Nambu World: Type I Rifle—The “Japanese Carcano”

            The Type I rifle is a strange hybrid with an interesting history. The Imperial Japanese Army controlled the arsenals that made small arms and got priority in deliveries. When the war in China heated up in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Navy could not get enough domestically-produced rifles from the Army-controlled arsenals, so they went to Europe and looked at foreign sources. They liked German rifles but found them too expensive so they signed contracts with the Czechs and Italians. The Italian order was for 60,000 rifles, half made by RSFAE, one-quarter by Brescia and one-quarter by Beretta. The rifle has a Carcano action but is otherwise configured to look and handle like a Type 38. The calibre is 6.5mm X 50 Arisaka. They seem to have seen relatively little use and many were found warehoused at the end of the war. I bought this rifle from a dealer in Edmonton in May, 2006.


The left side.


The top of the action shows it is quite different from the Type 38. Further down the page I show comparative photos.


This is the action “at rest”, i.e. uncocked.


Here it is cocked…


…and with the safety on. Never rely on a gun’s safety. Always treat every gun as if it were loaded and ready to fire.


            The serial numbers on these guns are a letter from A to N followed by four digits. There is some controversy over the number of these rifles that were produced, since the number of letters times 9999 far exceeds the generally-accepted production figure of 60,000. The rifles are almost devoid of any other markings. In particular, there are no Japanese markings on them.


On mine there is this 03 on the top rear part of the action.


            This is the bolt. One author has suggested that the reason many of these guns were warehoused was that the extractors and bolt handles were too brittle and prone to breakage, but this view seems to have been based on anecdotal evidence and had not yet been proven.


            The underside of the bolt handle has the letters PB, which may stand for Pietro Beretta, one of the manufacturers. It could also be a proof mark, although it is not listed as an Italian proof mark in “The Standard Directory of Proof Marks”. You can also see a faint trace of a crown where the handle joins the bolt body. It is upside down and looks like a half-hearted attempt was made to remove it. Italy was still a monarchy at the time these rifles were made. The above-mentioned book does show a crown as part of several Italian proof marks of the period, and indicates the crown alone was used as a provisisonal proof mark on unfinished barrels.


The same PB in stamped on the front face of the safety.


The ball on the end of the bolt handle also has a small crown on top.


The shaft of the bolt has this small mark that could be an N or a Z.


            One of the conditions of the contract with the Italians was that the rifle had to accommodate the standard Japanese Type 30 bayonet. Here you can see that a Type 30 bayonet fits easily onto this rifle.


            Now let’s compare the two rifles: Type I on top, Type 38 below. In this photo the Type 38 has its dust cover installed, but the Type I lacks any provision for this part. The Type 38 is slightly longer. The trigger guard on the Type I is larger and more square. The groove in the side of the stock is longer and more pronounced on the Type 38. The front sights are different, too—more on that below. Both have the two-piece stock typically found on Japanese rifles.


The rear sights are pretty similar, although the Type I (on the left) has a notch sight rather than the peep sight used on the Type 38 (right).


This side view shows that difference better.


            The Type I on the left has no wings to protect the front sight, while the Type 38 sight on the right does have the protectors. However, some Type 38s were made without the protective wings as well.


            An overall view of the tops of the actions of both rifles shows a variety of differences. Besides the rear of the bolt, the Type I (upper part of photo) has a channel all along the top of the receiver, while the Type 38 below it has a bridge in front of the bolt. The Type 38 has a bolt release at the left rear of the receiver, while the Type I lacks this mechanism (you just hold the trigger back to release the bolt). The Type I also lacks the vent holes in the top of the receiver that the Type 38 has (these holes allow gases to be vented safely upwards in the event of a primer or case head rupture).


Here is a closer view of just the rear parts of the actions, Type I on the left and Type 38 on the right.


Here the bolts are removed so you can see inside. Type I on top, Type 38 below.


            The tops of the butt plates are different. The Type I butt plate just barely wraps around the top, while the Type 38 extends further along the top and has a retaining screw there.


            When I get a Carcano I will expand this section with a comparison and some pictures of the Type I and standard Carcano bolts disassembled.


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Last updated: June 11, 2006. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.