the use of the bayonet, or other close combat means are only attempted if the threat is within three body lengths. If the distance is greater, seek cover, reload and shoot, or some other tactic.
Older manuals recommend the bayonet be used for night combat where muzzle flash might expose your location. It is also to be used in close quarter situations where any firing might endanger comrades.
Three to four kilos of rifle does not make an ideal spear handle. It is, however “what you got”.
To use a bayonet, you must have a bayonet. Most modern bayonets are overweight supposedly multi-purpose tools of little actual utility. Understandably, many soldiers have discarded them in favour of more useful blades.
I won’t discuss techniques for unbayoneted weapons, since these are covered in my books.

When to Fix Bayonets

Assuming you have one, when should you fix your bayonet? Wartime British manuals require the bayonet to be fitted whenever the enemy is within 300 yards. Sights for shorter ranges were set to compensate for the changes the fitted bayonet made on point of impact. The Russians took this further. During wartime the Mosin-Nagant was always fitted with its bayonet. A fitted bayonet is necessary to zero the sights.
In a more modern context, it may be prudent to fix bayonets if engagement range is less than 50 metres.

The Indoor Bayonet

A fixed bayonet may seem a handy thing to have when sweeping a house. As well as its defensive use it can probe under beds or into other dark places. Bert Levy comments that within a building, bayonets are more a hazard to comrades and likely to get frequently caught on furniture. Levy was probably referring to sword bayonets mounted on relatively long bolt-action service rifles. Experiments need to be conducted to determine the best ways for teams to move with modern bayoneted weapons within building interiors. Since shooting will remain the primary offensive mechanism, this will probably be a low-ready position, rather than the high-port usually required for moving with bayoneted weapons.

À la Bayonet

Recently I read an entertaining and informative paper on the bayonet. Unfortunately the author devotes a big chunk of his discussion to perpetuating the bayonet wound fallacy. Later in the paper he graphically describes how visceral and final an encounter involving bayonets may be. It does not occur to him that this may be related to why there are so few bayonet wounds in the field hospital. Most victims never make it that far! Near the end of the on-line version of the article he states: “The Military Manual of Self-Defence (55) offers a series of aggressive alternatives to traditional bayonet fighting movements, its focus more on disabling the opponent than parrying until a clean point can be made. While not necessarily offering a full replacement to classic bayonet training, it does show that more options exist.”
This did amuse me. Firstly, The Military Manual of Self-Defence (Anthony Herbert) unashamedly copies entire sections from other works. Most of the bayonet section is taken from “Cold Steel” by John Styers USMC. The illustrations even still look like Styers! Styers, in turn, drew directly from Biddle (“Do or Die”), who was an instructor for the USMC. This “untraditional” system was that taught to most marines.
There is also an amusing irony here. During his military service, Herbert was wounded fourteen times. Three of them were from bayonets!

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Handcarts: AfriCart

Today I am going to talk a little more on handcarts. Researching something quite different, I found myself on a page on USMC TOEs and once again encountered the following illustration. Each machine gun section was provided with a MC-1942 handcart. Each 81mm mortar section was provided with two. The 60mm mortar sections, however, had no handcarts!
Looking for more information on the MC-1942 I instead found myself on this page on US Army handcarts. Notable was the information that such handcarts were intended for motorized troops. A pair of loaded carts fit between the seats of a 212 ton truck. When the truck could go not further, the infantry advanced with their handcarts.

US Army handcart with cover. Note detachably hauling ropes with handles.

Given the bulk and mass of some modern weapons and their ammunition, handcarts could still prove useful.

