A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Every badass commando needs their own fighting knife. When the battle gets up-close and personal, all the rules are thrown out and it’s anything goes. When a suitable blade doesn’t exist, you get one made. On Nov. 4, 1940, John “Jack” Wilkinson-Latham, Charlie Rose, Lieutenant Colonel William Ewart “Dan” Fairbairn, and Major Eric Anthony “Bill” Sykes met at Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd. to discuss the prospect of engineering a new combat fighting knife.


Each man brought desirable knowledge in practical concepts to the drawing board. Taking three decades of past experience as a peace officer and firearms instructor for the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in China, then the most violent cop-beat in the world, Fairbairn had the required intangibles to show up for a conversation. He was one of the original members of the world’s first Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams and had expertise in forensic ballistics. These bullet points in Fairbairn’s life were what allied clandestine units eyeballed. “I was in police work in the Orient for 30 years [1907-1940],” he said. “We had a tough crowd to deal with there so you had to be prepared to beat every trick in the book.”

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Dermot O’Neill teaches combatives learned from his days as an SMP officer.

Photo courtesy of Special Forces Roll of Honour.

A bloody fight in an alleyway hospitalized Fairbairn after he was ambushed by goons from a Chinese separatist gang. Covered in bandages after being stabbed over a dozen times and left for dead, he awoke to notice a plaque on the wall that read: “Professor Okada, Jiu-Jitsu and Bone-setting.” He had an epiphany to use Jiu-Jitsu and combine it with other martial arts such as boxing, judo, and wrestling. He called it Defendu and used it to better protect his officers in these types of melees.

Sykes, a special sergeant attached to the sniper unit, was highly respected by Fairbairn. Together they tussled with street thugs in riots and patrolled among the political unrest across the red light districts. In just 12.5 years, they were present during more than 2,000 riots and fights, 666 of which were shootings. They deescalated 200 of them, a remarkable record considering that a mob can turn into a violent riot fairly quickly. This anomaly exposed them to real-world tactics shaped from classroom theory to results-driven practices. The skill to incapacitate called for a specific level of training because killing was the last resort.

From 1927 to 1940, Fairbairn made connections with the 4th Marine Regiment stationed in China; those from the “China Marines” were exposed to his methods in how to kill with a blade. These connections would prove to be effective down the road in his role with the implementation of unarmed combat within the U.S. military and select special operations units.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

A commando concealing his F-S knife in a sheath on his calf.

(photo courtesy of the Commando Museum.)

After retiring from the SMP, the pair returned to the United Kingdom in 1940 and were approached by the Secret Intelligence Service’s (SIS) “Section D” (for destruction) to set up a combatives program for the newly formed Commandos and Special Operations Executive (SOE). Since their November 1940 meeting, it took Rose, the top development engineer at Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd. Experimental Workshop, 10 days to work out the kinks in the “First Pattern” of the F-S knives. The expedited process ensured a batch of 1,500 daggers would reach schoolhouses across England.

“In modern warfare, the job is more drastic,” said Fairbairn. “You’re interested only in disabling or killing your enemy. That’s why I teach what I call ‘Gutter Fighting.’ There’s no fair play; no rules except one; kill or be killed.” Their nimble design had a long, thin 6.5- to 7-inch blade; the grip was made from solid brass, and the grip handguard was nickel-plated.

Designed for combat applications, the double-edged stiletto could be worn and concealed on the calf of a commando. Its usage was common in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) but saw action among members of SOE’s Force 136, including James Alexander E. MacPherson, who carried it in the Far East.

Gutter Fighting training by OSS at Catoctin

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This lightweight model was then introduced to Lieutenant Colonel Rex Applegate, a counterintelligence officer assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) instructor cadre. Known for his instruction on “Point Shooting” with handguns and a visionary in combat application, he traveled to the U.K. to witness the commandos training firsthand. He and Fairbairn inspected the field reports of the dagger’s effectiveness on body armor, conducted additional training, and met up with Fairbairn’s then-compatriot Sykes. While Sykes remained in the U.K. instructing his “Silent Killing” course, Fairbairn and him had a disagreement that is rumored to have hurt their relationship.

Applegate and Fairbairn returned to the West to introduce their methods to the Americans at Camp Ritchie, then later at the 275-acre farmland training grounds called STS-3 (Special Training School), or Camp X, in Oshawa, Canada. Camp X opened on Dec. 6, 1941, a day before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. It became an instrumental link between British and American special operations forces who cross-trained before going to war. They eventually made a knife of their own called the Applegate-Fairbairn fighting knife.

The Shanghai connection didn’t stop there. Irishman Dermot “Pat” O’Neill served amongst the SMP, following in his father’s footsteps. As he rose through the ranks, O’Neill earned a fourth dan black belt. His influence was feared — a SWAT cop mingling in the same gyms as Judo students who were trained as spies for the Kempeitai, the Japanese version of the Gestapo. Adding to the heat already upon him was rampant corruption in the SMP, including the chief of detective squad, Lu Liankui. He was a Green Gang boss and disciple of the Ji Yunquing, one of the eight leaders of the Big Eight Mob. O’Neill expected retribution and bailed onto a fishing boat for Sydney; he soon received a telegram from Fairbairn requesting his presence in the United States.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

The Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife is present on many modern-day unit insignias, including the U.S. Army Special Forces.

(Open source graphic.)

O’Neill weaved his way to Camp X, where Fairbairn utilized his expertise teaching OSS officers. Here he taught students how to sneak up on sentries and eliminate them. He ran the students through real-world scenarios because shooting paper targets on a range and performing hand-to-hand combat drills on dummies wasn’t going to cut it in war. Fairbairn put students through “indoor mystery ranges” (the “shoot houses” or “kill houses” today’s special operations soldiers are familiar with).

“Under varying degrees of light, darkness, and shadows, plus the introduction of sound effects, moving objects, and various alarming surprises,” Fairbairn explained, “an opportunity is afforded to test the moral fiber of the student and to develop his courage and capacity for self control.” The students referred to these tests as the “House of Horrors” for its authenticity.

Fairbairn’s web of connections brought helped spread the Fairbairn-Sykes combat fighting knife around the world, and it has a lineage in many different historical units. When O’Neill left the OSS, he later joined Lt. Col. Robert Frederick’s First Special Service Force (FSSF), commonly referred to as the Devil’s Brigade. The joint U.S.-Canada team learned quickly that O’Neill wasn’t there to teach them how to incapacitate an enemy — he was there to teach them how to kill.

Frederick developed his own knife called the V-42 stiletto. Inspired by the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, Frederick issued his “Cross Dagger” to his commandos. Today, the lineage can be seen in the insignia of the British Special Air Service (SAS), Royal Marines, U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Army Rangers, Dutch Commando Corps, and the Australian 2nd Commando Regiment.

The Best Ranger Competition

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Articles

North Korea says new missile can carry heavy nuke

North Korea has boasted of a successful weekend launch of a new type of “medium long-range” ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.


Outsiders also see a significant technological jump, with Sunday’s test-fire apparently flying higher and for a longer time period than any other such previous missile.

Amid condemnation in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, a jubilant leader Kim Jong Un promised more nuclear and missile tests and warned that North Korean weapons could strike the U.S. mainland and Pacific holdings.

North Korean propaganda must be considered with wariness, but Monday’s claim, if confirmed, would mark another big advance toward the North’s goal of fielding a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s the tactical motorcycle of choice for special operators

American special operators are known to have exacting standards for their weapons, vehicles, and other gear. When it comes to tactical motorcycles, elite troops across the Pentagon have settled on one very specific type.

In July, officials with the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Special Operations Wing approved a plan to buy more than 50 Christini Technologies all-wheel drive 450cc motorcycles for special tactics personnel. These air commandos work with other special operators to coordinate air drops and parachute jumps, help secure drop zones and call in air strikes.

“The Christini Technologies, Inc. AWD Motorcycle is the only AWD tactical motorcycle on the market,” the flying branch’s contracting officers explained in a so-called “justification for other than full and open competition” document. “There are no other tactical motorcycles on the market that provide the AWD function needed by Air Force Special Tactics.”

tactical motorcycle in camo

Government agencies need to submit one of these reviews any time they want to give a contract to a specific company and avoid a lengthy bidding process. To back up their argument, the Air Force  pointed out that Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces troops, and the super-secretive Joint Special Operations Command were all using the Christini bikes.

To the casual observer, the AWD 450 probably looks like any other high-end dirt bike. At a glance, the vehicle appears is something you might expect to see at the X Games or a Motocross rally.

Despite being derived from a Honda CRF 250, the motorcycle is far more rugged than its commercial competitors. The Christini model has a top speed of over 60 miles per hour on roads and a range of approximately 90 miles without needing to stop for gas.

The bikes feature rugged suspension and a modified seat for long missions rather than laps around a track. An enlarged, bullet resistant radiator helps keep the cycles working in extreme weather conditions. On top of that, they have run-flat tires and a headlight that can be switched to shine infrared light.

