U.S. Entrenching Tool Identification -- Spot a Fake!

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There are a lot of fake "Army" Entrenching Tools up for auction on this site.  Here are a few tips to help you tell the real Military Specification (MILSPEC) Entrenching Tools from the fake ones [or "after-market" models, if you prefer a more polite term for the non-MILSPEC ones]:

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Note:  This article is intended as a general guide and only focuses on the most common U.S. MILSPEC/General Issue entrenching tools from World War I through Vietnam.  I make no attempt here to cover the broader subject of Army Pioneer Tools (those commonly issued on vehicles and to engineers, normally with full-length handles).

Second Note:  There is a danger when writing a simple recognition tool on this subject, because the U.S. Army worked on Entrenching Tool Prototypes even before World War I.   A long series of reports along with chapters in books have been published.  Therefore, before you decide to spend large sums of money on these, it would be in your best interest to both do research and to deal with a Seller with a good reputation.

As in all other MILSPEC gear from this era, the Quartermaster had specific requirements for manufacturers to follow.  Some were more successful and/or cooperative than others, so there are some examples of these with slight variations.  I've made no attempt to list exact dimensions and weights here.

1.  WORLD WAR I Entrenching Tool (M-1910):

-  Wide curved fixed steel blade, many stamped with "US" and welded onto the hilt.  "Purists" will only accept stamped blades with a single-sided hilt and rivets showing through the handle on the other side as a true WWI shovel, but there is evidence that this weakness had been at least partially corrected (that is, hilts modified with metal on both sides of the wooden handle to prevent premature handle failure) by the time the American Expeditionary Forces deployed to France in 1917.

-  "T" shaped wooden handle, normally stamped with, "US" and normally not painted.  NOTE:  It was more commonplace for those produced in WWII to be painted all over.   I have never seen a steel hilt that was not stamped "US"

-   End of handle includes a steel bracket which accepts a wooden cross piece and is riveted into the main wooden handle

-  These shovels Generally have no maker's mark nor date

-  Canvas cover, normally OD (now faded out to kahki color) with buckled strap to wrap around handle and one pistol belt frog, top center

-   Might also be called a WW II shovel since these were standard issue from 1910 and many were in use in the early part of the World War II.

-  Individual soldiers were normally issued one shovel and perhaps a pick-mattock as a set to dig trenches (pick-mattocks are a subject for a separate article, but were generally issued as "Squad Equipment" on the basis of one to three per rifle squad and so had to be passed around for tough digging, as were other pioneer-style hand tools).

-  CAUTION:  This shovel has been widly reproduced for reenactors.  These copies might or might not be useful for actual digging.

2.  WORLD WAR II Entrenching Tools:

-  Three models were common and one was added very near the end of the war and was not in wide use until later conflicts:  T-Handle, Folding Single Blade,  and Folding with Blade and Pick [this is the rare one].

-  All  shovel blades were painted, along with many of the handles -- over and over again in field units, and only the ones that never left the Depot [or reproductions] will have a single untarnished layer of Olive Drab colored paint.  A layer of red paint might indicate a later transfer to the Fire Service, and some of these were retrofitted with full-length garden hoe-style handles [these are highly sought after by collectors].

-  All of these will be stamped, "U.S." and most will also have a maker's mark [i.e. "Ames"] and a date [i.e. 1945].  You might have to dig down several layes of paint to find them, however.  Also, since these were mass produced, the stamps are not always in exactly the same position nor are they always exactly parallel to the edge of the shovel

-  Some of these were modified (shortened) by Airborne troops and others were broken and repaired.  Some might also have been sharpened for use as a chopping tool or for hand-to-hand combat [a carry-over use perfected by the Germans in WWI].  Some were simply "shortened" because the handle broke...

-  All but the M-1910 may be found with a variety of Carriers, since all models were re-issued to troops, most through Vietnam [it's therefore very common to find a Single Folding Blade 1944 in an M-56 Carrier and called a "Vietnam-Issued Entrenching Tool"].

-  All must be distinguished from the fakes based upon their characteristics and not by the Carrier since many of the fakes were given Army Surplus, MILSPEC Carriers, either by their original post-war owners, or by unscrupulous Ebay sellers...

-  It is better to look for characteristics other than OD paint, because of the non-standard formulas manufacturers, Depots, and units used to paint these tools.

