Applegate-Fairbairn: AF in the UK

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I thought I'd post what I know about the couple of Applegate-Fairbairn knives I have. It's nothing new really, but maybe interesting for fans of the A-F, or anyone interested in how the brits looked at the knife when it first came out.

It’s easy to think that the Fairbairn-Sykes gets all the attention in the UK, but although the Commando Knife deserves its “iconic” tag the Applegate-Fairbairn is well known over here, even if it’s sometimes mentioned as a final chapter in the F-S story. There’s an acceptance that it’s a better knife than the original, and probably the ideal double edge knife for the kind of styles that Applegate and Fairbairn favoured. There’s probably a bit of UK bias in how much of the design is attributed to the two men, and Sheldon Wickersham’s article on the A-F (http://blackjack.0catch.com/pages/wickershamafarticle.htm) has a different angle on how the A-F came to be, but then the knife is pretty clearly based on the F-S to some degree so it either way it’s fair for Fairbairn to have his name on the blade.

I first came across the A-F as a teenager when it was first released for sale. Back then I used to help my dad, Colin Greenwood, in the editorial office of a british shooting magazine called “Guns Review”. He often featured knives as well, and had a few reasons to be interested in the A-F. He knew of Col. Applegate (as well as W E Fairbairn) from his time working on armed tactics for the British Police - apart from his own books on the subject he has a chapter in W Cassidy’s book “Quick or Dead” alongside the likes of Rex Applegate and Bill Jordan. He also visited the US often in the 70s and 80s as a vocal advocate of shooters rights, speaking for the NRA and others on the subject (another area where he published a book, “Firearms Control”, although it could have been subtitled “and why it doesn’t reduce armed crime”). I know he met Rex Applegate more than once on those visits, and I’ve got copies of a few of Applegate’s books signed to Colin Greenwood.

When the first Yancey Applegate-Fairbairn knives came out he was keen to get hold of one and to promote it. He wrote a small piece on the knife on it’s release, and I can remember being shown the knife and told all about it when it first turned up, but for some reason it was nearly a year later when he added a more in depth feature. Things moved a bit more slowly in the publishing world then I think.

I’ve scanned copies of the original pieces on the Yancey A-F, plus the original UK advert which appeared in the issue before the write up for some reason (probably the piece being held over for a month), and Google Docs has done a pretty good job of converting it to text, so I’ll try and post both.

The knife I have is the one that was reviewed, Yancey A-F #26. I don’t know when exactly the white handled knives were made, so I probably can’t quite claim it’s the 26th production A-F ever made, the best I could do would “26th production non-presentation A-F” :)

When the Al Mar AF came out a few years later he was quick to get hold of an early green handled copy to review. Maybe this was a very early one, because the scales didn’t really fit properly and there was some excess glue on them - I don’t have a photo of it as it originally was as I’ve rubbed down the inside of the scales to fit better since - the problem was really just excess glue from the handle weights. Not good on a review knife, and maybe that plus the shiny blade was one reason the write up on the release of the Al Mar seems to talk about the original Yancey more than the new version.

Here’s a few pics of the knives as they are now, 35 and nearly 30 years on:

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both-2.jpg

both-3.jpg

yancey-id.jpg
 
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Here's the first piece that appeared in the magazine when the A-F came out. I'm pretty sure that the incorrect spelling of Fairbairn as Fairburn wasn't down to my dad, but was "corrected" by the publisher to the incorrect version!

Guns Review, April 1981

New Fighting Knife

We have just learned of a new fighting knife which is to be launched in the USA. We use the term advisedly and, in the knife world, “new” is a term which can rarely be used honestly. This one really is a new knife yet it has a history which we are exploring further because there seems to be an interesting story for a future issue. It starts in 1943 with two men, Captain W. E. Fairburn and Colonel Rex Applegate. Fairburn was the ex-Shanghai policeman who had returned with his close associate Sykes after having developed a system of pistol training for the Shanghai police which was years ahead of its time. Both men were experts in knife fighting and in unarmed combat. On their return to the UK at the outbreak of war they were assigned to Commando training. It was they who developed the famous Commando knife which saw service with special forces of many Allied countries.

The Fairburn-Sykes knife was found to be a superb fighting tool yet it had disadvantages. Its design was biased towards stabbing and it was less effective as a slashing weapon; the long tip of the blade broke occasionally and the round handle made it impossible to locate the blade for a slashing attack by feel alone.

