Why would staff officers carry swords during combat, in World War II?

Why would staff officers carry swords during combat, in World War II?

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I realise one purpose as ceremonial, as depicted in Lieutenant General Hatazō Adachi's surrender (eg this picture), but when Isoroku Yamamoto was killed,

his white-gloved hand [was still] grasping the hilt of his katana.

1. I understand the necessity to possess some kind of combat knife during combat, but why a sword?

2. I should also like to know if any modern soldier still carries a sword during combat.

Footnote: Adachi's surrender seems ironic, given his previous rebuke of the Takenaga incident, which I was reading when I encountered this picture.

I'm not sure why you think staff officers carried them for combat. They were not really the ones responsible for the actual fighting in the first place.

More generally, Japanese officers carried swords as accessories for their uniforms. The blades were both ceremonial as well as status symbols, because higher ranks were entitled to swords with special distinctive styles. For instance, General officers used swords with: "brown and red strap with gold wire, zig-zag stitching and yellow tassel1".

It is tempting to attribute the carrying of swords to the traditional association of samurai and the katana, but this was not the initial motivation. The practice in fact introduced in the late 19th century as a part of the Meiji reforms. In her effort to modernise her armed forces, Japan adopted western style uniforms. The standard blade introduced in Meiji 19 (1886) thus emulated the western sabre:

The traditional image of samurai did have an effect, but only much later. Western styled sabres were replaced by more traditional designs decades much later in the 1930s, after the rise of Japanese nationalism. The standard issue of Showa 9 (1934) resembles katanas much more:

And the 1938 standard issue:

The katana style swords remained the standard into and till the end of the Second World War, with another version coming out in 1943.

1: Jowett, Philip S. The Japanese Army 1931-45 (2): 1942-45. Vol. 2. Osprey Publishing, 2002.

From the Wikipedia article on Katana:

During the pre-World War II military buildup and throughout the war, all Japanese officers were required to wear a sword.

It sounds like you're not aware of the cultural significance of the katana. It is closely tied to the samurai warrior-ideal. Carrying a katana was one of the few real privileges left to the samurai class during the Edo period police state, when the samurai languished as a warrior class without any wars to fight. During that time, "being a warrior" became almost synonymous with "carrying a katana".

Making their officers carry katanas basically was a way to tie into that cultural heritage and reinforce the self-image of the soldiers as modern samurai (even though the samurai class had been abolised in the meantime and most officers were not from samurai families) and feel compelled to live up to that ideal (which included things like never surrendering).

Ironically, the requirement could only be satisfied by mass-producing katanas using industrial processes, and traditionalists were appalled at the quality and commodity character of those swords; I gather they are today considered somewhat of an embarrassment.


During the Meiji period, the samurai class was gradually disbanded, and the Haitōrei Edict in 1876 forbade the carrying of swords in public except for certain individuals such as former samurai lords (daimyōs), the military and police. [2] Skilled swordsmiths had trouble making a living during this period as Japan modernized its military and many swordsmiths started making other items such as cutlery. Military action by Japan in China and Russia during the Meiji Period helped revive the manufacture of swords and in the Shōwa period (1926–1989) before and during World War II swords were once again produced on a large scale. [3]

During the pre World War II military buildup and throughout the war, all Japanese officers were required to wear a sword. Traditionally made swords were produced during this period but, in order to supply such large numbers of swords, blacksmiths with little or no knowledge of traditional Japanese sword manufacture were recruited. In addition, supplies of the type of Japanese steel (tamahagane) used for sword making were limited so several other types of steel were substituted. Shortcuts in forging were also taken, such as the use of power hammers and tempering the blade in oil rather than hand forging and water tempering these measures created swords without the usual characteristics associated with Japanese swords.

The non-traditionally made swords from this period are called Shōwatō. In 1937, the Japanese government started requiring the use of special stamps on the tang to distinguish these swords from traditionally made swords. During this wartime period antique swords from older time periods were remounted for use in military mounts. In Japan, shōwatō are not considered to be true Japanese swords, and they can be confiscated. Outside Japan they are collected as historical artifacts. [4] [5] [6]

Kyū guntō (old military sword) Edit

The first standard sword of the Japanese military was known as the kyū guntō ( 旧軍刀 , old military sword) . Murata Tsuneyoshi (1838–1921), a Japanese general who previously made guns, started making what was probably the first mass-produced substitute for traditionally made samurai swords. These swords are referred to as Murata-tō and they were used in both the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). [7] The kyū guntō was used from 1875 until 1934, and many styles closely resembled European and American swords of the time, with a wraparound hand guard (also known as a D-guard) and chrome plated scabbard (saya), the steel scabbard is said to have been introduced around 1900. [8] [9]

Prior to 1945, many kyū guntō were distributed to commissioned officers to fill a demand for swords to Japan's expanding military officer classes. To distinguish individuality, wealth or craftsmanship, many swords were produced in batches as small as 1–25 to maintain the legacy of sword culture. Styles varied greatly, with inspirations drawn from swords of early periods, familial crests, and experimental artistic forms that the Meiji Restoration period had begun to introduce. Some examples have included European style silverworking, jade, cloisonné, or metalwork and paint for artistic relief. [10]

After the Second World War's conclusion, most produced guntō were made to resemble the traditionally cloth wrapped shin-gunto swords, but out of a solid metal casting. On later models the hilts were made of aluminum and painted to resemble the lacing (ito) on officer's shin-guntō swords. These swords will have serial numbers on their blades and are nearly always machine made. If the sword is all original, the serial numbers on the blade, tsuba, saya and all other parts should match.

Shin guntō (new military sword) Edit

The shin guntō ( 新軍刀 , new military sword) was a weapon and symbol of rank used by the Imperial Japanese Army between the years of 1935 and 1945. During most of that period, the swords were manufactured at the Toyokawa Naval Arsenal.

In response to rising nationalism within the armed forces, a new style of sword was designed for the Japanese military in 1934. The shin guntō was styled after a traditional slung tachi of the Kamakura Period (1185-1332). Officers' ranks were indicated by coloured tassels tied to a loop at the end of the hilt. The corresponding colors were brown-red and gold for generals brown and red for field officers brown and blue for company or warrant officers brown for sergeants, sergeants major or corporals. [11] The blades found in shin guntō ranged from modern machine made blades through contemporary traditionally-manufactured blades to ancestral blades dating back hundreds of years.

Type 94 Edit

The Type 94 shin guntō ( 九四式軍刀 , kyūyon-shiki guntō) officers' sword replaced the Western style kyu gunto in 1934. It had a traditionally constructed hilt (tsuka) with ray skin (same) wrapped with traditional silk wrapping (ito). A cherry blossom (a symbol of the Imperial Japanese Army) theme was incorporated into the guard (tsuba), pommels (fuchi and kashira), and ornaments (menuki).

