INTRODUCTION TO THIS EDITION 1.
This Edition 1 updates the previous draft Version 1.B to include details of my recently acquired original “flat-latch” version of the Joseph Rodgers “Military Knife P.1633”, and more specifically incorporates additional background information provided by Martin Cook – a UK based collector and commentator on military knives.
The purpose of this Collector Note is to review readily available sources in-order to document the process of evolution of the OSS/SOE Escape Knife (the “escape knife”) from its original form in the early 20th Century to its final form as an “all purpose” knife (commonly described as an “escape and evasion”) tool, produced for the UK Ministry of Supply and supplied to the UK Special Operations Executive (SOE), and to the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), between 1942 and 1945.
All versions of the OSS/SOE Escape Knife have been popular with collectors on both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere) since the publication in 1979 of M. H. Cole’s books “U.S. Military Knives: Bayonets & Machetes” – specifically Book III, probably due to the mystique associated with “secret agents” operating behind enemy lines in WW2. The fact that there is such a back-story associated with these knives, together with the knowledge that they were hand-made in relatively small quantities, adds to the enjoyment of ownership. All of the ten versions of the escape knife described in this Collector Note occasionally become available for purchase and they do not need to be in top condition to be enjoyed. A visual summary of these ten versions is provided at pages 18 and 19 following.
Much has been written over many years about the escape knife, some of which can be unintentionally misleading and not now supported by available evidence. For me, the primary reference regarding the escape knife was the book “British and Commonwealth Military Knives” (refer page 48) written by Ron Flook (an eminent UK military knife historian) and first published in 1999. More recent research undertaken by Flook of documents in the UK Public Records Office, as published in his article in the April 2009 edition of Knife World: “Is it or Isn’t it SOE?”, identifies a catalogue that provides precise details of the original escape knife, as having “the catalog number of 5/188 along with a description of “KNIVES ALL-PURPOSE” – see following insert.
For the collector, this is what an “OSS/SOE Escape knife” should looks like. Any differentiation from this image (perhaps apart from the “Ibberson” version detailed later in this Collector Note) indicates that the knife is less than complete (e.g. broken sawblades, missing saw blades, etc.) or has been re-assembled from parts.
Any suggestion that a non-conforming example is a “prototype”, “rare version”, etc. is often an intention to mis-lead (a possible example of this is the Joseph Rodgers “parts knife” described in the “LOOSE ENDS” section of this Collector Note). The valid exceptions, of course, are the examples detailed in Cole III where there is a provenance that connects these pre and post-production knives back to the Joseph Rodgers factory – see explanation and elaboration in the later section “Phase 3: the OSS/SOE Escape Knife, circa 1941 – 1945” of this Collector Note, and in Appendix 2.
In addition, a most informative article: “The Elusive MI9 Escape Knife” by Brian Moyse & Roy Shadbolt in the September 2014 edition of Knife World magazine provides a detailed World War 2 and post-War context for the Escape Knife.
After completing the final draft of this Collector Note, a colleague directed me to a more recent article in the October 2016 edition of Knife World by Brian Moyse & Allan Moyse titled “A Rodgers Military Special” which provides extensive details of the precursor of the OSS/SOE Escape Knife – being the Joseph Rodgers “Military Knife P.1633”and its variants – see following. There is a strong commonality between what I had written in the final draft about this knife and what the Moyses’ had written, so I have adopted their terminology to differentiate between the four known versions of the “Military Knife P.1633” and hopefully achieve some consistency in the terminology used by collectors.
In summary, it appears to me that there are four phases in the evolution of the OSS/SOE Escape Knife, as follows:
o Original “flat-latch” version (with examples that refer to both Queen Victoria and King Edward VII).
o First variant (with examples that refer to both King Edward VII and King George V).
o Second variant (with examples that only refer to King George V).
o Third variant – the “sawblade” version.
This has resulted in a total of ten versions of the knife which are graphically summarised in the section “VISUAL SUMMARY OF THE FULL SET OF KNOWN EXAMPLES” later in this Collector Note.