The Ka-bar or kbar

The Ka-bar or kbar

Postby koimaster » April 8th 2015, 12:27pm

The Post War Knife, Combat, Mark 2

At the conclusion of World War Two the US military surplused a large quantity of knives amongst other Government Issue equipment. This was achieved in several different ways around the globe, the chief reason being it would cost more to return it home then the items were worth. Many items were stock piled, with an expected shelf life, in warehouses for use as later issue in those areas. And last but not least many of the items were given to allied nations for use in their militaries and to local people trying to rebuild their nation. Five years later the Korean War started and many of the items we surplused out had to be put back into production again. Albeit on a much reduced scale the old machines had to be cranked up again to supply the troops. As the output in most cases outweighed the demand the lines again fell silent in the production facilities. Again the warehouse was stocked with supplies with expected shelf lives ticking away. Time was coming to renew another line.

It was on 2/13/57 that the drawings for the Navy 394831 and the Marine Corps 1219C2e were pulled from the shelves, dusted off and updated in a nomenclature change only. The Secretary of the Navy or SECNAV ordered a service wide consolidation of equipment used to comply with the Federal standards. No need for dual drawings, numbering and stocking of the same item. Although it was short lived the program marked the first change in the life of these patterns since the 1944 standards had been established such as guard markings and pinned pommels. No changes were made to the standards, it was just a name change, and the drawings still reflected the World War Two designs. As we stated this was short lived, on 1/18/60 the MIL-K-20227 was created. This is the official drawing date of the post war knife. And, although it still carried the Marines 1219C2g and the Navy 394831 designations it was now officially the MIL-K-20227, available to any and all government branches through the Defense Supply System. So what started as a Marine Corps knife in 1942 was now a government wide issue item. It may not have been in the suggested inventories, but it was in the catalog and available, this was the government plan.

The earliest packaging I have seen on the new pattern is dated May 1961 and this item was from Utica Cutlery Co. The knife inside the packaging is a natural brown leather handle with a light tan colored scabbard. This is correct, brown not black as in the later model. This early design did not include the black color with the anti-fungicide coated handle. That change would have been after the MIL-K-20277b designation dated 10/1/61 when the order was given. So the Utica knives built prior to the amendment change of 4/11/62 would be brown. Another point of interest on these knives is that they retained the curved guard of the World War Two knives, the only Post war knives to have them. As the earliest drawing on the new pattern was dated 1960 these untreated brown Utica knives are not Korean War era knives as once thought. Navy and Marine personal fighting in the Korean War would have been armed with WW II manufactured and marked knives. Along with this change in the knives the scabbard was also changed on 11/20/61, drawing designation 1219C1j (still using the old drawing designations but part of the overall MIL-K-20277a) marked the departure from nine rivets to seven. Black gear was being phased in but was not yet part of the official order. When the change did come in 1963 by order of the Commandant of the Marine Corps many of the older leather items were dyed black. As there were thousands to do overall many will be found with the front dyed only leaving the reverse side the original brown. I have observed this on not only knife scabbards but on other leather items as well.

Our next change is dated 4/11/62 and is really a minor point in the drawing. Seems the tang on the drawing is shown as threaded, a left over from the old World War Two drawings. The tang is rectangular as is the cutout in the butt cap but it was to be threaded anyway. Most likely just an oversight but it was corrected by the Camillus Cutlery Co. The guard was also changed to a flat piece, foregoing the curved guard invented to prevent snagging on vines and brush, and so approved as MIL-K-20277b Amendment 2. This brings us to the Camillus production period. Camillus submitted a sample of the new pattern and the drawing updates on 3/25/62. The knife was approved and placed into production. The Camillus knife followed the same form of using a 1095 steel blade, Rockwell from 55 to 58, 1020 steel for the guard, pin and butt and oven dried but now treated leather washers for the handle. All parts were to be Parkerized without exception. Camillus purchased the leather washers from Standard Washer and Materials Inc. marked only as “Specially Treated.��? The treatment, under specification of O-L-164 was strictly a leather treatment to prevent jungle rot of the handle and scabbard having a minimum of 0.2 and 0.5 percent paranitrophenol. As an added benefit the knives were a very dark brown, today known as “Ox-Blood��? by collectors. Those early Vietnam period knives as made by Camillus and Utica have a red tint to them when viewed up close and in proper lighting. Some knives more red then others will also exhibit a coating look to them. Although the leather was treated before the knives were built a coating was added to the knife. On some knives this coating is so thick it can be seen peeling or flaking off the handle or scabbard. The stitching in the scabbard is a white cotton thread that will also take on the red hue from the treatment. Scabbards were supplied to Camillus and the government directly from the A.E. Burgess Leather Co. of Grafton Mass.

