WWII - Theater Knives


November 13, 2012, 09:13 PM
So what’s a Theater Knife you might ask?
No, it’s not a fighting knife you take to the Movies or the Opera.

The term Theater Knife was coined by collectors after WWII, and used to describe knives made by soldiers, sailors & airmen, or by civilian hobbyists, and sent to the GI’s overseas in the Pacific or European Theater of operations.

As such, Theater Knives are found ranging in quality from very crude, to pretty darn good, as these examples illustrate.

The top one has a a nicely ground high carbon steel blade with cast aluminum guard & pommel, and sheet aluminum & fancy grain hardwood handle.

The bottom one is double edge dagger with brass and Plexiglas handle washers, held on with a simple rusty roll-pin.

I made the sheath for it because it kept falling off the display stand and trying to stab me in the foot every time I walked by it!
I think it's possessed by an angry WWII spirit! :what:

Still another similar to the top one, but not as skillfully ground blade.

And the last one a 8” sticker with a brazed on tang with a 1928 Indian Head Nickel inlayed in the butt.
I made the sheath for it too, just for self-preservation in the gun room when I went in there with it. :eek:



They will be found with cast aluminum handles, colorful Plexiglas washers, and aircraft aluminum or shell casing brass washer spacers.

And about anything else a GI in Theater, or a stateside hobbyist making knives for the war effort could scrounge up during rationing in WWII to make a knife out of.

I have owned a lot of them over the years, but they never really interested me all that much if I couldn't identify who made them or who used them.

And they are seldom if ever blade marked by the maker, and most of the sheaths that might have been marked by the owner rotted off by now..

So that's all I got.
You just can’t keep them all!


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November 13, 2012, 09:42 PM
Cool !

November 13, 2012, 09:48 PM
I knives made by troops deployed in theater are theater knives, but I've never considered knives made by civilians as "theater knives" since they weren't actually made "in theater". If it wasn't made by a deployed service member in the theater of operations it wasn't deserving of the "handle". It is that made under tough circumstances that "home front" knives can't equal.

That said, there were many folks "on the home front" that made knives for troops to fill the void of government procurement and to show support. Those are great collectables separate to knives made by service members overseas. Related and important, critically different.

November 13, 2012, 10:08 PM
That is true.

My problem is, hardly any of them have a traceable history left anymore.

And I and other collectors have a very difficult to impossible time determining if any one of them was made There, or Here during WWII.
Or even in a high school shop class in 1960 something?

And so does everyone else, unless the knife was either blade marked in theater with a unit or makers name, (very unusual) or from a recognizable "home front" maker like Anderson, Murphy, Barteaux, Huff, Messenger, Rocklin, and others.

Right or wrong, I group them all together as Theater Knives, unless I can Identify the maker exactly.

And it is very seldom, if ever, that anyone can do that with any degree of certainty with an unmarked handmade knife.


November 14, 2012, 07:51 AM
I actually like #2 best. :)

November 14, 2012, 08:03 AM
Nice post. i learned something and enjoyed seeing the knives. Thank you, sir.

November 14, 2012, 08:38 AM
I agree that it is pretty much impossible to verify a knife was made in theater or home front. There are characteristics that help assure it though. The use of materials common in theater instead of at home where it would be rare like insulator or plexiglass handle material seen on your second knife. The absence of materials like wood. The use of military blades. The presence of rank and name, company/division, or other military identifiers. None of the guarantee the knives weren't done after the war stateside, but they help.

Still nothing stops anyone from using similar materials and style seen in theater knives on the home front so it is challenging to try to make a distinction that is certain.

November 14, 2012, 09:29 AM
SO what would you call a knife built on the home front by civilian folks working say at a Florida training base (there were a lot) whether or not it actually got carried out side CONUS?

