Carter Rila's

Carter's Cutlery Commentaries

April 2006



The Folding Hunting Knives and the Giant Jackknives

The Myth: The U.S. Navy issued huge jackknives in WW II Survival Kits

A distinct knife pattern known by various incorrect names was designed and adopted in 1943 by the A.A.F. for inclusion in the C-l Emergency Vest. These knives are familiar to most collectors as many of them appeared on the surplus market circa 1960. They are massive two-bladed jackknives with a master spear point blade and a fine-toothed metal-cutting saw blade. They are notorious as a finger nail buster. They are made of blued steel and have plastic scales. These knives are shown in Cole and in sources derived from his work as Navy Survival Kit knives. Wrong on both counts!

They were not included in "survival" kits by the Navy. The Navy did not issue survival kits in WW II; the Navy issued Rescue Kits. And further the knives were not a Navy design in the first place.

These big knives are designated on the A.A.F. drawings as: Knife Assembly-Vest Type Emergency Kit, All-Purpose. Rearranging this into standard English we have All-Purpose Vest Type Emergency Kit Knife Assembly or for short Emergency Vest Knife. Other less convoluted names can be found in other official sources. For example in the Air Search and Rescue Equipment Guide of 1945 is found:

Stock No. C.F.E.

Knife, Folding, Hunting

Spec. No. None.

One two-bladed hunting knife is supplied in the C-l vest. The blades are each five inches long, one a cutting blade, the other a saw. 

The C-1 Emergency Vest was adopted for individuals aviators of the Army Air Force in 1944.

In the A.A.F. manuals issued for the aviators various optimistic descriptions of the uses of the knife are to be found, for the developers of the Emergency Vest Knife had high hopes for its utility.

Not only would it replace the folding machete but it would have other uses as well, as the following quotes make clear:

Knife, 2-bladed, five-inch cutting, five inch saw (1 ea).

This knife, with cutting blade extender, is heavy enough for use as a machete ...[Here are instructions on how to close it. They must have assumed you could open it easily. Anyone who has skinned a knuckle or broken a nail on one of these knows better] The saw blade, which opens and closes easily [too easily!] can be used in sawing metal tubing, struts, etc., as well as in opening coconuts. [Covering all bases here!]

And here are further optimistic instructions on how to commit knificide!

LARGE KNIFE (with 5-inch saw and 5-inch blade)

This combination tool will serve you as an axe, machete, saw, and knife. [Wow! does it sing, too?] Use the large knife blade for cutting fishing poles and tent supports, and for skinning and preparing small game. ...

[More instructions on how to close it without amputating a finger in the bear trap spring!] The saw blade will saw small trees and will cut through metal tubing and struts. [Are these something good -to eat? Why sit about cutting struts? Why not have a special strut-cutter?]

It is useful also for opening the shells of cocoanuts (sic) and turtles. To make sawing easier, smear a few drops of oil or a bit of soap from the first-aid kit on the blade. This blade opens and closes like a jack-knife.

Caution; Don't carry this knife in your hip pocket; it may fall out and be lost. Carry it in a buttoned trouser pocket. [Makes sense but what if you are wearing coveralls?]

Don't try to chop large pieces of wood with the knife blade—- you will only ruin the knife and you: hand as well. Use the saw to cut large wood. The knife blade can be used as a wedge to split the wood into smaller pieces using a rock as a hammer. [How to ruin the pivot. A limb would not do any damage.]

Whoever wrote this drivel probably learned his woodcraft in New York City's Central Park

The similar knives issued by the Navy were not for inclusion in kits. They were to be carried on the aviator's person. An article on Rescue Equipment appearing in Naval Aviation News in early 1945 lists them in "Pilot Personal Equipment". They are designated as "Giant Jackknife" as shown in BUAER Drawing No. 9253. They have no stock number listed.

At this point, the careful reader may ask why does he say this? Cole shows the jackknife-saw in a USN marked pouch. A close look will reveal that the knife in the pouch has a clevis which the A.A.F. version does not! Otherwise the Navy BUAER Giant Jackknife is identical to the A.A.F. Emergency Vest Knife. The Giant Jackknife must have proven impractical almost immediately for it is not listed in any other Navy published document so far discovered. It is not in the ASREG either indicating it post dates the Folding Hunting Knife for that knife is both pictured and described as quoted above.

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Copyright 2006 Carter Rila