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Military bolos and machetes are used to clear the heavy vegetation of the jungle as well as for general use. They have also been used as weapons.
Prior to World War II a 22 inch machete was in use by the Army, but trials in Panama showed that a shorter design was better. The machete adopted as the M-1942 was an 18-inch straight back modification of the Collins commercial type, proved by extensive use in the tropics.
This was the basic tool of jungle operations, permitting travel through the tangled vegetation away from the trails. The machete depended on velocity rather than weight for its cutting action, being allowed to pivot in the hand with the stroke, while held only with the thumb, index and middle fingers. A hole was drilled in the handle for a wrist cord, which kept the machete from being dropped or lost. The machete was also considered a decidedly useful weapon, especially for the silent disposition of sentries and in night ambushes. (Photo to the left shows 101st Airborne soldiers with a Nazi flag captured in a village assault near Utah Beach, St. Marcouf, France, 8 June 1944. Right paratrooper is holding a machete that seems to have a bright finish.)
The sheath was made of heavy, water-repellent duck, which resisted the mildew and dampness that destroyed leather in the jungle. A brass top and staples prevented the sheath from being cut by the blade. A hook (M-1910 type) was provided to attach the machete to a pack or to the pistol or cartridge belt. The machete dimensions were about 22 1/2" overall with a 17 7/8" blade that was 2" wide.
Most World War II machetes had black plastic grips, but True Temper machetes stamped 1945 were made with olive green plastic handles.
Other machetes were made for the U.S. military in the World War II period. A U.S. Navy Mk1 model had a 26 inch blade and some of the older, 28 inch or longer machetes remained in service. There was a paratrooper machete with a 16 inch parkerized blade, 22 inches overall. A folding machete was also issued to some units. On the Olive-Drab.com military bolo page there are other knives that are sometimes referred to as machetes.
Vietnam War and Modern Machetes
The machete itself has changed little since World War II, but the scabbard (or sheath) has evolved through several models. The earliest sheaths were a plain canvas sock with a belt loop. The M-1942 machete (photo, above) had a sturdy canvas duck scabbard with the M-1910 belt hook. The last WW II model had a smooth, hard OD plastic case with a metal throat similar to a bayonet. That last style was in use until the Vietnam war, approximately 1966. In 1967 a new style carrier was issued that is very similar to today's machete sheath, in olive drab hard plastic, FSN 8465-257-4321 (MIL-S-2329). It has the swivel attachment belt hook and built in sharpener that comes with a sharpening instruction sheet. The case has holes for drainage. (Photo to the left shows U.S. Special Forces at Base A-325 Duc Hue in Vietnam, operated between November 1967 and October 1970. Photo to the right shows the markings on an M-1967 olive drab sheath with textured surface. Photo courtesy Jarkko Lahtinen.)
The current version of the machete sheath (photo, below) differs only in color from the Vietnam era M-1967 issue scabbard. The NSN has changed to 8465-00-926-4932 but the specification remains MIL-S-2329.
The machete itself has this current nomenclature and specifications:
Where to Buy Military Machetes
Check the eBay auctions for surplus and vintage military issue machetes. Amazon.com has military machetes and sheaths at the linked search page. You can also find military machetes at other vendors of military items.
Find More Information on the Internet
There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.
For good results, try entering this: army machete. Then click the Search button.