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There are many historic knives that we can see in the museums or use in the outdoors today. One such knife is the pantographic knife, which is mistakenly known as a paratrooper knife. Contrary to popular believes It was never used during World War II by the German paratroopers, instead were issued gravity knives with wooden handles, and equipped with an awl during WW II.
As we have stated outrightly that these knives are not the same, let us dig deep into these two types of knives.
What is a Pantographic Knife
A pantographic knife refers to a type of folding knife with a blade that is opened using a distinct scissors method. The design and working mechanism are similar to a balisong or a butterfly knife with which it is usually confused.
The tang is longer than the knife heel and the handle is proportionally split and connected such that it can fold on both sides for giving proper support to the tang.
However, unlike the balisong handles that sway independently, this model employs a pantograph connection for sustaining the alignment of the handles while opening and closing the blade.
Unlike most folding models, a pantographic knife is considered strong, as it is hitched at many points to boost the force for taking the blade away from the handle. As you already realized from the image, these knives would require you to use both your arms to get it open or closed.
The presence of the collar mechanism in which a collar goes up and down the blade looks similar to an Outside-The-Front (OTF) gravity knife that the German paratroopers used. This is perhaps why it is mistakenly known as the paratrooper knife.
There were at times these knives were sold as a German paratrooper knife used in WW2. If you find someone today selling pantographic knives as paratrooper knives, stay away.
German Paratrooper Knives
During World War II, it was common for the German paratroopers to get entangled in their parachutes at the time of landing. To get rid of this entanglement, they needed knives that worked with just one hand.
However, most knives in those days needed two hands to open due to which it became tough to use them in such a rescue situation. Further, risk or fear of being caught by Allied forces before getting free was always lingering.
Thus, the German paratroopers required a knife for emergency cutting. This triggered the introduction of a knife that opened quickly using a single hand.
A knife for the German paratroopers was designed by Flieger-Kappmesser, which was called Kappmmesser (knife-cutter or severing knife), Fallmesser (drop knife), or FKM (flying knife-cutter).
When the Allied task force took these newly invented knives from their German captives, they brought them to their American and British regions. They termed these knives as gravity knives, as they depended on gravity to use them. Thus also known as German paratrooper gravity knives.
Well, this knife is known by many more names, which are as follows:
- Parachute knife of the Luftwaffe or Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger-Messer
- Paratrooper gravity knife
- Luftwaffe Gravity Knife (LGK)
- German gravity knife
- Bundeswehr gravity knife or Bundeswehr-fallmesser
Two models of this gravity knife were introduced. First was M-1937 in Solingen by Paul Weyersberg & Co, while the second one was the SMF by Solinger Metallwaffenfabrik Stoecker & Co.
It is termed as a gravity knife, as the tool depends on the gravitational force to open its blade. It falls open when the user points it towards the ground. Using a lever on the handle, the blade opens through gravity. This mechanism eliminates the requirement of using both hands.
The lever locks the blade firmly when there is no use. It also flips it back into place once it is opened to keep the risk of accidental slips at bay. Thus, a gravity knife is among the easiest and quickest knives to open and use.
Although its main purpose was to help the aircrew or paratroopers of the Luftwaffe to cut the parachutes’ harnesses, a gravity knife was used for other purposes as well. As per the historic records, this knife was also used in close combats, battlefields, and in survival situations.
This German paratrooper knife also came with a folding marlinspike or awl. Chiefly designed for untying rope knots, it was also useful to mend jammed gear and as a prying tool. The spike never got locked when opened.
Apart from cutting the parachute’s harnesses, the tool was used to cut via the aircraft’s aluminum hull after a crash landing and in the water to get free of parachute entanglement. Several thousands of gravity knives were produced during the second world war.
Different Versions of German Gravity Knives
One of the most esteemed gravity knives is undoubtedly Fliegerkappmesser or Fallschirmjägermesser that features a gravity-driven, 4-inch long OTF blade. Originally made in 1937, this LGK knife was not intended for defense in combats although it was later used for such purposes quite reliably.
