Object Title

Model of 1917 Trench Knife

Model of 1917 Trench Knife


As a latecomer to the War, America was able to develop and issue weapons knowing full well the type of conflict its troops would be fighting.  As such, they were able to draw upon the experiences of their allies and also take note of the commercially available trench weapon of Britain and France.  The result was the Model of 1917 Trench Knife, which was the first knuckleduster knife issued to any army.  Like most of the British knuckleduster knives, the M1917 was also designed by a civilian company, Henry Disston & Sons of Philadelphia.  Also like Robbins of Dudley, this company was not a traditional knife maker, but with the War they turned their attention to military knives.  However, whereas British troops had to rely on privately purchasing or manufacturing their own trench daggers, the M1917 was on general issue to the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force.

The weapon's long, triangular blade has no edge to speak of and can only be used to thrust with.  Unlike most knuckleduster knives, it is intended to be used with the blade uppermost, with the thumb on top and secure against the downturned quillon. In 1918 the knobbed knuckleduster guard was replaced with a double row of teeth, which was more robust as a defence and would cause more damage when punched with. Identical in every other respect to its predecessor, this was designated the Model of 1918.

Use and effect

The long varnished grip of the M1917 and M1918 could be prone to slipping in the hand and the blade was rather brittle, sometimes snapping in use.  Its triangular form also meant it could not be used at all for a cutting stroke.  These deficiencies led to further trails by the AEF, including experimenting , with French and British daggers.  The result was the Model of 1918 Mark I Trench Knife.  This weapon, with its more fully formed knuckleduster borrowed elements from British knuckleduster knives and  copied exactly the blade design of the French Modèle 1916 dagger.  The result was a blade that could cut and thrust, a guard that could be punched with, was hard to knock out of the hand and could be easily held in the whilst crawling.  The addition of a sharp 'skull-cracker' pommel added a forth method of attacking with the new weapon.  However, although developed during the War, the Mark I Trench Knife was not ready for production until December 1918.  Nevertheless, it had a long service history, only finally being declared obsolete in January 1945.  Whilst military knuckleduster knives have largely fallen out of fashion, Argentinian Paratrooper are still issued with a fighting knife of this type, the Yarará Paracaidista.


Blade length 23.5 cm (9.25 in)
Country of manufacture USA
Date entered service 1917
Manufacturer Henry Disston & Sons of Philadelphia
Overall length 36 cm (14.25 in)
Primary operator USA
Weight 325 g (11.5 oz) (without sheath)


Henry Yallop