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''Japanese Garand'' WWII Semi-Automatic Rifle
Japan's wartime production of semi-automatic rifles was restricted to experimental and prototype models. Shortly before the war's end, the Imperial Navy produced the Type 5 rifle, a 7.7mm caliber copy of the American M1 Garand which featured a 10-round box magazine rather than the M1's 8-round en bloc clip. These were also manufactured in extremely limited numbers; perhaps as few as one hundred were produced. Limited resources and shortages of suitable arms caused some of the earlier prototypes to be committed to combat. Assembly number 58 on minor parts.
Arisaka-type bolt-action rifles served as the mainstay of Japanese infantry troops during the Second World War. These arms trace their origin to 1897, when a commission headed by Tokyo Arsenal superintendent Colonel Nariaki Arisaka developed the Type 30 rifle to address deficiencies of the Murata Type 13 11mm caliber single-shot and Type 22 8mm caliber tubular magazine military rifles then in use by Imperial forces. The Type 30 rifle, so designated because it was adopted in the 30th year of the reign of Japan's Emperor Meiji, utilized the Mauser turning bolt mechanism and was the first Japanese rifle to chamber the 6.5mm caliber smokeless cartridge. These rifles were adopted as Japan's standard service rifle and were the principal arm used by Imperial troops during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.
Minor modifications to this design yielded the rare Type 35 rifle, introduced in 1902. The Type 38, which followed in 1905, employed the one-piece turning bolt mechanism and five-round staggered-column non-detachable box magazine of the German Mauser Model 98. Unlike the German rifle, these arms cocked on forward movement of the bolt, a feature common to British military rifles. Type 38 bolts were hand-fitted, which produced an extraordinarily smooth pull.
This feature increased the workload of ordnance technicians who were required to repair and maintain them, as bolts were not interchangeable. These rifles chambered a 6.5mm caliber semi-rimmed cartridge and featured extremely strong actions with locking lugs, gas ports, and shields which effectively contained and diverted exhaust gasses from ruptured cartridges with little or no resulting damage to the receiver and associated mechanisms. Post-Second World War tests showed that the Type 38 action was of superior strength to the Mauser, and to the U.S. Model 1903 and 1917 rifles.
The design of Type 38 arms differs from the Mauser in the action of their safety mechanism, which consists of a large rotating knob on the rear of the bolt rather than the Mauser's tab-style rotating safety. These and later Japanese rifles also feature a sliding bolt cover similar to that used by Britain's Lee-Metford rifle. Although useful for keeping foreign matter out of the chamber, covers were generally removed by troops in the field to reduce noise. These rifles also featured a graduated rear sight and a two-piece mahogany pistol-grip butt stock, which served both to strengthen the grip and to conserve materials as the Japanese had difficulty in obtaining blanks of suitable size for one-piece stock construction. Beginning in the 1930s, both the bore and bolt face were chrome-plated to prevent corrosion and to reduce wear.
The Type 38 was produced in long rifle, short rifle, and carbine variants. Included were standard models with bayonet lugs, and the Type 97 rifle, a sniping version of the Type 38 with a turned-down bolt handle and wire monopod, which made its debut in 1937. Carbines included a hinged/folding buttstock version for use by airborne troops, and the Type 44, which was introduced in 1911. These were essentially identical to the Type 38 carbine but with the addition of a permanently-attached folding bayonet, Type 38 rifles served with Japanese troops from 1907 through 1945. These arms saw limited action with Japanese troops during the First World War, and were used extensively throughout the Second World War. In addition, many were purchased by other nations including Britain, Imperial Russia, Mexico, Brazil, and Siam as training and as primary- or secondary-issue arms. Some of these are chambered for other cartridges and bear the crests of the purchasing nation on the receiver in much the same way as Mauser rifles produced under license outside Germany.
In addition to the Type 38 and its variants, the Imperial Navy also possessed about 60,000 6.5mm Type "I" rifles which had been produced in Italy both by Beretta and at government arsenals. These arms are seldom encountered today, and little is known about them. Similar to the Type 38, the Type "I" combined the Japanese-type two-piece stock with a Mannlicher Carcano action and Mauser-type magazine. These arms saw action in the hands of Japanese Naval infantry who opposed the U.S. 4th Marine Division at Kwajalein Atoll in 1944. Japanese troops were also armed with Manchurian-produced Mausers, as well as with Czech Vz24 rifles that had been captured when Nazi troops occupied Czechoslovakia. Captured American and British .30 caliber rifles were used to arm garrison troops.
Japan's wartime experience in China and Manchuria during the 1930s provided the impetus for development of a larger-caliber military rifle, as the 6.5mm (.25 caliber) cartridge was outclassed by the Chinese 7.9mm Mauser. Several designs based on the Type 38 but chambered for a 7.7x58mm caliber rimless cartridge, roughly equivalent to the U.S. .30 caliber military cartridge, were introduced for testing.
Field trials brought about the 1939 adoption of the Nagoya Arsenal-designed Type 99 rifle, which took its name from the Japanese calendar year of 2599. The Type 99 was slightly shorter than the earlier Type 38 and included a folding wire monopod, a hinged magazine floorplate, side-mounted sling swivels, and an graduated rear sight equipped with folding arms which could be used to defend against air attack. The standard Type 30 bayonet could be mounted to the Type 99, as could a grenade launcher. These rifles first saw limited action during the Solomons Campaign of late 1942, and by the Aleutians campaign, entire Japanese regiments were equipped with the new arm. Although they never replaced the Type 38 rifle, the Type 99 was used to a greater degree as additional copies became available.