It had a sliding blade within a frame of metal, which was formerly affixed using smooth wood scales. The blade featured a spear-point style that was blunt, while its profile was flat ground, narrowing towards a utility edge.
For opening the blade, the user only had to point the knife downwards while flicking the fulcrum-style lever to facilitate gravity to release the blade. When the user released the lever, it locked the blade into its place. It was also possible to open the LGK by flipping the lever and the hand wrist.
This original German paratrooper gravity knife has given rise to different variations since the second world war. These variations are as follows:
- Type I: Was the original or the first version of the LGK made in Germany. Also known as the Luftwaffe Fallschirmjager-Messer, it was strictly used to help paratroopers in cutting ropes. This model itself was available in five variations, as three diverse manufacturers were given the contract to design. Typically, this model had wooden scales on the handle.
- Type II: Marked the next generation of the German LGK during the war and was designed by two companies even after the war. Even this new gravity model was available in five variations. It came with lighter design due to which it proved to be a convenient weapon secondary to bulky fighting knives.
- Type III: Was the LGK that was designed once the second world war was over. As it was unreliable, the Type II LGK was still widely in use.
- Type IV: Was the LGK that replaced Type III LGK and was made during the 1970s and early 1980s by three companies. It was comparable with Type II LGK in terms of similarities. However, there was a difference in terms of the materials used to make the handle. The material was plastic polymer instead of the wooden scales seen in the original and second generation of LGK knives. The plastic handles simply meant a great resistance to moisture, and consequently, more durability. This version is still seen amongst the German soldiers.
- Type V: This is the latest LGK version (LL80) that is made even today by Eickhorn although the production started in 1979. It is smaller than the aforementioned versions. As it needs fewer components, it is also easier to make than its previous models. Thus, it is a more economical option to consider. It is still in use by the German soldiers as well as by the Swiss Air Force.
Apart from the aforementioned German paratrooper knives, there was a British version. After seizing Type I LGK knives from the German troops, the British government made their models of gravity knives.
Made by George Ibberson and Company, the British gravity knife was exclusively used as a secondary fighting knife by different wartime units. It came with plastic or smooth wood handle. Other features were similar to those of Type I knives such as folding spike, gravity-friendly blade, and the locking mechanism.
Gravity Knives Vs Switchblades?
It has become common to use gravity knives and switchblades interchangeably, as they both tend to look quite similar. For many, a gravity knife is simply a type of switchblade. However, both these knives are different.
The key difference is in the way in which each operates. As a fact, both of them retain their blades within the handles. Nonetheless, switchblades and gravity knives use unique mechanisms to open their blades.
Gravity knives come with a locking lever and rely on the gravitational force to open their blades once this lever is moved. On the other hand, switchblades have a spring within the handle. Once the user pushes a button, the blade is opened automatically. Thus, switchblades are automatic, while gravity knives are not.
Apart from the switchblades, you may come across some more knives appearing similar to gravity knives. These are OTFs and butterfly knives.
Many latest folding knives may also seem to act as gravity knives. This is because of the pin integrated near the side of the folded blade, which you need to flick for opening the blade using only one hand.
Still, unlike gravity knives, these tools have stiff hinges. In simple words, you can more swiftly pull a gravity knife to open its blade than a folding knife with a pin.
Legal Status of Paratrooper and Pantographic Knives
Gravity knives were held legal in 2019 in New York. However, these knives are still banned in other states. They are also banned in the U.K. and Canada. Pantographic knives, on the other hand, is legal in most states as it is very similar to the butterfly knives.
Modern Day Equivalents of Paratrooper and Pantographic Knives
Paragon Warlock, Pheonix, Dredd are gravity knives you can buy these days online. We have written about the Warlock and Pheonix models here.
United Cutlery and S&W used to produce pantographic knives. Both of the companies have discontinued manufacturing these knives, unfortunately.
Originated during World War II, a paratrooper knife is designed for one-hand operation, which is required in rescue and self-defense situations. Also known as the gravity knife, it has gone through different changes since the last century to come up with variations. On the other hand, pantographic knives were sold as German paratrooper knives but have no relationship with each other.