"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              


By Dustin Clingenpeel



Jackknives are certainly an over looked edged implement that were utilized by military personnel during WWII primarily due to the fact they are not seen in photo’s like fixed blade knives and are not well covered in reference material so they live a somewhat obscure life. There are a few well known jackknives that do have desirability in the military collecting community such as the stamped shield Army Engineer Knife, Mountain Knife, TL-29, airborne switch blades and other shield marked folders such as USMC and MD-USN. Most collector gravitate to name brands, such as Camillus, which produced a large volume and variety of folding knives during the war, but there are many other brands that also produced the same style knives in volume as well. The use of the term “volume” might be an understatement. Camillus alone claimed to manufacture almost 7 million pocket knives during the war and Imperial and Ulster together have claimed to have produced up to half the total pocket knives supplied to the US military. We have yet to include the figures from at least 6 or more other manufacturers. So, by doing some quick math, some 16 million individuals that served in the US military from 1942-1945 could have been issued a pocket knife with such a large quantity available. In addition to manufacturer's name, anther desirable feature for collectors would be jigged bone stag handles which are a typical feature associated with the knives mentioned above. Handles were being constructed of black cellulose acetate as an alternative, due to a fast approaching shortage of imported bone, as early as the spring of 1942 and remained as a standard production component through the duration of the war and post-war years into today. These thermoplastic (cellulose acetate) handles were referred to as "molded stag" or "Tech-Art" and manufactured by Foster Grant and probably other companies as well. It is likely that more knives were made with plastic handles through government contracts than with bone stag. To really investigate the world of folding jackknives, one has to step out of the box of the high profile, much like looking beyond the Airborne and Ranger infantry units when studying the U.S. Army ground forces.

The pocket knives discussed here are more directly associated to naval aviation purposes and to properly address the jackknife of WWII would require a book in its own right.

Almost all BuAer emergency rescue kits and pneumatic life rafts had a pocket knife as a standard component referenced as the Knife or Jackknife M-575 and available for issue from the aviation supply system as stock # R41-K-365. Simply put the M-575 is a four blade utility knife.

Air Sea Rescue Equipment Guide listing:

Knife                                                    R41-K-365

One jackknife equipped with a 3’ lanyard is provided with each life raft and stowed in the supply pocket. The knife is also included in the equipment of the Shipwreck kit and back pad kit.  Spec. M-575

The original draft submitted for Naval Aeronautical Specification M-575 resembled the Army Mountain Knife in that it included a clip type main blade and flat stock steel clevis which was to be stamped USN, this knife never went into production. Several knife manufacturers persuaded the BuAer to amend the specification to conform to the already existing US Army specification 17-170 for the Knife, Pocket, Engineer, Four Blade, With Clevis. In essence, the standardized specification M-575 reads the same as the 17-170 in all construction details. These knives included a spear point main blade, screw driver / cap lifter, can opener and leather punch. There were four primary manufacturers of the 4 bladed Engineer Knife and they are Camillus, Imperial, Ulster and Pal. Other knife makers such as Case, Cattaraugus and Western produced 4 blade utility knives that conform to specification 17-170 but seemed to not have produced them in very large numbers probably due to fact that the government had them busy with production of fixed blade knives and what jackknives they did make went into the PX system. All four of the primary manufacturers of the engineer knife are known to have supplied the BuAer and/or contractors for emergency kits and life rafts.

 In a letter from Camillus to a Lt. Kaiser of the BuAer, dated August 11th 1943, it states:

  “This is just to advise that the knife which we are delivering on contracts for the Bureau of Aeronautics through prime contractors is identical to the knife delivered to the Engineers, with the exception that the shield is left blank instead of stamped U.S.A.”

For a short clarification on the term “through prime contractors”, this simply means that the knives are being shipped from Camillus to contractors of equipment requiring this type of knife, i.e. life rafts, shipwreck kits and back pad kits.

 The paragraph prior to this quote specifically calls out Army specification 17-170. The Camillus Cutlery Co. Army Engineer Knife is very common to find with the production figures ranging into several million and found in three variations which include USA stamped shield, blank shield and no shield. The most common stamped shield was for US Army Engineer/QM contracts, the blank shield is for BuAer contracts and the no shield was for US Army Quartermaster contracts for general issue and PX. The Engineer Knife manufactured by Camillus included jigged bone handles with brass linings and brass handle pins. By October 1942, they were manufactured with all steel and a 4 line stamping on the blade tang: Camillus/ Cutlery Co./ Camillus NY/ USA. Late war Engineer knives will include a three line stamping and brass components. This model was only manufactured with bone handles.