Most importantly, the engine powers both wheels. Since 1995, Christini has been cooking up and building patented all-wheel drive setups for both mountain bikes and motorcycles. The feature provides extra power in rough terrain and makes it easier for the rider to handle a tactical motorcycle.

“We’ve … done testing that that shows our AWD bike is 30 percent less fatiguing than a standard bike,” Steve Christini, the company’s founder, told We Are The Mighty in an email. “You just don’t get stuck … in anything.”

Coupled with an anti-stall clutch, the AWD 450s can come to a sudden, complete stop and then get going again without the rider having to restart the motor. Even if the transmission system breaks, the motorcycle’s rear wheel won’t stop running. It’s these elements that have made Christini’s product the go-to choice for American special operations forces.

Troops around the world have used tactical motorcycles as long as the vehicles have been in existence. In World War I, American soldiers started running messages between command posts on early Harley-Davidsons instead of horses.

Over the next century, soldiers, Marines, and airmen continually experimented with new roles for bikes. Relatively stock commercial types were the standard.

During the first Gulf War, American and British special operators hunted for Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles in the Iraqi desert in light trucks and on motorcycles. Some versions of the Desert Mobility Vehicle – a special Humvee Army Special Forces came up with – were set up to carry Desert Operations Motorcycles on the back. The “DOM” was a single-wheel drive Kawasaki KL type.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
Kawasaki KL 250. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 

With the lighter, more discreet vehicles, commandos could scout ahead to survey targets or possible areas to establish a temporary camp, according to one 1999 Army manual. The bikes could carry troops or small amounts of gear to and from forward bases and listening posts and ambush positions.

Weighing more than 350 pounds and able to make 60 miles per hour on roads, the Kawasakis served their purpose well enough. Unfortunately, as time went on, it became clear that these cycles were simply not tough enough the missions at hand.

When American special operations forces went to Afghanistan after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, they brought their Kawasaki KLXs with them. Less than two years later, commandos took the vehicles to Iraq as an international coalition toppled Hussein regime. We don’t know for sure, but elite troops have likely used the motorcycles during other counter-terrorism missions, too.

“The Kawasaki KLX 250cc tactical motorcycle proved to be marginally fit for the high-altitude, rugged terrain of Afghanistan,” the Air Force pointed out in their justification. After nearly a decade of continuous combat operations, Army Special Forces were ready for a change.

In January 2010, the Army’s Special Operations Research Support Element looked into the Christini design. The evaluators were thrilled with the bike.

“The AWD motorcycle is far superior to a conventional single wheel drive motorcycle,” the office wrote in an unclassified review of the tests. “Increase in traction stabilizes the bike, reducing the fatigue on the operator while negotiating rough terrain and enables the bike to go places a standard motorcycle would not be able to go (eg: deep sand and steep inclines).”

“This vehicle enables the … operator, both motorcycle savvy and non-motorcyclist alike, to navigate off-road over difficult terrain,” the Special Forces soldiers added.

As of July, Christini had been working with America’s elite forces for more than four years, including sending 25 bikes to the SEALs, according to Christini. His company has also supplied tactical motorcycles to special operators and regular troops in the U.K., Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol are getting their own batches.

The North Carolina bike maker has partnered with Tactical Mobility Training, another private training company also located in the state. Together with the Army’s unique Asymmetric Warfare Group, Tactical Mobility Training helped developed a new concept of operations for motorcycle-mounted commandos specifically based around the AWD 450.

The special operations missions still focus largely on scouting ahead of larger formations and providing extra situational awareness of the battlefield and possible chokepoints. But commandos are now prepared to chase down or cut off fleeing terrorists and militants – nicknamed “squirt control” – during attacks on compounds or other sites, according to the Army’s review.

But regardless of the actual operation, if you happen to spot a special operator on a motorcycle these days, chances are good it’s a Christini.

Articles

US Army says 500 soldiers will deploy to Afghanistan this summer

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
US Army photo


The U.S. Army on Tuesday announced 500 soldiers will deploy to Afghanistan this summer as part of a scheduled troop rotation.

The service in a release said the soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters and Sustainment Brigade, based at Fort Hood, Texas, will replace the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division at Bagram Airfield in the northeastern part of the country.

The unit will support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel at the location as the national support element, according to the statement.

“The 1st Cavalry Division has once again been called by our nation’s Army,” Maj. Gen. John C. Thomson, III, commander, 1st Cavalry Division, said in the release. “First Team troopers are trained, well-led, and ready to accomplish assigned missions in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.”

The Army had previously announced that about 1,000 others from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, also based at Fort Hood, are also preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

The soldiers were also expected to switch out with a number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and aren’t likely to change the overall American military presence in the country of about 9,800 service members.

At the time of the previous announcement, Lt. Col. Sunset Belinsky, a spokeswoman for the 1st Cavalry Division, said the regiment will probably deploy in May or June. Soldiers were returning from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and planned to take a week or two of family leave before heading overseas, she said.

Belinsky said at least some of the soldiers may join colleagues from the 10th Mountain Division in the southern part of the country, but added that planners were still “looking at the mission closely, so it may not be exactly there.”

The Defense Department announced in February that about 500 soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 87th Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York, would be sent to Helmand Province to shore up an Afghan Army Corps battered by the Taliban.

In recent weeks, American F-16 fighter jets have “significantly increased pressure and the number of strikes” in eastern Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan, where fighters pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, were believed to number 1,000-3,000, according to Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, chief spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama last year adjusted plans for U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

Rather than reduce the military footprint in the country to a nominal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, Obama said the U.S. will maintain 5,500 troops and a small number of bases, including at Bagram and Jalalabad in the east and Kandahar in the south into 2017 to continue the mission of training and providing support to Afghan security forces, according to the Pentagon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Soldiers share marksmanship tips with Iraqi forces

For soldiers worldwide, rifle marksmanship is one of the most basic skills each and every soldier must possess.

Iraqi soldiers are learning how tedious the training can be and what it takes to become an expert marksman.

Mississippi Guard members of Task Force India Bravo instructed Iraqi army soldiers assigned to the Supply and Transportation Regiment on basic marksmanship in a weeklong primary marksmanship instruction class.


The Iraqi soldiers were fully engaged with the essential training.

“Training like this is going to give knowledge to the soldiers. In this way he can know everything he needs and that will make him a better soldier,” said one Iraqi company commander with the Supply and Transportation Regiment.

Though the soldiers may not be infantry, marksmanship skills are important to them.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Garner, right, security forces platoon sergeant assigned to Task Force India Bravo, teaches an Iraqi army primary marksmanship instruction course at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec.19, 2018.

(Photo by Spc. Jovi Prevot)

“Each and every soldier is supposed to know how to be a soldier first, so anything that he could learn is important,” he said. “When we do our jobs we face many things, mechanical problems, casualties, and even death. If we can prepare our soldiers for this, they will be better.”

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Driskill, left, a cavalry scout assigned to Task Force India Bravo, assists an Iraqi soldier with a dime/washer drill as part of a primary marksmanship instruction course at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec.19, 2018.

(Photo by Spc. Jovi Prevot)

Though marksmanship is a basic skill universal to all services, the evaluation of marksmanship skill varies.

“Their weapons qualification is completely different than ours, but that doesn’t matter when we teach basic marksmanship fundamentals — it is universal,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Garner, security forces platoon sergeant assigned to Task Force India Bravo.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Driskill, left, a cavalry scout assigned to Task Force India Bravo, assists an Iraqi soldier with a dime/washer drill as part of a primary marksmanship instruction course at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec.19, 2018.

(Photo by Spc. Jovi Prevot)

The training was tailored to the needs of the Iraqi soldiers.

“Prior to beginning training we assessed them on their skills, then we developed our training course based on a NATO Primary Method of Instruction,” he said.

The course layout mirrored the way the U.S. Army trains its soldiers.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

An Iraqi soldier conducts a dime/washer drill as part of a primary marksmanship instruction course at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec.19, 2018.

(Photo by Spc. Jovi Prevot)

“We taught a course including both classroom and practical exercises and we went from less than 10 percent to more than 75 percent being able to demonstrate weapons proficiency,” said Garner.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

An Iraqi soldier conducts a dime/washer drill as part of a primary marksmanship instruction course held at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec.19, 2018.

(Photo by Spc. Jovi Prevot)

“We saw a drastic change in their accuracy of their marksmanship, after teaching the class,” he said. “There was a 75 percent improvement from pre- to post-assessment.”

“To date we have trained approximately 500 soldiers,” said Garner. “In the near future we will teach courses on advanced marksmanship techniques.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This crusader was packing four guns and sidewinder missiles

When you think of a crusader, you may think of the Christian warriors who tried to ‘free’ the Holy Land (but are now mostly known for their bad behavior). Or, you could conjure up images of a World War II tank used by the British. But there was one crusader, in particular, that packed four guns and could go very fast. We’re talking about the Vought F-8 Crusader, once called “The Last Gunfighter.”


