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


By Dustin Clingenpeel


The Colonial Giant Jackknife has an interesting history originating within the Army Air Forces. In the spring of 1943, Wright Field began working on a vest-type emergency sustenance kit to replace the parachute-type back pad kits then in use. For inclusion in the vest, the Equipment Laboratory designed a large folding knife to replace the standard folding machete found in the parachute kits at that time.  The USAAF approached Colonial Cutlery Co. for the manufacture of the proposed model of jackknife sometime in the summer of 1943. There was a cooperative effort between both engineering departments of the AAF and Colonial to finalize on a suitable model by the end of the year.  3,000 jackknives were procured from Colonial in December 1943 to supply an equal amount of experimental emergency vests for field testing purposes. Sometime between December 1943 and February 1944, Colonial solicited the BuAer (and possibly other services) on the jackknife they were making for the AAF. In several follow up letters from Colonial they labeled the knife as Jiant Jack Knife. This was later revised to Giant Jackknife in BuAer equipment lists. As unofficial nomenclature, the AAF referenced it as the Vest, Emergency Sustenance, Type C-1 Knife, All Purpose. The jackknife went through a series of drawing revisions with minor changes in finishes and types of materials during it's manufacture through the year of 1944. There seemed to be little interest in the jackknife within the BuAer, but they did purchase small quantities at periodic points in 1944. These would have been of the USAAF version with no bail or sheath.  The deciding factor for the future procurement of the Giant Jackknife by the BuAer came by the way of another development.

By the close of 1943, the BuAer was working to streamline existing emergency equipment and began experimenting with the idea of a combination life raft/emergency equipment seat kit referenced as Mark-I Modified Parachute Raft and Back Pad Kit Combination. By the end of 1944, this concept became a reality. Sheath or hunting knives were standard equipment carried by aviators, but did not provide the utility that a machete could. With the new streamlined emphasis on emergency equipment the bulky V-44 machete could not be incorporated efficiently in the new seat kit and personal equipment combination. This is where the Giant Jackknife was found to fill a role providing general utility as supplemental equipment replacing the V-44 machete. By November 1944, a drawing and specification had been submitted for the PK-1 pararaft which prompted the BuAer to inquire on pricing for 50,000 Giant Jackknives from Colonial. The BuAer began preparing drawing number 9253 at this time specifying the knife include a bail and canvas sheath which distinguished it from the previous USAAF model. For some unknown reason, procurement of the Giant Jackknive was not initiated till the end of February 1945 under contract NXSa-94964, which increased the quantity to 100,000, to be manufactured by Colonial Cutlery Company at a cost of $2.23 each. A smaller limited quantity may have been purchase prior to February, but no solid documents stating the fact has surfaced. On the contract, it lists the knife as Knife and Sheath, Vest Type, Emergency Kit which is unusual as it describes it in both BuAer and AAF type nomenclature. Upon deliveries of the Giant Jackknife in April and May of 1945, the nomenclature was changed to Knife, Emergency, Aviators stock number R41-K-465. Both Colonial and United Machine Tool Co. manufactured the Giant Jackknives but Colonial was the only manufacturer of the Navy model with bail. In Technical Order 24-45, dated March 2nd 1945, titled Pararaft Kit, Model PK-1 and Supplementary Air Sea Rescue Items of Personal Equipment Description, Inspection and Maintenance it lists the Giant Jackknife as a utility jungle tool much like the V-44 machete it replaced. It should be noted that the T.O. was issued before the jackknife and PK-1 were in the supply system. As a collector note, it helps to layout the M-592 with an AN-R-2 series raft kit then layout the PK-1 or Model A with the Pilot’s Personal Equipment for comparison, this will help you better understand the concept the BuAer was working towards.

Contrary to popular belief, the Giant Jackknife was not a knife included in emergency kits but rather as an item of supplemental personal equipment, hence the canvas sheath for carrying in a pocket, attaching to a belt, or it could even be sewn to the flight suit. The idea was that the tool could serve as an axe, machete, saw and knife in one compact combination which was one quarter the size of the V-44. This was a survival tool not intended for regular use and it can be easily criticized today for lack of practical functionality, but it served the intended purpose at the time. The knife included a 4 ½” spear type blade, a high speed hacksaw, capable of cutting metal or wood, and black plastic checkered grips with an overall length of 15 ½” open and 6” closed. 

Above:  The knife, with sheath, can be seen in this display of Pilot's Personal Equipment.

Below:  The "Aviator's Emergency Knife" and it's cardboard box of issue, as furnished by Colonial, labeled with both Navy stock and contract numbers. You will note that the bale is quite large, and thanks to the large button hole sewn into the sheath's flap, extends out through the top of the sheath. This would facilitate the easy removal of the knife with sheath from a pocket, even if soaking wet, with just one finger. Attaching a lanyard would have been a simple and prudent option as well.