The scabbard for the Type 94 was made of metal with a wood lining to protect the blade. It was often painted brown and was suspended from two brass mounts, one of which was removable and only used when in full dress uniform. The fittings on the scabbard were also decorated with cherry blossom designs.

Type 95 Edit

The Type 95 shin guntō ( 九十五式軍刀 , kyūgō-shiki guntō) released in 1935 was designed for use by non-commissioned officers (NCOs). It was designed to resemble an officer's shin guntō but be cheaper to mass-produce. All NCOs' swords had machine-made blades with deep fullers (bo hi) and a serial number stamped on the blade in arabic numerals. Initially the hilts were cast out of metal (either copper or aluminium) and painted to resemble the traditionally produced items on the officer's swords. They had brass guards similar to the officer's shin guntō.

By 1945 a simplified NCO sword was being produced. It had a simple wooden hilt with cross hatched grooves for grip. The scabbards were made from wood instead of metal and the guard and other fittings were made from iron instead of brass.

Type 98 Edit

The change to the Type 98 shin guntō ( 九八式軍刀 , kyūhachi-shiki guntō) occurred in 1938 and was essentially a simplification of the Type 94. There were only minor differences between early Type 98 swords and the Type 94 swords that preceded them. Most notably the second (removable) hanging point was omitted from the scabbard.

Many changes occurred to the Type 98 between 1938 and the end of the war in 1945. Late in the war Japan's supply of metal was drying up and shin guntō were produced with painted wooden scabbards, and with cheaper or no brass ornamentation. Some of the final swords produced in the last year of the war utilized cheap copper or blackened iron fittings.

Kaiguntō (naval sword) Edit

Kaiguntō ( 海軍刀 , naval sword) are the less common naval versions of the shin guntō. [12] Some kai gunto were produced with stainless steel blades. [13]

Why would staff officers carry swords during combat, in World War II? - History


Shin-gunto, army officers swords, are the most common style of sword mountings from the World War II era. There is an enormous difference in quality of both blades and mounts of this period. Many, perhaps most, of the blades found in shin-gunto mounts are NOT traditionally made swords . Many are machine made and therefore are of interest only as military relics, not as art swords. Some blades made during the war period were handmade but not by traditional methods. These are classified as either Showato, Muratato, Mantetsuto, Hantanzo or Yotetsuto depending on method of production.

There were swords made during this period that were made using traditional methods these are termed Gendaito or Kindaito. Some of the smiths making traditional swords during the war era are the Yasukuni Shrine smiths, those of the Gassan School, Chounsai Emura and Ichihara Nagamitsu among many others. Swords with stamps on their nakago (tangs) were made using non-traditional methods or materials, possible exceptions being some gendaito which bear star (Jumei Tosho) stamps, although this too is debated. (Check the list of Gendai swordsmiths for some of the major smiths making swords by traditional methods during the WW II period.) Some WW II era sword companies used specific logo on the scabbards and/or koshirae which they made or sold. These sword company logos do not necessarily indicate that the company made the sword. Some of these logo are simply of shops that sold swords during the war. The scabbards (saya) of shin-gunto swords are usually brown painted metal, although it is not uncommon to find tan, navy blue or black saya. Many will have leather field covers as well. Antique blades are occasionally encountered in shin-gunto mounts.

Late in the war era, two other styles of shin-gunto mounts were produced. These late 1944 style swords, sometimes (although incorrectly) called "Marine mounts" have dark brown, rough textured lacquered wood scabbards dark brown, lacquered "burlap" ito and iron fixtures with a stippled finish which are painted black. All manner of blades are found in these mounts, from machine-made to gendaito.

The other variation of the late 1944 swords has either a light brown or a tan iron scabbard and light brown or green wrapping (ito) over cloth. Blades found in these mountings are invariably of low quality and are machine made.

By 1945, there were numerous "desperation" end of war varieties of shin-gunto being produced both in Japan and in the areas of Japanese occupation. These swords have plain copper, brass or iron mounts, simple wire tassel loops, low grade brown/tan/green ito, and poorly constructed black painted wood saya, some with leather scabbard covers. Swords of this type are all of the poorest quality, made from low grade materials. None have traditionally made blades. They are swords in form only and of interest only as historical artifacts.

Prior to 1945, NCO shin-gunto, non-commissioned officers swords, have all metal tsukas (handles) made to resemble the traditionally cloth wrapped shin-gunto swords. The first model had an unpainted copper hilt. On later models the hilts were made of aluminum and painted to resemble the lacing (ito) on officer's shin-gunto swords. These swords will have serial numbers on their blades and are ALL machine made , without exception. The serial numbers are simple assembly or manufacturing numbers they are not serial numbers of blades as issued to specific soldiers. If the sword is all original, the serial numbers on the blade, tsuba, saya and all other parts should match.

In 1945, the NCO sword was changed to a simple wooden hilt with incised cross-hatching (no same' or ito) and plain, black painted iron mounts and a light brown to tan metal scabbard. Blades in these mounts are ALL machine made .

Russo-Japanese Style Mounts

Kyu-gunto swords, also called Russo-Japanese swords, were used by Army, Cavalry and Naval officers during the Russo-Japanese War and WW II. This style of mounting was used from 1883 until 1945. Like shin-gunto, a great variety of quality in both blades, traditional and machine made, and mounts is seen in kyu-gunto swords. Many variations are found in the scabbards of kyu-gunto swords including chromed metal, lacquered wood or leather covered wood with brass fixtures. Any style scabbard may have a leather field cover. Those swords with elongated hilts and mekugi (peg for holding blade into hilt) are more likely to have hand forged blades, while the swords lacking mekugi generally are machine made and may have chromed blades.

Different styles of kyu-gunto are often confused. The backstraps of naval kyu-gunto swords have no side pieces while army kyu-gunto and colonial swords have side pieces with various emblems on the backstrap.


As the Japanese occupied various territories in the 1930's and 1940's, they issued special swords to the colonial occupation officials. These swords were basically kyu-gunto with slight modifications. Each colonial region had a different emblem on the backstrap and sides of the backstrap representing the specific region. Colonial swords generally have machine made, chrome plated blades with etched hamon however, a hand-forged blade may be found in colonial mounts. Saya may be chromed or leather with brass mountings.

Kai-gunto swords were more commonly used by Japanese Naval officers. They may have rayskin covered saya which have been lacquered black or dark blue or black lacquered scabbards without rayskin. Some will have only a single hanger (ashi). The tsuka (handle) has same' (rayskin) of the same type and black or navy blue ito. The metal mounts are gilted brass. Blades found in kai-gunto mounts may be machine made, some are stainless steel, while others may be traditionally made.