AfriCart

The marine and army carts use a T-shaped handle. Is this the best configuration? I wondered. A quick look at rickshaws and similar devices suggested that a rectangular arrangement might be better. That, in turn, led me to the following interesting blog:
Note how the bicycle wheels are supported on both sides. Also not the easily adjustable handle and the folding stand legs. The cart bed is 24 x 32" area, exactly the same as used in the US Army cart.
I am sure many of my readers could construct similar carts for their own use. Don’t forget attachment holes for lashings or bungees and drainage holes. A wire-mesh base is a possible option if you can source a suitably sized piece. Non-pneumatic tires may be a sensible investment.
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Pec-Knives and the Gerber Strongarm

Pec-Knives

The pectoral position is a very useful position to carry a knife. It is accessible with either hand, and if the wearer is seated or prone. It can be readily utilized to cut a jammed seat harness, or when rolling on the floor with an aggressor.
This topic came up in one of my discussions on soldier’s load. Modern servicemen have a lot of gear to carry, and many do not believe carrying multiple knives is warranted. If you are going to carry a single fixed blade knife, then the weak-side pectoral position is a good place to place it. This influences the form of the “pec-knife”. Pec-knives are discussed in “Survival Weapons”, and their use in “Crash Combat”. The more general discussion of knife use for defence in “Attack, Avoid, Survive” are also relevant.
You sometimes see quite large knives carried in this position, but for most of us an overall length of less than eleven inches is more practical. There is a wide choice of fixed blade knives in this size range. Harder is finding a knife of sufficient thickness and robustness. If this is going to be a soldier’s primary blade then it must stand up to some rough treatment.

Gerber Strongarm

A few weeks back I encountered the Gerber Strongarm. This just seemed to shout “I will be a great pec-knife!” Just before Christmas I got an email telling me the variant I wanted was back in stock. Money was short, but I had had a rotten day and a few minutes before midnight I gave into temptation and ordered a Strongarm. It helped that the price listed was about 30% less than most other stockists! Would you believe it? I looked the next day and the price had jumped a big chunk. I had ordered just in time! A few days later the Gerber Strongarm arrived. I wish I had had the money for another, but as it is I may run out before the end of January. Buy books please, people!

The Sheath and Extras

An important component of a potential pec-knife is the sheath. This mode of carry is most convenient with the knife inverted and the pommel downwards. Obviously it is necessary that the knife is fully secure in this position, but still capable of being easily drawn when needed in a hurry. The sheath of the Stongarm has a large clip that engages a depression on the hilt. Note that this releases with an audible click, which may affect your tactics in some scenarios. In addition to the clip, the smaller-width hanging strap has a retention strap with a popper. The latter feature is one of the few I have issue with. This is a little tight, the slight increase in grip width my lanyard has added making it sometimes fiddly to close. The length of strap past the popper is also on the short side, and may be difficult to pull on if wearing some gloves. It may be necessary to sew an extension onto this part.
An important feature of this sheath is that it is ambidextrous, so the knife can be inserted securely with the edge either to the left or right. This is useful for a pec-knife, it being considered to be prudent to carry your knife with the main edge outwards, away from your throat.
A couple of accessories are included in the box. I have already mentioned that the smaller-width belt hanger has the retention strap. This affixes to the sheath by a strap and popper. A larger width belt hanger can be attached to the smaller by poppers. Both belt hanging loops have poppers, making the easy to detach or attach without rethreading a belt. A device that allows the sheath to be mounted horizontally is included, as is a device allowing easy attachment of the sheath to MOLLE/ RALS systems.

The Knife

The knife itself comes with either a semi-serrated or plain edge, and is available in either black or a more practical coyote brown shade. The blade is 4.8 inches long, and 3/16th thick. Overall length is 9.8 inches and weight is given as 7.9 oz. Blade material is 420HC stainless steel with a dark grey coating. Grip is a rubber coating over glass-reinforced nylon. There is a resemblance to Gerber’s LMF II knife. The LMF II is heavier (c.12 oz) and costs more. I have not handled a LMF II, but the Strongarm seems a better choice for the pec-knife role.
The butt of the Strongarm ends in a blunt triangular point that might serve for applications such as window breaking. This feature is thoughtfully provided with a lanyard hole. I know I have said this before (yesterday actually!) but it really is surprising how many expensive knives are not provided with provision for a lanyard or other features to reduce the chances of loss.

