Army knife ON-40

Finca NKVD

An important element of a soldier’s equipment is a knife. This tool, depending on the situation, can be used for domestic purposes or used as weapons. Also, some blades were originally developed in the form of bayonet knives, differing in a fairly wide range of tasks. In the Soviet armed forces, the army knife of the statutory model appeared in the early forties. The first product of this class was the knife ON-40, also known under the designation HP-40.

Before 1940, a specific situation with cold weapons was observed in the Red Army: samples of different classes and types were simultaneously used. At the same time the main blade of the soldier was the standard needle bayonet of the Mosin rifle. Some units were armed with knives of various types, primarily based on the design of the so-called. Finnish knife. For some reasons, later on it was decided to create a universal blade suitable for use for various purposes and by different departments.

General view of the knife ON-40
General view of the knife ON-40. Figure Wikimedia Commons 

According to reports, the start of work on creating a new knife in the 1940 year was given for two reasons. First, the military studied the experience of the Soviet-Finnish war, which showed the imperfection of existing samples. The second reason was the plans to re-equip the army with the use of submachine guns that did not have a regular bayonet. Thus, the emergence of a new army knife made it possible to get rid of the identified shortcomings, as well as give riflemen machine gunners an auxiliary melee weapon.

The result of the subsequent research and design work was a new draft cold weapons. The knife of an improved design quickly passed all the checks, after which it was put into service. The product received the official name of ON-40 – “Army Knife arr. 1940 of the Year. It was assumed that these weapons will be the first to receive reconnaissance units and parts of the shooters, armed with submachine guns. Because of this, the letters “ON” are often decoded as “the knife of a machine gun”. In addition, there is and is widely known the designation of the knife HP-40 – “knife scout”. All variants of names and transcripts are definitely popular, but, as follows from the available data, the official new product was called “Army Knife”.

In foreign materials on the knife ON-40 sometimes there is an incorrect designation, which was the consequence of a curious error. In 1980, the book of the British historian Frederick J. Stephens, “Fighting Knives: An Illustrated Guide to Fighting Knives and Military Survival Weapons of the World”, was published on the combat knives of the world. Having no exact information, the author of the book suggested that the abbreviation “ZIK” (Zlatoust Tool Works) means “Zlatoust Industries, Caucases”. Because of this, ON-40 was named “Armenian knife.” In the future, the error was identified, and history about the “Armenian military knife” passed into the category of amusing curiosities.

The blade with the sheath of the original design.
The blade with the sheath of the original design. Photo Pro-kop.ru 

The characteristic features of the NA-40 knife, namely the design of the blade and the cross, clearly indicated the use of some existing developments. It is believed that when creating a promising design, Soviet experts took into account their own and foreign experience, and also borrowed some ideas from existing projects. For this reason, ON-40 contains the features of the “Finca” in its Russian version, as well as the “Partypuukco” scout knife and the regular uniform bayonet-knife arr. 1919 Finnish development. Nevertheless, the Soviet knife did not become a direct development of any concrete existing model, since it absorbed the individual features of several structures at once.

Already in 1940, the documentation for the new knife was received by the Trud plant (Vacha village, Nizhny Novgorod region) and the Zlatoust tool factory-combine (Zlatoust, Chelyabinsk region). Until the end of the year, both enterprises managed to release a certain number of knives, which were soon transferred to the customer in the person of the People’s Commissariat of Defense and distributed among the army units.

Trud and the Zlatoust Toolmaking Complex until the very end of the Great Patriotic War remained the main producers of ON-40 knives. However, the production capacity of these enterprises was limited, which is why in 1942, it was decided to increase the production of knives by attracting new organizations. Documentation of the knife was transferred to numerous enterprises of industrial and consumer cooperation, as well as troop workshops. The first order for such a weapon appeared in January 42-th. As a result, in addition to the original ON-40, there was a significant number of similar knives in circulation, differing in certain features.

