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'Nahkampfmesser': The Combat Knives of the German Wehrmacht

The German “last ditch” weapon in hand-to-hand fighting was more often readily used as an implement in preparing food or completing other daily domestic chores encountered in the field.
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Just as many soldiers of different armies had for centuries before them, the men of Hitler’s Wehrmacht (the Army, Waffen SS, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine ground troops) entered the battlefields of WW2 with small handy, combat and utility knives. These could serve as a “last ditch” weapon in hand-to-hand fighting, but, were more often readily used as implements in preparing food or completing other daily domestic chores encountered in the field.

At the beginning of the European war in 1939, many German combatants carried an Imperial issued “Nahkampfmesser” (close combat knife) which they, themselves had used in the First World War, or had passed down to them by an older relative. The typical WW1 knife consisted of a 5-to-6-inch-long steel blade, either single or double edged with a wooden or rubber handle, secured with rivets or screws. These were housed in steel scabbards with leather retaining straps and single belt loops. In addition, during the Great War, a steady market of large firms and “cottage industries” across Germany had produced and sold a variety of hunting and utility knives which found their way into the fields of battle. Later, these same issued or purchased blades would live a second life while being carried by the soldiers of Hitler’s armies. To meet the increasing demand, in 1942, a new “Infanteriemesser” – infantry combat knife) was issued by the military to many soldiers in their regular field gear. The 6-inch-long blade had a fully sharpened edge on the bottom and partial edge along the top. The stamped metal cross guards were either oval shaped or featured slightly elongated ends. A simple rounded wooden slab handle was secured to the tang with 3 steel rivets. The weapon was carried in a black painted steel scabbard with either a single or double clip on the reverse that could easily attach to a soldier’s belt, boot or equipment straps. Early “kampfmesser” were maker marked on their blade ricasso’s, while later issues were often left unmarked. Many of those contracted by the German Luftwaffe during the war bore acceptance markings of a stylized “stick” eagle with a “5” or a “6”, while others bore an “S” or a “W”.

A Luftwaffe boot knife as issued to the ground and air troops of Nazi Germany. Such knives are typically marked with a “5” or “6” under an eagle acceptance mark, though the letters “S” and “W” have been recorded. Still many others had no marks at all. This later version is stamped with a 6 on the ricasso.

A Luftwaffe boot knife as issued to the ground and air troops of Nazi Germany. Such knives are typically marked with a “5” or “6” under an eagle acceptance mark, though the letters “S” and “W” have been recorded. Still many others had no marks at all. This later version is stamped with a 6 on the ricasso.

A closer look at the stamp on the blade.

A closer look at the stamp on the blade.

As in the First World War, German firms who were not officially contracted by the military also manufactured small fighting knives to be sold to Wehrmacht personnel. One of the more unique weapons produced was the combat knife made by the Puma Company. These well-made weapons were crafted with a sharp 6-inch-long stainless-steel blade, oval cross guard and brown Bakelite handles held securely with 3 rivets. The maker’s name (and Puma logo on earlier models) was stamped into the blade ricasso along with the word, “Gusstahl” (stainless steel). They were carried in metal scabbards with long single clips on the reverse.

As many German soldiers carried some type of “Nahkampfmesser” during the war, after their defeat, these knives became a favorite war souvenir for the victorious allies. Thousands found their way in duffel bags and packages back to the US and other allied countries following Hitler’s demise, Germany’s occupation and later reemergence as a free and Democratic country. 

An earlier Luftwaffe boot knife marked with a “5” under an eagle. The well-used blade points to heavy field use earlier in the war.

An earlier Luftwaffe boot knife marked with a “5” under an eagle. The well-used blade points to heavy field use earlier in the war.

A better look at the "5" under the eagle marking

A better look at the "5" under the eagle marking

An early boot knife as issued to the soldiers of the army and the Waffen SS. Later versions did not include the maker’s mark. One broad clip is attached to the rear of the scabbard to secure the knife to field equipment straps or tunic belts.

An early boot knife as issued to the soldiers of the army and the Waffen SS. Later versions did not include the maker’s mark. One broad clip is attached to the rear of the scabbard to secure the knife to field equipment straps or tunic belts.

A closer look

A closer look

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A Puma brand boot knife with its unusual Bakelite handle instead of the usual wooded slabs. The manufacturing logo on early models included the outline of a Puma in a diamond above the name, while the later versions had “Solingen – Puma”; or “Gusstahl (stainless steel) - Puma”.

A Puma brand boot knife with its unusual Bakelite handle instead of the usual wooded slabs. The manufacturing logo on early models included the outline of a Puma in a diamond above the name, while the later versions had “Solingen – Puma”; or “Gusstahl (stainless steel) - Puma”.

The Puma scabbard contains a single elongated clip used to fasten the knife to belts or to secure inside of a tall Wehrmacht combat boot.

The Puma scabbard contains a single elongated clip used to fasten the knife to belts or to secure inside of a tall Wehrmacht combat boot.

A variety of boot knives carried over from the Great War or the 1920’s and 30’s found their way into the fields of WW2. Many of these issued or privately purchased items were passed down from father to son, or carried by the same soldiers in two world wars.

A variety of boot knives carried over from the Great War or the 1920’s and 30’s found their way into the fields of WW2. Many of these issued or privately purchased items were passed down from father to son, or carried by the same soldiers in two world wars.

Though used for domestic chores such as eating, cooking and general repairs, the long sharp knives could, as a last resort, be used to kill an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat.

Though used for domestic chores such as eating, cooking and general repairs, the long sharp knives could, as a last resort, be used to kill an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat.

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