Nambu World: Type 90 Double Barrel Flare Pistol

    The Type 90 double barrel flare pistol shown above is the most common of Japanese flare pistols, but is still quite rare, as only about 10,300 were made. Type 90 is not a typo: both the triple and double barrel models have the same model designation, which refers to their adoption in the Japanese year 2590 (1930). The model designation, however, does not appear on the piece itself. I was very fortunate to have this one find me in March-April of 2008, when a website reader noticed in my Wish List section that I was looking for one. I jumped at this opportunity and made the highest offer I could because the pistol was accompanied by the holster, part of the shoulder strap, and most remarkably, the original aluminum instruction plate. Fortunately the seller accepted my offer and this set joined my collection. Like the triple barrel, this was a Naval item that fired 28mm flares (I don't have a flare yet as they are also rare and valuable).

    Here is the left side. Pulling back on that lever on top cocks both barrels. Pushing the lever below the barrels upwards opens the action for loading and unloading (earlier variations of this model had different-shaped levers that were pushed forwards rather than upwards). You can see clearly in this photo that the barrels are blued, while the rear part is painted with black lacquer. You can also see the safety at the top of the grip and the patent numbers right above the trigger guard.

   The serial number is on the right side immediately above the trigger guard, but is not very clearly visible in the introductory photo of the right side due to glare. This serial number indicates this specimen was made very late in the war. It is only about 500 below the highest known number, 10251, so it was probably made in 1944 or 1945.

     The same area on the left side has the company logo of the manufacturer, Kayaba Seisakusho (Kayaba Manufacturing) and the patent numbers. The upper number is the same as the one on the Type 90 triple barrel, an indication of the similarities in the design.

    In this close-up of the safety you can see two details. First, it seems like the character for fire was painted red and the one for safe, white (the other markings on the gun are white because I filled them in with a grease pencil to make them show up better; they were not white originally). Second, you can see some sort of fuzz, especially just to the left of the character for fire. I don't know exactly what bakelite is made of, but it seems when it gets scuffed the surface turns fuzzy like this.

    In this top view you can see the markings near the rear of the barrel assembly as well as the fact that the barrels are separate, not joined as on double barrel shotguns. That is not a scratch on the upper barrel, just an errant fibre from the burlap background material.

    This close-up shows those markings in detail. The one on the far left is the Kayaba company logo. Next is a cherry blossom, which often appears on Naval items. The third is the Japanese katakana phonetic symbol to, often used as an inspection mark. The one on the far right is a poorly struck anchor (you can just see a bit of the curved part at the bottom, but it was too shallow to stay filled with white grease pencil). The markings varied a fair bit over the production run.

Here is a front view. You can see that the inside of the barrels is immaculate.

This shot shows the gun broken open for loading.

    Look carefully at these two photos of the back. In the one on the left the gun in not cocked and the barrel selector (just above the grip) is in the middle. In the one on the right the right barrel is cocked and the barrel selector is set to the left barrel. You can see that the right barrel is cocked because the rear of the striker protrudes slightly from the right hole. When you pull back on the lever on top to cock the gun, initially both barrels are cocked, but I released one so you could see the difference in the indicator position between an uncocked/fired barrel (left hole) and a cocked barrel (right hole). When the barrel selector is in the middle position, neither barrel will fire (sort of like a second safety). Note that there are a few chips in the paint on the rear of the grip. You can also see how rough the casting was on the back of the receiver, an indicator of the short-cuts taken in late-war production.

This close-up of the right side shows some of the rough casting and machining as well.

    Normally the parts should be serialized with the last two digits of the gun's serial number, but it seems like there was a mix-up at the factory and the barrel release assembly parts have number 38 rather than 37 on them. This is the barrel release lever under the barrel. Such mix-ups were probably more common in the war's later years.

The cocking lever also has 38 instead of 37.

So does the button at the top of the rear face of the barrels.

