Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Six (or less) degrees of separation

By now most people have heard the idea that everyone can be connected to everyone else in six jumps or less.

Well here is a story of a connection between myself and Colonel Rex Applegate. (As well as some hopefully interesting talk about knives and their uses).

I have been very fortunate to have had some first rate mentors and teachers in my life. On of my early mentors was Mr. Fanning. I met him when I was working in Central California, we were both working for the State.

Mr. Fanning was the head of the unit I was working on. He was about sixty years old, small, perhaps 5'5", but built like the proverbial fire plug, but very little of his mass was fat. He had a florid complexion and graying hair. He was of Irish ancestry, with the sort of light hearted personality that is often found among the sons of Erin.

Over the first month or so I worked with him I began to notice small things about him (and perhaps some not so small).

He was hyper-aware of his surroundings. Most people never noticed, but he was always aware of where every person was in a room, who was potentially dangerous, where the exits were, and such. (I could tell by where he looked, how he positioned himself in relation to other people and other things like that, he never stopped watching what was going on around him).

Over several weeks, as I came to know him I discovered that he had served in WWII. More than that he had been one of a group of commandos dropped in four man squads behind German lines to wreak havoc on the enemy by destroying important and strategic targets.

He told me about his training before he was sent out. He said it was called "Kill or be killed" as was taught by a fellow named Rex Applegate. (who was a captain back then).

Mr. Fanning's job with his squad was to remove sentries and other human impediments to their operations. He told me that he had dealt with most of these people with a knife and had found this the best way to remove a sentry in most cases.

After the war, he became the bodyguard for a certain famous newspaper owner, but that's another story.

Over the next couple of years we became good friends, and I was able to prevail upon him to teach me what he could of the skills he has acquired under Captian Applegate, and refined in the crucible of combat.

What Mr. Fanning taught me made some serious changes in how I use the knife, and I have always been grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from someone who had experience beyond the theoretical.

So when I received a desert version of the Applegate-Fairnbairn fighting knife from my friend Terry (who happens to work for Boker USA) I was quite excited. I really wanted to get a feel for the knife that Colonel Applegate had designed as his answer to the needs of specialized combat troops.

Now I am not usually a fan of the dagger. This sort of knife is too specialized, and while you can perform a number of non-combat tasks with it in a pinch, I would much rather have a single edged knife for everyday use. I promised myself that I would try to keep my prejudice in check while evaluating this knife.

Here is a photo of the knife and sheath, with the write-up that Boker gave it.

Based on the original Applegate-Fairnbairn fighting knife (A-F12) this desert version resulted from operation Desert Storm. all of the features that made the original fighting knife a classic are retained in this desert version - 6" 440C stainless steel blade (10 3/4" overall length), forward-bending cross-guard, weighted handle of durable Delrin ® - and are enhanced with a black stainless steel cross-guard, black screws and a desert colored handle. The knife is carried securely in a desert camo Kydex ® sheath. Each knife is serialized.
The first thing I noticed about the knife was its balance, which was superb. As it turns out, inside the handle are two weights that can be moved closer or further from the hilt to give the knife the balance you want. As it happens it was perfect for me out of the box, but it is a nice feature.

The edge was pretty good right from the factory, and with a little time spent using my grand pappy's razor stone, the edge was as sharp as you could ever want.

The kydex sheath is very solid and holds the knife quite securely and without any rattle. Even without the rubber O ring holding the knife in, you are not likely to lose your blade, with it slipped over the grip, the blade is not going anywhere.

The fit of the various parts was superb, with no slop anywhere, even after I had abused the poor thing for several days.

The grip is very comfortable for me in both forward and reverse grip.

So I collected up the various things I would need to test out the knife, carpet tubes, old office carpet, torn up blue jeans, cardboard, news paper, pine 2x4, duct tape and such, and went to work.

The first thing I wanted to test was the knife's ability to effectively thrust while not having it's tip break off. So I took a 2 x 4 and wrapped it with about four inches of corrugated cardboard, covered it with a couple of layers of denim and wrapped it with duct tape.

I worked about fifty thrusts into this, twenty five forward grip and twenty five reverse grip. The knife went through the material without problem and stuck into the pine at the center. I then pulled it out with a twisting action. The point sustained no damage.

This was a marked improvement over the old Sykes-Fairnbairn dagger which was prone to having its tip break off.

There was also no tendency for the hand to slip down the blade (always a consideration with a thrust or stab) the grip was very positive and comfortable. The guard worked well to protect the hand.

Next I wanted to test the knif's cutting ability. That was the other problem with the Sykes-Fairnbairn dagger, it was not great for cutting because of the blade shape. All knives are a trade-off in different attributes, the trick is to get the balance that is best for the job.

I started with newspaper rolled around a piece of PVC pipe, then covered with a couple layers of denim pants leg and taped down.

I started with draw cuts in forward grip and the knife performed quite well. I then repeated the process in reverse grip. The cuts were a bit more shallow, but quite acceptable.

I then tried hacking cuts. These did not work well at all, but I would not expect a dagger to be able to hack like a Bowie knife.

For my final test I got out the carpet tube. I wanted to see how the knife would do with a "thrust then cut" attack. This is (or at least was, things may have changed) a pretty standard sentry removal technique. Come up from behind, insert the knife in the side of the neck just in front of the spine, the cut your way forward to remove the knife (and the sentry).

The Applegate worked flawlessly piercing, then cutting the heavy cardboard of the carpet tube without trouble.

After I had finished with my tests (there were several more) I examined the knife and found it to be in very good shape, nothing had worked loose, there was no damage to the blade.

So here is my take on the knife.

It is damn good at what it was designed for, a combat knife primarily used to remove enemy in a sneaky and quiet way. It would be aexcellentnt "fighter" all round, but would not be a good choice for basic camp chores and survival situations.

If you like to collect military weapons, this is something you will want to add to your collection. If you know someone in the military, this would make a fine gift. If you think you will see combat you could do a lot worse than taking this blade with you, but pack a good folding knife as well for the everyday stuff.

All in all though, this knife is superbrb example of the military dagger, Mr. Fanning would have loved it.


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