A few weeks ago at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival (WarFest) I had a chance to chat with the chaps from the Royal Navy Beachhead Commando Reenactors, a group portraying a unique Second World War British Commando unit. And I got to have a paddle in a Mk1** canoe!
The Royal Navy Commandos were tasked with reconiotring the beaches before landings and once the landing began they were first onto the beach. The Royal Navy Commando beachhead parties and beachmasters would then direct the landing of troops and materials.
Below are a few photos from the groups camp and of the Mk1** Commando canoes used by the SBS and Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP):
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Prime your limpet mines, pull on your windproofs and climb into your canoes and join us as we paddle furiously into enemy territory to discuss 1955’s Cockleshell Heroes with none other than historian Saul David.
Saul has a new history of the Special Boat Service out so what better film to tackle than Cockleshell Heroes. Starring Trevor Howard, Jose Ferrer, Victor Maddern, Christopher Lee and Percy Herbert as the Royal Marine Commandos tasked with sinking enemy ships deep in enemy territory on Operation Frankton!
While doing some research for a couple of upcoming videos I came across some photographs of Commandos training, at the Combined Training Centre at Kabrit in Egypt, which showed men equipped with some interesting fighting knives.
Typically when we think of Commandos and fighting knives we think of the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife with its stiletto point and cast grip. So much so that it became the iconic symbol of the Commandos.
Well these Royal Navy Commandos appear to be armed with fighting knives crafted from earlier standard issue bayonets. The knives have the standard stiletto blade but quite clearly do not have the Fairbairn-Sykes’ instantly recognisable cast ringed grip.
In the series of photos taken during training at Kabrit, we can see numerous Commandos equipped with them and featuring in some quite dramatic photos from June 1943 – seemingly taken during training for Operation Husky. At first I thought the knives might have been made from the still-in-service 1907 Pattern sword bayonet used by the SMLE No.1 Mk.3. In some of the photos the scabbards appear to look like shortened 1907 bayonet scabbards with the same brass fittings and the knives appear to be retained by Pattern 1908 webbing bayonet frogs.
I also thought they might have been adapted from the even earlier 1888 Pattern bayonet for the Lee-Metford. But while they have a scroll to the front of their quillon/cross guard the shape of the pommel and the bayonet attachment point clearly differ.
Not being a bayonet expert I was a little stumped so posted about the photos on twitter and Kevin Dann was kind enough to mention that the knives are in Ron Flook’s book on British & Commonwealth Military Knives. Flook identified the knives as adapted 1903 Pattern Bayonets, originally introduced with the SMLE before the move to a longer bayonet.
It seems that these knives were used by Commandos and they are also seen in some photos of SAS operating in the Aegean. I’m not sure who made these knives, some sources mention Wilkinson Sword making some F/S style knives from old 1888 and 1903 bayonet blades but state these had different grips. Perhaps these were put together by a unit armourer if proper issue knives weren’t available.