My grandfather was a frame and skin mechanic at the base in Tallahassee Florida during most of WW II ( dubyah dubyah twice) and had access to all the "stratigic metals" found on P 38-39-40-47-51 aircraft and more. SOmewhere we have a civilian citation for a P40 he and a partner rebuilt from a crash bad enough to de commission back to flying and recommissioning and certificatio on their lunch breaks ad after work. At one point in my youth he had a pocket knife he had put plexiglass scales on (no one seems to knw what happened to it) and from what he said there had to be a good bit of scrap laying around the shop of that stuff. Somewhere in the area is a 37 mm solid shot fired by a newbee ( soon to be unemployed) guy in Pa Pa's shop that could not resist playing in the cockpit of a P39 brought in unsafed just before lunch one day. Got everyones attention that did. He said after it left a hole in the hanger wall the shot went off to parts unknown and was supposedly never recovered.

Next to my club gun range is a large airfield that was built to train B-25 crews and a few of the Doolittle folks supposedly were there. I get a kick out of explaining the paved roads to nowhere and the round concrete dispersion pads and the slots in the "road" leading to the range and all the way up to the 50 yard line ( now all filled) that were for running the nose wheel of the B25 in to allow the cheek guns to be zeroed on out backstop. Must have been a lot of stuff around there.

Must have been hundreds of places like those around the US during the war and I would bet that a lot of what are identified as theator knives are draft deferred essentual job civilian made knives for air and navy crew men made with your scrap on your machines during lunch and after work to pick up a few bucks from the boys that were not draft deffered.


November 15, 2012, 10:27 PM
This was my grandfathers knife that he carried while with the Third Armored during WWII.


Unfortunately it's been too long since he passed, but I believe that it was made by grinding the blade from a British saber and fitting it to the hilt of his knife. There's a crest on the blade right above the hilt. It's two rampant lions holding a circular crest topped by a knights helm.


November 16, 2012, 01:56 AM
Now thats outstanding right there!

Definately made from a sword blade, and a good one at that.

Even the sheath looks factory done.

I have to wonder if the whole knife was professionally made somewhere?


November 16, 2012, 07:19 AM
your Granddad carried a nice knife as a SPEARHEAD trooper! I saw nothing like it at all when there was a Spearhead Museum in Frankfurt Am Main in the early 1980s. It was said to be the best US military armoreed vehicle collection in Europe and I especialy enjoyed the selection of scout cars. Inside began with a half mural half "3D" display of the Division's first infield full field layout inpection with a manaquin dressed in period field uniform next to his bedrool and gear and half a shelter half that conected to the wall mural with others and his tent buddy in the back ground.

There was also a street seen of the moment the Divison commander was killed that you walked into that had both real items and murals melded together. The display was U shaped and protected by plexiglass walls ao it looked like the general was dismounting his jeep to speak to you at that fatal moment. The street was cobbled and was littered with debris and spent casings from both armies and an MP-41.

Upstairs was more modern stuff as well as WWII stuff and some things military but not necessarily 3AD. The USAF Air Laison Team attached to 3AD while I was in the Division in the early '80's was restoring a Piper Grasshopper that had been lendlease to the Dutch. DivArty snagged a lend/lease dutch 155 mm Long Tom to put infront of our flag pole (just so I got a gun on the HHB DivArty property books and the battalions could no longer call us gunless wonders!) that was listed at the museum if anyone wanted to make the 30k drive to see it.

I wish there had been an area for personal stuff like thisfighting knife.

Then again I have no idea what happened to the Museum after peace broke out with the fall of the evil empire......


November 16, 2012, 07:20 AM
My grandfather was a machinist apprentice when the war started. As a hobby after the war, he made operational miniature steam locomotives. The metal work would probably have been pretty easy for him. No clue about the leather work though.

November 16, 2012, 08:50 PM
I got these two TKs in a buy for the fella's guns. He carried both in the Pacific though the smaller one lost its original sheath over time.

November 16, 2012, 09:04 PM
Nice ones!

Thanks for sharing them with us!

Have you tried to research any of Mr.Tinkers service?

Sometimes thats more fun for me then finding the knife when I find one with a real name or unit on it.


November 16, 2012, 09:28 PM
Oh yeah. I got the whole deal including action photos of his destroyer and its service record, sea bag, foot locker etc... My wife did the estate sale for his family and as often happens - I was surprised at how little interest they had in his service.

