A photo of San Antonio Iron Works knives by Peter McHugh
World War II was the biggest and deadliest war in history.
Most people are aware of the role knives played in the war — millions of fixed blades were carried by soldiers who fought so valiantly for freedom.
For Armed Forces Day in 2018, Blade Magazine took a look back on many of the fixed blades carried during the Second World War.
However, the San Antonio Express-News recently explored a lesser-known aspect of knives during WWII after someone asked about mysterious knives labeled “San Antonio Iron Works.”
It turns out these were likely makeshift knives made from historical sabers issued to cavalry, including the George Patton-designed 1913 cavalry saber — the last to be issued to cavalry. Apparently swords were no match for guns starting in the World War I so they stopped issuing them.
A cavalry depicted in the Mexican War
But all these historical swords lying around were put to use during WWI. Here’s an excerpt from the San Antonio Express-News article:
At the start of World War II, “there was a great need for fighting knives,” said John Manguso, former director of the Fort Sam Houston Museum and author of several books about the historic Army post. Besides those made by arsenals and by cutlery and farm implement manufacturers, he said, “The Army elected to take some of its inventory of swords stored away and make them into fighting knives.
“Typically, a sword blade was cut into three pieces, and a tang (the portion that extends down into the handle) and point were fashioned onto each piece,” Manguso said.
Looking at a photograph of the SAIW knives, Manguso identified them as having been made from a 1913 Patton cavalry saber, possibly 1840 dragoon sabers or 1860 light cavalry sabers.
“With the San Antonio Arsenal here,” he said, “it is likely a lot of this type of work was done there and contracted out to local shops.”
While it’s sad to see many of the old swords from as far back as the U.S.-Mexican War, it’s great to hear they were repurposed into knives that potentially saw action.
Save a Life with a Knife Committee
One of my favorite factoids from the article was about the Save a Life with a Knife Committee. Along with turning old swords into new knives for combat, a committee was set up to receive knives from the public to be sent to troops who needed them.
Screenshot of 1943 Life Magazine article
During the war, a night-club owner in San Francisco named Frank Martinelli heard that knives were of urgent need in the southwestern Pacific.