Over the years and the decades, certain knives have come to be associated with Special Forces. Unlike the SEALS, we haven’t endorsed thirty different Rambo knives and toad-stabbers, and we’ve never associated with anything as impractical and, well, ugly as the Buckmaster. But hey, the frogs are alright, you gotta love them for what they are, cause they ain’t gonna change. Anyway, as people who know where to find wine that doesn’t have a screw-on top, and speak a foreign language other than Loud Slow English, you’d expect us to have a little more class. We do, and it shows up in our choice of cuttin’ irons. We’ll take them in rough chronological order.
The V-42 Commando Stiletto
This weapon, made by Case Knives, was issued to the SF forerunner The First Special Service Force, a unique Canadian-American combined unit. It shows up on the crests of many SF-related units today. While all SF men are still trained to fight with knives, daggers like this are very rare, with multipurpose blades having replaced them. The V-42 was an update on the double-edged British Fairbairn-Sykes fighting or Commando knife, with some subtle human engineering and quality improvements. It had a spiked pommel, a leather-disc handle like a contemporary bayonet, and a serrated place to plant the thumb for a couple of the knife strikes that were in the Fairbairn-Sykes bag of tricks. It was a fighting knife, a killing knife; it was also a beautiful work of industrial art. An original V-42 is worth a small fortune today, and even one of a short run of numbered copies Case made in the 1980s and 90s (photo) has appreciated enormously. But there’s a decent Chinese copy available.
The Randall Knife
Starting in Vietnam, or maybe even earlier, SF gear included a near-compulsory Randall knife, Rolex watch, and star sapphire ring. The knives are less beloved today, but they’re still handcrafted by the Randall shop in Orlando, and they’re still damn good knives. These days, they tend to be utterly wasted on the collectors who lock them in safes or glass display cabinets. With a Randall, you could cut just about anything that needed cutting, including (in one well-known case) through the skin of a burning helicopter wreck to safety. Randall Made knives take and hold an edge (especially the carbon steel blades). They are as vital a piece of SF history as the green beret itself. Particularly “SF” models are the No. 1 and No. 14 “Attack” (illustrated) and 15 in 5 1/2″ and 7 1/2″ blade lengths. Some do swear by the tubular-hilted No. 18, wrapping the hilt in “550” cord. The knives are built like a bank vault. No Chinese copy of one could do it justice, we fear. A Model 14 is $385 from Randall, plus options; plus a long wait (From the website: “Current order deliveries are being scheduled for delivery in 56 MONTHS, year 2016.” If you need one now, dealers can help you but expect to pay nearly double the price — seriously. If you want a used one with “character,” good luck — SF-used Randalls are much more pricey, and almost all new Randalls are locked up by collectors and never even put in the sheath. Pity that.
The Gerber Mark II
This knife was another staple of Vietnam operators. It was a 1966 update of the classic fighting dagger, and so it fell into disuse — and all but out of Gerber’s catalog — in the 1980s. It’s back in production now; in case you have one, a serial-number history of the first 35 years of so of production is here, and a comprehensive history of the Mk II is at Military Carry Knves.com.
The thing with daggers is, they’re highly-evolved fighting knives, but 99% of the time you need a knife, you’re cutting cardboard, parachute cord, webbing, or dressing an animal. All can be done with a double-edged knife optimized for cutting human throats, hamstrings and livers, but it’s awkward. That leads the dagger-wearer to carry two knives, and if there’s one thing an SF guy already has and doesn’t need more of, it’s weight to carry. That said, the wasp-waisted, elegant Gerber was a remarkably beautiful design, even in its odd first-generation model with the blade and hilt set at a 5-degree angle for more comfortable waist carry. Apocryphal stories claimed a number of buyers indignantly returned “bent” knives, and Roy Gerber soon threw in the towel and made them straight (an anniversary model once reprised the bend for collectors). Mark IIs can be found with and without sawteeth on the wasp-waist. Ask a late 1960s-1980s SF vet, he’ll have a Gerber story. (He may still have the knife in a closet).
The Yarborough Knife
In 2002, Special Forces senior leaders decided that a specific SF knife needed to be issued once again. After considering over 100 entries (including, we are told, Randalls), Special Forces Command selected a Bill Harsey design, to be manufactured by Chris Reeve, and called it the “Yarborough Knife” after the SF General who started with the Airborne Test Platoon in 1941 and was instrumental in winning approval for the Green Beret from President Kennedy in 1961. Reeve and Harsey sell a generic version of the knife, but a “Yarborough” marked knife is only available one way — earn Special Forces qualification. Every knife’s serial number is recorded along with the name of its owner at Special Forces Command and/or the Special Forces Branch Museum.
While the knife has been presented to every SFQC graduate since August 23, 2002, the taxpayers aren’t the ones paying for them in the end — the SF candidates who sweated to earn them in the first place, reimburse the Government for the knife, and it becomes their personal property — with one limitation. SF soldiers, and their heirs, are not permitted to sell the Yarborough Knife, and a private citizen who is in possession of one may be prosecuted for theft or receiving stolen property. If the cops find him before the SF mafia does.
A soldier who qualified before August 23 may also obtain a Yarborough, although the process is more involved and the Command has to check him out and establish his bona fides. If you’re SF and want one, go here. If you need more help, drop us a line in the comments. Here are two ProfessionalSoldiers.com threads on the knife: Symbol of a Legacy and . Designer Bill Harsey is a member there and comments.
Most SF men store their Yarborough away, which is a pity as it is an extremely strong, practical field knife. We know of at least one soldier who has beaten his like a gong on multiple combat tours, and it’s still going strong. And honest, it has nothing to do with him being one finger short. We know of another who inadvertently plunged it into his thigh, and it penetrated all the way to the bone. The knife was so sharp (from the factory!) that the wound was near painless and healed with a very faint scar… but it let out over a pint of blood before he got the bleeding under control.
So today, in 2012, the Yarborough is the definitive Special Forces knife, but each of the others has a very special place in SF history. Also, because a knife is a personal item, you’ll find plenty of guys who like a Ka-Bar, a Glock knife (it’s like a mini Ka-Bar), an AK bayonet or some other piece of exotica. We tried some oddball knives over the years, with mixed results. And there are a lot of guys who don’t use a sheath knife at all, preferring to use a multi-tool. There’s something wrong with those boys. A sheath knife is needed if only for style points. Ideally, a V-42, Randall, Mark II, or Yarborough.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.