Soldiers are a perennial topic of fascination for civilians, with many enthusiasts and admirers paying particular attention to what kind of kit and weapons they carry. The soldiers of every nation have their own distinct uniforms, heraldry and equipment, and foremost among the interests of enthusiasts are their weapons.
Rifles, machine guns, and handguns certainly but no less fascinating are the knives they carry. Or used to carry; in our era of modern warfare knives could not even be called a tertiary weapon. With drones, electronics and standoff munitions capable of incredible accuracy and extreme range, knives of any sort seem medieval, almost primitive.
Is there still a place among all the heavy gear carried by soldiers for a humble knife?
Do soldiers carry knives? Yes, any soldier worth the name will have as standard equipment a sturdy knife of some kind, a heavy-duty fixed blade or bayonet, or possibly a rugged folding knife (not too dissimilar from the ones that most people are familiar with).
Though knife fighting, silent sentry removal, and bayonet charges have nearly been relegated to the stuff of myth today, the knife is still an essential part of a soldier’s field equipment, and you will rarely meet a trooper without one.
There is more to learn and consider regarding the topic below, and we will also include a few favorite knives from soldiers in various branches of service.
The Soldier’s Knife is Most Often a Tool, Not a Weapon
Today the vast majority of soldiers carry a knife, or two, for utility purposes and not necessarily as weapons. As it turns out, soldiers have to deal with an awful lot of “odds and ends” tasks in the field and certainly can’t abide wasted pounds in their kit dedicated to carrying around a bunch of superfluous tools.
In the course of a single day, a soldier in the field might have to pound heavy staples or stakes, cut wire, slice open straps or cable wraps, scribe metal, scrape wires and contacts, pry open hinges and much more.
If you were of the mind that you always have to pick the one right tool for the job, you will be carrying around a veritable toolbox just to deal with those simple chores! A soldier is far more likely to pull his knife and use it for the task at hand, even if he has to finagle it a little bit.
Serious blade aficionados in the crowd are probably recoiling at the thought of using a fine knife as anything other than a cutting edge, but at the end of the day the sharpened, sturdy piece of steel is suitable enough for many tasks even if the task is abusive: pry bar, hammer, chisel, awl and scraper.
A good knife can definitely take care of all of that and more.
But it is Still a Weapon in the End!
All that said, it is undeniable that a soldier’s knife is still a weapon, even if it is only relegated to a weapon of desperation or the most specialized, niche tasks.
Perhaps the most iconic use of knives by soldiers is in the form of a bayonet- a long knife attached to the end of a rifle, turning it into a makeshift spear or polearm.
Bayonet charges recall wars and eras of decades gone by, and virtually never happen today, but for one reason or another, nearly every issued service rifle in the world is capable of accepting a bayonet and a bayonet remains an unissued piece of a soldier’s kit.
Even when not mounted on the rifle, the bayonet itself or a common field knife can be used as a vicious close-quarters weapon when out of ammunition, or the enemy is already too close for any firearm to be brought to bear.
There is very little that can go wrong with the knife as a weapon, aside from losing one’s grip on it: inserting razor sharp steel into the soft and vital parts of an enemy combatant is certain to have effect even if the wielder is not a trained knife fighter.
Lastly, in highly limited and harrowing circumstances a knife might be used as the ultimate silent weapon for discreet removal of an enemy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The soldier wielding a knife closes in, cat-like, in order to stifle the screams of their enemy, while simultaneously driving the knife home in such a way that it will inflict instant or near instant death.
What Kinds of Knives Do Soldiers Carry?
Though every soldier will be issued a knife of some kind, the majority are also afforded broad latitude for carrying whatever kind of knife they want so long as it is for, ostensibly, utility purposes.
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Invariably, a few greenhorns will carry giant survival knives like the wickedly serrated blade of Rambo, whereas others will opt more for a utilitarian folding knife, like the ever-popular CRKT M16 series or the highly refined and greatly liked Spyderco Paramilitary.
For those who can afford them and want the very best folding knives made out of advanced materials like titanium the Strider SMF will prove featherweight and also virtually impervious to corrosion or damage.
Though every, single ounce of a soldier’s fighting load must be justified, sometimes only a properly heavy duty tool will do, and when it comes to heavy duty knives fixed blades are top of the heap.
Virtually every soldier will have a basic field knife in the form of his bayonet, but many more choose a storied, traditional fixed blade knife like a Ka-bar or Ontario MK 3 knife. Both of these are standard issue equipment in various branches of the United States military.
Soldiers who are serving in dense woodland or jungle might choose such a specialized knife as a kukri, made properly infamous by the Nepalese Gurkhas who wield them as a badge of service.
This knife functions somewhere between a machete and a hatchet, equally capable of hewing through flesh and bone as easily as brush and vines.
There are plenty of other knives that soldiers may choose to rely on, standard issue or personally purchased.
No matter what military the soldier is serving in and no matter what kind of blade they rely upon the humble knife in all its many forms continues to serve proudly as an indispensable tool on and around the battlefield, and a primal weapon for the fiercest close quarters combat.
Soldiers all around the world are still issued knives today and it will be the rare one indeed who does not carry a trusty knife of some kind with him at all times.
From the always handy convenience of a folding pocket knife to the sturdy reliability of a hefty fixed blade field knife and the deadly single-purpose intention of proper fighting knife knives have always had a place a pride among a soldier’s kit, and they likely always will.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.