O'Neill & The Case V42 Stilletto
The Case V-42 Stiletto
In the summer of 1942 notices were posted on bulletin boards in every major base throughout Canada and the United States. This notice asked for volunteers to take part in what was to be called "The most unusual fighting force in World War II". What was most unusual about them is that they would be combined in the same unit, a joint United States/Canadian force! The notice read "VOLUNTEERS WANTED! A special paratroop unit is being formed. Hazardous duty is involved. A few men will be selected. Men with experience in mining, forestry, lumbering, explosives, or outdoor living are invited to apply. Interviews will be scheduled at Post Headquarters." The mission, Top Secret at the time, stated that special equipment would be designed and issued to them on a priority basis. A formal order was written to this effect which was issued by the Commander-in-Chief, signed by George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff and authenticated by the signature of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Assistant Chief of Staff. How is that for authorization? This one letter was a virtual "Open Sesame" to anything needed by the new fighting force. As usual they were in need of a good fighting knife.
The V-42 Stiletto was first envisioned in a sketch by Col. Robert T. Frederick, Commanding Officer of the new unit, the First Special Service Force. Col. Frederick, later to rise to Major General Frederick, was quite an unusual fellow himself. He has had books written about him, has been portrayed in several movies and had been described by Churchill himself as "the greatest fighting general of all time. If we would have had more like him we would have smashed Hitler in 1942". Some of the "volunteers" sent by the U.S. Army were men who chose not to "conform" to military life. Most were men who for one reason or another were not chosen for the newly formed Airborne units. At the time height and weight restrictions were placed on recruits for airborne duty. The Col would hear none of this, if hundreds of pounds of supplies could be dropped by parachute so could men. The physically and mentally tough training regimen weeded out the real misfits with the result being hardened men willing to stand up and be counted. The only prerequisite needed according to Frederick was that the man NEVER give up, regardless of what he was doing in life, quitters need not apply. The knife envisioned by Frederick was actually a collaboration among his staff of the perfect fighting knife. Close quarters combat instructor of the Force, Dermot Michael "Pat" O'Neill, a former Sergeant in the Shanghai Municipal Police Force who served with Fairbairn and Sykes, suggested the blade profile. O'Neill at Fredericks urging taught all classes using real knives and uncased bayonets. Occasionally, although not often, a man would get stabbed, cut or bayoneted in this "live" training. Stitches would be applied and, as soon as practical, training was resumed. O'Neill and the wounded man both convinced he would never make that mistake again. Col. Orval J. Baldwin, Supply Officer of the Force is credited with the skull crusher pointed pommel idea. This rough sketch, a conglomeration of many ideas, was then sent to three knife companies for bids, Camillus, Cattaraugus and Case. The Case knife was personally selected by Col. Frederick himself. With some improvements on the prototypes they were then forwarded to the Ordnance Department for testing on a priority basis. Along with the above mentioned letter this was a mere formality as they were pushed right through.
Official Army records from the National Archives show a Quartermaster form dated Nov. 27, 1942 as a receiving date of the first batch of 1,750 "Knives, Fighting Commando Type V-42, including Leather Sheath". The actual date posted for the first distribution of the knives mentioned in another document was January 1943. In a letter from Case in May of 1969 they stated that over 3600 V-42's were produced during the War. In my research I could only find documentation on 3,423 being received by the U.S. Services. The first 3 being prototypes with bright blades and smooth handles sent to Col. Frederick for final approval before production began. The original lot of 1,750 mentioned in the above document were received in Nov. 1942, 70 in Feb. 1943, 600 in June 1943, 100 in Oct. 1943, and 900 in Nov.1943 for a total of 3,423. The 70 received by the U.S. Navy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in February 1943 were the only knives sent to a unit or branch other than the First Special Service Force. This low number produced makes this the rarest officially authorized standard "production" (they were all hand made at Case) knife issued to the U.S. Forces in World War II. This also makes it one of the most sought after U.S. military collectable knives on the market.
The blade on the F.S.S.F. Stiletto is 7 5/16" long, blued steel. On the ricasso is a unique "thumbprint" ground in for proper positioning on a thrust. This "thumbprint" was to orientate the blade so that the soldier would hold the knife on edge allowing a thinner profile for thrusting between the ribs. The blade was hollowground allowing for a much sharper edge. Some of these knives were repointed in the field as they were much too sharp and would easily pierce bone, making extraction very difficult. Shortened blades found today are assumed to be repointed due to a broken tip, this was not always the case. Many of the knives were sent home before the actual fighting began by several Force members, finding one of these mint condition knives today would be an instant centerpiece to any collection. On the ricasso below the "thumbprint" CASE is deeply struck. The blade length and the number of grooves in the "thumbprint" are not always the same as these knives were all hand made and different craftsmen made the patterns slightly different.