In the wake of the Korean War, the United States Navy was trying to stabilize its carrier air wings. The shift from propeller-driven planes to jets was well underway and the Navy had to jettison a few duds as it tried to make that shift. The F6U Pirate, for example, just didn’t have the oomph in the engine and the F7U Cutlass was too dangerous… for its pilots.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Still, the Navy was looking for a fighter. Vought, despite the failures of the Pirate and the Cutlass, managed to win this contract. This time, however, the company came up with a classic in what was called the F8U Crusader at the time. The plane established a reputation for speed — Korean War MiG-killer John Glenn, a future astronaut, took a reconnaissance variant across the country in record time in 1957.

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the centerpiece of the Crusader’s combat capabilities was a suite of four Mk 12 20mm cannon backed up by four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The Crusader served with the Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam, scoring 18 kills for three air-to-air losses. While the fighter retired soon after the Vietnam War ended, the photo-reconnaissance version stuck around with the Navy Reserve until 1987.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
Two RF-8G Crusaders in flight shortly before the 1987 retirement of the plane. (USAF photo)

Two countries received the F-8 Crusader on the export market. France operated the F-8E(FN), equipped with R.530 and R.550 Magic 2 air-to-air missiles instead of the American Sidewinder. Those served until December 1999. The Philippines flew the F-8H model, operating it until 1991.

Learn more about this four-gun Crusader in the video below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSEUE5QC_HI
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Why dandelions are the official flower of military kids

The dandelion is the flower of the military child and when I learned this, as a military parent, I was disappointed. Why would they pick such an ugly flower (or is it a weed?) to represent military kids? When I looked at dandelions, I saw the problem they caused in my yard, but there is more to a dandelion’s story. When you look past the nuances in the yard you can see a bigger picture.

The next summer as we prepared for our PCS and as the dandelion flowers transitioned from flowers to puffs of seeds, I would watch them blow in the wind and the realization of why the dandelion was chosen to represent my military kids dawned on me. It suddenly made so much sense.


A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Photo: Tessa Robinson

Dandelions are made up of three main parts: The flower (seeds), the stem and the roots. They are tough, can survive almost anywhere and are constantly moving and starting over. One summer I decided to tackle my dandelion problem head on. It was an endless battle, but through my struggle I learned so much about this tough flower. The new dandelions that had just arrived in the spring were easy to remove from the dirt. Their roots were barely beneath the surface, as if they hadn’t decided if they should stay or be ready to move on to a new patch of land. But when I encountered a dandelion that had made it through a few seasons, not only was the dandelion on its own a tougher challenge to remove, but its roots were deep into the ground making it even more difficult. Each one seemed to also have a group of friends surrounding it. The landscape around one dandelion was changed not only by making its mark in the yard, but also by adding to its journey by bringing others in along the way.

Military kids often have to form new friendships fast. Just as quickly as they find friends, they are uprooted from all that is familiar to them. They learn to say goodbye and continually start over. It is a part of the life they lead. As we try to move forward at each assignment and build our roots and networks, we can’t forget the friends we made. We talk about friends from different assignments or those who have moved on before us. And while the friendships were special for a season, we always knew they were only for a season. At least for right now.

A few weeks after arriving at our new assignment our two year old, who had never experienced a PCS, said he was ready to go back home. He had been on vacations before and that is what this move across the country felt like, but now he was ready to go back to what was normal and familiar. We tried to explain to our son that this was our new home until it was time to move again. I don’t think he understood all the implications and challenges, but as military kids seem to do, naturally, he let the words slide off his back and began to make his new life in our new home.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Photo: Tessa Robinson

Dandelion seeds don’t have any say on where the wind will take them when it is time to venture on. And just like military kids who are along for the ride, they go where their parents and the military take them and find a way to be resilient and start all over again. They put down roots, create new friends, find routines and then a strong wind blows and they get to do it all over again.

And as painful as it is sometimes to watch them toss in the wind, when the dust settles and they find their footing and begin to bloom at each new location you see the beauty that a military life gives. It doesn’t change the pain of saying goodbye to friends. It doesn’t make the tears go away or the fear of being a new kid at school go away. Somehow, through it all they keep pushing forward. It is the only life they have known and despite their choice, they are stronger for it.

Could they have picked a more beautiful flower to represent military children? Of course, there were a lot of different options before landing on a weed. But if you compare a dandelion and a military child the similarities are uncanny. And now when I see dandelions in my yard, I smile and think of how beautiful, tough, and adaptable my children are.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Photo: Tessa Robinson

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the Soviet drone tanks of World War II

When the Red Army crossed the border into Finland in 1939, along with them came a battalion of remote-controlled tanks, controlled by another tank some 1000 meters behind them. Along with the usual heavy armaments, the tank drones shot fire from flamethrowers, smoke grenades, and some were even dropping ticking time bombs, just waiting to get close to their target.

It’s a surprising technological feat for a country that had only just recently undergone a wave of modernization.


The Soviets had this remote technology in its pocket for a decade, having first tested the tanks on a Soviet T-18 in the early 1930s. While the earliest models were controlled with a very long wire, the USSR was soon able to upgrade to a more combat-friendly radio remote. By the time the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Red Army had two battalions of the drones, which it called teletanks. At this time, the teletank technology was in Soviet T-26 tanks, called the Titan TT-26, and there was a big list of tanks, ships, and aircraft on which the Soviets wanted to equip with tele-tech.

Unfortunately, the TT-26 wasn’t able to fully participate in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. In the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was able to destroy the vast majority of the Red Army’s TT-26 teletanks. In the months that followed, it proved to be more economical and timely to produce a regular version of the T-26 and man them with human crews.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

T-20 Komsomolets Teletanks

It would have been unlikely that the teletank technology would have made the difference on the Eastern Front of World War II anyway. They were notoriously unreliable in unfamiliar terrain and were easily stopped by tank spikes. If a teletank managed to outpace the range of its controller, it simply stopped and did nothing. The Soviets mitigated this by mining the hatches of the tanks, but an inoperative tank is still not very useful to the Allied cause.

Eventually, the USSR’s remaining teletanks were converted to conventional tanks in order to join the fight against the Nazis. Perhaps the emerging technology of the time was an interesting aside for military planners before the war, but the fun and games must stop when you have to start fighting for survival.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Crow GI became the last Indian War Chief during World War II

Few American veterans will ever officially earn both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the title of Crow War Chief. Joe Medicine Crow might be the only one. His other awards include the Bronze Star and the French Légion d’Honneur. How he earned the title of War Chief of the Crow tribe is a feat unheard of for decades before World War II started.

But for all his feats, he was still a Private in the U.S. Army.


A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

“Promote ahead of peers.”

There are four criteria to become a Crow War Chief, all of which Joe Medicine Crow accomplished during two years of service with the U.S. Army in Europe:

  • Touching an Enemy Without Killing Him
  • Taking an Enemy’s Weapon
  • Leading a Successful War Party
  • Stealing an Enemy’s Horse

The Crow did not likely think this would be so difficult in the age of machine guns and tanks, but as Joe Medicine Crow showed, it was clearly not impossible.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Also, that’s Dr. Joe Medicine Crow. Just sayin.

The Native American GI was working in a shipyard in Washington state for the first part of World War II. In 1943, he decided to join the U.S. Army. He came from an incredible nomadic warrior tradition. He was the last person to hear a first-hand account of the Battle of Little Bighorn and his grandfather served as a scout for Gen. George Armstrong Custer before the general’s last stand. Joe Medicine Crow would carry this tradition forward, as well as many others.

Before he left for the war, a medicine man provided him with a painted eagle feather he would wear under his uniform before fighting. He would also paint traditional war paint under his uniform, placing two red stripes on his arms. And then, he became a War Chief, the last Crow War Chief.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Crow lived to the ripe old age of 102.

While fighting at the Siegfried Line, the border fortification that would take the U.S. Army into Germany, the warrior was ordered to take a team – a war party, if you will – and cross a field under a hail of bullets to retrieve some dynamite from a previously destroyed American position. Joe Medicine Crow and seven fellow GIs crossed a field of devastating fire that probably should have killed all of them, grabbed the explosives and blew a huge hole in Hitler’s vaunted line. No one was killed. One down.

After penetrating the line, Joe Medicine Crow and the 103d Infantry advanced on a nearby town that turned out to be heavily defended. As a scout, Joe was ahead of most of his unit. After they were ordered to flank some German defenders, Joe was separated and decided to take a shortcut. That’s when he ran right into a Nazi defender while running at full sprint.

For anyone else, this might have been embarrassing at the least and deadly at the most, but this is Joe Medicine Crow. He sent the Nazi flying and the Nazi’s rifle across the lawn. The American was still standing as he bent over and grabbed his enemy’s weapon. Two down.

