As mentioned, these knives are replicas of the Mark I trench knife. They are not surplus items and have several differences that set them apart from the original. Originally, the Mark I trench knife was produced with a blackened finish intended to prevent any reflection, which may have alerted enemies to a soldier’s presence. These knives are produced using 440 stainless steel.
Like most militaria, the Mark I trench knife has an interesting and storied history. Prior to the introduction of the Mark I in late 1918, two trench knives were developed and issued to U.S. servicemen during WWI, the M1917 and the M1918. The first trench knife issued to U.S. troops was the U.S. M1917, a knife based on the French Poignard-Baïonnette Lebel M1886/14. Like its French counterpart, the M1917 was produced with a triangular, stiletto-type blade attached to a wooden handle with a metal knuckle guard. The M1918 was very similar to the M1917, the only difference being a modified knuckle guard. Because the M1917 and M1918 had stiletto blades, they were primarily used as stabbing weapons. This left the knives susceptible to breakage and prompted the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to arrange a field test of the knives and seek a replacement. The replacement was the Mark I trench knife.
The Mark I, like its predecessors, was also based on a French design, the Couteau Poignard Mle 1916 dit Le Vengeur. The new knife, as previously described, consisted of a double-edged blade and a bronze hilt shaped like a knuckle-duster. Also included was the conical nut at the base of the hilt. Because the blade was double-edged, it allowed for both stabbing and slashing motions, an improvement over the previous stiletto blades. The knuckle-duster design of the hilt not only provided a secure grip, but also protected the wielder’s hand from being grabbed by an enemy combatant, as each knuckle is equipped with a spike. Additionally, it served a secondary purpose in that, along with the conical nut at the base of the hilt, it could be used as a striking weapon. These enhanced features proved useful in hand-to-hand combat that was characteristic of trench warfare.
Contrary to popular belief, many Mark I trench knives did not see service in WWI. By the time mass production was completed, combat operations had ceased, leaving the unissued knives to be placed in storage. However, in 1942 and 1943 during World War II, several Mark I knives were issued to Army Rangers, Marine Raiders, and other airborne battalions before their eventual replacement by the M3 trench knife.
The Mark I trench knife has appeared in popular culture across several difference media including movies, television shows, books and video games.
Recently, the knife has appeared in HBO’s hit series, “Boardwalk Empire.” James “Jimmy” Darmody, a former soldier in WWI, carries a Mark I knife in his left boot and it becomes the focus in one of the series’ famous scenes.