We've seen it with all kinds: A B-24 pilot (Pacific), A CBI Mule-Skinner, mud marines and the like often without any concern from their families for their military personal belongings.

November 16, 2012, 09:44 PM
I know.

I bought a pristine unfired S&W Victory Model revolver last year from the family of a WWII dive bomber pilot who had his ship (USS Franklin) strafed, bombed, and hit by a Kamikaze pilot three different times while off the Philippines.

I think they said one of the kids needed a new X-Box or something.

So much for honoring veterans!

I know my two sons have almost zero interest in my knives, or guns.


November 17, 2012, 03:50 AM
very interesting knives.
My grandfather was in WWII as a tail gunner in a PBY four engine sea plane. He had a Western sheath knife that he left in Hawaii...
He had his last name on the sheath though. He was shipped all over the pacific, and the knife followed him all through the war. It caught up to him in Florida towards the end of the war if I remember right...
He never got to carry the knife, but it made it to all the places he was! :)
My grandmother used the knife as a kitchen knife for decades, and now it's mine.
I think he had it sent to him while he was in the navy, but never got to carry it, I wonder what knife he used in it's place, he never said.

November 17, 2012, 06:21 PM
I know my two sons have almost zero interest in my knives, or guns.


Same here.
But I have a ton of nephews and some young men who will be quite surprised when Cyndi distributes the goodies from a secret list.

November 17, 2012, 08:06 PM
in WWII as a tail gunner in a PBY four engine sea plane.Not to nit-pick, but the PBY Catalina was a two-engine sea plane, used for long range reconnaissance, search & rescue, and anti-submarine patrols in WWII.

It didn't exactly have a tail gunner, but it did have two waist gunners operating out of the twin blisters right behind the wing, and also a nose gunner.


My dad was a Navy Seabee and built landing access ramps for them to get in & out of the water, as well as airfields for land based aircraft in the Philippines from 1943 to 1945.


November 17, 2012, 11:11 PM
Yup, tuff mix of info on his grandpa's plane.

PBY - sea plane / flying boat and sometimes amphibian and two engines with a weird stinger rear/lower "tunnel" gun - usually pictured as a "Lewis" gun but being a long time fan of the "Black Cats" I like the .50 I've attached. If you've never heard of these cats - you gotta look into them. Big brass balled sky rangers fighting on the ragged edge of the Pacific campaign. Making submarine and PT fighting look like cruises.

XPB2M Mars - sea plane, four engines and a tail gun but only the prototype with the "production" JRM losing the tail gun.

PB4Y Privateer (Navy Liberator variant) - four engines, tail gun but not a sea plane.

So unfortunately, excluding the prototype Mars

November 18, 2012, 01:44 AM
hmmm. might not have been a PBY then. It's been years since I looked at his flight log and papers, and decades since I heard him talk about it...
It was a four engine plane, landed on water, had a tailgun, and I remember hm talking about a small tunnel to get to the gun. I also remember him mentioning a bomb bay. I'll dig out his papers and take a look...

But it was a Western sheath knife! :)

EDIT: It was a PBM and two engines.

November 18, 2012, 11:52 AM
I was incorrect. In looking some more - because this facet of Pacific warfare so interests me - I find that the Mars did in fact have a "tail gun" past the prototype phase as shown in the PBM-1/PBM-3 data below.

So, gramps may have been in the southern end of a north bound PBM ("M" for Martin as opposed to "Y" for Consolidated) landing on water, cruising under four engines, staving off "meatballs" with a tail gun and mis-naming the PBM for the PBY which is understandable as "PBY" has become the "kleenex"/"q-tip" term for American military flying boats for many folk.


November 18, 2012, 02:33 PM
PBM for sure. I found his flight log last night. PBM-5. V-P 208 was his squadron

They also carried .38 revolvers. Most likely the 'Victory Model" Now I need to go shopping for one of those!

(I apologise for the thread hijack)

November 19, 2012, 12:46 AM
Wife's grandfather was a navigator on a PBY (whatever the technical designation for his bird actually was - it had a tail gun). His crew got shot down by a q-ship over the China Sea.

Quite an adventure story.

November 19, 2012, 12:45 PM
PBY Catalina


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