Another change we see in the specification came on 5/13/66 when the color in the specs is actually changed to black. Prior to this change the specification carried the color of the leather as Russet but merely crossed out on the page. Just from the treatment alone the color was already that dark but now it was written into the specs. This would have been MIL-K-20277c in the lineage tree. The specification was again changed on 3/4/68 to MIL-K-20277d. This was nothing more then a metric conversion to abide by the changing practices in the government. It was at a time that the US system of measurement was undergoing change into the metric system. It never really caught on but that is an entirely different story. The knives stayed basically the same from the 1962 date. This brings us up to the knives made by Conetta. The Conetta Manufacturing Company of Stamford, Conn. was a large machine shop owned by Mr. Louis Conetta. Mr. Conetta obtained a government contract under the name of Dynetics Corp for the M7 bayonet in 1966. This led to another contract for the Knife, Combat, MIL-K-20277c as it was then called. We do not know the number of Conetta knives delivered but by the numbers now seen it was not an overly large contract. The knives themselves conform to the basic specification set in 1962 with the Parkerized steel parts and the coated and treated handles and scabbards. They were well made knives for a company that did not make knives. As can be observed on many Conetta knives the machine marks are on some of the blades. A conversation I had a few years ago with Pete Conetta at the Bren-Dan plant in Stamford brought back many memories of producing the knives and bayonets in that period. Inspectors came up from Brooklyn to check on the items being made. It was a running joke in the plant that they were making M4 bayonets, the rifle for which, the M1 Carbine, had been obsolete for many years! No doubt those M4 bayonets were headed for Vietnam and the South Vietnamese Army which favored the Carbine for the lightweight and mild recoil. Pete did recall that they made the knives and bayonets over several years so we can conclude that additional contracts were let over several years of production. He also showed me a cabinet that was filled with leather washers for knife handles. The leather was treated which still carried the smell and dark in color but not black, an effect of the treatment not a dye. On 5/10/70 Camillus wrote up a new production card to conform to the MIL-K-20277d specifications in which they included an additional line stating “All leather washers dyed black��? and a color was added, “Standard Black Shade No. 111.��? This is the first indication of a possible distinct coloring change that we know took place. The early “Ox-Blood��? knives were at some point changed to a real black in color, the knives as well as the scabbards. We can see that Camillus changed to a black color in 1970 from this production card yet the knives continued in the Ox-Blood color. The color was to conform to a black “chip��? color chart that was written into the specifications. The first date on a scabbard being black is from one I purchased in the wrap. It is dated 1979 and had an Ox-Blood handle but a black scabbard. Not scientific but it sets the 1979 date as the latest it could have been. The thread in the scabbard was also changed to nylon on the MIL-K-20277e specification dated 10/17/74 but by this time most of the manufacturers had already made this switch. It should be noted that it was not a specification change but on February 1, 1974 the “N.Y.��? was dropped from the Camillus stamping on the blade. Mr. Dean Wallace, VP of Engineering at Camillus at the time, put this change into effect. I am often asked this question by collectors looking to place a knife in the Vietnam era. Well it depends on your thoughts on what is the proper Vietnam era to begin with. The beginning could be construed as 1945 by many when the OSS dropped in men or it could be when military assistance was given to the French in the 1950’s or when military assistance in the form of advisors went in there overtly in 1961. The ending is a little more clear cut but still has shades of gray, August 1975 as the end or when US main forces were pulled out and the POW’s returned in 1973? I will not debate you on this point, only tell you when the stamping was changed, you make your own conclusion.

A new contractor entered into the Knife, Combat, MIL-K-20277e world in 1980, Ontario Knife Company. Ontario won a bid to supply the knives to the government on a small contract to compete with Camillus as the sole provider. The government does not like to purchase from a sole provider if at all possible. Too many fingers to point in cost and quality analysis profiles. Ontario continued to provide the knives at a low cost, and for that matter still does to this day. Several updates to the specifications were done, MIL-K-20277f was established in 7/7/82, MIL-K-20277g on 2/19/88, and MIL-K-20277h on 9/1/93 to bring us up to date. Nothing major was changed in any of these revisions, some slight drawing issues, packaging and preservative updates to ensure the stock on the shelves met the most current of standards. The Ontario made knives are all black, they entered the arena well after the change for the early “Ox-Blood��? color had been superceded. At this date in time Ontario is the sole supplier to the United States government of the MIL-K-20277 knife.