Instead of killing the German, Joe decided to drop the weapon and let his warrior skills take over. The two men fought hand-to-hand for what seemed like hours. When Joe finally got the upper hand and started to kill the Nazi soldier with his hands at the man’s throat. But the German began to whimper, and Joe let him go. Three down.

Then, there’s the task of stealing a horse.

Joe Medicine Crow was scouting a farmhouse behind enemy lines one night when he realized it was full of high-ranking SS officers. They all rode there on horses, which were corralled under guard near the house. Joe Medicine Crow snuck through the guards with only his M1911 to protect him. Having grown up learning to ride horses bareback, mounting one of them in Europe was no problem. He let out a Crow war cry and sang a song as he herded all the horses out of the corral and into U.S. Army lore.

Articles

5 mind-blowing facts about the US military

1) The United States Military is one of the world’s largest providers of international aid and disaster relief.

I enjoy this fact because so little is it remembered. Not only is the US military usually involved with most global conflicts, but they are also present in the time of need for almost every international natural disaster in which aid is needed. I love advertising this fact because so often I hear about all the evils of the United States, but not once have I ever heard the phrase, “Hey America. Thanks a bunch for the assist. Tsunamis really suck.”


As well as this the military also makes regular deployments to disenfranchised and impoverished developing nations to provide immediate health and medical support during times of non-violence or disaster. These services are free to the people of those nations and supported entirely by United States taxpayer dollars.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

This is the USNS Mercy. She is a massive hospital ship and, along with her sister ship the USNS Comfort, has the proud and distinguished mission to sail around the world to places in desperate need of medical aid and support. Officially, their primary mission is to:

provide rapid, flexible, and mobile acute medical and surgical services to support Marine Corps Air/Ground Task Forces deployed ashore; Army and Air Force units deployed ashore; and naval amphibious task forces and battle forces afloat.

Secondarily, they provide mobile surgical hospital service for use by appropriate US Government agencies in disaster/humanitarian relief or limited humanitarian care incidents to these missions or peacetime military operations.

Looking at the record though, you’ll find that the Mercy and Comfort have been quite busy with “secondary” missions. Here is a list of some of the Mercyand Comfort‘s “secondary” missions:

  • 1987 – (USNS Mercy) Over 62,000 outpatients and almost 1,000 inpatients were treated at seven Philippine and South Pacific ports during training in 1984 through 1987.
  • 1990* – (USNS Mercy) Admitted 690 patients and performed almost 300 surgeries. (USNS Comfort) More than 8,000 outpatients were seen, and 700 inpatients. 337 surgical procedures were performed. Other notable benchmarks include: more than 2,100 safe helicopter evolutions; 7,000 prescriptions filled; 17,000 laboratory tests completed; 1,600 eyeglasses made; 800,000 meals served and 1,340 radiographic studies, including 141CT scans.
  • 2001 – 9/11 – (USNS Comfort) The ship’s clinic saw 561 guests for cuts, respiratory ailments, fractures and other minor injuries, and Comfort‘s team of Navy psychology personnel provided 500 mental health consultations to relief workers.[5] Comfort also hosted a group of volunteer New York area massage therapists who gave 1,359 therapeutic medical massages to ship guests.
  • 2003 * – (USNS Comfort) 590 surgical procedures, transfused more than 600 units of blood, developed more than 8,000 radiographic images and treated nearly 700 patients including almost 200 Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war.
  • 2005 – Indian Ocean Tsunami – (USNS Mercy) Combined, provided 108,000 patient services, rendered by members of the Department of Defense, Project Hope, and the United States Public Health Service.
  • 2005 – (USNS Comfort) Comfort deployed on September 2, 2005, after only a two-day preparation, to assist in Gulf Coast recovery efforts after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Starting in Pascagoula, Mississippi and then sailing to New Orleans, Comfort personnel saw 1,956 patients total.
  • 2007 – (USNS Comfort) Central and South America. In all, the civilian and military medical team treated more than 98,000 patients, provided 386,000 patient encounters and performed 1,100 surgeries. Dentists and staff treated 25,000 patients, extracting 300 teeth, and performing 4,000 fillings, 7,000 sealings, and 20,000 fluoride applications. In addition to treating patients, bio-medical professionals fixed about a thousand pieces of medical equipment at local health facilities. The ship’s crew also delivered nearly $200,000 dollars worth of donated humanitarian aid.
  • 2008 –  (USNS Mercy) Over the course of one deployment, Mercy would treat 91,000 patients, including performing 1,369 surgeries.
  • 2010 – (USNS Mercy) Treated 109,754 patients and performed 1,580 surgeries in Southeast Asia.
  • 2010 – (USNS Comfort) Haiti Earthquake disaster. Between January 19 and February 28, 2010, the ship’s staff treated 1,000 Haitian patients and performed 850 surgeries. Also, the mission saw the ship’s first on-board delivery, of a 4-pound, 5-ounce premature baby named Esther.
  • 2011 – (USNS Comfort) – The ship deployed for five months providing medical services to locations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

It is important to remember that all this is done, by only two ships. Beyond these two ships the United States Navy takes part in many humanitarian service missions each year. Several ships are deployed with missions other than warfare to provide free aid and medical support.

There are also ongoing operations such as the Pacific Partnership. The Pacific Partnership is an annual deployment of forces from the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy (USN), in cooperation with regional governments and military forces, along with humanitarian and non-government organizations.

The deployment was conceived following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, as a way to improve the interoperability of the region’s military forces, governments, and humanitarian organizations during disaster relief operations, while providing humanitarian, medical, dental, and engineering assistance to nations of the Pacific, and strengthening relationships and security ties between the nations. Between 2006 and 2010, Pacific Partnership has visited 13 countries, treated more than 300,000 patients, and built over 130 engineering projects.

The MEU to the Rescue.

Within the United States Marines there exist elements that specialize in being the first into a war zone. Most of the offensive parts of the Marine Corps are built around this idea, but particularly there is one capability that is most crucial to this. The Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU for short) is capable of deploying troops to virtually any location on Earth within reach of a shoreline within 48 hours.

What they also do though, is deploy troops to major disaster areas as well. Being that the MEUs are literally patrolling every ocean in the world for signs of danger and disorder, they are already equipped with a large supply and armament for potentially long-term hostile engagements and specialized in reaching and operating with little to no infrastructure in hard-to-reach places. This sucks for them, but makes them uniquely capable of doing something else pretty special. It makes them adeptly able to address and adapt to the needs of millions of people throughout the world in need of immediate emergency assistance. They are able to move so quickly that they outpace more formal relief organizations by days or weeks.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
Colombo, Sri Lanka (Jan. 10, 2005) – A U.S. Marine Corps amphibious vehicle prepares to bring Marines and Sailors aboard an awaiting Landing Craft Utility (LCU) at the end of the day’s relief efforts in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Helicopters from USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and Marines and Sailors assigned to 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are supporting Operation Unified Assistance, the humanitarian operation effort in the wake of the Tsunami that struck South East Asia. The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group is currently operating in the Indian Ocean off the waters of Indonesia and Thailand. U.S. Navy photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph Ward (RELEASED)

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
A U.S. Navy doctor treats patients from tsunami-devastated villages in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, on Jan. 6, 2005. Helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group are providing humanitarian assistance to areas devastated by the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. The strike group is operating in the Indian Ocean off the coasts of Indonesia and Thailand in support of Operation Unified Assistance. DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd class Tyler J. Clements, U.S. Navy. (Released)

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
Medan, Indonesia (Jan. 4, 2005) – Marines assigned to 3rd Transportation Support Battalion, 3rd Force Service Support Group, help distribute humanitarian relief supplies at Palonia Air Field in Medan, Indonesia. Helicopters from USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and Marines assigned to 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are supporting Operation Unified Assistance, the humanitarian operation effort in the wake of the Tsunami that struck South East Asia. The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group is currently operating in the Indian Ocean off the waters of Indonesia and Thailand. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andreas A. Plaza (RELEASED)

More recently, after the devastation from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake disaster, soldiers from the United States Army were deployed to assist in delivering badly needed supplies, such as food, water and other necessities to the region.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
Soldiers prepare food and water for Haitian victims of the Earthquake.

I’m going to lay it out straight. I am willing to bet almost no one knew before reading this answer about the scale of the United States’ disaster relief history. You probably had no idea of the depth of support that the United States military contributes to the world each time a major disaster strikes somewhere on the planet Earth. You know that help was sent, but did your ever really ask who it was or what form it took? You may have heard of 150 doctors that went, but were you aware of the tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and Marines that were there before even the news journalists were present?

Sure, many people will rattle off statistics about what monsters we are. They will talk about all the people that the military kills and all the dead people out there that the United States military are responsible for each year, which is odd since such things are essentially what the military, all militaries, are designed to do.

