Japanese WW2 'Heiho' Modified Dutch Klewang, U.S. Manufactured (Lilley-Ames Co.)
Curved fullered blade with hatchet point, steel flat oval hilt, black Bakelite slab grips secured with three brass rivets. Brown leather scabbard with brass chape piece and riveted brass reinforcement at the throat. Overall length 55.5cm (~21¾ inches) blade length 43cm (~17 inches).
During almost forty years of warfare against Acinese rebels at the end of the 19th century, the Dutch colonial police and security forces in the East Indies, termed Marechausee, learned that European sabers were too cumbersome for close quarters, unsuitable for cutting vegetation (requiring a second blade to be carried) and hard for locally-recruited auxiliaries to wield. The native Acinese 'klewang' blade was much more suitable, and was unofficially adopted very quickly by the troops.
Early custom Marechausee klewangs, or ‘marechauseesabel’, were made by combining native blades with a European-style hilt, or reshaping a European cavalry blade into a similar profile, but the usefulness of the klewang for both combat and as a tool to get through the dense Indonesian rainforest was so evident that it gained official recognition in 1898.
When the Japanese captured the Dutch East Indies (what is now Indonesia) in 1942 they captured much of the equipment used by the Dutch colonial forces along with it, including a stockpile of klewangs. Their occupation forces converted these klewangs for their own use, shortening the blade and almost completely removing the basket guard to produce a machete-like field tool. This new form is often referred to as the ‘Heiho’, a Japanese term for colonial auxiliaries. (The Japanese recruited tens of thousands of Indonesians into ‘Heiho’ units, led by Japanese officers, to bolster the numbers of the occupation forces). Some of these tools were later captured again from the Japanese and used by Allied forces, including American troops and Dutch marines, a well-built machete being useful to everyone in that theatre of the war.
Most of the converted klewangs would have been the M1911, the first type to be produced in Europe and the first to contain all original parts rather than in the East Indies using repurposed cavalry hilts. These were manufactured continuously up to the occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, with increasing volumes sent to the East Indies when it became clear that war in the Pacific was inevitable.
This example, however, appears to be a conversion of the 1941 ‘Lilley-Ames’ model of klewang. These were commissioned by the Dutch government-in-exile in 1941, manufactured by the Lilley-Ames Company of Columbus, Ohio and almost 3,000 were shipped from the United States to Dutch forces still stationed in the East Indies before the Japanese invasion took place. About the same number were also produced by Lilley-Ames for the US Navy intended as cutlasses, some of which went on to be used by Marines fighting in the Pacific – swords from the same manufacturer carried for the same purpose on opposite sides. The 1941 model is distinguishable from the more common versions by its black bakelite grips instead of wood grips, and the screw fitting at its pommel.
The klewang is unmarked, all identifying marks on the blade having been removed in the conversion process. The blade is blunt and retains much of its original bluing except in raised areas and where it has been reprofiled. There is some movement to the hilt, though the grip is solid. The leather of the scabbard Is solid and flexible for its age, and its stitching is 100% intact. The frog loop of the scabbard was also cut off as part of the conversion process, with its stub still visible.