MNKF | M1917 Trench Dagger

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The U.S. M1917 trench knife was designed by Henry Disston & Sons and was first the official fighting knife adopted for military service. This was no knife for mundane tasks such as opening cases of ammunition or cutting paracord. This knife is intended for punching with its metal knuckle guard, and its trefoil-style cruciform blade was designed to stab the ever-loving hell out of “ze Germans”.

U.S. M1917 trench knife

This style of the knife was based on designs used by the French Army for close quarter battle going back to the Franco-Prussian War. There is no edge to this knife; this is an old school cruciform or triangular bayonet, with a handle and knuckle guard added.

Trench knife

The knife pictured is perhaps one of the best looking replicas of the 1917 that we have ever seen. It is made by Windlass Steelcrafts of India and sold through Atlanta Cutlery. From having examined several original M1917s, we think this one is almost perfect, with the exception being the knuckles. The originals were solid and these are hollowed out for cost and weight.

As for the sheath; it is insanely accurate. Windlass manufactures swords for numerous military powers and has been in the game since the 1950s, so they know a thing or two about how these things were made and can reproduce them properly.

M1917 trench knife

Like most military weapons from 100 years ago, there is folklore mixed with the design.

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We get the knuckle guard, it’s to protect your dick skinner and as an aid to fisticuffs. It’s the blade that offers three possible origins.

  1. Triangular blades were cheaper to make.
  2. Triangular blades offered superior strength.
  3. Triangular blades create a wound that cannot be closed.

U.S. M1917

We do not quite buy the idea that these knives were cheaper to manufacture than a conventional blade. Perhaps in the realm of a forged vs machined blade, there would be no scale to remove, no grinding, finishing, etc. However, look at the Ersatz blade used by the Austro Hungarian Empire during the same era. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that. Yet, machined blades were still coming into their own at the time in the US, so perhaps there may be some truth here.

The superior strength argument seems plausible, and it’s why US Musket bayonets were created in the same fashion. The stronger cross-section prevents the blade from bending under torque or at least is supposed to.

In The Practice of Surgery: A Treatise on Surgery for the Use of Practitioners, Henry Redwood Wharton and Benjamin Farquhar Curtis wrote: “Bayonet Wounds.—These wounds vary with the shape of the bayonet with which they are inflicted—either the triangular-shaped or the sword-shaped bayonet. Bayonet wounds are said to be especially liable to be infected and cause deep-seated suppuration. The wound produced by the sword bayonet is of the nature of an incised wound, and heals more promptly than that produced by the triangular-shaped bayonet”.


U.S. M1917 trench knife

That book was written in 1902, by men closer to that kind of wound than any of us today. We tend to hold that was the primary reason why these knives were constructed as such.

Unfortunately, the M1917 proved unsatisfactory in service. Just like today, the troops wanted something more utilitarian as their knife-related tasks was many. With the possible exception of punching open a can of motor oil or spilling Jerry’s guts in the trenches, the M1917 and its successor the M1918 didn’t cut the mustard for them.

Trench knife

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Mike Searson

Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.

Mike Searson has 94 posts and counting. See all posts by Mike Searson

One thought on “MNKF | M1917 Trench Dagger

  • December 18, 2016 at 2:05 am

    I saw a beat up one of these that I thought might be legit at a pawn shop once. Alas, their policy was no weapons of any kind to be sold to anyone under 21 and I was but 19.

    They wouldn’t even take it out of the case for me to see unless I could show ID. Bastards.


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