They will cite things that the Americans are responsible for doing wrong, but no one in the history of the world can declare that they have made such great strides in providing aid and relief like the Americans.This should ring especially significant since we have absolutely no real obligation to do so if previous major world powers are to be our example. You could compare us to the Raubwirtschaft (plunder economies) of Germany, Japan and Russia during their time in power.

You could also look at “aid” the European people provided the African colonies during their time as superpowers. Even better… look at what they are doing for the world right now. Where is their great big white boat with doctors and dentists? Where are their Marines after an earthquake or hurricane? At home, on their porch sipping on a cup of self-righteousness as they lecture the world about the virtues of pacifism and the horrors of the American military. It’s hypocritical and it’s ignorant.

While many find that the superstructure that is the US military is a bloated and imperialistic beast, it’s still the largest and most efficient source in the world to get help where help is needed. That help happens whether that be in calming a diplomatic hot spot, giving food to a devastated rural village or providing dental care to children in a part of a country that has never seen a dentist. Would I like to see other, more pacifist organizations do the job? Sure I would, so far the world is more content to complain than do anything.

The US military doesn’t suffer from that handicap. Say what you want about us, but without that aid provided by hundreds of thousands of American service people and hundreds of millions of taxpayers, millions upon millions of people who have been fed, vaccinated, operated on, given shelter, given homes, bathed, birthed, and listened to would now be dead. Many more would not experience the quality of life they now experience. Sure it’s easy to gauge the military on violent metrics, but how do you measure the value of those we have helped? That’s a philosopher’s discussion, not one for the Marines. Yeah, the Americans and their military have their faults, but if you’re one of them you ought to be pretty proud right now. [2]

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

 

That is such a pretty medal isn’t it? About that…

2) The uniforms are not provided by tax payer dollars. They are paid for by the troops themselves.

 

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Neat how I segued from the Humanitarian Service Medal to my point on how much uniforms cost huh? See this beautiful example of a human being above? People who can read his rack (the medals on his chest) know this man is truly a boss. I’ll list a few of the really cool ones. He’s stellar: Two Navy Commendation Medals, Three Navy Achievement medals and a few Good Cookies. He’s also a badass: Two National Defense Medals (two different periods of war), several combat action ribbons, two devices known throughout the Corps as the recon combo and the crème de la crème, the enemy accuracy medal better known as the Purple Heart. Plus this flower looking thing I can only assume means he’s awesome (or Canadian?) not to mention at least 13 different pieces of insignia I don’t care to mention.

Do you know how John D. Taxpayer thanks the honorable Gunnery Sergeant Awesomesauce? By making him pay for each and every damn thing you see… even down to the buttons on his stinking coat. Did I mention those medals are gold plated?

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

 

These are the Uniforms of the USMC. [3] I will make the caveat that it is true that military personnel are provided with one piece of every item they need when they first enter boot camp. What most don’t know is that these also come out of their paycheck. It is sort of a hidden cost since we are more involved in boot camp than watching our finances. We all know it happens, but just have to get it done.

It is assumed that this uniform item is supposed to last throughout their enlistment which could last 30 years. And those medals you earn? You’re given one when earn it. It’s like the Humanitarian Service Medal above. It isn’t the gold plated version and basically, you have no uniform you are allowed to wear it in. For all the medals you actually wear, you have to pay between $13 and $60. Interesting huh? This is made easier by a stipend military folks receive that is around $200 every year for replacement of uniform items. Let’s look closer at that.

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I am going to go over an estimated cost of what is shown by the Gunnery Sergeant in this picture. Mind you I am only showing you the parts visible in the picture, which themselves are only one of many Marine Corps regulation uniforms.Section A: Cover

Total Cost of “Cool Hat”: $83.40

Section B: Medals

Total cost of “Bling” – $296.33

Section C: Other Devices

Extra Doo-Dads – $30.12

Section D: The Blues Coat

Total for the Coat: $423.80

Total for everything visible:

$833.65

Plus Tax!

[4]

I’ll remind readers that this is just what is visible in that image. Not shown, but simply must be there are $83 pants, $99 shoes, a $50 belt buckle, service stripes, blood stripes and at least four other trinkets I can think of off the top of my head. Let’s not forget that that guy doesn’t look like a seamstress so add in tailoring. Also, this is all still just one uniform of the six that Marines are required to upkeep at all times not to mention multiple sets of pristine camouflage utilities.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

You might not realize this from the outside, but military troops’ uniforms come at a very high cost. Not only is there the cost of earning the right to wear it, but the sacrifice of time and money to upkeep it. As I have said, we receive the few items we are issued (bought) at boot camp. We are issued one cheap version of the medals we earn, but aren’t really allowed to wear (because it’s the cheap version). We also receive a regular pittance to upkeep it. I hope I have shown that that is hopelessly not enough for all the gear and uniform items we are expected to maintain.

I could go on about how many pairs of combat utilities I went through on my two Iraq deployments and my many training missions and how the two they gave me just didn’t make it. I could go on about how if one of those gold medals got scratched… it was worthless and you had to get a new one. Did you know that gold is one of the most malleable metals on Earth? You will once you replace a $22 medal because Corporal saw a scratch on it. I could go on about the countless inspections to ensure that our uniforms were perfect… perfect. But I won’t do into detail on those. What I will say is that they are important to us.

We work exceptionally hard to make sure that they are pristine and represent all the greatest qualities we can put into them. They are trying to convey an image and ideal of respectable men and women that instill courage and a sense of pride and security in the people they serve.Of course this is also why we write answers like this Nick Layon’s answer to What is the fashion trend you dislike the most? or go ballistic when we see celebrities do this:

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Or when we see comments like this we want to simply choke someone:

So what you don’t like is when the citizens you protect wear the uniform you wear while preserving our freedom? And for this you raise your voice at them? Are you aware sir, that the taxes those people pay on the clothes you don’t like them wearing are what pays your salary?

Yes. In case you didn’t know. Military personnel can easily spend more than a third of their after tax disposable income a year on uniform items. They do this out a sense of pride. They do this out of a sense of honor and respect to the uniform and what it represents. They do this so that when you see them you can gain a sense of pride and feel safe knowing that when all hell breaks lose, a professional is ready to meet it. They do this to not be yelled at during inspections. They do this because it proves that they are special.

What I hope you take away from this, if nothing else, is that your tax dollars are a drop in the bucket for what military personnel pay every year for their uniforms. Also, don’t be surprised to receive a knife hand to the temple if you expect praise, gratitude, fealty or admiration because you were so generous to pay your damned taxes this year. Military people don’t owe you anything just because you pay taxes and you didn’t put those medals on our chests. We look good because we paid for the right to. [5]

3) Our Navy Started off Basically as Pirates.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Ok, I know I just made the biggest deal about how the United States military has relatively unheard-of aspects that include noble and virtuous service to disaster-stricken regions and that our uniforms mark us as some of the proudest and most professional military personnel on the planet. So why on Earth would I say that we started off as pirates? Because someone who reads the facts and has a vague understanding of military practices has some hard truths to deal with.

There are some colorful factoids hidden in sunken chests down under the sea that paint a picture few have ever really seen. There was some downright swashbuckling going on back then. I’ve taken a pretty liberal historical licence, but there is, as is the case with everything else, much more to the story than what made it to our history books. Let’s take a look.

Take a look at this flag. What do you see? Anything familiar?

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

You guessed right! It’s the flag of the British East India Company! How smart you are! Doesn’t look at all like anything else after all…Notice again some of the elements of the flag. The first thing we need to know is that this was a Naval flag and all the elements have important Naval meanings. It was colonial practice to place the mother nation’s standard at the top corner against the mast. Here we see the Union Jack present as it appeared at the time. What is also important was the red field.

In those days, such a flag would denote the ensign of the trade navy. It would look like this. This meant that it was an official trade ship flying under the protection of the crown of England. The red color also meant that it was a civilian ship and that its only mission should be one of trade.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

So alright, well still the stripes are a big deal though. It’s hard not to see those stripes, right?

Yes. It is hard.  That’s why many of the major shipping companies of that era made special marks on their flags by simply sewing white stripes across the field. Don’t think of it as red and white stripes, but as a red field with white stripes on it. In fact there was one such company that made a remarkable effort to emulate the Colonial Flag, nearly 70 years before we ever flew it. They were the East India Trading Company, and had been waving a flag virtually identical to the Grand Union Flag for the better part of a century before the Revolutionary War.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Now it’s just me, but if I was a British ship just looking over and see a flag that looked like that I probably wouldn’t think of some navy that no one has heard of yet… of course I bet that was the intention. Some might call that a case of mistaken identity, clever use of unconventional warfare while others might go as far as to say that it is downright piracy. Still some might just say it is one big convenient coincidence.