Many of the stainless steel (taisabiko or sabinaito) kai-gunto were made at the Tenshozan Tanrenjo in Zushi near Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture. These blades were made exclusively for the Navy and sold through the Tenshozan store. They are signed on the nakago "Tenshozan Tanrenjo" (see nakago at left) and marked with an anchor stamp. The other main source of blades for the Navy was the Toyokawa Naval Arsenal. Many of these blades are unsigned except for an anchor stamp (different from the Tenshozan stamp) either alone or in a circle or sakura blossom (see common tang stamps above). Stainless steel blades are all considered machine made. Some maybe oil tempered (?), but on most the hamon is purely cosmetic. The Tenshozan Tanrenjo also made Naval dirks.


There are numerous other styles of Japanese military and civilian swords from the war era including diplomatic swords, court swords, cavalry sabers and others. Refer to the excellent work of Jim Dawson " Swords of Imperial Japan, 1868-1945" or some of Richard Fuller and Ron Gregory's numerous books on Japanese military swords.

Why would staff officers carry swords during combat, in World War II? - History

The RSM of a Unit carries a 'Pace Stick" which originated in the Artillery as a "Gunner's Stick" and was used to measure the distance between guns.

It was soon adapted to measure the length of the pace taken by soldiers to get them all pacing the same. The Pace Stick is actually two pieces of timber, hinged at the top and able to be set to a particular distance, something like the compass set you used at school.

Regimental Sergeant Major of The Army
Warrant Officer B.T. BOUGHTON, OAM (2002)

The Pace Stick - The Royal Regiment of Artillery was the originator of the pace stick. It was used by gunners to ensure correct distances between guns on the battlefield, thus ensuring the appropriate effective fire. The original stick was more like a walking stick, with a silver or ivory knob. It could not be manipulated like the modern pace stick as it only opened like a pair of callipers the infantry then developed the stick to its present configuration as an aid to drill. (from the Dept of Defence site)
  • The Pace Stick is two things.
    • It is a indicator of rank as it is only carried by the RSM, and
    • it is tool that is used to measure the pace (distance taken in a marching step) so that all soldiers get trained to 'pace' the same and
      • it is also used by the RSM when laying out the marker points on a parade ground so that the troops turn at the correct point and finish up at the correct point on ceremonial parades.
      A young Officer Cadet at Sandhurst Military College several years ago, was taken aside by a Guards Sergeant Major to be told that his performance on the drill square had been "distinctly sub-optimal". The Sergeant Major thrust his pace stick roughly into the ribs of the poor unfortunate and bellowed at him, "There is a complete idiot at the end of this pace stick." The cadet replied, "Not at this end, Sergeant Major."
      The ferrules on the end of a pace stick The hinged top of a pace stick
      Sgt Bryn Taylor, World Pace-Sticking Champion, 1999 >>

      The Royal Regiment of Artillery in Britain claims to be the originator of the pace stick. Their field gun teams used the pace stick to ensure correct distances between the guns. At that time the artillery used the pace stick in an open position, like a pair of calipers, and not like the drill stick which is adjustable to various settings.

      From the beginning the infantry used the pace stick as a drill aid. In 1982 Arthur Brand M.V.O. M.B.E. developed the drills for the pace stick. The stick he used is still carried by the Academy Sergeant Major at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

      Another such martial instrument is the "swagger stick," part of the officer's regalia when he is "walking out." Usually seen placed under the right arm pit, with the uplifted hand holding on to the stick's end, it was one of the most useless pieces of military equipment ever devised, but has served as an ideal instrument depicting the officer as gentleman.

      Returning to Australia in 1942, 2/2 Battalion was soon sent to New Guinea, while Green, suffering from illness and an injured foot, was hospitalised for some months. As major and second-in-command, he rejoined the unit in 1943, proceeding to New Guinea the following year. In March 1945, promoted acting lieutenant colonel, he took command of 2/11 Battalion, becoming, at the age of 25, the youngest Australian battalion commander of the war. For his leadership of the unit in the fighting around Wewak, Green was awarded the DSO. Post war, having trouble adjusting to peacetime life, he returned to Militia service as commander of his old 41 Battalion, and eventually joined the regular army in 1949. In mid 1950 he was taken from Staff College to lead 3 RAR, which was then preparing for active service in Korea. He took command in September 1950, and led the unit in a series of highly successful actions against North Korean forces, but died of wounds caused by an enemy shell while he was asleep in his tent near the Tokchon River on 31 October. A decisive and energetic leader, Charlie Green was revered by his men, and considered to be one of Australia's finest battlefield commanders.

      Decorative head of a USAF Swagger stick, 2004.

      Current model swagger stick, available in brown or black, with matching stand. The stick is tipped with a .50 bullet & shell. Available from Christies.

      by Blackie Cahill , Colonel of Marines, USMC

      Here is some information on the swagger stick. Probably the best description of it's function may be quoted from a British Regimental Sergeant Major instructing new officers. "Now gentlemen, the swagger stick is not for rattling along railings, cleaning out drains at home, or swiping the heads of poor innocent little flowers. Nor is it for poking into stomachs or for fencing duels in the mess line. No, gentlemen, it is to make you walk like officers and above all to keep your hands out of your pockets".

      In the Marine Corps, the swagger stick came into vogue in the latter part of the 19th century, and was a required article of uniform until WWI. The first actual presentation of the swagger stick was made in 1569 when Charles IX of France made his brother Henry a Generalissimo and gave him one to signify his appointment.

      In 1959, the Marine Corps had a new commandant. General D. M. Shoup had changes on his mind when he took over the position. Most famous of these changes was the banishing of the swagger stick to a place on the closet shelf next to the "Sam Browne" belt . Shoup stated that a clean, neat, well fitted uniform with the Marine Corps emblem was tops. "There is one piece of equipment about which I have a definite opinion. It is the swagger stick.

      It shall remain an optional item of interference, if you feel the need, carry it." The swagger stick almost disappeared over night. The fact that the carrying of a club denoted authority is almost as old as history itself. Despite the American prejudice against military show, swagger sticks appear from time to time with official sanction of local commanders.

      Not only do they satisfy the human desire for something to occupy the hands, but they also help combat that horrible and most undesirable tendency of putting your hands in your pockets. I carried the swagger stick until just before I retired in 1978 when it was deleted from the Clothing Manual as an item.

      At no time did any senior officer suggest to me that I put it on the shelf. I was definitely in the minority. Other Marines of equal and lower ranks would confide in me that they also would carry it, but didn't want to make a statement. To me it was a question of guts. On the bulkhead in my egomania room I have a plaque with four of my swagger sticks.

      Two are official as officer and SNCO sticks. Another, with a .50 caliber cartridge at one end and the bullet at the other, I carried in Vietnam when I commanded a Marine Infantry Battalion, at Khe Sanh. I hope this will provide you with some of the information that you are looking for.

      Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since 11 Nov 2002

      Medical services in the British armed services date from the formation of the Standing Regular Army after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. This was the first time a career was provided for a Medical Officer (MO), both in peacetime and in war. [2] For much of the next two hundred years, army medical provision was mostly arranged on a regimental basis, with each battalion arranging its own hospital facilities and medical supplies. In 1793 an Army Medical Board was formed, which promoted a more centralised approach drawing on concurrent civilian healthcare practices. [3] The Board set up five General Military Hospitals, four in the naval ports of Chatham, Deal, Plymouth and Gosport (Portsmouth), and one (known as the York Hospital) in Chelsea the hospitals received large numbers of sick and injured soldiers from the French Revolutionary Wars (so much so that by 1799 additional General Military Hospitals were set up in Yarmouth, Harwich and Colchester Barracks). [4] The Board was criticised, for both high expenditure and poor management by the end of the century the Board had been disestablished, and the General Hospitals were closed or repurposed not long afterwards. [5]

      In place of the Army Medical Board, the office of Director-General of the Medical Department was instituted, with James McGrigor serving in that role from 1815 to 1851. [3] McGrigor, who has been called the Father of Army Medicine, [6] had served as principal medical officer under the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War, during which time he had introduced significant changes in the organisation of the army's medical services, placing them on a far more formal footing. [7] The regimental basis of appointment for MOs continued until 1873, when a coordinated army medical service was set up. To join, a doctor needed to be qualified, single, and aged at least 21, and then undergo a further examination in physiology, surgery, medicine, zoology, botany and physical geography including meteorology, and also to satisfy various other requirements (including having dissected the whole body at least once and having attended 12 midwifery cases) the results were published in three classes by an Army Medical School, which was set up in 1860 at Fort Pitt in Chatham, [8] and moved in 1863 to Netley outside Southampton. [9]

      There was much unhappiness in the Army Medical Service in the following years as medical officers did not have military rank but "advantages corresponding to relative military rank" (such as choice of quarters, rates of lodging money, servants, fuel and light, allowances on account of injuries received in action, and pensions and allowances to widows and families). They had inferior pay in India, excessive amounts of Indian and colonial service (being required to serve in India six years at a stretch), and less recognition in honours and awards. They did not have their own identity as did the Army Service Corps, whose officers did have military rank. A number of complaints were published, and the British Medical Journal campaigned loudly. For over two years from 27 July 1887 there were no recruits to the Army Medical Department. A parliamentary committee reported in 1890, highlighting the doctors' injustices. There was no response from the Secretary of State for War. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and others redoubled their protests. [10] Eventually, in 1898, officers and soldiers providing medical services were incorporated into a new body known by its present name, the Royal Army Medical Corps its first Colonel-in-Chief was Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. [11]

      The RAMC began to develop during the Boer War of 1899–1902. The Corps itself lost 743 officers and 6130 soldiers in the war. However, far more of them, and thousands more of the sick and wounded they treated, would have died if it had not been for the civilian doctors working in South Africa as volunteers—such as Sir Frederick Treves, Sir George Makins, Sir Howard Henry Tooth and Professor Alexander Ogston—who, having seen how unprepared to deal with epidemics the RAMC and the Army itself were, decided that a radical reform was needed. Chief among them was Alfred Fripp, who had been chosen by the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital Committee to order all the necessary materials and medical personnel, and oversee the setting-up of a private hospital at Deelfontein to cater, initially, for 520 'sick and wounded.' The contrast between the smooth working of the IYH at Deelfontein with the chaos of the RAMC hospitals, where an enteric epidemic had overwhelmed the staff, led to questions in Parliament, mainly by William Burdett-Coutts. In July 1901 the first meeting of the Committee of Reform took place, with all the aforementioned civilian experts, plus Sir Edwin Cooper Perry, making up half the number the rest were Army men, and included Alfred Keogh, whom the new Secretary of State for War, St John Brodrick, later Earl of Midleton, appointed Chairman of this Committee and the subsequent Advisory Committee. Neither would have met so soon—if at all—but for Fripp's concern to limit unnecessary suffering, and for his ten years' friendship with the new King, Edward VII. Fripp showed him his plans for reform and the King made sure that they were not shelved by his government. Part of his plan was to move the Netley Hospital and Medical School to a Thames-side site at Millbank, London. Cooper Perry, Fripp's colleague from Guy's Hospital, was instrumental in making this happen, as well as using his formidable talents as an organizer in other services for the Reform Committee. Fripp and Cooper Perry were knighted for their services to the RAMC Committee of Reform in 1903. [12]

      During the First World War, the corps reached its apogee both in size and experience. The two people in charge of the RAMC in the Great War were Arthur Sloggett, [13] the senior RAMC officer seconded to the IYH in Deelfontein who acquiesced in all Fripp's surprising innovations, and Alfred Keogh, whom Fripp recommended to Brodrick as an RAMC man well-regarded when Registrar of No.3 General Hospital in Cape Town. [14] Its main base was for long the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital at Millbank, London (now closed). [15] It set up a network of military general hospitals around the United Kingdom [16] and established clinics and hospitals in countries where there were British troops. Major-General Sir William Macpherson of the RAMC wrote the official Medical History of the War (HMSO 1922). [17]

      Before the Second World War, RAMC recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 2 inches tall, and could enlist up to 30 years of age. They initially enlisted for seven years with the colours, and a further five years with the reserve, or three years and nine years. They trained for six months at the RAMC Depot, Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Church Crookham, before proceeding to specialist trade training. [18] The RAMC Depot moved from Church Crookham to Keogh Barracks in Mytchett in 1964. [19]

      The Attitude towards Combat Medics during WWII

      There was not a single, unanimously agreed upon code of conduct towards the medics who tend the wounded in the combat zones during WWII. The attitude towards the medics wholly depended upon the combatants and theatre.

      In the North African region and most part of Western Europe, troops were very considerate of the medics, and mostly restrained from engaging with any personnel associated with the medical team. There were a number of incidences where both sides agreed on some sort of a truce to allow the medics to tend the wounded and evacuate them from the battlefields.

      Following are a few of the episodes that give a varying account of the treatment medics had to endure during the Second World War. A detailed account is available in Gerald F. Lindeman’s book ‘The World Within War: America’s combat Experience in World War II’.

      In 1945, three men from the US 9 th Infantry Division deployed near Reagan were on a routine patrol, when they came across a German soldier. Upon investigation they found out that the soldier in question was actually a doctor. He also told the American soldiers that he had other members of his medical team stuck in the woods since their truck had no gas. US infantrymen sent a soldier to get them gas and handed them over to the Germans, all 43 of them. This was a strange gesture because Germans were already low on medics and were in dire need of medical attention.