There is one knife in the line up little to nothing is known about, the M.S.I marked knives. The first example I viewed was in 1990 to the best of my memory. It first appeared in print in Bernard Levines Guide third edition which was published in 1993. To say they are scarce is an understatement! It took me a few years to secure the first one and from talking with other collectors I can count about seven in total. A recent purchase of some surplus knives by a collector from the Marine Corps storage in Okinawa revealed several MSI marked knives in a 1989 dated sealed wrappers. The one I purchased had the internal wrapping paper dated 1987 while the outside wrapper was dated 1989 which suggests it was a repack at some point. The knife itself was exposed to air in the packaging as when it was removed a thin film of white powder like mold was present. It wiped off easily. While this alone does not establish proof of government purchase like a contract copy would, but it firmly establishes that the MSI knife was in the supply chain and would have been officially issued to a Marine. The knives are very crude in appearance with fit and finish masked by a heavy Parkerized finish. The typical handle is thinner then normal but the other specifications all fit the bill. All observed have been black in color with typical black scabbards. Obviously made in small numbers this one continues to confuse the collecting community. If you have any information about it I would be glad to hear from you.

Just because it is a 60-year-old design don’t think it is unused anymore, this knife is under almost constant contract. Tracking the knife over the years in contracts it can be plainly seen when the country goes to war the MIL-K-20277 is always there. The contracts again surged when Operation Iraqi Freedom started to assemble and have been consistent since them.

Camillus dropped the “U.S.��? marking on 3/1/89 when they changed over to the Camillus logo stamping. It consists of the stylized Camillus with line over and under the name / New York / U.S.A. in three lines. This marked the departure of the Camillus knife from the government procurement program, as it no longer conformed to the specifications laid out for markings.

So to recap we find the Utica Cutlery Co. knives in brown and Ox-Blood, and the scabbards for each respectively in light tan with 9 rivets and possibly 7 rivets and Ox-Blood with 7 rivets. Keep your eyes open for a dual colored scabbard with the nine rivets; this would have been a Utica pattern that was colored to meet the 1963 order. All the markings on these knives are the same regardless of color or date.

The Camillus knives started in Ox-Blood with an Ox-Blood seven-rivet scabbard. Camillus called the color Blackshade No. 111 but it is the typical Ox-Blood as we know it. The first knives will have markings with the “N.Y.��? on the second line. Take note that Camillus made two different width blades in this series. One version is 1.225 wide while the second variation is 1.275 in width. The reason for this is unknown. The post 1974 knives dropped the “N.Y��? stamping from the second line. There are two distinct types of letters used in this post 1974 stamping. Type one is the traditional height letters used from the initial start up while the Type Two uses a taller letter that is also much narrower in width. This is termed “condensed��? in the printing business and it is how I shall describe it. When you hold the two types side by side it is readily apparent the dies were different. Last we have the Camillus logo knives made post 1989, which are not military issue. In the Post War period Camillus also produced a bright blade knife for the commercial market known as the Trailblazer. The knife was chrome plated, blade, guard and butt. The handle was left a light tan color of the natural leather but buffed to a high sheen. The guard was formed from the same steel but curved in the shape of an “S��? to add flair to the knife. The Trailblazer was packaged in a gift-box along with a single piece fold-over scabbard much like the original USN marked scabbards produced by Camillus in World War Two. The first blades used the U.S. / Camillus, N.Y marking and changed over in the 1974 change to drop the “N.Y.��? from the second line. Although a commercial offering it was somewhat popular in the P.X. system as many were used in Vietnam and so stated by the vets that carried them. These knives were also available unmarked for a short period, the only marking on the blade was an etching having the Sword Brand logo. The logo can also be found on knives that did have the US stamping. Several variations of just this one knife are available for those so inclined to look.

The Conetta made knives are easy to describe and remember as that firm only made one type. The only stamping Conetta used was U.S. / Conetta as described in the specifications. All the knives are Ox-Blood and have an Ox-Blood scabbard mated with them. Conetta did not make the scabbards so the knife was mated with an A.E. Burgess Leather scabbard.

Ontario produced knives starting in 1980 are only available in black, the Ox-Blood was phased out prior to their making this pattern. Ontario started with the U.S. / Ontario marking as specified and has used the same marking ever since. I have an Ontario that is completely unmarked but that one I attribute to an oversight, not a CIA purchase! Ontario made a version of the knife with a saw-back on the blade. This is a commercial item that was not adopted or purchased by the military. A neat item but not military.

The M.S.I. marked knives are crude in appearance and very hard to find. The knives have black handles and black scabbards. The marking on the knives are not stamped in a straight line the U.S. over the M.S.I is not centered correctly. This is true on the few knives observed. A real challenge to find and tougher yet to find information on.

So there we have it, the Post World War Two Knife, Combat, MIL-K-20277. Adopted in 1942 this knife with minor changes is still being carried into war over 62 years later. I can’t think of any other US knife that can claim this achievement.

All the best
Frank Trzaska


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