Making a Chest Rig

There are plenty of good reviews of the Strongarm out there, so I will concentrate on specifics of rigging it as a pec-knife. This is actually very simple. Obviously, you can mount the sheath directly on your webbing, but what if you are not wearing such? The Strongarm is potentially a very useful knife, and you may want it when you are not in full tactical gear. I have seen the Strongarm described as a cross-over” knife, good for urban and wilderness.

Take about two metres of paracord. I know frugality is a virtue, but it is prudent to have a little too much rather than start again. The Strongarm sheath has a number of “screwholes” down each side. Pass one end of your paracord through a hole near the sheath mouth, and the other through a hole on the opposite side, second from the end. This should be made clear from the photos. Experiment with what arrangement suits you personally. Pull both ends of paracord so the middle makes a snug length across the front of the sheath. Now take both lengths, hold them together and tie a single knot in both. This can be an overhand knot but a figure-eight may be more comfortable when worn. You should have created a large loop with the knife sheath threaded on it. This loop should be large enough to pass your weak-side arm through, the knot sitting somewhere between your shoulder-blades. Take the long, free ends and form them into a second loop using the knot I call a “slip-bend” in my free book on knots. Place your other arm through this loop and tighten it by sliding the two parts of the slip-bend apart. The Strongarm sheath should be hanging just before your weak-side armpit. If you have the small-width belt hanger still attached this may be used to anchor the sheath to a belt, if you wish. Note the snap-link, added by a magnus-hitch. The lanyard can be attached to this when greater security is wanted. It also proves useful for holding other items. I later relocated the snap-link to below the sheath, where it helps keep it in position.
A chest-rig for a knife can cost tens or hundreds of dollars. This one is simple, lightweight, comfortable and costs just a couple of metres of paracord. If you like this, throw some of the money you have saved this way!
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Designing a Fighting Knife

In a recent blog I had a wander into the field of fighting knives. Today I would like to share some additional musings.
Firstly, it is valuable to recognize that names such as “fighting knife”, “combat knife”or “tactical knife” are in actuality rather euphemistic, particularly in modern applications. A knife vs knife duel is unlikely. There is an adage that if you find yourself in a fair fight you did not plan properly, and this should be remembered when considering knife use. Knives are generally used either as weapons of desperation or advantage.
One of the points I made in the previous post is that probability of use did not justify carrying a large combat design. A multi-role survival blade is a far better encumbrance, and most such designs usually serve well in a defensive or offensive role. It is no secret that I regard the kukri as superior to most fighting knives on the market. If a dedicated fighting weapon is needed, it should be a small to medium-sized design that compliments the large and small survival designs likely to be carried as well.
That said, what are useful features to have in the hypothetical situation where carrying a large combat blade is prudent? Something for you time-travellers and trans-dimensional trippers to consider 🙂 Some of these comments may be relevant to medium combat knives too.
Firstly, we will ignore the field of swords and stick to knives and daggers, not anything longer than a cubit.
A point ignored by many manuals on knife use is that even relatively light clothing can provide a surprising amount of protection from a knife cut. The garment may be shredded but very little damage may reach beneath the skin. Even if you are using a knife defensively with the intention of “cutting and running” it is important to use the point first against any clothed area.

Pesh Kabz

The second consideration for a fighting knife is with respect to whether the opposition will be utilizing armour. One of the most useful designs for use against armour is that of the pesh kabz. Mechanically a knife is a wedge. The pesh kabz blade tapers in both width and thickness, and has a T-shaped cross section. In effect the blade is an isosceles triangle in all three planes. The blade is narrow enough to find its way through openings in the armour, yet retains a useful cutting edge if needed. Some time back there was a vogue for non-metallic knives, including those in a tanto configuration. A pesh kabz configuration would have been far superior. As stated in “A Glossary Of the Construction, Decoration and Use Of Arms and Armor In All Countries and In All Times” by George Cameron Stone, “The knife is obviously intended for forcing an opening in mail; and as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose.” (p.494) Pesh kabz are either straight or have a recurve that brings the point closer to the axis of the hand. The latter are often very attractive in form. I have an example of each, and I would not complain if issued one of these instead of a Fairbairn-Sykes. A modern pesh kabz has a useful potential as a knife among modern medium fighting knives.

