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DateOriginal Topic
16th February 2005Knife/Knuckleduster close-quarter weapon
By Coll
This type of combat weapon is really quite an awesome close-quarter fighting knife, although I think it only became more common during WW1.

To combine 2 particularly effective weapons into one, instead of a curved handguard, a strong knuckleduster, which gave you a good grip of the knife, but also let you cause more of an injury to your enemy when punching, at the same time preventing damaging your hand.

However, I wonder if it may have been possible to obtain a weapon like this, maybe not in the military, but from elsewhere, before or during the AZW, when it was not readily available.

16th February 2005Paul Cubbin
A number of close quarter (especially concealable) weapons were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries as many of the capital cities of the world became hotbeds of street crime. Knucle dusters, knuckle knives, cosh's, punch blades (copied from traditional Indian weapons), kukris, sword canes, weighted canes, the list continues. The disguised cane weapons were popular among 'gentlemen' for obvious reasons, but a huge assortment of nasties could be easily purchased as 'personal protection' in Victorian London and beyond.
16th February 2005Coll

I think this subject may be another view of possible hand-to-hand combat that we have discussed on a previous occassion, where instead of boxing, weapons, not usually considered for military use, can sometimes appear, not in streetfighting in London, etc., but on the battlefield, when firearms again may not be available, or not be practical in close-quarter fighting that might be taking place, when it becomes a death-struggle between 2 individuals and any advantage which will give either of them an 'edge' would definitely be worth it.

17th February 2005Bill Harris
British soldiers of the Zulu War period were certainly issued with a clasp knife for everyday use, attached to a lanyard that would keep it ready to hand when needed. I don't think these were ever intended to be used as hand-to-hand weapons, but in a close combat situation like Isandhlwana, their use as such shouldn't be ruled out. Many soldiers in that battle would have already had their clasp knives in hand, ready to pry jammed cartridges out of their Martinis.

I would personally be interested in finding out a little more about these knives. Such mundane items don't get discussed much in period narratives, and my many searches for images have always come up fruitless. I'm especially curious as to whether they had the marlin spike included on later models, or even the can opener. Are there any knife collectors or reenactors among our ranks?

Best regards,
17th February 2005Derek C
Pte. Henry Lugg stabbed a Zulu to death with his personal hunting knife, when the would be killer's, musket misfired. This was at RD though, when the battle was over.
17th February 2005Barry Iacoppi NZ
I am bit of a knife collector Bill but no expert. In the past I have asked about the clasp knife issued to the soldier of the day. I would dearly love to own one. One kind person did send me a picture. I’ll forward it to you.

17th February 2005Coll

I don't know if this will be of any help guys, but try the Gun Mart magazine, it covers everything from guns, to re-enactors, knives, antique weapons, etc., and also includes ads where you may obtain what you are looking for.

18th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Coll - there's probably a wide range of personal weaponry shown in contemporary catalogues and almanacks. They're most likely still available (albeit in reprinted form) from eBay, Amazon, etc.. for reasonable prices.
19th February 2005Coll
I got to thinking about war films that I have seen over the years and how the introduction of personal weaponry by characters does appear in quite a few.

For example, although I forget the title of the movie, Steve McQueen in a WW2 film had a butcher's knife as part of his equipment.
In Cross of Iron, one of the characters had a piece of wire with wooden handles at either end, which he looped around his victim's neck, which he used to great effect.

I'm sure there are other movies that include more unusual weaponry.