Fairburn was sent by special request to the USA to assist in training US Special Forces. There he met up with Colonel Rex Applegate who was already an acknowledged expert in the same fields. Together, these two men worked on an improvement of the Fairburn-Sykes knife. Their design was perfected but, because of the changing fortunes of the war, it was not put into production. The drawings remained with Colonel Applegate. Now, over thirty years later, that knife is being specially hand made by no less a person than T. J. Yancey. Hand made from special stainless steel, the knife has many remarkable features. The handle is of Lexan, an almost indestructible plastic. Within the handle are weights which can be moved to change the balance set in making. The cross guard is designed to aid thumb placement and to “keep” an opposing blade which is parried. The blade itself is 6 inches long, 1 inch wide and no less than 3/16 inch thick.

This hand made knife will not be cheap. Prices in the USA are $350 for the combat model complete in a specially designed leather sheath, and $500 for a limited edition presentation model in a solid wooden box. It is available from Rtl, Box 22B, Dept B, Scottsburg, Oregon 974.73, USA.

Guns Review hopes to explore the background story in more depth and may be able to examine one of these superb weapons.​

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Edit: I don't seem to be able to upload the scans of the articles at the resolution I have them, I think the uploader is shrinking them. I'll try and find somewhere to put them so I can link to them.

Edit: I've added the scans to photobucket, so hopefully this link will work, watch out for the ads though! http://s61.photobucket.com/user/adamg67/media/A-F/intro-1_zpsnc8yyxiu.jpg.html
 
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Here's the longer write up of the Yancey AF that appeared in '82:



Guns Review April 1982

KNIFE WITH A STORY

The Applegate / Fairbairn Fighting Knife

In the Gunshop feature of the April 1981 issue of Guns Review (page 269) we mentioned the Applegate / Fairbairn fighting knife which had been launched as a hand made custom knife in the USA. At that time we indicated that the background story was of great interest and we promised to look further into it. The project was delayed for various reasons but the fact that the knives are now available in the UK from Custom Purveyors, 23 Elvaston Mews, London SW7, persuaded us to get out the file and complete the research.

The knife has a two line pedigree, one of them starting in Shanghai and the other in the USA. Both lines involve a number of fascinating characters. The knife is related to two different schools of knife fighting, each modified in isolation before being put together into a comprehensive modern system.

William Ewart Fairbairn (1885-1960) was probably the foremost close combat instructor of his day and possibly of all time. He joined the Shanghai Municipal Police in 1907 at a time when that city was virtually over-run with gangs of professional and exceptionally tough criminals to whom life was cheap. It has been said by a biographer that Fairbairn was personally involved in over 600 serious violent encounters, both armed and unarmed. He led a special squad of police in anti-riot and anti-gang operations and some of his operations against professional hostage takers make the recent siege operations in London look very tame indeed.

The picture which might emerge from such facts would be of a huge hulking man of immense strength and perhaps of little brain. Fairbairn certainly did not fit that picture, he was of slight build and looked anything but the usual picture of the hard fighting man. He was, in fact, a studious individual with a keen scientific mind and it was his scientific approach to the problems which confronted him which set him apart in his field. Anyone working in the Far East and faced with the problem of dealing with extreme violence would be almost bound to turn to the Martial Arts. Fairbairn did just that, but he did not turn to them slavishly, simply following existing systems. He turned his scientific mind to the martial arts. He studied deeply and was amongst the first Westerners to obtain full qualifications from the Tokyo Kodokan. He then explored his new knowledge and skills in the light of the specific problems which he faced and came up with his system of “Scientific Self Defence” or Defendu. His book on that topic, which has recently been re-issued, was reviewed in our last issue (page 216). His system was a trend setter which was followed in various parts of the world and was eventually brought back to the UK and used as the basis for unarmed combat training for the Commandos and thus into other Army units. Faced with a situation in which fire fights were a frequent occurrence, Fairbairn also turned his mind to pistol training and created a system which was far ahead of its time. His earlier work on the subject for the Shanghai police was also reviewed on its re-issue at page 216, but his classic is, of course, Shooting to Live. That system of pistol training has been the basis for many other systems used throughout the world.

