~ The Wilkinson Third Pattern F-S Fighting Knife ~

October 1943 Onwards

~ A Knife Of Compromise ~


October of 1943 ushered in the final era of the World War Two F-S Wilkinson trilogy.  Once again the pressures of war, increased demand and strains on raw materials required more changes to the F-S design.   Once more it was the hilt that was targeted, this time the brass grip being dropped all together in favor of a non-strategic alloy.  Cast with 27 concentric rings, these were now outsourced from four different foundries which supplied not only Wilkinson Sword but until wars end, the many other manufacturers who were now fulfilling Ministry of Supply contracts.  Interestingly, these grips have a small number 1,2,3 or 4 as part of the casting seen near the pommel area.  Research has revealed four different supplies of these grips and it is believed that each corresponded to a number, likely for quality control purposes.

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The resulting new grip design was a distinct departure from previous patterns.  Although the overall form was not dissimilar to the preceding patterns it did lack the graceful lines of its predecessors.  The most visually distinct change was to  the  textured  portion of the grip which now allowed for a more robust grip retention.  The original (brass) grips had been finely knurled resulting in a cross-hatching to the larger portion of the grip.  This was now replaced with a simplistic design of twenty seven concentric rings which covered a similar area.

In order to monitor quality control, the molds used to cast the alloy grips had a small number as part of the casting.  Shown in relief at the smooth section on the pommel and just above the rings the numbers are 1,2,3 or 4.  As four manufactures of these cast grips have been identified through Wilkinson’s internal records it is reasonable to conclude that each mold number related to a specific manufacturer.  The four supplies of cast grips were as follows:

   Wolverhampton Die Casting Company

    Walsall Die Casting Ltd

    Perry Bar Metal Co of Birmingham

    H. J. Maybry of London

Research to date has not been able to conclusively link each mold number with a specific maker.  However the Ministry of Supply memo (shown below) dated 30th October 1943 details some quality issues with cast grips recently received from the Wolverhampton Die Casting Company.  Interestingly in the first paragraph, mould number ‘4‘ is mentioned.  From this we can determine that those grips that carry this number likely originated from this company.

Another challenge that surfaced during the introduction of the cast grip was that of finish.  It was found that the blackening process would not adhere to the cast alloy.  To facilitate the process the grips had to first have a copper wash applied prior to the blackening process.  With age and wear this copper finish can now be seen on many knives, occasionally mistaken for the final finish.

Below are examples of all four mould numbers.  It is believed that all moulds were destroyed at war’s end.  It is reasonable to assume that there was no reason to keep these moulds as there would be no market post-war.  This does mean, however, that this is an easy way to identify a post-war knife, as no mould number will be present.  Although original wartime production knives have been noted without mould numbers, it is thought that these may have simply been removed during the cleaning up process prior to finishing.  However these example are very seldom seen so in the absence of a mould number one is safe to assume the knife is most likely of post-war production.

Dear Sirs,

We note your comments concerning the

quality of grips from No4 mould

recently received from Wolverhampton

Die Casting Company.

We have noted the severity of the problem

which you have described and have instructed

Wolverhampton Die Casting to rectify this

without delay.

© R. Wilkinson-Latham

From surviving examples, original jigs and tooling, it would seem that the late-war knives suffered yet more cut backs having no etched panel, a thinner machine-ground blade and a new style of pommel nut. They were more in line with all the other knives now being produced by a plethora of makers. But these initial knives were of very high quality and in fact utilized the original Second Pattern hand ground blade. These early ‘transitional’ knives date from late 1943 to early 1944 and are quite scarce, but with their etched ricasso and distinctive ‘V’ grind they are easy to spot.

The images adjacent show one of these early Third Pattern knives with both standard etching panels but also the hand-ground blades as per Second Pattern production. If you look closely along the central spine of the blade where it meets the cross-guard, you can see a triangular area where the central high point of the blade had to be partially ground down to allow it to be passed through the cross-guard during the assembly process.

These early Wilkinson Third Pattern F-S knives as mentioned, normally have the two standard etching panels.  In the examples, both the F-S and W-S etching are entirely consistent with all other patterns.  However, as with the preceding pattern (Second Pattern) sometimes they can be found with the lesser-seen and longer W-S etched panel as in the examples below.

It is also worth pointing out that similar to the Second Pattern knife, examples have been noted where the etching panels have been applied both after and before the blueing process, the latter resulting in a very subdued etching as in the example shown adjacent.

As scarce as these knives are there is one more version of the World War Two Third Pattern that is even rarer and that is an example that has had a personal etching applied. Although more often seen on Second Pattern knives there are however a handful of Third Pattern examples known with personal etchings. A spectacular example can be seen above, even more rare is that the etching on this knife is in an extended ‘tablet’ form and not the normal banner usually seen.

The Wilkinson Third Pattern F-S Fighting Knife

This location of the grip’s cast mould number is placed centrally on the smooth area of the pommel.  In this case the number is 1, small but clearly visible.

These last (machine-ground) incarnations of the F-S are very difficult to attribute specifically to Wilkinson Sword.  With no etchings or identifying markings, to the casual observer they are very similar to the myriad of Third Patterns produced by numerous other makers.  The task is not impossible though and like the brush strokes of an artist it is possible to spot the subtle details in fit, finish and manufacture that set them aside.  This does, however, explain the extreme scarcity of etched Third Pattern knives as etching panels only seem to appear on the very early transitional Third Patterns that continued to use hand-ground blades as per Second Pattern production.

Early in 1944 the Ministry of Supply related complaint from the Commando training schools to J.W.L.  The nature of these seem to relate to the balance and weight of the new alloy gripped F-S.  In an attempt to address this issue on February 26th (1944) J.W.L sent a memorandum to Charlie Rose to “ urgently prepare an F.S. knife of the current pattern with a steel hilt ”.  For reasons that are unknown these changes were never implemented but the ‘Steel Hilt’ experimental knife along with the original memo have survived.  This knife along with the earlier mentioned ‘Two Part Grip’ Second Pattern sample knife, represent the ‘ONLY’ documented experimental knives known to exist from this period.


Die Casting Company

The 1944 Wilkinson experimental ‘steel hilt’ Third Pattern (left) along with some period jigs and patterns from the period.  Accompanied by the original internal Wilkinson memorandum request for it dated 26th February 1944.

The end of the war did not signal the end of the Wilkinson Third Pattern F-S Knife.  In fact this, the last of the wartime patterns, remained the standard design for many decades.  As Wilkinson continued to fulfill military contracts both at home and abroad, it seems that the Third Pattern through various evolutions remained the standard design for contract work.  Perhaps the last (that we know of) military contract was that to supply 295 F-S Knives for the Falkland’s War (1982).  As shown by the ‘pattern’ knife (with attached label) that Wilkinson retained for their reference, the design was clearly of the Third Pattern type, although - and understandably - some changes to the manufacturing process has taken place.

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