Original U.S. WWII Cattaraugus 225Q Commando Fighting Knife with Leather Scabbard

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. This example is offered in good service used condition and comes complete with the original issue leather sheath. The finish on the blade is good, but it definitely was polished out at some time to remove oxidation, and now has some additional oxidation.

The leather grip is nice, with some wear from use, and pommel is now slightly loose. The scabbard is in good shape, with a lovely dark brown color. All stitching and rivets are intact, though the leather has cracked around some rivets and on the securing strap. This was definitely a knife and scabbard that saw significant use.

A very nice example, ready to display!

Blade Length: 6"
Blade Style: Single Edged with Slight Drop Point
Overall length: 10 1/2“
Crossguard: 1 5/8”
Scabbard Length: 8"

The Q Knives of WWII
By: Frank Trzaska, 2004
Edited by: Alex Antonopoulos, 2021

Very little has been written about the Q knives in the way of facts. We can find photos of them in just about every theatre of World War Two being worn by front line fighters. Yet the myth is that the were issued to Quartermaster personnel for opening crates. Just on the surface it sounds ridiculous that a knife would be procured for such a use when crowbars had been in inventory for just such a task. In fact, there were even specialized crate opening tools specified for that job in Quartermaster catalogs. The myth grown up around these knives even has the pommel as being designed to hammer the nails back into the crates apparently after the wrong box is opened. It sounds fishy when put into this type of context, yet the myth continues to grow and to spread. Like most good urban legends some fact is always present to make the myth palatable to the majority of people. In this article we hope to end some of those urban legends and present the facts associated with the misunderstood and under appreciated Q knives.

At the start of World War Two, it is a known fact that the U.S. forces were woefully under-prepared to wage a war on this large of a scale. In fact, a war this large had never been fought before, or for that fact ever since. Many new ventures would be engaged in to meet the production demands of such a large force. Knives were but one aspect of the new style war to be fought. It became immediately known that the U.S. forces were short of cutlery of all types. To meet this demand, it was decided to use whatever style could be put into immediate production. The early Marine Corps Raider knives were nothing more than Camillus hunting knives quickly popped out and sent to the newly formed group. Along these same lines the portion of the military tasked with purchasing all types of supplies was the Quartermaster Corps. The Army had their own Quartermaster Corps, as did the Navy, both of which cooperated, but were usually tasked with much different problems. In this specific task, they were both looking for the same type of vendor to produce an item in great need by all branches of the services. Fast production was needed. So a style of construction was chosen which would lead to little changes needed by the producing factories. This was a simple matter in choosing a stacked leather handle that had been in continuous production since at least the turn of the century. Other then that simple order, any six inch bladed hunting knife would do.
Our good friend Carter Rila has made a great distinction between somewhat common words that will come into play with these knives. He distinguishes the word “type” and “pattern” for just such an occasion. A “pattern” is a knife made to a specific design, subtle differences are known to exist but the knife generally follows a pattern. A classic example would be a common USN Mark 2 knife. Made by Ka-Bar, Camillus, Pal, and Robeson Shuredge, they all look much the same following a specific pattern. A “type” is a knife purchased for a specific general task but not following a specific pattern. A classic example of a type is the USN Mark 1 knife. A five-inch bladed hunting knife that will fit a similar scabbard. The first fixed-blade knives procured were of the “type” designation. A six-inch bladed hunting knife with stacked leather handle. The Pal RH36, the Robeson/U.S.A., the Case 325-6 and the Queen City knives all fit this designation.

Right on the heels of the earliest procurements, the Quartermaster Corps standardized on a design for the six-inch bladed knives, and we find ourselves switching over to a “pattern” knife, the well-known Q knives.

We all know the military likes standardization, so it was only a matter of time until this happened. Designed by the Quartermaster Corps, the Bill of Materials list was number B/M No TJC7 dated 12/1/1942 the official nomenclature is: “Special Hunting Knives, 6”, No.225.” The Bill of Materials for 1000 knives included 904 lbs. of High Carbon hot rolled cutlery blade steel. Carbon content to be not less the 1.0% while not more the 1.1% (this amounts to basic 1095). For in the manufacture of the guards and butt plates, 211 lbs. cold-rolled SAE 1010 steel was specified. A later Bill of Materials was issued to Case with the knife designated No.337, we do not know the reason for this change, but suspect the change in handle design. These procurements were handled by the Jefferson City Quartermaster Depot, which had control over most of the cutleries in the Northeast U.S. We list the above as absolute proof that the Q knives were Quartermaster designed and procured for military issue. But you say we already knew that, it is part of that myth you were talking about. Well we still have more to the story.

Next we move on to contracts. If the knives were officially procured by the military, there must be a trail of contracts to follow. In many cases, the factories that made the knives no longer exist, and of those that do, much of the old paperwork was thrown away. They are not in the history business; they make knives for a living. With that said we managed to locate a file of all contracts listing purchase over $50,000 dollars. The file, known as the Alphabetical Listing of Major War Supply Contractors, was put out by the Civilian Production Administration, Industrial Statistics Division. It covers purchases from June 1940 to September 1945, when the huge cancellation order was put into effect. Looking up Cattaraugus, we find they had seven major contracts totaling over $1,238,000.00 for hunting knives. Even at the high price of $1.25 each, that would mean over one million knives were procured from 1942 through 1945 by Cattaraugus alone. Even if every Quartermaster supply clerk, sewing machine operator, driver, and baker had two knives issued to them, it would not have amounted to that total. To think these knives were only issued to Quartermaster personnel is ludicrous. Add to that total two contracts issued to Case for a total of $295,000.00, we can say with authority that these knives were procured for general issue to fighting men.