19th February 2005Paul Cubbin
If we want to go 'comicbook' there's 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' and 'Van Helsing' that are great fun for Victoriana fans and have a wide range of wacky weapons. Anthony Hopkins uses a kukri (in arguably its most famous use) in 'Dracula' to decapitate a trio of lusty tarts (what a waste) and, on a wild tangent, I remember a miffed Faye Dunaway lobbing a poison-filled glass stiletto knife at a pigeon-chested Michael York in 'The Three Musketeers'. 'Wild Geese' is more modern yet has a smattering of commando type weapons for specific jobs. WW1 saw an array of imaginative close quarter weapons, designed and built largely by the men on the front, for dirty trench fighting.
Storytime - in the 70's (I think) an expert in unarmed combat was sent to Hong Kong to teach the SAS hand to hand. On his first night out on the town he wandered into the wrong district and got into a fight with a big chinese fella. Unbelieveably he found himself on the wrong end of a very tight stranglehold and was in very real danger of being killed. He suddenly remembered the trusty knuckleduster he kept hidden at the back of his belt, reached round, gripped it, and swung the biggest punch he could manage at his attacker's temple. With a loud crack the big fella went down like the proverbial sack, leaving the so-called expert wheezing and struggling for breath with a severely swollen trachia. Astonishingly, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, despite not being the aggressor, as he was carrying a weapon and the other guy wasn't. Hong Kong police don't muck about, they may look silly in their shorts, but there's not as much violent crime as you'd expect from a gang ridden city.
19th February 2005Coll

Yes. I remember the Wild Geese, it was one of the mercenaries using a crossbow with poison-tipped bolts that seemed out of place compared to the Uzis and rifles the others were carrying.

19th February 2005Bill Harris

You may be interested in the following website, detailing the weapons carried by Victorian gentlemen to avoid getting mugged on London's streets:

I especially like the cartoon of the well dressed man being held up by a gang of thugs. The caption reads "Now, just let me see! The question is simply this: shall I use my sword-stick, my life-preserver, my new 12-chambered revolver or the knuckleduster in the left tail-pocket of my dress-coat?"

20th February 2005Michael Boyle
Paul and Coll,

The cross-bow was still in active use as late as Viet Nam and I believe is still a component of modern 'Special Forces' armouries (complete with telescopic sights).

Interestingly I've recently read that the rate-of-fire of the famous [nationality deleted] long bow was not matched until the introduction of clip-fed rifles.

I've been trying to get a DVD of "Wild Geese",broadly based on Col.Mike Hoare's 5 Commando mercenary outfit famous for the relief of Stanleyville (assembled in South Africa) (with yet another fine portrayal of a senior British Army non-com and an award winning title track by South Africa's own Miriam Makeba) for years.Let me guess, it's only available in region 2?

As for 'knuckle-busters' or 'black jacks' I would think that their possession among the ranks would have been discouraged as they would have proven more useful in drunken brawls than in most combat of the time.


Thanks, great site.


20th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - make sure you don't go for 'Operation:Wild Goose' which is a dodgy Lewis Collins B movie (or even C movie). The loss of the longbow was certainly premature, I have always felt, and has more to do with social changes than military requirements. A weapon that requires decades of strenuous training would be very difficult to employ in post feudal societies. I have heard it said (and with good measure) that the weapons used at Waterloo were less accurate, reliable, shorter ranged and slower than those used at Crecy and Agincourt. I always chortle at those who deride the armour-piercing abilities of the longbow, saying it could not possibly have made a whole in plate armour. I see the longbow as the 88mm of its day - the force required to propel the missile a great distance will, at shorter range, be transferred to punching through just about anything it comes in contact with. Experiments with relatively feeble modern bows have shown this time and again.
20th February 2005Coll

Thanks for your replies.

Although on a slightly different level than the sort of concealed weaponry mentioned here and also the more unusual individual weapons used in actual combat, I was thinking about the subject of duelling.

I was watching the Antiques Roadshow a while ago and a pair of duelling pistols were brought in to be valued.

Can you imagine the nerve it would take to just stand there several paces away from your opponent, possibly having already fired your own pistol and missed, but still having to remain standing waiting for him to fire back.

I think I'd be the only duellist with a double-barrelled shotgun, almost a guarantee of at least hitting the target.

10th March 2005Tim Rose
If you still want an image of the issue clasp knife then drop me aline at the above address.Mine was even carried out there for the 120th so I guess you can say it came from Isandlwana!
10th March 2005John Young

You could even say it was carried at Isandlwana by a 'casualty' if you want to push your luck, as well.

John Y.