Battle Relic
: Push dagger, created from shortened M3 fighting knife and M8 scabbard; U.S. Army; World War Two.
Introduction: In 1992, a team of archaeological divers from the "Mergor in Mosa" (Latin for Submerge in the River Meuse)- team were documenting the remains of an ancient Roman bridge from the 3rd century A.D., on the bottom of the river Meuse in the Netherlands. While exploring the lower parts of the bridge's pillars a small knife and scabbard were found. It was found at approximately 43 to 54 yards off both banks; the Province of Limburg on the East bank and the Province of North-Brabant on the West.
At the time, little attention was given to this discovery because it obviously was not Roman. Add to that the fact that near the river landing of Cuijk many discoveries had been made in the river Meuse, which were hardly of any value or dated from World War Two. Because it had a certain charm, the small knife was thrown into a bin of miscellaneous discoveries, probably to fall into oblivion.

Item Description: The knife measures 4.6 inches in length and was composed of several "loose" parts and had been assembled in a make-shift fashion.
It can be described as follows: a wooden handle (painted olive green) to be held inside the palm of the user's hand, a small length of an iron rod with the double-sided tip of a dagger welded to it.
The tip was placed inside an olive green shaft made out of Bakelite.
The dagger was clamped inside the shaft by means of a brass clasp but has gone missing in the last number of years.

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History:  The knife had an indisputable military character but the divers had an abundance of that kind from the river Meuse. One day in 1997 it became a conversation piece accidentally. An expert on the subject of World War Two and weapons who saw the knife recognized it as a handmade fighting knife from a member of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment; a subunit of the 82nd All American (AA) Airborne Division. The dagger was made from none other than the blade of an American M3 trench knife, part of an M8 scabbard and a small metal bracket from a machine gun ammunition belt. These fighting knives where used in hand-to-hand combat and to cut the shroud lines of parachutes in case paratroopers got entangled during the jump.
The question was how the dagger ended up where it was found in the river. On D-Day of Operation "Market Garden" two refusals from "H" Company of the 505th eventually made their combat jump on the West bank near Cuijk but there are no known water landings of paratroopers in the Meuse River. There had not been any combat on this stretch of the North-Brabant river bank and the chance of someone throwing the knife there (about 54 yards) from either river bank was unlikely.

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Left: Push dagger from bottom of river Meuse made from shortened M3 fighting knife and M8 scabbard.
Center & Right: Push dagger with pristine M3 knives and M8 scabbards.

From a book titled "Cuijk liberated and under fire" it was learned in what manner the push dagger and its scabbard found their way into the Meuse. The book features part of a report, told by Dutch resistance fighters, dated September 18 1944, during Operation Market Garden.
On Page 36 & 37 of the book we read:

"Around noon on September 18, Van Sadelhoff and Sjaak Roosenboom are on the top floor of the Café of the Van Sadelhoff's along the Meuse using binoculars to scout the far bank. They want to know if there still are Germans. To their utmost surprise they see two gigantic American paratroopers in the Cuijkse Steeg coming from the direction of Mook on the far bank. Cautiously the paratroopers look around and constantly duck for cover. They also poke their rifles between twigs and leafs to see what is underneath them. Thus they near the boat where the Heere family lives. A moment later the men in the café see Jan and Joep Heere rowing the two paratroopers across the Meuse towards Cuijk. Sjaak Roosenboom - who speaks English well- runs to the paratroopers. They join Sjaak up to the top floor of the café to scour the wide stretched embankments for possible German troop movements.

[…] one of the paratroopers indicates that he wishes to get inside the tower of the large church. From there he has a better view over the river forelands. Chaplain Schoenmakers hands him the key. Meanwhile Hans and Bert Regouin have joined the group. They too speak English well. [Inside the church tower] a hatchway is opened and the paratrooper can search the whole area with his bino's. After making some notes on his map, the hatchway is closed again and they all go downstairs again. In the mean time the other paratrooper, who did not go upstairs, went with Bert Regouin and some other boys from the underground resistance to a farm house in Vianen, with 5 Germans still in there. They are taken prisoner and moved to Grave.
[…] … it is time to rejoin their unit in Mook. They reach the far bank of the river Meuse in a boat, rowed by Piet Heynen and Frans van Bergen, who had gone into hiding in Vianen. A moment later the Americans make contact with a German patrol and have to hurry back to the river head over heels. Luckily the two men have not left yet. One of the paratroopers, who have been shot at, is only hit in his helmet. With all their strength they row back to the bank in Cuijk. Fortunately they are not shot at by the Germans. Later they have returned to their unit in the 505th Regiment in Mook via Grave.
[The dairy entry of Bert Regouin for September 18 1944:] At approximately 12:30 PM 2 American paratroopers cross the Meuse in a small boat to reconnoiter the area. Everyone is out of their minds. The 2 paratroopers are carried around the town on our shoulders. Flags and orange bunting appear. The Wilhelmus [Dutch national anthem] is sung. I show one of them the way to a farm with 5 Germans in it. He goes there with some of the boys from the resistance and the Germans surrender. The other American climbs the church tower with Hans in order to reconnoiter the area.
[…] When the paratroopers want to return to Mook, they run into a German patrol on the other side of the Meuse and return to Cuijk. One of them stays with us, the other one at the Van Sadelhoffs."