It should also be noted that the Quartermaster Corps did not procure items for sale by the P.X. system or for the Navy Ships Stores system. Private sales of these contract items were not an issue; the War Production Board would never have approved this much steel and labor. Let’s face it, the Quartermaster Corps designed these knives for military procurement and general issue to our fighting forces. Why they were never shown in the Quartermaster catalogs is a mystery, but it does not change the facts.

The first contract we find dated 12/1/1942, with the last one dated 12/1/1944, due for completion 6/1/1945. With that information, we can also state with certainty that the Q knives were produced for the entire duration of the U.S. involvement in the war. Of all the contracts cited above, the Navy only assigned one. The Army entered into all the remaining contracts. It is interesting to note that of the two Case contracts, the first, dated 2/1/1943, was for $213,000.00 to the Army, while the second contract for $82,000.00 was entered into by the Navy on 12/1/1944. We are going out on a limb here and speculating, something I hate to do mind you, but it fits the bill so nice. The more common of the Case knives found is the one marked “Case XX” while the knife marked “Case” only is rather uncommon to encounter. Could it be the different contract numbers correlate to the different markings? Could the “Case XX” knife be from the larger Army contract while the uncommon “Case” only marked knife from the Navy contract? Not that it would have been a specific request to change the marking, but more of an economic savings if Case were to use a stamping die they had in use at the time that did not have the “XX” in it. For the small run of knives, it would be safe to say that Case would not have went to the expense of having a die made if they did not already have one available. Additional research on the subject is needed to prove just such a fact. Speculate away folks; to me it is only a theory, yet to be validated through further investigation.

As for the knives themselves, they are about the most robust knives ever made for the military. The myth about opening crates could actually have some truth to it; these knives are capable of doing it. And the thick pommels are more then capable of driving nails, although a tent peg is much more likely to be struck by the butt. The Cattaraugus consists of a 1095 steel blade that is 6 inches in length with the knife having an overall length of 10 3/8 inches. The Case knife shares the same blade length, but comes in at 10 inches overall. To my hand, the longer Case handle is more comfortable, but the Catt is adequate to do the job. Both knives have a stacked leather washer handle, but the finish is very much different. The typical Catt knife has a smooth leather handle roughed up in the center section with gouges to the leather for a sure grip. The cutting tool intentionally applied the gouges; it is not a mistake. The Case knife is finished on a broaching wheel with 18 circular grooves which produces a much more professional and eye-pleasing result. Both knives allow a good grip surface, it’s just that the Case knife looks better. The pommels of the two knives are quite different. They both have the same dimensions, but the Case knife consists of one large piece of steel, while the Catt knife uses three independent steel disks stacked on top of each other and finished off with two nails driven through alignment holes on the disks into the leather. It is a simple yet ingenious system to secure the pommel with a minimum amount of trouble and it is extremely strong. In fact, I do not think I have ever seen a Q knife with the pommel broken off. Both knives have the pommel faces finished off in a waffle pattern. This could have no other reason that I am aware of other then preventing the pommel from slipping while hammering. Now whether driving nails or tent pegs you can take your choice, but there is no doubt it was made for hammering.

During the background search for this article, I was greatly aided by our esteemed editor Mark Zalesky who sent me newspaper clippings from the Buffalo Evening News Magazine. It was a short story on knives made in the area from the many cutleries doing business in the region. Dated April 7, 1945, it is almost at the end of the war but we were still battling at the time. In an interview with Mr. J.B.F. Champlin, President of Cattaraugus Cutlery, we find a very curious statement.

On the topic of the “Commando Knives” made there, Mr. Champlin states: “Handsome gadgets, men can use them to open boxes, drive nails, cut throats, open coconuts, and dig foxholes.” So here we find the basis for the myth, or perhaps the truth. While not specifically designed to open boxes the knives were expected to do just such duty among other things. We also find that Mr. Champlain’s son Jack, 21, was currently serving in Europe with the Quartermaster Corps. Coincidence you say? Maybe. They also stated Jack carried a 225Q knife made especially for him. Now that is a Q knife I would love to see!

Another contact made during the ongoing investigation was Chuck Karwan. Chuck is a well-known gun and knife writer who had written an article on the Q knives for Knives 98 Annual. I would suggest reading it if you haven’t already. It seems Chuck has a great appreciation for the Q knives. He lists them among his favorites. What many folks do not know is Mr. Karwan is a Vietnam combat veteran and continued to serve for many more years. Chuck has carried many knives in his time in the field, and to rank the Q knife up there as a favorite is a major statement. Mr. Karwan assisted me in the search and confirmed information from his many service friends on contracting entities.

So that about sums it up for the history on the Q knives for now. We can dispel the myth that they were private purchase knives. We have contracts to prove otherwise. We can say with certainty they were for general issue, not just for Quartermaster personnel by the sheer amount of the knives made. We can state as fact these knives were made to a specific pattern designed by the Quartermaster Corps, just like an M3 was made to a specific pattern designed by the Ordnance Corps, from the bill of materials listing. And last but not least, we can point to Mr. JBF Champlin who stated for a 1945 article that the knives could open boxes and drive nails, perhaps as the beginning of that often told tale.

I never could find a written specification as to “why” the left-handed sheath. The proper placement of the bayonet on the belt in the uniform of the time was on the left rear quadrant. The knife was designed to fit this same space hence the orientation of the sheath.

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