On Marines

A few things that you should know about the Marine Corps. One of the first facts that every good Marine knows, myself being among that population, is where the Marine Corps was born. Do you know? It was Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvanian. Yep, at a bar. The proudest and most lethal fighting men in the planet are the ancestors of a bunch of rowdy drunks. Well, for better or worse little has changed.Our first recorded battle was the Battle of Nassau, led by Captain Samuel Nicholas, which consisted of 250 Marines and sailors who landed in New Providence and marched to Nassau Town. There, they wreaked much damage and seized naval stores of shot, shells, and cannon, but failed to capture most of the desperately needed gun powder. The forts at Nassau and Fort Montagu were raided and stripped of their armaments, while Marines occupied the town of Nassau for a lengthy stay. While in Nassau the Marines “relieved” them of some of their unwanted burdens as well. Governor Browne complained that the rebel officers consumed most of his liquor stores during the occupation, and also wrote that he was taken in chains like a “felon to the gallows” when he was arrested and taken to the Alfred.Since then, for the most part, we have cleaned up our act a bit. For those early days, however, it is my belief that the Continental Marines’ use of “unconventional warfare” to complete their goals at the time might warrant a closer look at our views of their history or at least just reveal them as the colorfully exuberant fellows of cheer and good character that they were.

The Father of the American Navy

Switching back to the Navy, meet John Paul “Jones” and the Continental Navy. After combing the web for information on John Paul, on his best day, he was a jerk. Let’s begin. This man is often times cited as one of the founding fathers of the U.S. Navy. His sarcophagus even rests to this day in the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Pretty cool, but let’s check his resumé.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

  • Began work on a slave-trade ship.
  • Next, worked on a brig (prison ship) where his first mate and captain conveniently died of disease, leaving him the de facto captain of the ship.
  • He later captained his own ship where he savagely flogged two of his sailors for disciplinary actions, one to death.
  • After this he killed one of his sailors for mutiny by stabbing him in the chest.
  • Following this incident he fled the Royal Navy and went to Virginia.
  • He also added the surname “Jones”.
  • By his account it was an act of self-defense, but no one I know runs to a non-extradition country and changes their name for self-defense. Just saying, I don’t think he was all-in-all a stand-up guy.

Following this John Paul Jones was recruited to the Continental Navy. His successful exploits with the Royal Navy made him a prime candidate for a new navy starving for officers, even psychos. He then captained one of the vessels bound for Nassau in the Bahamas. The small fleet of ships captured the city, several ships and supplies, the whole time waving what was believed to be the Grand Union Flag.

From this point on, John Paul Jones led many other raids on naval shipping and port towns. He was successful enough that he was given the go-ahead to become a curse on English shipping. After touching base in France he actually sailed up to the coast of England and Ireland and started attacking British merchant shipping. In his career he captured many ships and a vast amount of supplies for the Colonial cause. All this while routinely facing problems from his crew who, as his journal accounts “‘Their object,’ they said, ‘was gain not honor.’ Among other actions his men were famed for raiding villages and conducting arson attacks on the English towns. In another report, Jones stated that at one point he wanted to leave, but his crew wished to “pillage, burn, and plunder all they could”. Now this is just me talking, but I am surprised that a man who once beat his sailors to death would be having such discipline problems. Just sayin’.

Now I know that not everyone is a fan of 18th century naval warfare, but his tactics were conducive to a rather different form of naval warfare than his famed Bon Homme Richard where he is famed for his saying, “I have not yet begun to fight!” No, this was a different form of naval practice. If you haven’t pieced it together yet…John Paul Jones and much of the Colonial Navy were pirates. [6]

4) The United States Military is one the Most Educated Industries in the World.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

The United States military boasts some of the most educated warfighters in the world, not to mention in the history of warfare. All US service members must have at the time of their enlistment a high school diploma or the general equivalency diploma. To be more clear, more than 99% of those enlisted have a high school education comparable to about 60% that you will find in the general population. Also compared to the population of the United States, more service members have also attended some college compared to their typical 18- to 24-year-old counterparts. They have all also passed a standardized test on  English proficiency, mathematics, science and government. This test also serves as a placement exam for military jobs. [7]

To top this most MOS schools or Military Occupational Specialty schools boast world-class educational training. First you have to be good enough to get into the school you want, which can have very high scores required to get in. No, we don’t have the greatest recreational facilities and the dorms suck. It isn’t the Ivy League, but the education level is beyond par.

While stationed in 29 Palms California, a hole in the middle of the California desert, I received two years worth of the most rigorous training in Computer Science, Data Network Administration and Information Systems Maintenance. I say two years except that I only had six months to do it. And the training is taken very seriously. While typically civilians are allowed to pass with virtually any grade so long as they beg enough, every test in a military school is a fail if scored under 80% and if you fail you can be booted from the program.

The United States Marine Corps even has an amazing secret that few on the outside know anything about. We have a correspondence college which is a universal part of nearly every Marine’s military experience. It is called the Marine Corps Institute (MCI for short). It was started when Major General Lejeune issued a Post Order establishing three new schools: Automobile Mechanics, Music, Typewriting and Shorthand. Special Order No. 299 announces that 11 new schools will open January 5, 1920.

Of course we have courses you won’t find at Stanford, Harvard, or UCLA or any state school for that matter. There doesn’t seem to be a need for 0321B The M240G Machine Gunner, 0090A Pistol Marksmanship, or 0365 Antiarmor Operations there, but what you might be surprised by what would be the other courses one wouldn’t expect to see by the barbarian warmongers that are the United States Marine Corps: 0119H Punctuation, 0120 Basic Grammar and Composition and 1334 Math for Marines.

Perhaps that’s where Marines figure out what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three-inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” Actually that’s not true. Marine recruits do in that in week six of their basictraining.

One more shocker regarding the nerdiness of the US Military? How about this, the Marines have a book club. Now this isn’t Oprah’s Book Club. It’s the Commandant’s Reading List [9]. On this list are books and documents intended to both encourage the martial spirit in the minds of young warriors and inspire the intellectual capabilities of scholarly warfighters. What follows are some of the more impressive works that appear. This is by no means a complete list.

You will obviously find on the list titles such Marine Corps classics as:

Also listed are many other works on warfare such as:

Books on Moral Codes and Ethics:

Books on Leadership, Management Philosophy and Administration:

Works on military history:

As well as important world studies for the military minded:

There is even one on environmentalism!

Even books that show the importance of a civilian leadership and the consequences when they don’t do a good job.

And there is even a nerd section. You know that new movie Ender’s Game? You know it was first a book written by Orson Scott? You know that it has been on the reading list for decades?

 

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

Most importantly, there are two other works which are required reading. These are works that cement what it is that every military person stands for and what they fight for. They are the clear definition of the values of their nation. When you see what else is on this list… you’ll wonder why no one else is required to read them as well besides members of the US military.

 

5) You’ll be fine in it.

Many assume that the only people who would want to join the military are those who want to die from some car bomb in Iraq. Just as many assume that the majority of us have seen more than we actually have. There is also this myth that we are all just “the lucky few” who survived four years in the middle of some never-ending artillery barrage. The truth is, while there are plenty of risks, which are widely known, you are far safer in the United States military than most would believe possible.

For example, what if I told you that there is less than a one in a thousand chance that you might actually be killed if you even go to war when you go with the Americans? The risk of death in the United States military during the most recent decade is less than .1% while the risk of being wounded in action is a sizable amount less than 1%.

We have currently about 2,518,542 people in the United States military. Since 9/11, estimates would safely place the number of people who have served in some branch to be about 6 to 7 million people, probably more. The total people who died as a result of action in either Iraq or Afghanistan since then is about 6,660. which means that fewer than about 0.088% of the people who have enlisted have been killed as a result of that decision. If you consider wounded, then the number increases to about 0.738% percent. For the those not blessed with the ability to conceptualize such things, here’s a tasty pie.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

To better answer this question I also wanted to address these statistics reflected when considering only those who actually participated in a combat deployment. I asked the question How many US troops have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001? to gain a better picture of just that question. From that Daniel Kearns produced this document (Page on Senate) which is a brief and simple, but important piece of information on the Iraq War.

From that we have a best estimate of 1.5 million warfighters deployed to war in Iraq during the war. Taking this with earlier data we see total killed accounted for .29% of those deployed while wounded accounted for 2.15%. So, to be clear, of those deployed to the hottest combat zone in recent American military history, the highest chance of death was .29% for deployed troops and risk of violent injury was still only 2.15%. [6]

This trait, however, isn’t anything new. The US military, at least since the dawn of the 20th century and perhaps because of the carnage of our own civil war, have adapted a mentality and strategy that ensures our military does not easily sacrifice its own. We simply have values that don’t allow us to experience heavy troop losses and a wealth that affords the ability to win without them.

In truth we live today in a time-period where we have proven that experience matters more than assets and that a troop’s life is almost always more valuable than the patch of Earth they are fighting for. That’s why modern warfare doesn’t allow for high losses. Take a look at the figures for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, pulled from Wikipedia. This doesn’t include the insurgency years that followed, but showcased the last time we fought a full-on war with an advanced national military.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
That last statistic is significant.

