1942—Occupied France…The French Resistance was in dire straights. Being a largely secretive, yet unarmed, underground movement, they had a difficult time carrying out direct actions against the Nazis. In order to get weapons, they had to get them from the enemy. The US and British forces tried to help as much as they could, but it was hard for the Resistance to smuggle in and carry concealed things like Thompson SMGs, Enfields, and Bren Guns. So they seeded France with other tools of subversion.
The knife was a 2 inch, double-edged dagger, with no handle. The whole knife was essentially a blade.
One famous tool was the “Liberator,” which was a small, single-shot, .45 caliber pistol, about the size of a Kel-Tec P32. The gun was horrible, but if you snuck up behind an unsuspecting Nazi storm trooper, you could pop him off with a close range shot to the back of the head. This worked out rather nicely because as soon as you fired, you could take the Nazi’s weapon just as all his friends came running to see what just happened.
The Resistance quickly learned that this wasn’t the ideal method of getting a new Mauser. The OSS in England also wondered why they were loosing contact with so many Resistance members. It was time for Plan B…a small, concealable dagger that they could use to quietly dispatch unsuspecting Nazis standing guard. The knife was a 2 inch, double-edged dagger, with no handle. The whole knife was essentially a blade. The rear portion was unsharpened, with some line or checkering filed into the metal to provide grip.
The best tactic was to tip-toe up behind the guard and grab him from behind in a threatening manner, to make him think you had a bigger knife. Tip-toeing worked out best because it avoided German snickering.
Okay, all of the above is virtually nonsense, but this was the impression that I had when I first saw a picture of this little knife in a history book. This isn’t the type of thing you would expect to see in a book about the implements of warfare, but there it was, actually designed by the OSS for concealment. It came with a small, leather sheath that one would sew inside a sleeve, a boot, or under a lapel, which is where it got the name “Lapel Dagger.”
Try as I might, I could not find any documented use of one of these little knives outside of works of fiction or fantasy where anyone used it to silently take out a German sentry to nick his rifle. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t useful or that it wasn’t a good idea. Since the dawn of man, small blades have always proven useful around the cave, skinning a mastodon; in the office, opening one of those Kevlar reinforced FedEx envelopes; or at home on the couch, opening a bag of chips. You have to admit that it is awkward using a bayonet to open up your sour cream and onion Ruffles. You know you’ve done it. Regardless of any utility, these little knives were largely forgotten in favor of other war trophies, such as Luger pistols, P38 can openers, French virginity and large portions of Berlin.
A small, concealable knife is quite handy. A small and concealable blade is probably even more useful…
Here I sit, in the spring of 2006, looking at this little WWII curio, and I can’t help but to think I’ve seen this before. Tiny, concealable knives have made a huge comeback. It seems that every major knife maker is selling a tiny, concealable, fixed blade of one sort or another. All of these can trace their roots back to the OSS lapel dagger. Some had handles, some have loops or rings, some are made of plastic, and you can find them in just about any blade shape you want. They are popularly worn around the neck and even called “neck knives.” The only real difference between these new knives and the OSS dagger isn’t the shape or materials, but the marketing, because they both serve the same function and fill the same need.
Here in rural Utah, there isn’t much of a need for clandestine sentry removal…at least not yet. A panzer division could roll into Vernal, Utah, and make me a liar. You never know. Maybe some French artist in Paris, sipping espresso from a tiny cup thought the same thing. Okay, so the risk of a Nazi Blitzkrieg is low, but there is always the threat that I might need to defend myself from an attack, be it from a moron who is high on meth, from munchies in difficult packaging that is tougher than the boxes housing cockpit voice recorders. Careful, that clamshell packaging can cut you…Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
A small, concealable knife is quite handy. A small and concealable blade is probably even more useful in these politically correct times than back then during the war. There have been several times when I felt that it would have been inadvisable to ship out my Kershaw Boa and open up something…while a small, sharp edge that could mostly be hidden in my hand to cut tape would have been just fine and wouldn’t alarm the sheeple at the office.
Now, you could opt to buy a tiny little fixed blade knife from just about anywhere, but I decided that I wanted the neck knife’s Granddaddy. I wanted something from history. So I searched around and with the help of the good members of CombatCarry.com’s discussion forum, I found a guy who was making the same pattern knife that the OSS originally designed. I found Dan Brock of the Plowshare Forge, in Eugene, Oregon. Dan makes knives from history, e.g., the Civil War, World Wars I and II. His knives give you a sense of history that you are not going to feel from a knife made by Benchmade or Spyderco. The best part was that it wasn’t super expensive, high tech, +2 dragon slasher; it was only twenty bucks. He even accepted PayPal. I placed my order right then and there. How often can you buy a working piece of history for only twenty bucks?
The knife arrived in a small, leather sheath, exactly as it was originally used. There were even copies of photos of such knives from some history books, including a photo of the knife with the sheath. A good, usable, historical reproduction. I was delighted.
…those Frenchies had some real guts. And they truly did. They performed some amazing feats against an overpowering enemy
The knife itself is as simple as was the original intent. It’s not a showpiece; it’s not a fancy gentleman’s knife. It’s nothing you would want to pull out to cut your cigar with while enjoying a cognac or a brandy with polite company. It’s not made of adamantium, it can’t pass through airport security, and it can’t program your VCR. But it does something else that is hard to describe. It makes you think, for even just a moment, that those Frenchies had some real guts. And they truly did. They performed some amazing feats against an overpowering enemy. Imagine if you will, that the little blade was your only weapon and you had to work your way to the rail yard to plant your explosives on the tracks before midnight. In today’s world, any number of scenarios can come to your mind…desperation and daring, with only this knife hidden under your lapel. Fourth and goal, and it’s between you and a stubborn bag of Fritos just before the snap. Or opening that formal letter, informing you that you are a finalist for the ten million dollar sweepstakes that you didn’t enter.
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Photography by the Author.