      In a separate incident, a wounded American soldier was calling for help but no one could dare get him out of the line of fire. There came a stage when the soldier started crying out of pain, a medic could not see this anymore and decided to help the wounded soldier. He took his Red Cross flag and went to help him, anticipating that he would not get shot since he was a medic. Instead he was instantly cut into two with a machine gun burst from a SS soldier, who kept on firing at him and at the wounded soldier, almost as if he was enjoying it. Reportedly a number of SS soldiers used wounded soldiers as bait to get more kills under their belt.

      Although one can conclude from above mentioned examples that German Army was barbarian and did not respect medics while US and Allies did, however this could not be any further from truth. Allied forces especially Canadian troops gained this reputation during the war for not respecting the surrender of enemy troops or firing at the medics. There are many examples on Allied sides as well regarding unnecessary killing of German medics. This was primarily because German medics were allowed to carry a pistol with them, whereas Allied medics were completely unarmed, the SF Gate reports.

      In the Pacific theatre, there was no example of niceties from both sides. Both US and Japan considered anything from the enemy side a legitimate target and often medics and war journalists got the bullet.

      The stories of the medics and war journalists in the First and then Second World War are often buried under the heroic tales of the troops, but these medics faced equal peril and faced same problems, just like regular armed troops.

      Men Against Fire: How Many Soldiers Actually Fired Their Weapons at the Enemy During the Vietnam War

      In a squad of 10 men, on average fewer than three ever fired their weapons in combat. Day in, day out — it did not matter how long they had been soldiers, how many months of combat they had seen, or even that the enemy was about to overrun their position. This was what the highly regarded Brigadier General Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, better known as S.L.A. Marshall, or ‘Slam,’ concluded in a series of military journal articles and in his book, Men Against Fire, about America’s World War II soldiers. Marshall had been assigned as a military analyst for the U.S. Army in both the Pacific and Europe. The American, he concluded, comes ‘from a civilization in which aggression, connected with the taking of life, is prohibited and unacceptable….The fear of aggression has been expressed to him so strongly and absorbed by him so deeply and pervadingly — practically with his mother’s milk — that it is part of the normal man’s emotional make-up. This is his great handicap when he enters combat. It stays his trigger finger even though he is hardly conscious that it is a restraint upon him.’

      Marshall’s claims did not go unchallenged, but despite the disagreements they were widely accepted as truth both within the nation’s military and by those writing about the war and its American fighting force. Marshall continued in his role as analyst and self-proclaimed military historian before, during and after the Korean War, authoring many more books and frequently appearing as a guest lecturer at Fort Leavenworth and other installations around the United States. It is not an exaggeration to say that he was more or less a living legend by the mid-1960s. Largely due to his influence, noncommissioned officers and officers sent to Vietnam at the beginning of the American buildup were concerned that their soldiers and Marines would not fire at the enemy.

      The American fighting man made sure that these concerns were short-lived. He showed little hesitation to use a rifle, pistol, shotgun, machine gun, grenade launcher or whatever other weapon he carried. Marshall himself visited Vietnam to conduct studies similar to those done during World War II and later emulated in Korea. He concluded that much had changed since those earlier conflicts and that it was not unusual for close to 100 percent of American infantrymen to engage the adversary during firefights in Vietnam. It seemed that all was well. Marshall had seemingly found that the Americans’ hesitation to fire was all but gone.

      Some 20 years later, the validity of Marshall’s analysis was called into doubt. Respected researchers interviewed those who had accompanied him in World War II and also pored over his personal notes during the mid-1980s. Convincing evidence pointed to his having fabricated his World War II ratio-of-fire values, still so widely accepted at the time. The question seemed inevitable: Had there been a problem with Americans’ willingness to engage the enemy in World War II? If so, had it actually been rectified during the Vietnam War as Marshall claimed, or was the research done there just as flawed as had been the case a quarter of a century before?

      The concern was fundamental to the nation’s military readiness. Americans would die needlessly and wars would be much extended if U.S. troops failed to perform the essential act of firing on the enemy. Compelled to determine whether a problem existed, I conducted a survey of 258 1st Cavalry Division Vietnam veterans in 1987. My motivation had nothing to do with determining Americans’ willingness to use their weapons in World War II any results from Vietnam would not apply to a war fought decades before. The question was whether there might be an existing problem in the U.S. armed forces. Despite Marshall’s fall from grace, there were those who had agreed with him. The issue was important enough to investigate rigorously. Since Vietnam was the most recent U.S. war, its veterans were the men who could provide answers to critical questions addressing willingness to fire. Ultimately it was their responses that formed the basis for a detailed study of this issue and the influence of training, the 12-month rotation and the six-month command tour on the American fighting man’s combat performance. The results of that study were published in 2000 in the book Reading Athena’s Dance Card: Men Against Fire in Vietnam. This article summarizes those findings relating to whether men fired their weapons and what factors influenced their willingness to do so.

      Only nine of the 1st Cavalry Division veterans reported that they never personally fired on the enemy, a far different result from what Marshall had written was the case in the Pacific and Europe. But some might suspect that a man would hesitate to admit his own shortcomings under fire. The veterans were therefore also asked to reflect on the performance of their comrades in arms. When asked what portion of their fellow soldiers fired during any given engagement, the veterans estimated that about 84 percent of a unit’s men armed with individual weapons (rifles, pistols, grenade launchers, shotguns) and approximately 90 percent of those manning crew-served weapons (generally the M-60 machine gun) did so.

      From these responses it seems that Americans in Vietnam had little hesitation to engage their enemy. Yet the observations of these veterans prompt the question of why, on average, nearly two of every 10 men were not firing when their unit was in contact. The apparent problem was not of the magnitude Marshall had reported for World War II, but losing the firepower of so many soldiers was still no small matter. In a unit with 500 riflemen, some 80 would not engage. Unlike the numbers from Marshall’s work, these estimates came directly from the men who had fought in the cities, jungles, firebases and rice paddies of Vietnam. Why did so many not fire?

      No single factor explains it. A man’s duty position was one critical element. Soldiers surveyed in the 1st Cavalry Division can in general be said to have come from one of two basic groups. The primary job of the first group was to engage the enemy with small-arms fire. These men served as riflemen, machine-gunners, helicopter door gunners, vehicle crewmen or others who were to kill the adversary with the weapon they carried. The second basic group consisted of others who accompanied those of the first group. It included men who might sometimes fire on the adversary, but that was not their primary responsibility. These Marines and soldiers were squad leaders, first sergeants, platoon leaders and company commanders directing maneuvers, distributing ammunition, calling for fire or performing the many other tasks that success in a firefight demanded. They included assistant machine-gunners, whose first responsibilities were to load an M-60 and help the gunner to identify targets. Others were artillery forward observers who called for and directed artillery and aircraft fire medics caring for the wounded engineers destroying bunkers, removing mines or investigating tunnel complexes chaplains radio operators passing information or pilots flying helicopters.

