The M1917 Trench Knife guide

You will find on this page some useful information about WW1 trench knives, especially the M1917 Trench Knife.

WW1 Trench Knife history

A commission of civil and military industrialists was charged in 1917 to find a fighting knife able to cross the thickness of uniforms of that time (hood, tunic, etc...). Moreover it had to be able to create damage to the head or the temples.
The only model capable in 1917 of creating such damage is the model proposed by the firm Henry Disston in Philadelphia, where the trench knife M1917 and its descendants were born.

The trench knife model 1917

This trench dagger has a single triangular shaped blade, blued, without any markings, this blade measures approximately 230 mm (9 inches). The hilt is bent in a capital "D" shape, with 6 kinds of stamped pyramidal teeth (manufactured by LF and C, HD and S and OCL), or a double row of 5 die-cut teeth (AC Co, HD and S and OCL). In both cases, an additional tooth fixes the wooden handle to the tang by means of a rivet.

There is also a model with 7 teeth (pyramidal shape), which was manufactured exclusively by LF and C.
The handle, in American walnut (most often oiled or more rarely varnished), has 4 notches for the fingers and a rounded back, except for the AC Co models which have a flat back. The firm OCL produced a few examples with a handle composed of several superimposed leather pommels, which is quite rare.

ww1 trench knife
An example of LF&C M1917 Trench Knife

Manufacturers of M1917 Trench Knives :

The main manufacturers of M 1917 Trench Knives are :

-Henri Disston and Sons unknown HD & S 1918
-American Cutlery Company unknown AC Co USA
-Oneido Community Limited 10,000 US OCL 1918
-Landers Frary and Clark 113 000 LF & C 1917

Most of WW1 fighting knives were produced by these manufacturers. 


Description of the different M1917 sheaths

1° type: Made up of a slightly conical cylinder with a fixing lug (fixed by rivets) for wearing on the belt, or more commonly on the shoulder straps of the haversack or bridle.

2° type: It is composed of a leather plate on which is fixed a leather counterpart, which also follows the shape of the blade. The whole is sewn and reinforced by rivets. The guard is maintained by a tab with a snap fastener.

3°type: Made of a piece of leather sewn into a slightly conical cylinder, either dark green or khaki, reinforced by a steel rivet (marked MS) and by a cap (marked HS) with a double brass hook of the standard model of 1910. All steel parts are blued and fixed to the leather by three rivets. This leather scabbard is made by Jewell Belt and Co, and marked Jewell 1918.
The meaning of the MS and HS markings is still unknown to this day.


The trench knife model 1918

The M1917 trench knife, which as you have seen was fairly crude in construction, was to be followed by a better designed and more elaborate model in the form of a double-edged blade knife with a brass handle and a sheet steel sheath, all designed to deliver quick blows in any direction. This model was manufactured by the same manufacturers as the 1917 model, with the addition of the firm A. A Simsons and Sons and in France by "Au Lion" having its own model of scabbard. This model was developed by the Engineering Division of Ordonance of American Expeditionary Forces.

The initial contract was for 1,232,780 knives and their scabbards, but the armistice led to a reduction in orders to 119,424 copies for the five American manufacturers. The detail by manufacturer is unknown to this day.

The handle of M1918 Trench knife

The American-made model, made of brass with a high concentration of tin, is really shaped like a fist and allows to strike either up or down, depending on the grip. The protruding nut could be used to hit the temple in case the blow was defective. The rings are finished by a pyramidal section, there are two finishes for this dagger one in chemical coating the other by a paint.
On the model made in France, the handle is made of an alloy containing a lower proportion of tin than its American counterpart. The four-sided bolt has a round base, and the rings are not finished with a pyramidal section.
The grip is identical on both models, even if our soldier is wearing gloves.
In both cases, the handle is rough cast, just drilled to allow the passage of the threaded tang of the blade, hence the use of the nut. The markings come from foundry, no coating, so its color is brass.

The blade

US double-edged model; the two sides of the blade have a rather innovative profile, with a polished or bronzed finish, without markings. On the French model, the blade is identical in profile and finish, with the "Au Lion" marking showing the classic lying lion.


The scabbard of the trench knife : 

Also of the US model which exists in two types:

1° type: Made of a piece of leather in the shape of a "P" (to better protect the clothes and the belly of our Sammies from friction), on which is sewn a counterpart adopting the profile of the blade; a tab is sewn to hold the handle in place.

2° type: Made of two pieces of black or khaki painted copper steel sheet, nested one inside the other and provided with two riveted hooks at about 70 mm from each other, but also with four slits (two at the top and two at the bottom) acting as a clamp on the blade, and finally with a hole for the evacuation of water or even mud.
These two types of sheaths are marked LF and C 1918.

As for the French model sheath, it is made of two sheet steel parts, which are welded at about 65 70 mm from each other, with a spring leaf acting as a clamp. We can also find another model of French scabbard resembling that of the "Avenger of 70" (i.e. the dagger knife model 1916) so that a metal U-shaped loop is welded on the back of the scabbard, to serve as a fixation.

WARNING: It is very likely, if not almost certain, that the trench knife M 1918 has never been fireproofed, at least during the Great War, but it is very popular with collectors.