Swords and knives have been standard issue weapons of war for the last several thousand years. In the last two centuries, firearms have become the primary weapon of combatants, but knives have continued to be the weapon of choice for close-quarters combat. One of the most famous combat knives, the V-42, was manufactured by the W.R. Case and Sons Cutlery Company of Bradford, PA. The V-42 was the inspiration of Robert Tryon Frederick, an American military leader during the dark days of World War II.
In 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick created the First Special Service Force, which was a joint US-Canadian commando unit. The First Special Service Force’s training was brutal and wide ranging: parachute jumping, demolitions, weapons and hand-to-hand combat. The men selected to serve in Frederick’s unit were definitely hard lads. During the Italian Winter campaign in 1943, the First Special Service Force with Lieutenant Colonel Frederick at the helm took an objective in approximately four hours that a U.S. Division was unable to conquer in ten days. Frederick saw more actual combat in World War II than any other U.S. General and was wounded eight times, more times than any other general officer. Winston Churchill called Frederick the “greatest fighting general of all time.”
Frederick knew that his unit would need to engage in a fair bit of hand-to-hand combat, so he set himself the task of designing the ultimate close quarters knife. He found a willing ally in W.R. Case and Sons. The Case V-42 is a “stiletto” style knife that is 12-1/2 inches long and weighs 7 oz. Stilettos, like the Case V-42, are knives or daggers with a long slender blade and needle-like point, which reduces friction upon entry, allowing the blade to penetrate deeply. Craftspeople at W.R. Case and Sons hand-made the V-42 at Case’s Bradford, PA plant. The blade was made with a blued chrome vanadium steel blade, a stacked leather handle, a leather covered steel guard and a threaded and pinned-on conical pommel. Case produced just over 3,400 V-42s during World War II. The Case V-42 became legendary; an image of a V- 42 is displayed on the official crest of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces. Given the small number of V-42s Case produced, the knife not surprisingly became the feather in the cap for many knife collectors.
Given the fond place the Case V-42 has in the history of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, it isn’t surprising that members of the Special Forces were instrumental in urging Case in 2010 to create a new run of V-42s so that anyone within the Special Forces community could once again purchase one of these historic knives from the original (and only) maker in Bradford, PA; W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company. As it turned out, even the original knife’s sheaths were reproduced for these new V-42’s by the very same vendor who handcrafted them for Case during The Big War. Case was delighted with the idea and threw a lot of resources at the project. Case debuted the new V-42 Stilettos in 2015 and you can actually order one for yourself from Case.
But I save the best for last. In 2017, Case did a very limited run of three V-42 Stilettos. Each of the three V-42s Case produced was made for a different group of Americans: the U.S Army’s Special Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency and New York City’s First Responders. The V-42s were presented by Case’s Fred Feightner to a representative of each group during a ceremony in New York City on November 9, 2017. And each of these three Case V-42s was crafted from steel recovered from the World Trade Center after its collapse following the 9/11 attack. The steel was originally gifted to the United States Special Operations Command from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; the Special Operations Command sent the World Trade Center steel to Case to allow the fabrication of the three memorial V-42s. Each of the three groups who received one of Case’s 9/11 Memorial V-42 played an important role in responding to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center: New York City’s First Responders in New York itself and the U.S. Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. 5th Special Forces Group created “Task Force Dagger” to respond to the attacks of 9/11. On your next trip to New York, make sure you look for the V-42 Stiletto on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
If you want to learn more about Case’s World Trade Center V-42s, check out the January 2018 edition of Knife Magazine. And to learn how Case makes their knives, click on this link; its cutting edge stuff!