Nambu World: Japanese Machine Guns

            Lt. General Kijiro Nambu, now more widely known for his contributions to Japanese pistol designs, also worked on their machine guns. Japanese machine guns are quite rare. I have only ever seen a handful. Here are photos of three that I helped acquire for a local museum that a friend of mine is establishing. Once it has its virtual museum established I will put a link here so you can find out more. Unfortunately full auto firearms are prohibited in Canada and only a handful of grandfathered individuals can own them, so all the guns here have been deactivated. In other words, they cannot fire and are no longer legally considered firearms. Personally I consider it an outrage that any government would require the desecration of historic artifacts like these: it is like requiring clothes to be painted onto nude paintings done by the Old Masters. Such is the world we live in.

Type 11 Light Machine Gun

            Type 11 refers to the year Taisho 11, or 1922. This very unusual weapon was designed without a magazine. Instead it has a hopper on the left side into which one loads five-round Arisaka stripper clips of 6.5mm X 50 Arisaka ammo. The idea was that this would make all of the ammo carried by riflemen available for use in the machine gun. It didn’t work out that well, though, as it was complicated and required the cartridges to be oiled. The gun is immediately recognizable by the unique hopper on the left and by the unusual silhouette of the stock. Not only does it swoop down (viewed from the side), but it curves off to the right (viewed from the top). This one was made in Showa 9.7 (July, 1934) at the Hoten (Mukden) Arsenal in Japanese-run Manchuria. It has a mark on it indicating it was deactivated in 1989 at the London Proof House in the UK. Photos courtesy of A. Bauer.


Here is a view of the left side. The twisty part of the stock is metal.


Type 99 Light Machine Gun

           Type 99 refers to the Japanese-style year 2599, or 1939 in the Western system. This was an update of  the Type 96, with the main difference being that the Type 96 was 6.5mm and the Type 99 used the newer 7.7mm X 58 Arisaka cartridge (same as the Type 99 rifle). I find them pretty hard to tell apart, as most of the distinguishing features are pretty subtle, like the length and curvature of the magazine. Most obviously, the Type 99 has that little monopod at the rear of the butt and the barrel is held in by an adjustable nut on the left side rather than the swiveling lever on the Type 96. This one is missing the magazine, flash hider and that barrel adjustment nut. It was made in Showa 18.2 (February, 1943) at Kokura Arsenal.


The right side. Both the Type 96 and Type 99 were often referred to as Nambus by US troops.


Type 92 Heavy Machine Gun

            Type 92 refers to the Japanese-style year 2592, i.e. 1932. This is a heavy gun that was intended to be fired from a tripod that could be carried for short distances by three men. The tripod shown here is a reproduction. The Type 92 uses Hotchkiss-type metal feed strips that go in the left side and incorporates an oiler. The key visual identification feature distinguishing it from the earlier Type 3 is that the Type 3 had spade-type grips, while the Type 92 has peg-type grips that swivel up out of the way for ease of transportation. The Type 3 was 6.5mm, while the Type 92 used a special semi-rimmed 7.7mm cartridge (regular 7.7mm Arisaka could also be used in a pinch). This one was made by Hitachi Heiki (Hitachi Weapons) under Kokura Arsenal supervisison in Showa 18.11 (November, 1943). These heavy guns were called “woodpeckers” by American troops due to their slow rate of fire.


Here is the other side.


This shows the business end. That’s me pretending to operate it.


            The best book I have seen so far on Japanese machine guns is this one in Japanese by Shigeo Sugawa. The English subtitle is “Japanese Machine Guns”, a direct translation of the Japanese title, Nihon no kikanju. He also has another book on Japanese weapons more generally called Nihon no gunyoju to sogu (Japanese military guns and equipment) that has some nice photos and has English captions (though the text is in Japanese). The old standby Sayama book Shoju kenju kikanju (Introduction to rifles, handguns and machine guns) is also a useful resource.


            Fortunately for those who do not read Japanese, there is a gentleman in the USA who is preparing a comprehensive book in English on all the Japanese full-auto firearms. His website is a valuable resource. To go there, please click here: DRAGONS OF FIRE


Click here to go back to the main page: Nambu World: Teri’s WWII Japanese Handgun Website


Last updated: June 15, 2006. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.