In much of this work Fairbairn was assisted by A. E. Sykes, a reserve officer with the Shanghai police who developed a wonderful working relationship with Fairbairn. Together they developed police tactics and training methods which, in many respects, are yet to be bettered. These two men turned their attention to the problem of knife fighting which, at that time, was an unscientific brawling game. The careful logic of the two minds determined that the first stage was to identify the targets to be addressed in knife fighting and then to design a knife and develop systems designed to attack those targets. They identified targets and gave a table of times to produce unconsciousness or death in the event of a successful knife attack on those points. In order of speed of incapacity, the points were the brachial, radial, carotid and subclavian arteries; the heart and the stomach. The knife designed to reach those targets had to be of sufficient length and had to be very sharp on both edges. They pointed out that arteries must be cut cleanly for maximum effect. Torn arteries tend to close together again when the knife is withdrawn. The techniques developed required a fencing style grip for most uses, though this had to be modified for certain of the attacks.

The outbreak of World War II saw both Fairbairn and Sykes back in the UK where their special talents were quickly recognised and they were Commissioned and assigned to training the then new Commando units. Both men were beyond normal active military age and the stories told of them are legion, including exploits when, against all orders, they accompanied Commandos on active service. Their fighting knife and their knife fighting techniques became an almost legendary part of the Commandos.

On the other side of the Atlantic it was the US Marines who had taken knife fighting seriously for a number of years whilst other organisations tended to ignore or decry it. In the late 1930s Lt.-Col. A. J. D. Biddle was made responsible for close-quarter combat at the USMC base at Quantico. He was later to write the classic book “Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat”. Biddle's researches on knife fighting appear to have been influenced by a number of fencing instructors, including J. H. Hawkins of The Horse Guards. His system of fighting uses fencing terms and some modified fencing moves and he pays special attention to the type of cut which would both distract and incapacitate an opponent. He was, for example, an advocate of the hand cut. Clearly, a knife for use in this style of fighting would vary slightly in its design from that developed by Fairbairn and Sykes.

With the entry of the USA into the war, the Americans threw themselves into the development of Special Forces and drew on the Commandos because of their training methods and experience. Amongst those involved in training Special Forces was Lt.-Col. Rex Applegate, himself something of an authority on knife fighting, who had taken Biddle's techniques a stage further with particular reference to parrying techniques. Applegate visited England where he worked with Sykes. Later, Fairbairn was posted to the USA to assist with Special Forces training and he and Applegate worked together.

Practical experience had shown that the Fairbairn Sykes knife was capable of improvement. In particular, the tip of the blade broke from time to time and the round grip did not locate the edges of the blade for slashing attacks. Fairbairn and Applegate reviewed knife fighting techniques and gave more prominence to slashing attacks than had originally been the case. They then sat down to design a new knife to correct the faults found by experience and to take better advantage of the modified techniques.

The resulting knife had a broader, thicker blade; a modified guard to suit Applegate's parrying techniques and a grip which allowed the classic fencing hold but also located the edges of the blade by the feel of the grip alone. But the end of the war was at hand and the new knife never got off the drawing board. Applegate kept the drawings and specifications but did nothing with them as he pursued his career with the forces and then as a writer and consultant on all matters relating to internal security. He is still pursuing this latter career from his home in Oregon. Only in 1980 was he pursuaded by knife enthusiasts to dust off the drawings. He then engaged the famous American knife maker, T. J. Yance to produce a limited number of knives.

The knife has a double edged blade which is six inches long, one inch wide and 3/16 inch thick at the spine. It is made from Crucible’s 154 cm. corrosion resistant stainless steel of a hardness of Rc60. The blade takes and keeps a keen edge. The curved crossguard is of 1/4 inch brass and is press fitted. The handle is of a new plastic called Luxan with ridged holds for the thumb and forefinger and longitudinal grooves around the circumference. Providing the hold is reasonably correct, the blade edges are located in line with the thumb and forefinger. Inside the grip are lead weights adjusted to give what most experts feel to be the right balance which is moderately handle heavy. However, these weights can be adjusted so that the owner can change the balance to suit himself. A sheath designed by Applegate has been made by holster maker Tex Shoemaker. A retaining strap is held by Velcro. The sheath has a standard belt loop plus a spring clip on the back to give a choice of suspension points. Three hollow rivets at the tip and on the two sides of the sheath allow for tying down or for suspension in almost any way imaginable. The combat version of the knife has a grey parkerised finish to the blade, but a polished version is also available. The combat version will retail in the UK for £195. This is certainly not a cheap knife but it is a knife with a history and a knife designed for a particular purpose by people who have actually been there and done things. It has a pedigree and some evidence of that pedigree is to be found on the blade which bears facsimiles of the signatures of Fairbairn and Applegate.

