I'm back! After taking a longer than anticipated break from the blog, I'm finally sitting down to tackle my enormous back log of researched items. So stay tuned for a flurry (hopefully!) of blogging activity!
Today we'll be taking a look at an often overlooked piece of WW2 equipment. The early war, RH PAL 36, US military fighting knife. This is the "original" Ka-Bar fighting knife that all the other US fighting knives evolved from (WW2 - Present Day).
When war broke out between the US and Japan, in December of 1941, the US military was woefully under supplied and the equipment they were using, was mostly WW1 vintage gear. The only official, US military fighting knife was the old "trench knife", the Mark I Trench Knife. This was the old "brass knuckle", short bladed, dirk that was issued to US soldiers in the Trenches of France back in WW1. The Mark I was a great trench fighting knife, but not a good, survival / fighting knife.
With the US calling up thousands of new soldiers and sailors, the need to immediately equip them presented more than a slight problem. There wasn't enough of the old vintage gear available, and the gear that was available was out dated. So, the US turned to readily available, "over-the-counter", gear to supplement official GI Issue until a new manufacturing and supply system could be established.
Enter the RH PAL 36 fighting knife, made by the PAL Blade and Tool Company.
The RH PAL 36 was a civilian made knife that was manufactured by Remington, and then by the PAL company, and sold extensively on US Military Bases to soldiers and sailors. It was a VERY popular, private-purchase sheath-knife for soldiers at the time war broke out in 1941. The US Military immediately scooped all of the available knives from the base exchanges, and immediately put out an order for as many as PAL could mass produce. PAL was already tooled up and manufacturing, and the US military needed them NOW. It was a perfect match!
Originally the blade and overall design of this knife, was designed by the Remington Cutlery Company. It was sold by Remington as the Model 36. After PAL bought out the Remington Cutlery Company in January of 1941, before the outbreak of war with Japan on December 7, PAL continued production of the old Remington Model 36, but renamed it the RH-36. RH stood for Remington Hunter, and the 36 was the old Remington model number. From what I understand, PAL was up and producing the RH PAL 36 knife under their own name, sometime in March of 1941. Production of the knife continued for the "War Years", 1941-1945, and then ceased some time after the war, probably in the first few post-war years. Remaining old-stock and "parts knives" were sold by PAL up to about 1950, in very limited numbers.
Since these old RH PAL 36 knives were only produced during WW2, it makes it quite easy to identify them as a true "war era knife".
These knives were civilian knives that were issued and then ordered by the US Military, and as such, they were never marked with US or with a US model number. They remained a "hunting styled knife", just as they were before the war.
The first batches of these knives were issued to the US Marines that were headed to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese. A large portion were also issued to the US Naval aviators that were headed there as well. In many of the early (and quite a number of later) photographs from the South Pacific Theater of Operations, you will see these RH PAL 36 knives on the belts of marines, and naval pilots. A number of these knives found their way into the European Theater, and were also carried by WW2 veteran soldiers who went on to serve in the Korean War as well. These knives really got around!
After the war really got going, and the US started to refine their equipment specifications, official orders were put out for the "official versions" of the old PAL knives, with some slight changes. These later knives were known by various military model numbers, such as, the USN Mark I, Mark II, and the now famous USMC "Ka-Bar".
There were two blade finishes that were found on the old PAL knives. The first was a bright finish, and later in the war, a parkerized finish. My particular knife may have the faint remnants of parkerization on the blade, or maybe it's just a very aged patina on the original bright blade. It is hard to tell.
I spotted my knife in the display case of a local "thrift store". It was being sold as an old hunting knife, with a price to match! That is one of the wonderful things about these old PAL knives, they don't look "military"! Since this knife found its way to me via a thrift store, I will never know the true history of it, but you can be sure that this knife was a well loved and long carried knife by someone out there!
The knife itself is in very good condition overall. The blade has lost a bit of its original parkerized finish, and there are some signs of edge grinding, but all in all, it's weathered and complete.
The pommel is rough cast zinc or aluminum. Later knives can be found with wood pommels when metals were being diverted for war production.
The sheath is sewn and riveted, with the punched hole in the tip for the classic "leg tie". The sheath on my knife has been customized and hand tooled by the previous owner. The work is beautiful and well done. It was pretty common for the soldiers and sailors to customize the leather sheaths keeping up the long tradition of American Individualism........we were a "Citizen's Army" after all!
The rivets on my sheath are well worn on the back side, and the leather has been polished smooth and glassy. This indicates this knife was carried extensively, polishing smooth against a soldier or sailors BDU's or Dungarees (or so I can imagine).
The grip is composed of leather discs and it is worn, but in great shape.
This knife is a wonderful, early war, USMC or US Navy style knife that most likely saw service somewhere in the South Pacific, or in the cockpit of a Naval Fighter Plane. It's a true piece of classic WW2 equipment!
So next time you are checking out the local thrift stores and yard sales, keep your eyes peeled for one of these classics. They are out there just waiting to be re-discovered! But until then, you can check out the album of my classic RH PAL 36 knife. Enjoy.