Knife with a different version of the sheath, equipped with a strap for the handle.
Knife with a different version of the sheath, equipped with a strap for the handle. Photo Pro-kop.ru 

In the basic configuration, the 1940 army knife looked like this. The total length of the product was 263 mm, of which 152 accounted for the blade. Mass without scabbard – 150 g. From the point of view of the general architecture, the knife did not differ from other systems of its class, however, it had some characteristic features that made it possible to recognize it immediately among other knives of its own or another time.

ON-40 / ON-40 received a blade with a length of 152 mm and a width of 22 mm. The greatest thickness of the blade at the butt was 2,6 mm. In the manufacture of the blade used steel grade U7. Used blade with bevel butt (so-called pike) and one-sided sharpening. Under normal hold, the blade was pointing down. Behind the blade there was a small heel without sharpening. The connection of the blade with the handle was made using an elongated shank. Used vsadnaya through mounting method.

The knife was equipped with a wooden handle of complex shape. In its central part, closer to the cross, there was a thickening, behind which there was a section with a gradually decreasing section. This form of the handle allows you to improve the grip without using a notch. The handle in the original version did not have a top used for reliable connection with the blade. The wooden handle was covered with varnish, mostly black.

ON-40 in a sheath with a strap.
ON-40 in a sheath with a strap. Photo Zonwar.ru

Recognizable feature “Army Knife arr. 1940 g. ”Became a curved cross, which ensures the safety of the handling of weapons in battle. To protect the user’s fingers, the knife received a curved S-shaped cross. At the same time, its upper part, located on the butt side, was bent in the direction of the handle, and the lower part, towards the blade. This form of the cross was due to the peculiarities of the use of a knife. For strikes from below, the knife was proposed to be held with a straight grip and a blade upwards, for strikes from above – with a reverse grip. In both cases, the nonstandardly curved protection turned out to be more convenient than the traditional design. At the same time, the upper protrusion of the cross can make it difficult to perform some operations with the usual grip.

Corresponding sheaths have been developed for transportation on the 40. This device had a wooden case, and was also equipped with a metal device and a tip. All parts of the scabbard were painted with black lacquer, which prevented damage to the wooden case, and also gave some disguise. As part of the device scabbard there was a leather loop for suspension on a belt. In the design of the scabbard, measures were taken to eliminate noise when removing the blade. It was recommended to carry the knife on the left side with a slight inclination, turning the handle to the right.

Knives ON-40 / НР-40 or similar products were made not only in Vache and Zlatoust. Having other production facilities and different access to resources, other manufacturers of knives did not always comply with the original specification. As a result, a large number of various “modifications” of the original knife appeared, differing from each other in different features. Moreover, serious differences could have even knives of different lots, issued by one gang.

Knife with the stigma of the Zlatoust tool factory.
Knife with the stigma of the Zlatoust tool factory. Photo Zonwar.ru

“Non-standard” knives could differ in the design of various parts. So, there are a number of samples with valleys on the blade, with a nonstandard bend of the cross, with other forms of the handle, etc. Also observed discrepancies in the design of the scabbard. All-metal constructions could be used. The device could receive not only a loop for a suspension, but also an additional strap for holding the knife by the handle and the crosspiece.

The serial production of new knives was launched in 1940 at two plants. The limited capabilities of these enterprises, combined with the growing needs of the army, led to the deployment of blade production by a multitude of other organizations. Nevertheless, even in such a situation, the plants retained their leadership in terms of the quantity and quality of their products. So, only in 1942-43, the Zlatoust tool factory produced almost 650 thousand NA-40 knives, which can be distinguished by the triangle stamp with the letters “ZIK”. Of these, 388 thousand army received in 1943 year. However, it should be noted that the pace of release was still insufficient. Only in 43-th customer planned to get more than 1,3 million knives.