    Although the gun shows signs of the crude workmanship common in late war military equipment, it looks like it has hardly been fired. However, there does appear to have been some rust on the left side at one time, and it looks like it was removed with a fairly aggressive method, like a wire brush (note the vertical scratches in this shot of the right barrel near the muzzle).


    In this shot of the rear of the barrel and the front of the receiver you can see the same thing, along with a bit of pealing paint. Probably the paint is pealing in a couple of spots due to inadequate surface preparation or the low quality of late war paint. There isn't enough wear on the piece to have caused anything.

    Here is the front of the holster. It originally had a long shoulder strap, but the strap has been shortened to the point that there is just enough left to serve as a convenient carrying handle. Perhaps it was carried by a pilot who found this the most convenient way of transporting it in a cramped cockpit with him. Flare pistols were widely used for communication between pilots, since wartime Japanese aircraft radios were pretty useless, and many planes did not have one at all. In fact, an earlier variation of this type of flare gun played a key, if confusing, role at Pearl Harbor. As recounted on pages 316-317 of the Derby & Brown book Japanese Military Cartridge Handguns 1893-1945, the leader of the attack was supposed to fire one flare to signal the fighter aircraft that surprise had been achieved and two to indicate it had not. He fired one flare, but the leader of the fighter aircraft did not wiggle his wings to indicate the message had been received, so the commander fired a second flare, which just confused matters. Needless to say, this confusion did not seem to diminish the effectiveness of the attack in the end.

You can see the belt loops in this shot of the back of the holster.

The end of the strap looks more like it was broken off rather than cut as it is a bit frayed.

The holster with its flap open. There are no clear markings inside, although there is one small dark spot that might be a blurred marking.

The double barrel snuggled nice and cosy into its nest.

    And now, last but not least, that ultra-rare aluminum instruction plate. They may have issued them in this form since in Naval use a manual might get soggy, or perhaps it was just a space saving measure to facilitate use in cramped cockpits. There was a similar plate for the triple barrel Type 90 (boy, would I love to get one of those!). The plate is 105mm (4-1/8") long and 70mm (2-3/4") wide by .55mm (.019") thick. As you might have concluded from the diagram, the barrel assembly recoils back a couple of millimeters against the pressure of a buffer spring to reduce recoil, although not nearly as much as the not-to-scale diagram suggests.

  I had never seen a Japanese flare gun in real life before I got the T10 and T90 triple in December, 2007, but now I am really getting interested in them. They are so scarce that even with just three as of April, 2008 I am guessing I may have the largest collection of them in Canada.

    As a final note, the Chinese made a copy of this model in the post-war period and used it up until they adopted a Soviet-designed model in 1957.  I had an opportunity to see one in Arizona in April, 2008. Apart from being cruder in construction, it had a series of numbers and letters across the top rather than the four markings shown here. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by Mr. Ron Sable from the USA, who has one and kindly supplied photos, which I present here so you can see the differences.

  On the right side you can see that there is no serial number above the trigger guard on the Chinese copy. The grip material also looks different and there are other minor differences like the contour of the trigger guard, but that lack of a serial number is the main difference that is visible from this side (Photo courtesy of Mr. Ron Sable).

        In this left side view you can see there are no patent numbers above the trigger guard, and no position (fire-safe) markers on the safety. You can also see a couple of holes in the cocking lever on top that mine does not have, but earlier versions of the Japanese model did have holes like that, too. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Ron Sable).

From the top a very obvious difference is the long serial number across the piece. As shown above, the Japanese model has a series of symbols here, not numbers and a letter.(Photo courtesy of Mr. Ron Sable). 

Looking at the back you can see a screw at the top of the backstrap of the grip that does not appear on the Japanese model. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Ron Sable). 

This is the holster that accompanied this unit. I don't know whether the Chinese used other styles as well. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Ron Sable).


Last updated: July 7, 2008. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.

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