--  WWII T-Handle Entrenching Tool (M-1910) [See picture of M-1910 WWI Shovel above because Ebay will not allow me more than ten photos in this Article -- sorry]:

-  This design was simply a continuation, in early WWII of the WWI T-Handle Shovel

-  Many of these were produced in 1942, but it appears almost none were produced in mid- to late War

-  Almost all T-Handles that were produced in the WWII era were also stamped with "U.S.," a maker's mark and a date [thus, one can assume if it has no maker's mark and date, it's probably WWI vintage]

-  These were in use throughout WWII since the Quartermaster had a serviceable shovel and would continue to issue these to units to make up shortages of newer styles

-  These were also widly issued to National Guard and Reserve troops and the Forest Service through the Vietnam period

-  Buyer, Be Ware!  These are very widely reproduced for the reenactor market and contain the very same characteristics and markings.

--  WORLD WAR II Single Folding Blade Entrenching Tool (M-1943):


-  This is a copy, by the U.S. Army, of the WWII  German/Austrian Entrenching Tool (we knew a good thing when we saw it, reverse engineered it, and then issued it to our troops).  There are Austrian shovels on the market today that look very similar to, and function the same as the MILSPEC tool.

-  I have never seen one of these with an earlier marking than 1942 and most will be marked either 1944 or 1945.

-  These will ALWAYS be marked with "U.S.," the maker's mark, and the date -- each under the other and near the bottom rivet on the inside curve of the shovel blade [with the tip of the shovel facing to your left and the inside curve facing toward you].  These were NEVER stamped with "Taiwan," "Korea," "Japan," "China," or any other country...  The MILSPEC markings might be under several layers of rust and paint, however.

-  There were several blade shapes that the Quartermaster accepted, but none of them were flat, all of them had two MILSPEC rivets, and the metal hilt of the shovel was ALWAYS almost as long as the blade when the shovel was folded.  Fakes normally have very short metal hilts and mis-shapen blades compared to MILSPEC

-  The Metal Hilt on this tool was NEVER bolted onto the handle [unless it was a field-expedient repair].  It was ALWAYS riveted to the handle and included an aluminum locking nut.  Fakes never quite get this right, so study the locking nut on a MILSPEC tool to help you spot one which is not

-  ALL MILSPEC Single-Blade tools have handles which are tapered into the hilt, are tapered inward toward the top and then back out again to terminate in a rounded end.  MOST also have a lanyard hole in the end, but not every manufacturer included this feature.  MOST Fakes have straight handles which are not as long as MILSPEC [faster to manufacture and take less wood per shovel].  MOST Fakes also have soft wood handles which will break easily in use -- MILSPEC are hickory or high-grade handle wood.

-  As mentioned before, focus on the shovel itself to identify a MILSPEC tool because they might include almost any MILSPEC or reproduction carrier...  [entrenching tool carriers varied by year of issue and are a subject for a separate article]

--  WORLD WAR TWO Folding Blade and Pick Entrenching Tool  [M 1943 Variation]:

-  This was a very late War variation of the Folding Blade model and did not see wide distribution since the War ended before the Supply System could issue them in quantity, but they were interchangable with later models and issued through Vietnam

-   I have never seen one of these with a marking earlier than 1945.  This was a late War model to incorporate both the shovel and the pick-mattock, which had been standard issue to this point

-  I'm not sure why, but during this time, the standard stamping of "U.S.," maker's name, and date, was moved from below the lower rivet to above the upper rivet, but it retained the format of one below the other, in order

-   There were several blade styles, but none of them were flat and the pick blade was never longer than the shovel blade when folded.

-   TIME TO TALK ABOUT FAKES AGAIN:  Many post War copies were produced in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea (generally starting in the early 1960's).  I have never seen dates stamped on these, the blades are always of sub-standard metal (bending easily), and the picks are normally longer, skinnier, and more prone to breakage than are the MILSPEC ones.  They almost always have the same handle issues as listed above:  cheap, soft wood; shorter than MILSPEC, and not tapered

-  Buyer, Be Ware!  Just because the Carrier is MILSPEC, that doesn't mean the shovel itself is...

3.  KOREN WAR and Early Vietnam Entrenching Tools (M-1951):


-  Note:  During this period, very little modification was made to the late war Single Non-Folding Blade and Folding Blade and Pick tools

-  At some point, the Non-Folding Blade was abandoned and it is not common to find one with a later year than 1952

-  These Folding Blade and Pick models were all stamped with the standard, "U.S.," maker's name, and date, found above the top rivet of the shovel blade [with the tip of the shovel to the viewer's left and the inside curve facing one]

-  Two drain holes were also added to the shovel blade of this tool.  They are found, one on either side of the blade, near the top and are normally 3/8" in diameter, although there appears to be some variation...

-  Although the subject of Carriers will be addressed in a later article, of note is the addition of the M-1956 Carrier, which was slightly larger/wider to accommodate the extra bulk of the folding pick blade and also included fixture on the front for the bayonet.