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Same thing with the image, it gets shrunk, they're not huge files but there must be some limit on the dimensions of files I can upload.

Edit: I've added the scans to photobucket, so hopefully this link will work, watch out for the ads though! http://s61.photobucket.com/user/adamg67/media/A-F/yancey-3_zpsxd8sjogn.jpg.html
 
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And here's the piece on the Al Mar from when that came out. I've still got those rubber training knives as well.

Guns Review July 1987
In our April 1981 Gunshop we carried a report of the then recently released Applegate/Fairbairn knife, handmade by T J Yancey of Colorado. We followed that with an article in the April 1982 issue in which we traced the history of this knife resulting from the collaboration of WE Fairbairn, of commando knife fame with Rex Applegate who was responsible for much of the training of American Special Forces. Applegate and Fairbairn reviewed knife fighting techniques and concluded that more emphasis should be placed on slashing than had previously been the case. They then sat down and designed a new knife to match their new fighting techniques. Before the knife could be introduced into military service, the war ended and the plans were shelved.

In 1980 Rex Applegate engaged TJ Yancey to make a small number of these knives. The double edged blade is of Crucible's 154cm steel hardened to Rc60. A curved dull brass cross guard is press fitted and the black handle is of a material called Luxan. Its two halves are secured by hex headed screws.They contain channels into which lead wire is fitted to provide for adjustment of balance to suit the owner.

A sheath, also designed by Applegate, was made by Tex Shoemaker. It features a belt loop and a spring belt clip, is of welted construction and has a number of side eyes for fastening in a variety of locations. The closure is a leather strap with velcro fastening.

It is a superb knife, but costly. In 1982 the retail price in England was £195. The original knife is still available. Price in the USA is $250 and those interested should contact the Wells Creek Knife and Gun Works, Rt 1, Box 22B, Scottburg, Oregon.

Nine years after the knife was introduced, demand simply cannot be met from limited production. Arrangements have now been made for the knife to be volume produced in Japan by Al Mar, whose products already have an excellent reputation. The knife follows the original design faithfully, even carrying the facsimile signatures of both Applegate and Fairbairn. It differs from the original in detail only. The shape of the grind at the top of the blade has been changed to suit factory production methods and the new knife has a hollow grind not found on the original. The Yancey made knife has a satin finish to the blade whilst the Al Mar version is polished bright. The guard is of polished brass and is soldered rather than press fitted in place. The handle is green and feels a little harder than the original Luxan. It retains the weights to adjust balance. The sheath is simplified with a stud fastener and ordinary belt loop, but it retains the eyelets around the welt.

When the handles are removed, the original knife is just ten grams heavier (ex 150 grams). The factory made knife is brighter and more colourful, but when the two are side by side, the original looks the deadlier. But looks are less important than effectiveness and Al Mar has stuck to the original design of a truly effective fighting knife.

Price in the UK is not yet known, but Springfield Fire Arms are factory appointed agents for Al Mar and we shall doubtless be informed of availability Soon.

Whilst testing the Al Mar AF knife, we also tested a pair of their rubber training knives which copy the shape of the AF knife, though not its weight and balance. The handle is a precise re-creation and the blade is of the same length and shape and made of a rubber or plastic material which becomes more flexible towards the tip. The blade is 0.4" thick near the handle and its edges are 0.25" to avoid injury and to allow for chalking to show hits on an opponent during training.

These are excellent training aids which are of good quality and which will last a long time. The makers urge the use of eye protection but with this proviso they permit realistic use in training rather than the often-used hold-back style of training which sometimes makes a person hold back in a live situation.

almar-4.jpg

and again, sorry about the size of the scans.

Edit: I've added the scans to photobucket, so hopefully this link will work, watch out for the ads though! http://s61.photobucket.com/user/adamg67/media/A-F/almar-4_zpsymb12e3y.jpg.html
 
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abbydaddy

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Thank you for writing this all up. I really do appreciate getting to learn more about the AF's.