The Coalition’s troop strength before the battle was 265,000 troops, mostly from the United States and the UK. The Iraqis’ troop level was 1,119,000, more than 4x that fielded by the Coalition. The end result, however, was that through great strategic, technological, and logistical superiority, the American lead Coalition was able to inflict as many as 261 times as many casualties as the Iraqi were capable of delivering in return. That’s more than 250 Iraqi killed for every Coalition death. A more lopsided battle has never been fought.

Perhaps it is just that we don’t fight that much or stay safely behind our big walls. We just send out the evil drones and high powered missiles, snipers, and other cowardly means of fighting a war. Well, given the option… wouldn’t you? I know these guys certainly would if given a second chance.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

A grim look through history will show that American military doctrine has focused on a few key tenets throughout at least the last century. We focus on augmenting our troops through overwhelming technology rather than creating a culture that loves war. The facts are that Americans deeply hate conflict. We will do whatever we can to avoid it on an interpersonal level, regardless of whatever you think about our foreign policy. This is reflected in our demographics. Today, after 13 years of war, and with a sizeable portion of our Vietnam-era veterans still alive, US veterans still only number 22 million individuals and account for less than 7% of the total population.

Note, that is veterans, not active service members. The Department of Veterans Affairs projects that that number is set to decrease, not only in percentages, but in real value. They project that by 2043 we will only have 14 million veterans alive for a total percentage of the population at only 3.5%. The decreasing number of veterans means a country culturally disconnected from the realities of its wars because of the peacefulness of the daily lives of its citizens.

And that’s how we want it. The alternatives are thus: during the Second World War, you saw very different social military philosophies come head to head. Among these were the Americans and the Japanese. The Japanese were fantastic engineers and created marvelous machines. One such was the Zero fighter. It had a turning capability and climb that was far superior to other fighters. It was more agile and a deadly threat.

The trade-offs? It’s aluminum coating was brittle and the plane offered no armor for the pilot, engine or other critical points of the aircraft. Its light construction also made it prone to catching fire and exploding during combat. Add this to the practice of Japanese fighters on the ground routinely combating US Marines with suicidal “Banzai” charges, the human-wave attack and we see a culture which adopted an ancient form of warfare: the military death cult. Death and the warrior were at that time so intertwined through a perversion of the Samurai Bushido culture that the leadership of Japan could order hundreds of thousands of Japanese to their deaths without the Japanese people resisting at all.

This culminated in the ultimate corruption of bravery and honor; the creation of the Kamikaze pilot and the “Baka” Bomb.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

This is the Japanese Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (“cherry blossom”), a rocket-powered parasite aircraft used towards the end of the war. The U.S. called them Baka Bombs (“idiot bombs”). They called it this, because the only intended purpose of the aircraft was to be guided by a pilot to impact directly with an enemy ship by a pilot who had reserved himself to die in the effort. The Kamikaze (Divine Wind) is named for the legendary holy force which protects the Japanese from invasion by outsiders, namely because of a storm which swallowed up tens of thousands of Mongol invaders hundreds of years ago before they ever set foot on Japanese soil.

The Kamikaze myth was resurrected for the creation of a force of airmen who volunteered and trained for a mission in which they would surely die, once again, like a storm from Heaven protecting Japan from foreign invaders. So committed were these soldiers and those who commanded them to this idea of a glorious death for their nation and their emperor,  they even attended a ceremony before their mission which could only be described as their funeral.

In contrast, the American philosophy emphasized an entirely different approach. We preferred to keep our warriors alive, if for no other moral reason than to pass on their experience and be useful on a better day. We engineered fighter aircraft with more power that could give us the strength and survivability to keep fighting. Add to this the individual support given to the individual troop. While the base soldier thrown away during a Japanese suicide charge was said to be worth less than $10 by their own admiralty, the United States Marine, the most underfunded of the military branches, would deploy with supplies of everything from ammunition, food, water, and bandages, to paper and pencils and glass eyes of every imaginable size and color… just in case.

This excerpt from Flags of Our Fathers displays in the days and weeks leading up to the Battle of Iwo Jima the American philosophy, strategy, and implementation of sending every man with all the gear to have a dominating edge, and the greatest chance possible of coming home.

… the movement of over 100,000 men, Marines, Navy support personnel, Coast Guard units across 4,000 miles of ocean for three weeks is a triumph of American industry galvanizing itself in a time of great national peril. At the outset of the war, Japan’s naval strength was more than double that of America’s, but across the American continent, the idling factories steamed and sparked to life. Most of the vessels came splashing off the industrial assembly lines in the six months before this assault…

… And it has not just been a matter of hardware. The civilians of America have mobilized behind these fighting boys. Behind each man on board the ships are hundreds of workers. In the factories, in the cities and towns, on the heartland farms; Rosie the Riveter, boy scouts collecting paper and metal, the young girl who would become Marilyn Monroe, sweating away in a defense plant.

Here is some of what those mobilized civilians have generated for this tremendous force: For each of the seventy thousand assault troop Marines 1,322 lbs of supplies and equipment. Some of it sounds weirdly domestic: dog food, garbage cans, light bulbs, house paint. Some of it suggests an island business office: duplicating machines, carbon paper, movie projectors. Some sounds like kids’ camping gear: toilet paper, socks,  shoelaces, paper and pencils, flashlights, blankets. Some begin to suggest a sterner mission: flares, plasma, bandages, crucifixes, holy water, canisters of disinfectant to spray on corpses. And some of it gets exactly to the point: artillery, machine guns, automatic rifles, grenades and ammunition. The transport ships carry six thousand five-gallon cans of water, enough food to feed the population of Atlanta for a month or the assaulting Marines for two months. The Marines brought along one hundred million cigarettes.

This isn’t to say our strategy made us invulnerable. We endured great losses to be sure, 19,000 at the Battle of the Bulge, 16,293 at Normandy, 12,513 in Okinawa, and countless other battles throughout the war, totaling around 405,000 dead Americans. While that number is appalling, it pales compared with others. Soviet Union – up to 13,000,000 military dead, Germany – up to 5,500,000, Japan – 2,120,000. These figures do not include civilian dead, of which the United States had virtually none.

That said, we dominated the Japanese in World War II once we steadied ourselves from the attack on Pearl Harbor. We suffered 1/24th their total losses in a war they began. The same can be seen in Iraq or Afghanistan and can be seen as well in any major conflict we have been a part of in the last one hundred years. This is because our philosophy wins wars in this modern age. War isn’t won by weapons; it is won by warriors. Make the warrior a weapon and give him the tools to succeed and come home, and no other force on Earth can defeat him.

Jon Davis is a three time Quora Top Writer. He is a Marine, honorably discharged in 2008. Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, small business owner, teacher, writer and Christian.

* Anyone who looks closely will see that these are periods when the US military was actively engaged in combat action, so this can’t count as a peacekeeping mission. However what you will notice is that during the deployments many more patients were treated than casualties received by Americans. This means that the rest of those treated were civilians and enemy POWs.

[2] If for no other reason than because all those who judge you haven’t done a fucking thing to help anyone. 😉

[3] The center image is pictured with gear and a weapon. The gear is provided, but I couldn’t find an image that fit with the others showing only cammies. Also not pictured are Desert BDUs.

[4] I know I shouldn’t be posting this because that is probably some Marine at a funeral or something. I feel like such a dick, but it is just such a perfect picture. Forgive me Chesty.

[5] I hope no one takes from this that I or other military people are complaining too heavily about this or consider it any act of severe injustice. The point of this section was just to deliver what in my mind was a “mind-blowing fact about the military” that I believe few are aware of. Beyond that I wanted to give a more clear picture of what some of the “sacrifices” that people hear so much about actually look like. We don’t all die or get shot and people know that and assume that that means that military people don’t deserve respect unless they actually died for your freedom. In this case I hope that people can at least look at those uniforms and know how much work and financial sacrifice went into making them look the way they do, let alone the price of earning the right to wear them.

[6] I know that I have taken a very liberal stance on historical interpretation here. What is important to know is that much of the Navy and Marine Corps’ actions were exactly what was needed to complete the mission for a Navy with no ships. They were also much more common practices for the ways that military encounters were done in those days. Still, if we were do the unforgivable and judge those of the past by today’s standard, the Colonial Navy’s actions against the British in the American Revolution might easily fall into the categories of pirate actions by unbiased observers.

[7] Curious about the rigorous qualifications required to be good enough to join the United States Military? United States Military Enlistment Standards. Good luck.

[8] Thanks to Eric Tang for sharing with me the Army’s version of the Marine Corps Reading List. I skimmed through it and found some very great reads that I’ve recently bought to put on my to-do list. You can see the Army’s Professional Reading List here: The U.S. Army Chief of Staff’s.