      In the case of the second group, vital duties were left undone if on contact these men first raised rifle to shoulder or drew a pistol to engage. There were occasions when firing their weapons was essential, but many times their choice to engage rather than perform their other duties would have done more harm than good. Lieutenant General Harold Moore recalled what his responsibilities as commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, demanded of him in his classic book We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. Moore noted that he was tempted by the opportunity to join his riflemen in firing on the enemy during fighting at LZ X-Ray in 1965, but he ‘resisted the temptation. I had no business getting involved with the actions of only one company. I might get pinned down and become simply another rifleman. My duty was to lead riflemen.’ For a very different reason, chaplains rarely engaged the enemy. Regulations proscribed men in those positions from carrying weapons, though some felt compelled to do so in a war in which medics and chaplains, who were not legitimate targets under accepted rules of war, were shot and killed nonetheless.

      But even the men whose primary job was to engage the enemy found that at times they could not fire. Location was a second factor that determined whether a man pulled, or should have pulled, the trigger of his weapon. A soldier at the tail of a column winding through the dense foliage of a Southeast Asian jungle might hear an engagement to his front, yet be unable to see where his comrades were located. If he fired, he risked shooting his own men. That same infantryman might later be on the perimeter of a defensive position when the enemy attacked the other side of his firebase. Sluing his weapon around in the dark and firing meant those bullets could strike other defenders in the back.

      And it should be no surprise that at times fear kept men from firing. Although the habitual coward was rare, 80 percent of those explaining why a fellow soldier did not fire cited fear as one of the causes. Yet these respondents noted at the same time that fear was generally a passing condition a man not engaging on one occasion could be expected to use his weapon later in the same engagement, or during subsequent battles. Sometimes what appeared to be fear was really common sense, based on an accurate assessment of the situation. A man could be pinned down by heavy and accurate incoming fire. Given that everybody in a unit rarely faced such focused attention, men would wait until the enemy pointed their weapons elsewhere before engaging. One veteran recalled situations when ‘many soldiers don’t return fire because they are behind a tree or log under heavy suppressive fire. Once artillery or other units create a distraction of fire with the enemy, these same soldiers will return fire with relish.’ Another bitterly recalled that his platoon leader ‘chickened out and let a large NVA force through our ambush without engaging them,’ perhaps because he had been fearful. Then again, perhaps it was good judgment on the part of an experienced lieutenant. It was not unusual for an ambush party to let the enemy pass because the Americans were so greatly outnumbered that engaging would have led to disaster. Several veterans recalled that they had been on ambushes where they did not spring the trap for just such a reason.

      Level of personal experience could be linked to how scared a man was. New men were too frequently overwhelmed by the sudden roar of a contact, the flying debris of dust, leaves and wood. Even experienced men could find such situations difficult they were potentially terrifying when first encountered. The consequence of a replacement’s failure to respond could sometimes mean the new man’s death. A 1st Cavalry Division veteran recalled one recent arrival who lost his life ‘because he was apparently looking for a foxhole with a concrete lining. As he was dying, he kept saying, `I couldn’t find a hole.’ He was hit about 10 to 15 seconds after we received the first shots and was standing up looking confused. He didn’t respond to the `get down’ yells by other troops.’ Another soldier concluded that when someone failed to fire, it ‘was usually during their first firefight experience and was mainly due to fear or the unsure feeling of how to respond.’ A third admitted that this was undoubtedly the case for at least one rifleman: himself. He wrote that he did not fire in one of his first encounters with the enemy due to fear, adding, ‘I am ashamed to admit this.’ Not firing on one or two occasions did not mean the same man’s response would not be far different during a subsequent event, however. And in fact fear could also have just the opposite effect, as was the case with a veteran who recalled that he was ‘too damned scared to do anything else than shoot and hope I did not get shot.’

      Weapons malfunctions sometimes kept a man from engaging even if he wanted to — as did unfamiliarity with a weapon. Controversy regarding the M-16 rifle and its variants developed soon after it was designated as the rifleman’s primary weapon in the theater. Many veteran respondents remained bitter about what they perceived to be a failure to properly train them during the transition from the M-14 to the newer rifle. A considerable number recalled how the weapon they used during basic and advanced individual training was the older M-14, but that the M-16 was issued on their arrival in Vietnam. Too often these men received inadequate training on the unfamiliar rifle before they were committed to active operations. Others are equally passionate about the M-16’s alleged mechanical unreliability. Whether he carried an M-16 or some other weapon, a soldier was fortunate if a rapid reaction drill corrected the problem. If not, a replacement weapon had to be found either during or after the firefight. In either case, the warrior was under fire with no means to engage his attackers.

      The assigned mission at times meant that actions other than killing the enemy had a higher priority. Units on intelligence collection operations frequently let a threat pass by unmolested. The members of these patrols sometimes called for artillery to engage the targets after they passed in other instances, the Americans simply reported what they had seen. Firing their weapons risked compromising a patrol’s position, whereas resisting the temptation could provide the information-collectors with several more days of unmolested activity. Given the difficulty of inserting a patrol in many instances, preserving secrecy could easily outweigh the immediate benefit of a few enemy taken under fire.

      Similarly, good tactics at times meant that a soldier did not use his primary weapon, if he engaged at all. Experienced units often shifted some if not all of their men just before or after darkness fell so that the NVA or VC could not mark American locations for attack later that night. Enemy sappers routinely made post-sunset attempts to determine the location of U.S. perimeter defensive positions. They sought to cause the Americans to fire so that muzzle flashes would give the defenders’ positions away. Determining the location of heavy weapons such as machine guns was especially desirable those were primary targets during any attack because of their greater killing potential. Men in well-trained units knew when to detonate a Claymore mine, call for mortar or artillery support, or throw a grenade instead of using a rifle, pistol, machine gun or grenade launcher. These alternatives were means of dealing with a threat without compromising firing positions.

      Personal beliefs did play a role, though a far less pervasive one than Marshall claimed was the case during World War II. Conscientious objectors accompanied infantry units into combat as medics, ammunition bearers for machine guns, or in other noncombatant roles. They often put themselves at greater risk by not carrying weapons. If the 1st Cavalry Division respondents reflect the majority veteran view, such men generally performed their duties well and were often respected for their convictions. A veteran respondent remembered that he ‘had a medic who was a conscientious objector in the platoon. He chose not to carry a weapon during his tour. When asked if he would fire a weapon if our platoon was being overrun and some of his buddies might die if he did not, his answer was that he `would not fire a weapon.’ He was still respected for his deep conviction against weapons.’

      A unit could be in a no-fire zone, an area in which using weapons was prohibited. Poor training that improperly prepared soldiers for combat underlay other cases of failing to engage. In at least one instance a man turned to point out an enemy soldier rather than firing as he should have. Finally, one veteran recalled his simply being outgunned as he stood ‘naked on top of a shower stall put-ting water in. I threw the water can at the enemy, but the round fell way short.’

