Virtually from the time the first blade was chipped out of a flint shard, double-edge daggers have ruled fighting knife designs around the world. Early bronze daggers looked much the same as the stone weapons that came before them, and later on, steel blades varied little from the bronze. During World War II, the Fairbairn/Sykes commando dagger gained a near cult following among elite raiding units of several allied armies. Even today when someone sets out to design a knife purely as an edged weapon, nine times out of ten it will still be easily recognizable as a dagger. With about 100,000 years of field-testing behind them, it is pretty hard to question the effectiveness of the straight, double-edge blade as a weapon.
Close Combat MK-II
Ray Ennis’ of Entrek Knives new “Close Combat MK-II” is a classic representation of this millenia-old technology. The place to start with any discussion of this knife would probably be an upfront statement that this is not a combat/survival, wilderness bushcraft, backpacking, hunting, fish cleaning or any other everyday kind of utility blade. Daggers are weapons first and tools last. While there are times when one piece of sharp steel is as good as another, daggers are seldom any knowledgeable person’s first choice for normal uses. What they specialize in is creating deep, penetrating wounds in close-quarters combat. Blade length is the cold steel version of firearm stopping power, and Ray’s 7-inch blade is a magnum in its field.
As all the armchair commandoes are quick to point out, the British F/S daggers were reported to have several flaws. The first was the round handle that makes it difficult to orientate the edges by feel in the dark. Ray’s design corrects this by having what might be called a flat saber grip pattern Micarta slab hilt. Anyway you grasp it, the knife will still provide a cutting edge on either side of your hand. The next supposed flaw of the Brit knife was that the blade and point were weak. Frankly, this was not as much of a problem on the early military issue Fairbarins as it was on the mass-produced post-war copies made for civilian sales. The Birmingham Small Arms version is actually 3/16-inch thick at the hilt and tapers to relatively heavy point. In any case, the 1.25-inch wide blade of the Entrek model is a full 0.25 inches thick with a broader point better suited to slashing attacks as well as thrusts. Like the Brit commando, the MK-II is a fairly handle-heavy design (13 ounces), something many knifefighting instructors consider desirable in a thrusting weapon.
The one weak feature I see on the Entrek Close Combat is its Kydex sheath. Its only blade retention system is a molded projection at the mouth that snaps into a dimple on the handle of the knife. The body of the sheath does not come in full contact with the blade so there is a certain amount of play in the blade that leads to rattling against the inside of the hard thermoplastic. I would not trust this scabbard against the opening shock of a parachute jump or when scrambling around rough ground on a night patrol. Another little negative for a few of us is the fact the retention system turns the scabbard into a right-hand-only unit. The good news here is that custom and aftermarket scabbards are not that hard to come by, allowing the user to tailor his carry system to his own personal needs. I tried the knife in a Spec Ops brand “Combat Master Long Utility Knife” nylon sheath and found that, while it wasn’t a perfect fit, it was adequate for most field uses. It is also ambidextrous and jump safe!
As I pointed out earlier in this review, any dagger is primarily a specialized close-combat weapon. Custom knifemaker and wild hog hunting guide Larry Harley recently made the statement that, based on his experience in sticking boars, a double-edge blade is not twice as effective as a single edge, it’s four times as effective. Given these hogs weigh as much or more than an enemy soldier and are probably far tougher, I think his opinions are well worth listening to.
Video knife reviewers are fond of stabbing large chunks of raw meat to demonstrate the ease of penetration on whatever blade they are promoting. Frankly, I’m not especially impressed by these demonstrations, because I think it has little to do with confronting a modern soldier protected by heavy clothing, nylon web gear, and possibly body armor. It is also not uncommon to read after action reports of hand-to-hand situations where the soldier had difficulty penetrating deep enough to neutralize his target. This is where a dagger starts to earn its keep by concentrating its force on a small area and cutting all the way through on both sides of the blade. Once upon a time, this was essential to punching through chain mail on the battlefield. By the time World War I came around, the problem was puncturing through heavy leather coats and multi layers of winter clothing—and that hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years. While this can be a lot harder than you might think, the Entrek knife is certainly up to the challenge.
What it won’t do is make slashing cuts very effectively. I tried the knife on my BDU pants stuffed with two pair of old jeans and stiffened with rolled cardboard only to find it was difficult to slash through even the three layers of cloth, let alone cut into this layer representing the an actual leg. A straight thrust went to the hilt with next to no effort on my part.
So some readers are probably wondering what role a specialized knife of this kind would have on the modern battlefield. Frankly, I would have to say very little for the average infantryman conducting conventional ground warfare. He will need a general-purpose utility tool and the MK-II isn’t it. On the other hand, the Rangers, Special Forces, SEALs and other Spec Ops units have launched hundreds of night commando raids in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Normally, all they are carrying on these direct action assaults are heavy loads of weapons and ammunition. From the reports I’ve read, it hasn’t been uncommon for these raiders to end up in hand-to-hand wrestling matches with the enemy. To me, that is just the kind of problem the Entrek knife was designed to solve.
The factory edge of the sub-zero quenched 440C stainless MK-II was “ok combat sharp” but not exactly the scalpel-keen blade I really prefer on this type of weapon. Like most daggers, the edge grinds are relatively steep, something that is not a problem for a thrusting weapon but would limit its usefulness as a cutting tool. Of course, we already knew that part going in. A few passes over a diamond-surfaced butcher’s steel polished the edge to a more razor-like quality. While it may be true that a rougher, less refined edge would serve better for a general purpose combat/utility knife, I tend to feel a dedicated “fighting” knife can’t be too sharp. I did try the knife for the usual rope cutting/stick whittling chores and, as expected, it was only adequate. It would certainly be better than not having any knife along but you might want to think about carrying a good, basic tactical folder as a back-up to the dagger, short duration in-out raid or not.
It seems like troops today are allowed to take fairly generous quantities of personal items with them on deployments. While I can’t say I needed an Entrek MK-II every time I left base in the bad old days, if I had had the option of storing gear in the rear and tailoring my weapons to each mission, I would have been very happy to add this dagger to my load-out. When you need a dagger nothing else is quite enough.