[9] These figures do not account for job specialty, which will skew heavily towards infantry-type units. I don’t have data for this, but as the previous statistics probably surprised many, so will those of the infantry when they become available.

Stats from:

War in Afghanistan (2001–present) – 2,173 US KIA,   23,500 Coalition WIA (Majority US)

Iraq War – 4,487 US KIA,   32,226 US WIA

Estimations based on United States Department of Defense

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, make sure to follow my others at my Quora blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts. If you would like to support the JDT, please visit: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

NOW CHECK OUT: 7 things that make you stick out in the US military

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the new version of the pup tent

There are obvious signs that technology had advanced in warfare. We see it in just the evolution of the M270 MLRS. But it is also obvious in the development of something far more humble: The pup tent.


The versions in use since the Civil War were pretty much a sheet of fabric called a shelter half, along with a folding pole and stakes. Two soldiers would each take their half, tie `em together, and set the tent up for two. Each shelter half and associated supplies came in at about five and a half pounds, according to olive-drab.com.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
One sense of the dimensions of the Litefighter 1, which comes in at 4.2 pounds. (Graphic from Litefighter)

Now, why might that matter today? Well, yeah, you have Forward Operating Bases, Combat Outposts, and all that, but sometimes, when the grunts are on a patrol, they need to haul that shelter with them. In today’s day and age, when they can carry up to 200 pounds, they need to find some ways to lighten the load.

Today, though, that shelter is very different. At the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C., one company outlined a new version of the pup tent. Litefighter has developed a complete shelter known as the Litefighter 1. This is a small tent that troops can carry that comes in at under four and a quarter pounds, according to the company’s website.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

This tent can be used as a free-standing tent with or without a rain fly, a lightweight hasty hooch, a bug-net over a standard cot (with or without the rain fly), and as a free-standing scout hide-site with camouflage netting. It can be easily assembled or disassembled, and fits easily into rucksacks.

While a new pup tent doesn’t generate the excitement of watching a MLRS fire off its rockets, or troops sending lead downrange, it counts. Especially when the troop in the fight has been able to get a good night’s sleep before the engagement.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

38 fall activities for kids that are safe in a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is still dragging on, and while the shock factor has worn off, the danger remains real. Restaurants and schools are opening up, people have (mostly) stopped hoarding toilet paper, and working from home no longer feels temporary. But without a vaccine or a proper testing infrastructure, social distancing and mask-wearing are still necessary. As temperatures drop and we all head inside, the number of COVID-safe fall activities for kids are dwindling.

Luckily, there are some fall activities that are inherently socially distanced and therefore low risk. Bobbing for apples is out, and trick-or-treating will require masks, but even in the midst of a global pandemic, things like carving pumpkins and collecting leaves can still be done. Just remember to mask up in public and keep your distance.


  • Create a candy chute so you can distribute Halloween candy from a safe distance.
  • Build a fire from scratch. Tell ghost stories around it.
  • Make a leaf mandala.
  • Collect leaves, then preserve them by wrapping in newspaper and leaving them between the pages of a heavy book for a week or two until they’re dried out. Alternatively, place them between two pieces of wax paper and iron them. The wax will preserve their color.
  • Go for a family bike ride before it gets too cold.
  • Carve a turnip. Legend has pumpkin carving can be traced back to the Irish, who carved turnips and placed them near doors to scare away spirits.
  • Watch a scary movie.
  • Decorate with “spider webs” made of stretched out cotton.
  • Make butterbeer. (Optional: Drink real beer while the kids enjoy it.)
  • Get lost in a corn maze.
  • Try gravestone rubbing. Go to a cemetery, look around for the oldest headstone you can find. Place a sheet of paper over it and color over it with a pencil. Watch the words appear.
  • Go foraging for pretty fall berries.
  • Make skeleton leaves by soaking leaves in washing soda and gently peeling away their outer tissue to reveal the leaf’s intricate veins.
  • Make a bird feeder out of a pinecone, peanut butter, and birdseed: Find a pinecone, tie a string to it, slather it in peanut butter, and roll it in birdseed. Then hang on a tree and watch the birds go to town.
  • Go on a hike. Look out for animal tracks. Bonus points if you assign them to imaginary animals.
  • Make your own fog machine.
  • Build a fort outside.
  • Take up whittling.
  • Have a Harry Potter marathon.
  • Go apple picking. Divide into teams and have a Chopped-style contest to see who can make the best apple dessert with an oddball ingredient.
  • Make a shrunken head decoration out of a dried apple.
  • Plant some apple seeds.
  • Try leaf rubbing. Place a leaf under a piece of paper, scribble over it, and watch the leaf shape appear.
  • Make homemade candy.
  • Run a cider or hot chocolate stand.
  • Have a pumpkin-carving contest.
  • Roast the leftover pumpkin seeds.
  • Watch football.
  • Watch the sky for birds flying south for the winter.
  • Have a picnic at a local park.
  • Build a scarecrow.
  • Make chili.
  • Collect acorns.
  • Make wind chimes out of sticks.
  • Try a ouija board.
  • Make lollipop ghosts. Just wrap the top part of a lollipop in a tissue, secure a ribbon or rubber band at the base of the pop, and draw two eyes with a black marker.
  • Carve a pineapple. It’s like carving a pumpkin but with funky hair.
  • Go camping. If you drive to your destination and set up camp far away from others, it’s the rare form of vacation where the risk of transmission is low.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

As the United States came into its own as a world power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States Marine Corps became the primary tool for power projection into troubled areas. The Marines deployed all over the world, fighting everywhere from the Boxer Rebellion in China to the Banana Wars in Central America. During this time, the Marines and a few Army units gained valuable experience. A few USMC legends such as Dan Daly and Smedley Butler gained prominence. It makes sense that in the 1930’s, the Marines published the Small Wars Manual, documenting their experiences and providing guidance for units engaged in such conflicts. Unfortunately, just as the Marines were perfecting their craft, World War II broke out. With the ensuing Cold War, these ideas were very nearly lost to history.


A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
This group of U.S. Marines was part of the international relief expedition sent to lift the siege of Peking in 1900. (National Archives)

Operations known to the military today as “low-intensity conflicts” were deemed ‘small wars’ by the Marine Corps in the early 20th Century. In the Small Wars Manual, they defined small wars as “operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory for the preservation of life and of such interests as are determined by the foreign policy of our Nation.” Also, due to the fact that special operations forces had yet to be conceived, those missions were carried out by the Marines, sailors, and soldiers deployed in small wars. Their missions often ran the gamut from direct action, bordering on conventional warfare to foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare. During the occupation of Haiti, Marines were instated as officers in the Haitian Gendarmerie, which included the likes of a young Cpl. ‘Chesty’ Puller and Smedley Butler.

During these various interventions around the world, the U.S. military gained a wealth of knowledge and experience. They not only learned how to conduct combat operations against weak states and guerrillas, but also how to properly support these operations and how the force could be self-sufficient while deployed for long periods of time in a foreign country. This included everything from what types of weapons troops should carry to how to employ horses and mules for transportation and logistics. The military even learned how to work with the state department and how to establish effective civilian-military relations. The manual also makes recommendations for the best composition for forces depending on the circumstances of the operation and how to employ those forces in all types of situations.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
U.S. Marines in the occupation of Haiti in 1915.

What makes the Small Wars Manual stand out is the practicality which it embodies and the way it almost comes across as a how-to book. Many of the recommendations are not only unique to the manual but also went against the conventional wisdom of the time. Some of it even went against what would have been good order and discipline. In fact, in its recommendations for outfitting infantry patrols, the manual states “personal comfort and appearance must always be of secondary importance as compared with the efficient accomplishment of the assigned mission” and goes on to say “the value of canvas leggings in the field is questionable. The woolen sock pulled over the bottom of the trouser leg is a satisfactory substitute.” Anyone who has served in the last decade and remembers the white sock crisis knows that such a suggestion from an official Marine Corps publication is borderline blasphemy. Beyond this, the manual describes in detail how to field the most effective and efficient fighting force in some of the most austere conditions. There are even details for how to modify equipment to be of the most use in small wars.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife
Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps)

After years of occupations, deployments, and fighting the Marines began releasing reports and studies in the 1920’s that would eventually lead to the publication of the Small War Manual. These reports and articles were collected into a single book, “Small Wars Operations” in 1935. An updated, and final, version was released in 1940 as the Small Wars Manual. The following year, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Even though much of what the Marines had learned fighting in small wars came in very useful in fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, the shadow of World War II and the Cold War pushed the Small Wars Manual into obscurity. With the exception of a few efforts to at least keep the manual in the Marines repertoire of publications it was mostly lost to history. That is, until it reappeared on Gen. James Mattis’ reading list for officers deploying in the War on Terror. The truly unfortunate part of this is that with a few updates to the weapons and tactics, much of the material covered in the Small Wars Manual could have been used to inform operations in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

A brief history of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife

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