Bagwell and Bowies

Shortly after writing the recent blog, I came across some references to Bill Bagwell, who claimed to have identified the features that were most desirable on a combat bowie. This included a distal taper, convex profile and edge and a sharpened false edge. The false edge is often quite long, creating an acute point. The blade is over nine-inches long, and over an inch or more wide.

Pugio

If you are going to have a long, sharpened false edge, an obvious question is why not have a double-edged cut and thrust blade? Historically, one of the cut and thrust weapons par excellence was the Roman gladius. The gladius was a sword, but if you shorten the blade you have what is effectively the Roman pugio. I have seen it claimed that a Roman soldier who lost his gladius could still fight effectively with his pugio. The width and length of pugiones give some credibility to this claim. Supposedly the Gerber MkII was inspired by the Mainz-pattern gladius. Pugiones seem to have retained the more attractive, wasp-waisted leaf-shape of blade long after the gladius had become straighter-edged and more utilitarian looking. This may have been that swords were issued while daggers were commonly a private purchase. In other words, a pugio-type design offers a broad blade, acute point and the cutting advantage of curved edges. A central rib was a common feature, increasing the capability against bone or body armour. A flat blade with a rib is effectively a pair of pesh kabz back-to-back. Fullers might also be included in a modern design, and some use of them was made in ancient pugiones.

Jambiya

Another good design for a large or medium combat knife is the jambiya. Indian/ Middle Eastern designs such as the jambiya and pesh kabz tend to be neglected in the west, but have much to offer. The interest in kerambits/ karambits shows knife-users are open to the potential of curved blade designs. Fairbairn himself experimented after the war with a jambiya-like knife he called the “cobra”.
Modern Reproduction of Fairbairn Cobra
Like the pugio, the design of a large tactical jambiya could include fullers and a central rib. A slightly curved blade can create an initially wider wound than a straight blade of similar dimensions. This is illustrated in the figures taken from Richard Burton’s “Book of the Sword”. The very curved blade cuts a wide channel, but needs considerable force to penetrate sufficiently. Incidentally, the primary cutting edge of a jambiya is the concave edge. You will commonly see it held or photographed upside down. Examples with a false edge and the geometry of some grips make it clear that the main edge is the concave. The jambiya is held like a claw or hook. This has the tendency to drive the point into a target rather than causing it to glance off. The blade can also reach over and hook limbs. The curved edges give a cutting advantage.

The Russian/ Caucasian/ Georgian khanjali/ kindjals/ qama have straight or curved blades that resemble gladius, pugiones and jambiya, but some are long enough to be considered short swords.

Some decades ago, a knife called the “Hobbit” gained some attention. This was effectively an inverted jambiya. The main edge should have been concave and the serrations would have been more useful on the convex side. A modern, medium tactical jambiya would also be a welcome addition to the market. Many years ago I attempted to sketch what one might look like

Length

Around 1922-24 the British Army conducted an extensive series of experiments. The 17" sword bayonets then in use had proved to be unwieldy and too heavy for trench warfare. Their reach against cavalry was no longer needed and they were poor multi-purpose implements. On October 2nd, 1924, a report by the Small Arms School stated:
“ (a) It has been conclusively proved during the war, and since, with our present system of training in the bayonet, that ‘reach’ is not a main factor but that ‘handiness’ is. A man with a short handy weapon will beat an equally skilled man with a longer cumbrous weapon practically every time. As regards length of blade for killing purposes, the Physical Training Staff went into this in considerable detail during the war, and came to the conclusion that a 6-in. blade was sufficiently long to deal with the most thickly clad of our enemies—potential or otherwise. The most thickly clad was taken as being a Russian in winter clothing.
…(c) The bayonet suggested for future adoption on the Mark VI rifle is one of about 8 inches in length, cruciform in section, and without the useless handle and cross-piece”
reproduced in The Lee-Enfield Rifle (p.135). Maj. E.G.B. Reynolds.
Also found in “The Bayonet Book” by Johm Watts and Peter White, quoted p.8 (“Short and Sharp”) of The Times Literary Supplement Oct 17 1975.
The Roman Vegetius famously declared “…a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal”. He was talking of a stab from a broad gladius blade, rather than a narrow bayonet or knife, however. Many authors clarify “two inches, in the right place”, the latter condition not always possible to achieve in combat!
Some of the criteria for a primary fighting knife are different to those for a bayonet. A blade of between nine and eleven inches seems to be the optimum, and was the size of most pugiones. The blade should be at least one and a half inches at its widest. Specialist fighting designs, such as main gauche, may need to be longer.