-  As with many that came before it, this model might have various paint schemes and shades of Olive Drab, and if adopted later my the Forest Service, there could also be a layer of red paint over it

4.  Late Vietnam and onward to Present (M-1967):


-   At some point in the 1960's, the Tri-Fold Entrenching Tool was developed for Airborne Forces, and then perfected and issued as the one, standard Entrenching Tool for all forces

-  This has a  Folding, Curved Steel Blade and an aluminum, two-stage, folding handle.  The handle has an adjusting nut that allows the blade to be locked in three positions:  folded; open/shovel position; and hoe-position

-  These are issued with FLAT BLACK paint.  There are many FAKES on the market with green or red paint, and Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign armies ordered thousands of the cheap copies, some of which were, "captured," and brought back with our returning troops... (or just painted sand color and sold on Ebay as though they were)...

-  Buyer, Be Ware!  The most reliable way to determine a MILSPEC Tri-Fold from a cheap copy is to look at the indentations on both sides of the triangular shaped part of the handle (the hand-grip portion).  MILSPEC tools will have the "U.S." stamped on one side and the maker's name with a two-digit date on the other

-  I broke one of these digging in the red clay of Fort Benning in OCS.  The MILSPEC steel shovel blades almost never bend nor do they crack nor break.  Any break would usually be at the first joint in the aluminum handle.  HOWEVER, if the handle is mangled or mis-shapen, it was either run over by a truck or, more likely, a FAKE...

-  I have never seen one of these with an earlier date than '63, with dates in the '70's and '80's more commonplace.

IN SUMMARY [substitue the term, "after-market" for my term, "fakes" if you prefer]:

1.  Fakes are not normally marked with MILSPEC markings ["U.S," and many models:  maker's name and date].

2.  Fakes are generally manufactured with shortcuts:  softer wooden handles; cheap steel stamped/flat blades; shorter hilts in the folding varieties; bolted instead of riveted; and shorder handles.

3.  Fakes may be found covered with a MILSPEC carrier or vice versa.

4.  Some very smart folks also produce "Reproductions," which might be modern versions of MILSPEC, or might be good looking, but non-functional investments...

5.  Fakes have been around at least 50 years in some cases.  Just because a shovel was bought at the Estate Sale of a former veteran doesn't necessarily mean it was a genuine MILSPEC Entrenching Tool...


OK, now try one:

...this was an actual Ebay listing...

NOTE:  I'm not telling you that this is a FAKE entrenching tool, but several characteristics indicate that more information is needed.

1.  Notice the MILSPEC M-1956 Carrier -- no problem, and although it's not certain, the way it's sitting on the pistol belt indicates it's probably a newer style M-56 with the ALICE Clips (Vietnam vintage).

2.  The belt looks very suspect, but that's a subject for another article.

3.  Now, examine the Entrenching Tool

   -  What the seller said in the listing:

       --  No real details about the tool itself, but mentioned the markings on the Carrier [suspect wording]

       --  "...from an estate..."  [so what?]

    -   Characteristics:  somewhat bent at the joint; handle appears to be straight (not tapered as in MILSPEC); blade shape not MILSPEC on M 1951 tool, but might be an M 1943 Variation; end of handle hidden from view in the photo (can't tell if it's rounded at the end);  the pick blade appears to be shorter than MILSPEC on this tool, and it has a scratch mark below it on the handle -- perhaps very loose joint(?), and the very dark photo can hide other inconsistencies from the buyer

4.  What you need to ask the Seller to confirm your diagnosis:

   -  What markings are found on the blade [and you can mention the required MILSPEC markings on the inside curve near one of the rivets]

   -  If these MILSPEC markings are missing, have him turn the blade over and look for "Taiwan," "Japan," or "Korea..."

Conclusion:  Without MILSPEC markings, this is not worth the price of shipping.  I certainly wouldn't display it, and it wouldn't make a good prospecting tool either.

Here's another, and with this one, there is no doubt that it is a FAKE from the 1960's:


-  Shorter than MILSPEC handle that is straight (not tapered between the hilt and the end, and which is not rounded on the end)

-  Blade is flat compared to MILSPEC, but is one of the better blade shapes for a FAKE

-  Hilt is way too short and has a raised rivet -- not MILSPEC

-  The locking nut has exposed threads below it and it appears to be steel, and with the wrong shape when compared to MILSPEC

-  The lip of the blade appears to be wider than MILSPEC

-  This was listed as an, "...Army Soldier's Shovel..." and when asked, the seller indicated there were no markings on the blade

Conclusion:  This is the kind of shovel you hope your enemy is carrying.  This wouldn't even make a good toy shovel.








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