I have a fondness for daggers, even though I don't have much use for them. I don't own a FS or AF myself (though I'm sure that will change eventually). I do own a couple of the AF folding knives.

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G890A using Tapatalk
 
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From my very "general" knowledge, the knives used in the very early police days were just adapted pointy knives. Basically they made some portable daggers for the use of.
There was a real need to formulate some hand to hand combat drills, rather than just rely on animal instinct with an entrenching tool as done in WWI. Bayonet drill was well established as the base for aggression training, still is (plus some Marling/boxing).

Britain was desperate for weapons after Dunkirk. The S/F survival knife was "warry", and importantly cheap to make in quantities (MKII). It may have been referred to as a survival knife but it wasn't; it wasn't a very good combat knife either. It was however a fantastic moral boosting weapon, and genuinely liked. It put the wind up Jerry for sure and a lot of German sentries were scared shitless. The Germans had to double up on sentries due to pure fear factor, and every slit throat in occupied territories was put down to the F/S. The German's may well have made some themselves.
Commando and Resistance took to them. As a dagger they are plenty good.

The "new" model had been played with for a very long time, for a better combat knife. Towards the end of the war there wasn't much need for a dagger.

The 1980's saw the knife market take off. Cold Steel's Master Tanto, Al Mar; Russel, Lile, and Blackjack to name a few. There was an enthusiasm to supply the market and old designs were dusted off. Even better if it came with a story. Quality too improved no end.
I had a Blackjack; its now bust and was never a great knife.
I wanted an Al Mar; I still maintain they are the best mass produced of the design.
Gerber had theirs too, including a folder.

Gerber Guardians (and whatever their other one was) aren't that great as I broke mine; EK wasn't bad but I broke that too. In truth most daggers don't fair well if you throw them commando 1/2 spin style.

When I was last interested in daggers the two that stand out for me are the Al Mar Shadow II, and Devils Brigade V42. The Glock M78 field knife are cheap and won't fail, M4 bayonet not bad, or even a Sissipuukko M95.
Lastly, for this kind of thing anything long thin and pointy is good to go, lots to collect.
 
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The S/F survival knife was "warry", and importantly cheap to make in quantities (MKII). It may have been referred to as a survival knife but it wasn't; it wasn't a very good combat knife either. It was however a fantastic moral boosting weapon, and genuinely liked.

Yeah, that was true of a lot of stuff from the time, I was reading about the Sten Gun the other day, now another "iconic" weapon and also improved into the Sterling. It's the most basic thing they could make, all pressed steel and the like, and the way it works is pretty basic as well, by direct blowback. Because of the way the sear worked sometimes they would get stuck and just keep firing til they were empty. Anyway, the point is they were of a very similar period when Britain couldn't get hold of anything like enough Thompsons and needed lots of submachineguns quick.
 
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A lot of Sten Guns and S/F Commando knives were thrown out of planes for partisans and resistant fighters to pick up. A lot were just lost, so cheap was a good thing. Sten same calibre of the German M40 being 9mm.
I've shot both Sterling and Stens and, though the former is more refined, both with a little practice deliver (don't hold them by the magazine and don't put a pinky near an open bolt). A lot less heavy than a Thompson, and the MP40 isn't any better. Its was after all desperate times.

I open my letter post with a F/S, and its better than a A/F for that job. Most F/S lost their tips opening ration tins of bullybeaf and spam; so in truth ended up looking more like an A/F.
 
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Did I ever tell you guys my last name is Applegate.
Not sure of all the ramifications of that except to say that from time to time I have a powerful compulsion to, with a knife in each hand, scale multi story walls.
For the most part if I consume large amounts of Coffee ice cream (Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz flavor is my favorite) and watch at least two MacGyver episodes I can relinquish the urge for a time.

well . . . anyway . . .
that's about it really . . .
 
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I was just looking through the Rex Applegate books I've got and came across the slim little "Combat use of the Double-edge Fighting Knife" https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003GGSTEY/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 that Paladin did in the 90s - worth buying if you're an A-F fan but not otherwise IMO as it's only 38 pages. It's really about the A-F, and has a brief history at the back of the book. According to that not only was the knife designed by Fairbairn & Applegate in 1943, a prototype was made which Col Applegate kept along with the designs. I wonder if that is still around somewhere? :)
 
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