As with the earlier Type 38, these rifles were produced in both long and short rifle, sniper, and carbine versions, as well as a take-down version, designated the Type 2, which was used by Japanese paratroops. Sniper variants employ a 2.5- or 4-power fixed-focus telescopic sight mounted to the side of the receiver. While standard-production rifles feature bolt handles that extend at a right angle to the body of the rifle, bolt handles on sniper arms are bent downward to allow them to function without interference from the offset-mounted scope. The Type 2 paratroop rifle employs a screw fastener and a sliding wedge/dovetail assembly below the receiver ring to secure the barrel and fore-end to the receiver/stock assembly.
Arsenal pressure test guns were produced for use in ammunition development and for quality control purposes during the manufacturing. These are extremely rare today. Smoothbore training rifles, patterned after both the Type 38 and Type 99 service rifles but which used special cartridges, were also produced. These are often identifiable by the lack of markings on the receiver and by their crude finish, although these same characteristics may also be observed on late-war "last ditch" production arms. Trainers also lack the gas port and front locking lugs common to standard service rifle bolts.
Japanese military rifle production was restricted to government arsenals. The Type 99 was manufactured at the Tokyo, Kokura, and Nagoya Arsenals, and at various arsenals in Osaka, Fukushima, and Hiroshima. Rifles were also manufactured under Japanese supervision at Mukden Arsenal in Manchuria, and at Jinsen Arsenal in Inchon, Korea. Production was carried out with much of the same equipment as that used to manufacture the Type 38. To conserve resources, simplify production, and reduce costs, forged and machined components were replaced with metal stampings where possible. Further cost-cutting measures were introduced in 1943, when the Type 99 rifle was produced without a cleaning rod, bolt cover, sling swivels, monopod, or a chrome-plated bore, and with fixed rear peep sights and a wooden butt plate. Earlier rifles featured front sights with protective "ears", but even these were eliminated late in the war.
Unlike the Type 38, the action of these late-production rifles was of inferior strength and construction, a situation that only worsened with the declining fortunes of Japan's military forces and the corresponding increase in American aerial bombardment of industrial centers. In some cases, desperate Japanese munitions-makers even resorted to producing rifles with cast-iron receivers. Consequently, Type 99s manufactured near the end of the war were extremely suspect and could, under adverse conditions, be equally if not more dangerous to its Japanese user as it was to Allied troops. This situation is not indicative of the quality of earlier-production rifles, which were well-designed, quite reliable, and very effective in combat. Even in better times, however, the Type 99 was not as well-made as its predecessor.
At the start of the Second World War, the United States was the only country that produced a semi-automatic rifle as its standard infantry arm. The Japanese Army had been evaluating semi-automatic rifle designs as early as 1931, when the Nambu Rifle Manufacturing Co. received a contract to design and test both a semi-auto rifle and light machine gun. Nambu produced several designs, none of which were satisfactory. During this period, two 6.5mm caliber gas-operated semi-automatic rifle designs were introduced, both of which were based on foreign models. Both the Army's Tokyo Arsenal and Nippon Special Steel Co. produced experimental rifles based on the American J.D. Pedersen-type toggle action, and a rifle patterned after the Czech ZH-29 was produced by Tokyo Gas and Electric. The Japanese Pedersens suffered from the same cartridge-feed problem as their American-designed cousins, and the ZH-29s proved to be inaccurate.
Japan's interest in semi-auto military arms waned due to their increased cost over comparable bolt-action rifles, the inability of Japanese industry to manufacture sufficient supplies, and a belief among conservative military officers that semi-automatic rifles were wasteful of ammunition. The outbreak of war in China during 1936 increased demand for the Type 38 rifle, and as military production took up available resources, the semi-automatic rifle program was shelved until 1941.
As the war progressed, other nations followed America's lead in developing and adopting semi-automatic rifles, but Japan's production of these arms continued to be restricted to experimental and prototype models. Shortly before the war's end, the Imperial Navy produced the Type 5 rifle, a 7.7mm caliber copy of the American M1 Garand which featured a 10-round box magazine rather than the M1's 8-round en bloc clip. These were also manufactured in extremely limited numbers; perhaps as few as one hundred were produced. Due to limited resources, the Type 5 quite likely would never have entered production even if Japan had managed to prolong the war. Shortages of suitable arms caused some of the earlier prototypes to be committed to combat, including two Pedersen-type rifles that were captured by American troops on Okinawa.
All Japanese armament production ended with the country's surrender in August 1945. Occupation troops destroyed all production equipment and tools and confiscated all military arms. The Imperial seal was ground off of the receivers of captured arms, with some sources indicating that this was done under order of General Douglas MacArthur, while others claim that the Japanese received permission to remove the chrysanthemum prior to surrendering them to Allied troops.
Based on the presence of absence of these seals, Japanese military rifles may be identified either as captured in combat or as post-war surrendered arms. Many captured rifles were later used by Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Burmese, and Indonesian troops, while others were brought home as war trophies by returning soldiers and Marines. Total production figures for Arisaka 6.5mm and 7.7mm rifles are unavailable, but estimates run as high as 10 million, including those manufactured for export.