Grips

If we look at pugiones, kindjals and jambiya we find something of a consensus on grip form. Most examples feature a relatively slim grip with a broad, flattened butt. A narrow grip between two wider areas often gives a good grip for a single hand. If you hold the knife or sword with the blade flat and level and the knuckles upwards you will find the pressure of the palm on the butt nicely counterbalances the weight of the blade. The pugio usually had an expanded section in the middle of the hilt which improved grip, functionally similar to the ridge on a kukri handle. Any grip should include provision for a wrist loop. It is surprising how many knives costing hundreds of dollars lack this useful feature!
On the subject of grip, how a knife is gripped is a topic that some authors treat in some depth. Fencer grip, hammer grip, sabre grip, ice-pick grip, foil grip, ninja grip and so on. Only recently I noticed that the actual orientation of the hand was seldom mentioned. Elsewhere I have discussed the “paintbrush grip” for double-edged blades. This tends to place the blade with the flat of the blade in a horizontal direction. When I hold a single-edged knife I place the blade in a similar orientation, although my finger positions will be slightly different.
The reason for holding the knife so is not so the blade will slip between the ribs. Whenever possible you should avoid thrusting at the ribcage. If you do have to strike the ribs there are advantages to a horizontal blade angle, however. I have seen it claimed that a horizontal blade that strikes a rib is more likely to glance past or split the rib than be stopped by it. The main reason I hold a blade horizontal is that it makes more sense to me to have the edge as well as the point directed towards the threat. If my hand is pronated (palm down) the blade slopes in. If palm up, it slopes outward, but in either case the main edge is towards the enemy rather than down towards the floor. Some older sources describe holding the blade edge up, but this limits manoeuvrability.

Guards

The guard of the fighting knife is something that is not usually given sufficient thought. If the knife has a guard, it is typically a simple crossbar or equivalent. A simple crossbar works well on a sword. It will usually be wide enough to protect the hand. Enemy blades seldom touch it since a sword is long enough to parry attacks a foot or more away from the hand. Some writers claim the main function of a sword guard was originally to stop the user from hitting his knuckles on an enemy shield. The crossbar on a knife is seldom wide enough to effectively protect the hand. At best, it acts as an arrest to reduce the chance of penetration beyond the blade and to compress tissue for deeper penetration. Even when the crossbar is long enough, it only provides protection in one plane. Suppose, for example, you parry or block an attack with your blade. Since the blade is shorter, the contact point is going to be much closer to your hand than if you were using a sword. Contact point is most likely to be on the flat of the blade, so the strike is very likely to glance down and hit your thumb or back of your hand. Potentially very nasty
In a Modesty Blaise novel a character observes that Willie Gavin makes a steel against steel block, and reflects on Gavin’s skill, knowing that this is the most difficult of defensive movies with the knife. Substitute “bloody dangerous” for “difficult”! Certain styles of knife-fighting base themselves on sword fighting, so techniques involving parrying may be encountered.
One of the lessons here is to avoid using your knife (or your other hand) to parry, if possible. Avoid letting your enemy make any contact with your weapon or hand. If you do make contact execute a “beat” and strike to the hand and arm beyond. Keep both hands moving, and keep moving yourself. Use your ginga and the other techniques in my books to avoid and attack rather than parry and block.
As an aside, the above implies there must be some length of blade over which parrying becomes practical. Drexel-Biddle taught parrying, but had his students were training with hand-held sword-bayonets. I would be fairly confident parrying with a ten-inch kukri. Shape and design probably contributes too. The forward curve of a kukri or jambiya increases control and compensates for length.
All that said, if I am designing a primary fighting knife, I would include a guard. Down-curved quillons that can catch a blade would be nice, although how realistic this is is debatable, and such a feature certainly needs to be backed by protection for the hand behind. An oval or ovaloid guard, such as found on a tanto, might be a good option. As I understand it, “tanto” actually means (very) short-sword and it is not technically a “to” or sword unless it has a to-type guard and other sword fittings (Cameron Stone, p.604). Most modern knives sold as tantos would not be classed as such, and the wikipedia article is erroneous [!]
A guard that provides protection in two planes may be problematic to wear. One option is to offset the disc so less of it is against the body but it still protects the outside of the hand. Renaissance daggers often combined quillons with a “thumb ring”, the latter a misnomer since it was positioned to defend the outside of the hand rather than involve the thumb.
Categories
Phillosoph

