~ The Wilkinson Second Pattern F-S Fighting Knife ~

August 1941 - October 1943

~ A New Design ~


We see the Second Pattern first appear in the Wilkinson order books on August 12th, 1941 (see extract below), just nine months after production of the F-S Knife first started.  A comment written in both the order and contract books states “to new design”, clearly this was reflecting the changes made to the original knife and signaled the end of First Pattern production, being replaced by what we now refer to as the Second Pattern.  This ‘new design’ ushered in a knife that would be made in the hundreds of thousands.  In addition and at the request of, the Ministry of Supply, this design would go on to be made by other manufacturers as Wilkinson was asked and supplied as of 2nd October 1942 a full set of technical drawings presumably to be forwarded to other companies, so other avenues of supply could be sought.

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Other manufacturers aside, the ‘Wilkinson’ Second Pattern can have many variations and production anomalies.  From finish to etchings and even slight differences in grip profile, pommel and pommel nut can be found.  Although such production anomalies certainly make for interesting areas of study, discussion and add to our enjoyment of collecting such variations, these were not different sub patterns and merely represent different options offered/supplied or anomalies within the manufacturing process. 

The blade on the First Pattern as you will remember was hand-ground.  During this process a ricasso or square section was left at the area where the blade enters the hilt.  This is a very skilled and time-consuming process.  The Second Pattern blades continued to be hand-ground but this time the ricasso was dispensed with, the angle of the grind running full length up to the shoulder of the blade.  Due to the thickness of the hand-ground blades a slight flattening was required to allow the tang to fully fit through the crossguard, resulting in a small triangular, flattened area where the ricasso had once been.  The crossguard was still the same dimensions as the First Pattern but this time the process of forming the two inch guard into a the distinct ‘S’ shape was simply dropped, leaving the guard completely flat.  Both of these changes were not overly significant and were not in any way detrimental to the usefulness of the knife but taken together must have represented an important savings in production time. 

The last and not so obvious change was to the brass grip portion of the hilt.  As mentioned previously, the initial brass grip was turned from sold brass stock.  Brass being a strategic material and therefore strictly controlled, it no doubt seemed prudent to conserve whatever material and wherever possible.  With this in mind it was decided to cast the brass grips.  This process gave more control over the amount of brass actually used for each unit and enabled modest savings to be made.  At the thickest part of the grip (the palm swell) a small internal void was created.  This was relatively insignificant in regards to the weight and did not appear to negatively impact the balance of the knife.  The slight loss of steel from the lack of a square ricasso helped to offset this and retain the normal balance.  This did allow for less brass to be used per unit, not much of a savings one might think, but when multiplied by tens of thousands of knives I’m sure it was felt an appropriate decision, especially when one considered the dire predicament Britain was in following Dunkirk and the loss of so much material and equipment. Changing or modifying the grip as we shall see is a theme often revisited throughout the war-time development of the F-S knife.

As is so often the case in manufacturing, things can and sometimes do go wrong.  In January of 1943 issues were discovered with the brass grip castings and in order to solve the problem it was decided to try a two-part grip.  One sample knife was made up to try the idea (see Knife World May 2010 “ A 1943 Wilkinson Experimental Fairbairn Sykes Knife” ).  The issues, however, must have been promptly resolved.  Aside from the knife and memo that now survive no other evidence has been found to show that the project went beyond this one experimental knife.

The Wilkinson Second Pattern F-S Knife is an exciting area to study and collect, not least of which is due to the plethora of variations one can (if lucky) encounter.  When one included the popularity of having a personal etched banner applied to the blade, the potential for a Second Pattern collection with not one example identical is enormous.  Due to such potential in variety both in finish, anomalies and etchings etc, it can often be challenging in one’s attempts at describing a particular knife when discussing the topic.  For this reason I have sub-divided the Second Pattern in three sub categories based solely on their finish.  The ‘Type I’ Second Pattern are those knives that are all over plated/polished, in other words retaining the same bright finish as the original First Pattern.  The ‘Type II’ Second Pattern is quite the opposite, being those knives with an all over blacked/blued subdued finish (a rare knife).  The last and most often encountered is the ‘Type III’ Second Pattern, these have a blued hilt and polished blade.

The Wilkinson Second Pattern F-S Fighting Knife

© R. Wilkinson-Latham

This extract from the Wilkinson Government Contracts ledger clearly shows the two order 1672/1482 for 500 FS knives and 5 gross FS knives respectively dated 12th August 1941 with a note (in parentheses) “to new design”.  This has long been believed to be an indication of the design change from what we now refer to as First and Second (patterns).  This is the best evidence to date of the cessation of First Pattern production and the commencement of manufacture of Second Pattern F-S Fighting Knives.

There were however three distinct design changes that ushered in the new knife and gave us the now classic Second Pattern F-S.  The two most recognizable changes were, of course, the new blade and guard profile but less obvious was the internal changes to the brass knurled grip where a small void was created internally, no doubt to save on material as brass was at that time designated a strategic material and strictly controlled.

The initial replacement to the original (First) pattern of F-S - the Type I Second Pattern - was in many ways very similar, as was it’s scabbard.  The most noticeable changes being the now straight crossguard, the absence of a squared ricasso and to the scabbard, the replacement of the snap-fastener with an elastic retaining strap.

The splendid Type II (all blued) Second Pattern clearly demonstrates the most obvious changes to the new Second Pattern design, in that the crossguard is now completely flat showing no curvature and there is now no square ricasso.  Note also the long trade-mark etching on this example, scarcer than the standard ‘short’ version most often seen.  A nice detail to look out for.

The Wilkinson Second Pattern technical drawings supplied by them to the Ministry of Supply as of 2nd October 1943.  Aside from the obvious changes in design (from the First Pattern) the internal void to the grip is clearly shown.

A hansom example of the Wilkinson Type III (blued hilt/polished blade) F-S Fighting Knife.  This type is by far the most prolific of all the Second Pattern finishes.  In this case the knife has extra historical significance and interest due to the etched banner on the blade containing personal details of it’s original owner.  Such knives are highly sought after by collectors as the personal details can add a whole new dimension and perspective to an F-S.

Wilkinson Second Pattern F-S - Type IIIWilkinson_Second_Pattern_F-S_Knife_Type_III.html
Wilkinson Second Pattern F-S - Type IWilkinson_Second_Pattern_F-S_Knife_Type_I.html
Wilkinson Second Pattern F-S - Type IIWilkinson_Second_Pattern_F-S_Knife_Type_II.html

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