According to reports, the knives of artel production could be of low quality. Not having access to the required resources, or receiving a limited amount of the necessary steel, small manufacturers were forced to look for an alternative, which was not always suitable for solving the tasks set. Because of this, some Red Army soldiers got poor-quality knives, which quickly got blunt or even bent under load. Straightening the blade with improvised means did not improve its characteristics either. However, such problems, although present in a certain amount, were not a frequent occurrence. The industry basically had enough resources to produce quality knives.

The product of the factory "Trud"
The product of the factory “Trud”. Photo Pro-kop.ru

One of the batches of knives made in Zlatoust in 1943 was widely known. During the preparation of weapons and equipment for the Ural Guards Volunteer Corps, conducted on voluntary contributions and with the help of over-the-schedule work, the Zlatoust tool plant-factory produced more 3300 knives with NA-40 in non-standard configuration. These products received an ordinary blade, but were completed with handles and scabs from ebonite. According to available data, in addition to the materials, knives for the volunteer corps were no different from other products for the army.

Non-standard equipment weapons led to the nickname “black knife”. In addition, new items were noticed by German troops, which led to interesting consequences. Already during the Battle of Kursk, stories began to appear about the unique characteristics of the new Soviet weapons, as well as legends about the magical powers that it uses. It is hardly necessary to clarify that the real “magic” that influenced the effectiveness of knives was the high morale of the volunteer fighters.

In some small batches of the company produced premium weapons. It differed from standard knives by a more accurate finish, including the use of non-standard materials. Also premium blades could receive an engraving in the form of patterns or corresponding inscriptions. The scabbard intended for such knives was also distinguished by its solid look.

A note from the book of F.J. Stephens, who became the primary source of information about the "Armenian Knife"
The product of the factory “Trud”. Photo Pro-kop.ru

Already in the 1940 year, shortly after the adoption of a new knife for service, the basic techniques of its use in hand-to-hand combat were formed. The pioneer in this direction was V.P. Volkov, who made the appropriate innovations in the Sambo system. The following year, the “Guide to preparing for the hand-to-hand fighting of the Red Army” was published, in which the issue of the use of NA-40 was also considered. In the future, scientific organizations and the Ministry of Defense issued several handbooks on hand-to-hand fighting, considering the use of knives.

The army knife of the NA-40 remained the main model of its class until the very end of the Great Patriotic War. Production of knives in the original configuration continued until the second half of the forties. After that, knives were replaced with products of similar purpose in the form of bayonet knives for the newest small arms. When creating advanced automata, the need to develop a bayonet with a knife-type blade was initially taken into account. As a result, the newest AK machine gun received a full-fledged bayonet, which made it possible to abandon the existing cold arms.

Over the years of operation, the 1940 army knife of the year proved to be from the good side and gained deserved popularity. Moreover, this sample is still of particular interest to both collectors and lovers of cold weapons. Due to the large number of blades produced in the forties, those wishing, under certain conditions, have the opportunity to purchase an original knife ON-40 of this or that version.

Red Army soldiers with knives ON-40 on a belt.
Red Army soldiers with knives ON-40 on a belt. Photo Zonwar.ru

In addition, seeing the demand for an army knife, many manufacturers of similar products have begun to produce replicas that most closely resemble the design of the original ON-40. At the same time, some measures have been taken that take the product out of the category of cold arms and make it the object of household use. There are several similar models on the market, differing in finishing, furnishing, etc. At the same time, the basis for all manufactured products is the 1940 design of the year.

When creating a new army knife in 1940, the experience of using existing variants of such weapons was taken into account. With its use it was possible to develop a new design, almost completely devoid of the existing shortcomings. Thanks to this, by the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army soldiers were able to get a new blade, suitable for use for various purposes. Like many other auxiliary products, ON-40 / НР-40 made not the most noticeable, but significant contribution to the approach of victory.

Based on: FJ Fighting Fighting Knives: Arrows & Armor Press, London. 1980 topwar.ru zonwar.ru pro-kop.ru history.milportal.ru

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