A True Survival Bowie?

Sometimes a diversification can let us view a topic from another direction, casting new light on it.

Size Matters

The last blog made it clear to me that the many medium-sized (6 to 8") general-purpose knives that I have do not really have a role. That includes my beloved Buck 119 and the various five to eight inch kukris that I have acquired. If SHTF or TEOTWAWKI occurs, I will be reaching for one of my larger blades and complementing it with one of my puukkot (plural of “puukko”). I have my favourite ten-inch sirupate kukri ready to go on a belt alongside a Mora Companion. A small pouch on the belt contains a fire kit and Lansky multi-sharpener. Nearby is my barong-handled machete and a crowbar, ready to be added to the rucksac. Already on my person I have my Swiss Army knife and mini-Leatherman, along with other items.
If you are planning to spend good money on survival knives, the sound advice is to “go big” and “go-small”. Buy yourself a good chopper that can produce a fire and shelter with minimum effort when they are most needed. Get a good fixed blade small knife that can handle more intricate duties. Puukkot are hard to beat for value and quality. Get what folders you want for EDC.
Another topic I touched on was that most of the original Bowie knife designs were designed to be primarily weapons. This can be seen in the shape of their point profiles, which are often combined with a long false edge.

The Bowie/Machete

With the above in mind, I will share a passage I came across in “Gun Digest Book of Knives, 4th Edition”, p.111-113:
“Another category of knife is the hybrid Bowie…The Bowie/Machete is made by Collins Machete, Case Knife, Western Knife and Legendary Arms.
Bowie/Machete came about when a South American customer went to Collins and wanted a machete made like a Bowie knife.
The result was a wonderful knife. It is one of the finest large skinning and butcher knives ever made. It is one of the few knives that can hold its own with a commercial slaughterhouse curved skinner and large butcher knife. These purely single-purpose knives are hard to beat at their specialities, but the shape and curvature of the Collins design is a most useful compromise of their features in a large knife.
The oversize butcher knife shape with the Bowie clip blade has a deep enough belly and enough sweep at the point to approximate the sweep of the professional skinning knife. In the hands of an expert, it is the best knife for skinning and butchering large game. For use as a small machete, the deep grind employed on these knives allows the same cut a much thinner machete would make. While a little light and short for heavy woodcutting. this is still a practical short machete knife.
For a working knife to carry in South America where it was intended, or anywhere else for that matter, this is a hard one to beat. When used as a fighting knife, it is an excellent chopper, while its broad blade produces more damage on thrust than lesser knives…
It should be noted that the simple tapered grip with the pronounced neb to anchor the hand found on these is an elegant masterpiece of a functional grip in its own right. These knives feel good in the hand where they lock in and go to work naturally. The hand is positioned for proper leverage with a heavy double guard to bear against at the front and a neb at the rear similar to the grip taken with an Indian Talwar sword. It is most effective for a working knife and far better than gimmick grips on some custom knives. Remember. everything possible with knives has been tried. This is an old, standard, elegant solution to the grip. Like the rest of the knife. it is conservative and effective all the way through.”
This sounds interesting! No image of the “Bowie/Machete” is in the book. There is a photo of a Legendary Arms Bowie that it might be, but unhelpfully the blade is in its sheath! Websearching on “Bowie/Machete” proves useless. The Cold Steel design of this name post-dates the book, and it is evident from the shape that the Cold Steel offering does not have the features described.
Cold Steel Bowie Machete

The Bowie/Machete Identified?