      The list is not exhaustive, but it helps to explain why a unit might have several men not engaging despite being under fire. Often every man fired during a contact at other times, only a few had the opportunity. And there were occasions when fear, cowardice, poor judgment or confusion kept men from employing weapons against their foes when they should have. However, such occasions were the exception in Vietnam.

      It is evident that the vast majority of those whose duties put them in harm’s way fired when the situation dictated they should do so. But what factors influenced how many times a man had the opportunity to engage the enemy during his time in Southeast Asia? Were there factors that made it more likely for some men to fire than others? We already know that duty position had such an effect, but the likelihood that someone engaged varied even among those whose primary job was to shoot to kill. More than a third of the 1st Cavalry Division veterans fired on the NVA or VC less than 15 times while in-country. Nearly 80 percent engaged 50 or fewer times. Members of one group in particular, however, consistently saw much more action: aviators and their door gunners. Enlisted men, warrant officers and commissioned officers who flew or crewed aircraft tended to have considerably more engagements on average. A third of this group engaged the enemy more than 100 times fewer than half fired on the enemy less than 50 times.

      Besides influencing whether and how often a man fired, duty position also greatly affected his chances of coming home alive. On average, two 1st Cavalry Division soldiers awoke to their last sunrise every day of the 612 years the unit was in Vietnam. Riflemen, door gunners and others who served at the cutting edge, men like the vast majority of those who took my survey, were of course more likely to suffer wounds than others in less exposed specialties.

      Climate was another element that made a given day more or less likely to involve enemy contact. The northern part of South Vietnam normally had its rainy season from September to January, the southern part from May to September. That meant enemy infiltration routes were difficult to travel during all but the February-to-May period. Not surprisingly, American units (and the French before them) suffered their largest numbers of casualties during these late winter and spring months.

      Likewise, men quickly learned where the chances of enemy contact were greater. That was true locally, in that a given village or region habitually had more contacts than did others in the vicinity. It was also true at the province level. Three of South Vietnam’s provinces (Quang Tri, Quang Nam and Thua Thien) accounted for more than 40 percent of American casualties. More than three-quarters of U.S. servicemen were killed in action in just 10 of the country’s more than 40 provinces.

      Time likewise played its part. Although it was not evident until after the war, 1968 was undeniably the year in which the chances of being killed were greatest. It was the only year during the U.S. participation in the conflict in which more than 10,000 Americans lost their lives. For every 1,000 Americans in Vietnam in 1968, 28 died, a higher ratio than in any other year.

      Time influenced fatalities in another way, too. The amount of combat experience played a dominating role in the likelihood a man survived. The replacement who was killed while in a panic-stricken search for a ‘concrete foxhole’ lost his chance to learnthe skills needed to survive. Veterans repeatedly cited how vulnerable the new man was until he had a chance to learn the ropes after arriving in the combat theater. The chances that a man would die during his first three months in Vietnam were virtually equal to those for the last nine months of his tour combined. The likelihood that a man survived to return home alive dramatically increased if he lived long enough to discover the lessons of war.

      A nation sending its youth to war must prepare them well if those individuals are to survive the experience. Veterans who responded to the survey regarding their months at war passed on many thoughts regarding their performance, expectations, weapons, training, the 12-month tour of duty and the six-month command tour. The lessons of Vietnam are there for those willing to learn.

      This article was written by Russell W. Glennt and originally published in the April 2002 issue of Vietnam Magazine.

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      ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill: The Officer Who Carried a Sword, Bagpipes, and a Longbow Into Battle

      The German Wehrmacht and Adolf Hitler’s panzer corps devastated the British military through France and Belgium. Hitler twice stopped his forces from delivering the kill shot on British troops at the French port known as Dunkirk — the location of one of the largest naval evacuations in history. Historians predict that Hitler’s decision to halt his army for three days in May 1940 was to give Winston Churchill, Britain’s new prime minister at the time, “ a sporting chance ” — despite having them completely surrounded.

      While Hitler and Churchill were making strategic moves far and away from front-line combat on the battlefield, another Churchill was gaining near-mythical status for his otherworldly tactics, brazen leadership, and his mystifying ability to confuse the enemy and inspire his peers. On May 27, 1940, Lt. Col. John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill stood at the base of a tower and watched a German patrol approach a hill overlooking the French village of L’Epinette .

      The first Nazi officer who appeared in sight was hit center mass from 30 yards — sparking the signal for the ambush. The German’s deadly wound was not from a gunshot but from an arrow fired from a longbow . Alongside two infantrymen from the Manchester Regiment, Churchill unsheathed his basket-hilted claymore medieval sword and commanded orders to maneuvering elements to take out the remaining German patrol. The British officer’s legend leading men in combat armed with a bow and arrow was born, and throughout World War II he repeatedly proved the worth of his nicknames — “Mad Jack” and “Fighting Jack.”

      But who exactly was “Mad Jack” Churchill, and what emboldened him to carry medieval weapons into modern combat?

      Churchill was born in British-controlled Hong Kong and raised among Anglo-Scottish parents in England alongside his two brothers, Thomas and Robert (both would also have stellar World War II exploits). He received his education at a private institution called King William’s College on the Isle of Man and Royal Military College in Sandhurst, England. Here he fostered a passion for history and poetry and had a romanticism toward adventure that birthed a broader fascination for castles, plants, animals, and insects.

      He was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in 1926 and arrived in Rangoon, Burma, to receive further training. He rode a Zenith motorcycle 1,500 miles from his signals course in Poona, India, mistakenly crashing into a water buffalo along the way. In Burma, he balanced his motorcycle on railroad ties as he listened for any signs of oncoming trains. While on duty he participated in flag marches traveling down the Irrawaddy River, Burma’s largest and most frequented commercial highway, to visit villages to collect intelligence on suspected bandits.

      Before he left Burma and later the Army with a decade of service in 1936, he learned to play the bagpipes in Maymyo — now known as Pyin Oo Lwin — Mayanmar, an interest piqued by his Scottish heritage. He worked as a newspaper editor in Nairobi, Kenya, and his chiseled jawline led to gigs in male modeling . The adventurer gained attention in England as an entertainer, took a small role in the 1924 film The Thief of Baghdad to advise on archery techniques, and even showcased those skills from 200 yards at the World Archery Championships held in Oslo, Norway, in 1939.

      After earning the statistic for the last bow and arrow kill by a British officer in combat, Churchill volunteered for No. 2 Commando, a special operations unit that gained notorious status for daring coastal raids. Dressed in a kilt and holding a set of bagpipes, Churchill played an impressive rendition of the tune March of the Cameron Men before the commandos took part in the ironically named Operation Archery (sometimes called the Måløy Raid), against German positions on the island of Vågsøy, Norway.

