KA-BAR (trademarked as KA-BAR, capitalized) was a fighting and utility knife issued to American armed forces including the Marines and Navy. KA-BAR is also the name of a related manufacturing company most known for the same 11 3⁄4-inch fighting and utility Bowie knife adopted by the United States Marine Corps and United States Navy as the USN Fighting Knife Mark II.
A typical KA-BAR knife has a 7 in. clip point blade and weighs about 1.1 lbs. The KA-BAR fighting knife is made of 1095 carbon steel and features a leather-washer or synthetic handle made of Kraton (a non-slip rubber substitute).
KA-BAR has said to have received its name after the company received a testimonial written by a trapper. In the letter the author described how the company's knife was used to kill a wounded bear that was attacking him after his gun jammed. All that was legible was "k a bar"—presumably fragments of the phrase "kill a bear"—the company was so honoured at the testimonial they adopted it as their trademark. In 1942, soon after the United States' entry into World War II, American troops found that trench knives such as the M1917/1918 or Mark I were only suited to trench warfare and not to WWII combat.
New designs were sought from hunting gear catalogs. The U.S. Marines bought many different knives and designs from a large number of knife suppliers. After extensive trials under field conditions, the KA-BAR fighting knife was found to be the most popular among troops because it was adequate for most tasks demanded by a combat Marine. The Marine Corps made several changes to the original design, these included the introduction of a small fuller to make a slightly longer but lighter blade for combat, a peened pommel (later, a pinned pommel) and a stacked leather handle for better grip. The blade, guard, and pommel were all finished in a non-reflective matte phosphate finish instead of the brightly polished steel of the original design.
Millions of these fighting knives were made during World War II by the Union Cutlery Company (later renamed KA-BAR), Ontario Knife Company, Camillus Cutlery, Case Knives, and several other knife companies. The inexpensive knife was easy to manufacture, and therefore easy to replace. It was also used as a diving knife in World War II though the model in use at the time disintegrated rapidly in saltwater. After the Second World War, the U.S. military continued to use the KA-BAR. Various forms of this practical knife also remained very popular within civilian markets, such as with hunters, fishermen, hikers, and outdoorsmen.
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