The handle was made up of stacked leather washers tightly fitted over the tang and held in place by the pinned on "Skullcrusher" pommel. The leather then had fine serrations ground in using a gimping wheel (sort of a toothed grinding wheel) like that used to cut in the serrations on the blade. The leather washers themselves were about 1/8" thick, the first one against the guard being left full size to act as a cushion during a hard thrust. On the prototypes this had been a thick fiber spacer, but was quickly broken during testing. The oversized crossguard meant for use with gloves was 2 11/16" long and also blued. The pointed "Skullcrusher" pommel was pinned completely through the tang and blued. This point was somewhat of a nuisance to many wearers. Clothing was constantly ripped and severe cuts were not uncommon around the rib area, forearms and hands. A prototype sheath was tried with a full protective flap covering the pommel but the idea was soon disbanded as it made the knife too slow to draw in an emergency. The most common field modification was to round off the point with a file. The finished overall length of the knife was 12 9/16". With the rich blued finish and the finely crafted blade it is called by many the most beautiful looking knife produced during W.W. II.
The sheath was in the style of the earlier Camillus Raider Stiletto but much longer. The overall length of the sheath was 20". It is interesting to note that the original mission for the F.S.S.F. was to be behind the lines in Commando type raids in Norway, Rumania and Italy. As much as 70% of Europe was covered by snow in excess of 4 months of the year. The original plan being whomever controlled the snow controlled 70% of Europe. If you remember in the First World War cannon fire was used to start massive avalanches in the Alps. Over 40,000 casualties made this something that would be tried again. The above countries were selected as they contributed the bulk of resources such as oil and electricity to the German war machine. The sheath was made extra long to aid in finding the knife when wearing a heavy winter parka. These sheaths were sewn leather and had 14 rivets much like the Raider sheath. They also possessed the metal thong eyelet with leather thong to act as a tiedown to keep the sheath from flopping around on the wearer. The mouth had eight metal conveyor belt joiners, often called staples, to prevent cutting during inserting or removing the knife. Many of the "Forcemen", as they called themselves, had a distinctive way of wearing their knives. Simply wrap the long belt attachment part of the sheath around the belt and use the leather thong to tie it off. This way the sheath resembled a normal length. Many of them tucked this arrangement behind their .45 holster so either could be drawn by the strong hand. It also took up less space on an already overloaded pistol belt. Of the 70 knives delivered to the U.S. Navy all were sent with the Raider style short sheath. These sheaths were marked U.S.S. OMAHA and serial numbered. They were for the members of the "Ships Landing Force". These knives were issued while off the coast of Florida in 1943. Later in the war the "U.S.S. OMAHA" stamping was defaced in an effort to prevent identification in case they fell into enemy hands. Sometime in 1945 these knives were ordered to be thrown overboard in Philadelphia Harbor. By some strange miracle (read souvenirs) a few survived and are highly coveted collector items today.
The First Special Service Force was officially inactivated on December 5, 1944 in Villeneuve-Lobet France. The end came quickly at 2:00 P.M. on that day, The following quotation is from the official history of the Force written by it's Intelligence Officer Col. Robert D. Burhans "the red Force flag with it black dagger on white shield was wound slowly to its staff and the casing slipped over it." But the Case V-42 lives on to this day. In the U.S. Special Operations community it is the symbol of many great achievements. The U.S. Special Forces (Green Berets) use the V-42 in their Distinctive Insignia, their Unit Crest and in their shoulder patch. The White Star Training Teams in Laos circa 1960-61 used the V-42 in their Beret patches. Operational Detachment Delta (the forerunner of todays Delta Force) in Vietnam had many pocket patches made using the V-42 as a central character. The 7th Special Forces Group Mobile Training Teams in El Salvador used the V-42 in their unofficial pocket patches. This is just to name a few of the patches and crests that use this knife for their central character as a symbol of stealth and courage. In 1989 the United States Army Special Operations Command was activated at Ft Bragg N.C. This is the parent unit of all the special operational forces for the Army. Their shoulder insignia is a red arrowhead, reminiscent of the First Special Service Forces insignia, with the Case V-42 as it's only feature. The V-42 has gone onward to become a symbol of the elite in the U.S. Military. Quite an accomplishment for a knife.