Eventually I pieced together enough clues to suspect that the model described is the Collins & Co. Machete No.18. Not actually a machete as most of us understand the term these days, but that was how the company designated it. In 1942 the 10-inch Collins was adopted for survival kits of air crews operating in the Pacific, including at Guadalcanal Canal. The marines took notice, and the model was widely used by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Maj. James Roosevelt, son of the then President, was involved in their procurement, and carried one numbered “30”. One of my references (“Fighting Knives. An Illustrated Guide to Fighting Knives and Military Survival Weapons of the World” by Frederick J. Stephens p.67) confirms that wartime production of this model was also undertaken by Case Cutlery, Western Cutlery and an Australian source. “Knives of War” by Hughes, Jenkins and Buerlein adds a company called Kinfolks Inc to the list. It is from Case that the frequently used, but incorrect designation “V44” or “V-44” seems likely to have been acquired. (The V42 discussed in the last blog was a Case design.) Knives of War p.68-70 calls it a “Gung Ho Knife”, “Survival Bowie” and mentions an aviator’s example labelled “9-inch machete”. Actual dimensions are given in Knives of War as a blade of 978" and 2" at its widest. Total Length is 14½".  I believe the blade was ¼" thick. Minor variations between manufacturers can be found, variations including grip shape, grip construction and whether the false-edge was sharpened. Some Collins examples had a grip of green horn, which has a very attractive camouflaged appearance. Some sheathes had the tip cut-off to improve drainage.
Knives of War p.69: Former Marine Raider Rosenquist reports: “It was a real good, multi-purpose knife. We used it for opening ration cans, coconuts, cutting fire lanes, etc. It was handy as a small hatchet for cutting small trees and coconut-log bunkers and in combat as an effective fighting weapon.”Marine Bowie Horn handled Bowie Horn handled Bowie Black handled Bowie

The No.18 Today?

This is a Bowie design with a proven record of survival utility, not to mention it might also find its way to certain kitchens or meat-packing plants. As well as its practicality, it has historical connections. Many people understand the value of preparedness, and Americans love Bowies, so you might think a number of companies would be offering “Gung Ho/ No.18 Survival Bowies” and they would be flying off the shelves!
Raider Bowie replica Raider Bowie box
Well, I have not had much luck locating any! There is a reproduction “V44 Raider Bowie” (above). This is apparently low-quality steel, since it is intended to sit on a shelf rather than be put to use. Note that it is not a particular accurate reproduction, the blade having a single broad fuller rather than to two narrow fullers of the actual No.18.
No.18 Bowie Throwing Bowie
Legendary Arms offers a Bowie and a “Throwing Bowie” that has some resemblance (above), but note both have a short bevel grind rather than the blade section of the originals.
W49 Bowie
Western Cutlery is now Western Knives, with production in Asia. Their W49 (above) is/was not their version of the No.18. Dimensions are slightly smaller and the blade has a short bevel.
Ontario Bowie
Best candidate seems to be the Ontario SP10 “Marine Raider” (above). Despite the name, the blade form is different. The SP53 is probably closer to the No.18 in spirit, but is not a Bowie. Most obvious difference for both of these is the grip. I quite liked the machete-style grip of the original Collins. As regular readers will appreciate, a flared or hooked grip is a very good feature for a chopping knife.

The Future?

Ideally, someone would bring out a nice No.18 Bowie blade blank that I could fit with a grip.
If anyone has been inspired by this to bring out a modern day No.18 Bowie, I would suggest having a good look at the modified original shown below. The upper quillon has been removed and the lower bent so that it is out of the way when the strongest part of the blade is used for tasks such as batonning through material.
Horn handled No.18 Bowie