      During the Italian amphibious landings in Sicily and Salerno he personally captured 42 German soldiers and an 81mm mortar team armed with only his sword. “In my opinion, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed,” Churchill later reasoned . During a nighttime commando raid in Yugoslavia on the island of Brac, Churchill was wounded, captured, and imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. He tunneled a route out of the prison camp with another Royal Air Force prisoner but was captured and transferred to a more secure location in Austria, where he successfully escaped once more.

      He was found by an American reconnaissance unit eight days later walking on a busted ankle after train hopping 150 miles across the Swiss Alps near Brenner pass . Following the war and into his 40s, he rescued an estimated 500 Jewish doctors and patients held hostage at a hospital in Jerusalem after the Hadassah Convoy Massacre in 1948.

      “People are less likely to shoot at you if you are smiling at them,” he quipped while holding his blackthorn cane. In the 1950s, “Mad Jack” retired from military service with two Distinguished Service Order awards and found a passion for refurbished steamboats along the Thames. He also participated in motorcycle speed trials to quench his thirst for excitement.

      “He didn’t brag about these things at all, but he would be happy to talk to anyone who asked, particularly if it was over a couple of nice glasses of wine in the evening,” his son Malcolm later said . Churchill was a humble warrior beyond what history proclaimed. He died in 1996 at age 89.

      But it worked—most of the time

      You wicked piece of vicious tin!/Call you a gun? Don’t make me grin./You’re just a bloated piece of pipe./You couldn’t hit a hunk of tripe./But when you’re with me in the night,/I’ll tell you, pal, you’re just alright!

      —“Ode to a Sten Gun,” by S.N. Teed

      Few weapons in the modern era ever had a poem penned its honor. But few weapons were ever like the Sten gun.

      Hastily contrived in the early, desperate days of World War II, it looked like a last-ditch effort to arm British troops—and it was.

      Terrified Britons knew they did not have enough weapons to repel a German invasion force. The British lost thousands of small arms that were destroyed or simply abandoned after the devastating rout at Dunkirk.

      Bolt-action rifles from the Great War and hunting guns were often the only firearms available for some units. The British Army purchased every Thompson submachine gun it could acquire from the United States, but demand soon outpaced supply once the U.S. entered the war.

      But two British weapons designers—Maj. Reginald Shepherd and Harold Turpin—worked together to create a simple, blowback-operated submachine gun that could be quickly and cheaply made from machined steel.

      The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield produced a prototype—take the “S” from Shepherd, the “T” from Turpin and the “EN” from Enfield and you have the weapon’s name.

      Produced in both Great Britain and Canada starting in 1941, the Sten was often quickly welded together, the slag filed off and the completed gun then thrown in a pile with others of its kind. However, the Canadian weapons often had better production quality, with smoother edges and better tolerances.

      It took about five man-hours to make one weapon and the Sten cost about $10 to produce—about $130 a weapon today when you account for inflation.

      The Thompson, which was the gold standard of submachine guns at the time, was beautifully made but exceptionally expensive. In today’s dollars, it cost an eye-popping $2,300 per weapon to produce.

      Both countries manufactured more than four million Sten guns during World War II. In addition, partisan groups with access to machine shops often cranked out their own Sten gun copies because it was so easy to make.

      It weighed seven pounds empty, nine pounds with a loaded magazine of 28 to 30 rounds. If kept clean and well-maintained it could be an excellent weapon capable of devastating fire.

      Firing more than 500 rounds per minute—sometimes more, depending on the version—designers chambered the Sten for the nine-millimeter Parabellum round, which was the most commonly used pistol round in European militaries. When pressed, a stud allowed the gunner to select semi-auto fire as well.

      The choice of bullet was inspired. Users of the Sten usually had no trouble obtaining ammo for the gun wherever they used it, particularly if they raided German stocks of ammunition.

      Tens of thousands of Stens were parachute-dropped to partisans in Europe and Asia for use against the Germans and Japanese. Suppressed versions of the weapon were also available for covert operations.

      Still, descriptions of the Sten often were downright insulting. Some of the more printable epithets include “The Woolworth Special,” “The Plumbers Delight” and “The Stench Gun.”

      You couldn’t blame the soldiers for calling it names. It looked like it was assembled from bits and pieces found in a hardware store—in fact, some of the Sten’s essential parts in early models such as springs were originally obtained from hardware manufacturers rather than from gunsmiths.

      Early versions also had two annoying habits. Jamming—common when the magazine lips were damaged or the weapon was dirty—or firing uncontrollably in full auto when simply bumped or jostled.

      However, the Sten improved with age, particularly after the British invasion panic subsided and weapons were made with an eye toward better craftsmanship.

      It also gained a deadly reputation. Lightweight, compact and even concealable, it was a favorite of British airborne and glider-borne forces.

      Alan Lee, a member of the Parachute Regiment during the war, said the weapon was best used for close-quarters combat. In a section of 10 men in the Paras, Lee said, the sergeant and corporal always carried a Sten gun, as did most of the officers.

      “When you went into a village or went into a house, whatever it was, it was a reliable weapon,” he said in a video interview that is part of an oral history of World War II compiled by the National Army Museum in London. “It wasn’t a reliable instrument for anything over 100 yards, but for anything close-quarters it was very reliable.”

      But the Sten gun’s habit of jamming led to one of the messiest covert operations of the war. Czech agents trained and supported by the British Special Operations Executive carried Stens as their weapons during Operation Anthropoid, the mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich.

      Heydrich was the mastermind of the Final Solution and the S.S. Obergruppenführer responsible for the formation of the special squads that carried out the genocidal killing of Jews in Nazi-occupied territory. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Prague,” he systematically wiped out Czech culture and the Czech resistance in an effort to “Germanize” the nation.

      In 1942, as Heydrich traveled in an open-top Mercedes, a Czech SOE agent leveled his Sten gun at the Nazi at point-blank range and pulled the trigger—and the gun jammed without firing.

      The agent’s counterpart then tossed a grenade into the vehicle, horribly wounding Heydrich … who died a few days later of blood poisoning.

      Winkler II

      Daniel Winkler , a bladesmith with nearly 50 years of knife making experience, was approached in 2006 by special operators from the U.S. Army and Navy’s Special Missions Units. Their increasing demand for reliable tools required particular specifications that other knives lacked. His knives and tomahawks have since been the stuff of combat lore, being used by our nation’s most elite warriors while operating in the shadows — and even spurring controversy from time to time.

      According to Winkler, the “II” doesn’t represent a numeral but means “also.” The WKII Spike is used for prying doors, breaking windows, and piercing breakable structures to create improvised firing lanes in buildings or structures. Having a small and agile knife meant better concealability in hostile and submissive environments.