At the outbreak of the First World War, the infantryman was equipped with a single close-combat weapon – his bayonet. The advent of trench warfare made rifles with fixed bayonets too cumbersome for general use and prompted the development of a range of new close-quarter weapons – a return to earlier forms of warfare.
‘Trench clubs’ and ‘trench knives’ were produced in large quantities and used in trench raids. These types of weapons were particularly favoured by the specialist assault troops that were formed in several armies – especially those of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.
Hand grenades – primitive versions of which had been used in eighteenth-century siege warfare – were also revived and were produced in mass quantities. In some cases during trench warfare, grenades effectively supplanted the rifle as the primary infantry weapon. Grenades retained their importance for assault troops and for the close defence of positions until the war’s end. Close combat and the weapons it spawned were a complete contrast to the industrial and automated nature of the First World War, eliciting a variety of emotional responses from soldiers. Some were appalled, while others revelled in the legitimisation of extreme violence that the war granted. The malign influence of the latter phenomenon was later evident in the activities of fascist paramilitary organisations in the post-war era, which traced their origins and ethos back to wartime assault units.
British trench club made by placing a flanged metal ring on a standard entrenching tool handle. While the First World War is strongly associated with the introduction of modern weaponry, including aircraft, tanks, artillery and machine guns, primitive melee weapons such as this club still had a place in the close-quarters fighting encountered during trench raids.
“This is an original example of a trench club obtained from a long-standing collection. The club is made from turned hardwood and pressed with hobnails. The head has been drilled out and filled with lead. There is no way to know if this is a German or Allied trench club. Contrary to popular myth, these clubs were not produced by individuals. They were produced in mass by units in the field utilizing regimental carpenters and welders etc to produce large amounts of the same pattern of club.”
FWW or WWI Bronze Trench Club. A FWW Trench Club unusually fitted with a solid bronze head and a walnut handle. Used in the trenches of Northern Europe for night raiding the enemy, fashioned weapons similar to this would be used as a silent instrument attack by both sides. This particular… Length 23½” Weight 1.8kg.
The Trench Knife; was first developed for close-quarters fighting in the trenches of World War I. There are many different models and styles of the trench knife. This review focuses primarily on the models with the “knuckle duster” or “brass knuckle” style hand guard. The first issued model (US Model 1917) featured a triangular blade similar to that of a bayonet, with a wooden handle and attached metal hand guard. It was replaced soon after by the “US Model 1918” or “Mark 1”. The original trench knives were approximately 12 inches (22.86 cm) in length, with a 6.5 inch (16.51 cm) blade. Almost every trench knife has its own sheath or scabbard and can easily be attached to a belt, vest or boot. Some of the newer “brass knuckle knives” come with shoulder straps and quick-release sheaths, which can be very useful to keep the knife out of the way while on the move.
The larger 1917 Trench Knife. Name: L. F. & C. U. S. Model 1917-1918 Trench Knife with Extra Knob Description: Landers, Frary & Clark US Model 1917-1918 Trench Knife No. 4, Type 2. This knife has an extra or 7th knob on the front and is a rarer model. Accompanying this knife is a Jewell Scabbard. Reference is Cole III p. 23, No. 4, Type 2.
DOUGHBOYS: World War I- Trench Knives and Personal Weapons.The M1918 Trench knife had a double edged blade, cast brass one piece handle with integral brass knuckles and a stamped metal scabbard. This 1918 model was made by AuLion in France and features the company’s logo of a reclining lion. GWS Collection.
Robbins Dudley Push Knife, though often referred to as “push knives” “push daggers” or “trench knives” due to the thrusting way. Used by most of the participating armies in the First World War of 1914-1918, although they were not standard military issue A “Push Dagger” was a type of blade purchased privately by both officers and enlisted soldiers. Commonly used for personal protection or during trench raids when soldiers might experience hand-to-hand combat, the handle was placed perpendicular to the double edged blade to allow maximum force in a thrusting attack.
While the conventional image of First World War trench warfare is of massed numbers of rifle-armed men going ‘over the top’ into a No-Man’s-Land of barbed wire, machine-gun fire, artillery barrage, and almost certain death, this was a high-cost tactic of the earlier part of the War, and had been largely abandoned by its later years. The widespread tactic was to dig advance trenches called Salients out from one’s own front trench, into No-Man’s-Land, and then bombard the enemy’s front trench, so that they would fall back to their auxiliary trenches behind. Units of men could then be sent across a short stretch of No-Man’s-Land from the Salients, to occupy the trench and hold it. These larger drives required much preparation and reconnaissance if they were to work, however, and so Trench Raiding became increasingly common as the War went on.
In Trench Raiding, small numbers of hand-picked volunteers crept across No-Man’s-Land at night, unseen by the artillery ‘spotters’, lightly armed with firearms, grenades, bayonets, knives, steel piping and other improvised clubs, knuckledusters, and weapons such as this. Whether intended for undertaking or repelling a Trench Raid, the size of the push-knife combined with its ease of use in unskilled hands, was exactly what the average soldier needed. The intention was a quiet, quick surprise attack, to kill small numbers of men, destroy or seize larger weapons – such as heavy machine guns – map out the location and contents of the enemy trenches, seize communications and documents. This would generally keep the enemy in a sleepless, terrorised state therefore sapping their alertness and morale.
Soldiers of all nations were able to procure these, many being made at the front as this example. The trench club seen here is a rather simple, but none the less deadly example of a close combat weapon. Other examples were extremely brutal and resembled medieval weapons-some have spikes on the striking end made from nails; or a spike used to impale; and short, blunt spikes mean to fracture skulls. Carl Panak Collection.