Through the internet we came into contact with Eduard Van der Heyden, who was 7 years old when the two paratrooper-scouts came to his hometown Cuijk on that 18th of September 1944. Today Eduard resides in San Gabriel, California.

We asked him about the incident and he explained to us that he had seen the first American paratroopers in Cuijk; the two refusals who later made a jump on the return flight of their troop carrying C-47 on the West bank of the Meuse. That was on the 17th of September. When the two scouts came into Cuijk on the 18th, his father ordered young Eduard to go home because of all the weapons carried by the Americans. Ed had not seen the dagger and assumes that when "they crossed the river again they ran into severe German opposition and hastily came back across the river aided by local citizens. During the crossing they threw most of their equipment overboard to lighten their load." From Bob Murphy, a veteran of the 505th, Ed learned that many paratroopers had used self-made knives during World War Two. Bob himself didn't have one because he had been a Pathfinder and most of his load had been signal equipment.

From the University of Ohio we obtained the After Action Reports of the various (Personnel, Intelligence, Operations and Supply) sections of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment for Operation "Market Garden".
Unfortunately they do not describe the reconnaissance mission across the river Meuse.
From this map, we can tell that "B" Company of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was deployed near Mook in the first stage of Operation "Market Garden".

It is likely that the scout who lost his dagger in the river Meuse was a member of "B"/505th.
Reproduction as part of experimental archaeology
To understand how this Battle Relic was constructed, we had the privilege to have it on loan from the diving team for a few weeks in the Spring of 2013.
We decided to create an accurate reproduction of the dagger. From a post-war M4 fighting knife, of which the blade is similar in design to World War Two US Army M3 knives, we cut off its tip. We also took the same length from the end of its scabbard. We then welded two nuts on a big steel screw and cut a notch in the top of it. We placed the blade tip in this notch and welded it on the screw. From a hard type of wood we created a handle of the same design of the dagger from the Meuse. We then drilled a hole in the handle and screwed and glued the shaft and blade tip in. We painted the handle with red lead paint and the scabbard with Olive Drab green. As a finishing touch we poured battery acid on the shaft and blade to give it the weathered look of the original specimen.

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Upon return of the dagger to the diver from whom we had borrowed it, we made a comparison.

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The differences between our reproduction and the original are as follows.
- we only assumed that in the original dagger bolts were used to weld the blade to the shaft.
- we did not paint our wooden grip olive green (and then chip most of it off);
- the makers of the original dagger most likely covered part of the screw threads inside a short metal pipe and welded it to the screw and the bolts. We used a screw which was only threaded on its lower part.
- we used an electrical welding machine with considerable more amps than the one used in World War Two. This caused the tempered steel blade to melt a little when it was welded into the notch of the shaft.

This Battle Relic is an interesting example of a warrior trying to improve the standard equipment he was issued. A push dagger has a stronger thrusting capability than a knife featuring a blade with a handle in its extension.
We were told that had the Roman bridge not been where it was, the river's current would have carried the dagger down stream. That, or it may have been frozen in ice on the river's floor in winter time. When thaw would set in, the river would make the dagger drift down stream in a lump of ice.

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1) 2)3)

1) Location in River Meuse on period map where push dagger and scabbard were recovered from river bottom
2) On foreground: the boat used as a house for the Heere Family who ran the ferry crossing. Photo from the 1930's.
Same location today. A pontoon bridge is built by Dutch Army engineers each year for the Nijmegen March.

We visited the location where this Battle Relic was found in 1992. Today the Maas Boulevard in Cuijk features a new river walk and landing stage. On it, the dimensions of several Roman structures are etched in the concrete floor. They show the sites of a temple and the bridge in whose remains the push dagger was discovered. The ferry boat crossing is now located down stream but the original landing is still there. We proved it to be impossible to throw an object like this relic, in the middle of the river where it was found, making it likely that the knife was lost midstream.

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