Japanese automatic pistols and revolvers from the First and Second World War.
History, development, specifications, statistics and pictures.
Revolver Meiji 26
During World War One, the Japanese armed forces used two types of handguns: the Type 26 revolver and the Type 04 automatic pistol.
The 9-mm Type 26 revolver was originally accepted for the Japanese cavalry in 1893 and, as it was the 26th year of Meiji rule, was also called the ‘Pistol Revolver Meiji 26’.
It was a Japanese design, which was typical for its time. The gun was made at a time when the Japanese were still studying Western technologies to bring their nation out of the widespread medieval backwardness. However, the Japanese developers of handguns were not sure which western designs to use as models and so a mixture of different models was created.
The appearance of the weapon owes to the Russian Nagant revolver, the cylinder swing-out system is from the Smith & Wesson Revolver bought by the Japanese Navy in 1879, the possibility to open the lock mechanism for repair and cleaning is from the French Lebel M1892 and the mechanism was derived from several contemporary European designs, mainly from Holland.
To add a touch of their own ideas, the Japanese decided to design the gun as a double action pistol and use their own 9 mm ammunition, which had never been used by any other gun before or since.
Such a combination should have produced a reasonable result, but something went wrong during assembly and the gun had a heavyweight barrel, was just as difficult to fire because of the double-action breech, and was poorly made of inferior material.
Accuracy was equally poor and the 9 mm rimmed cartridge, unknown and peculiar outside Japan, only achieved 184 joules when leaving the barrel, which was one of the weakest military cartridges ever used.
The result was a somewhat strange revolver, which was nevertheless obviously useful and powerful enough to be used by the Japanese Army in two World Wars.
After the introduction of the automatic Nambu pistols, the revolver was mainly used by reserve and home defense units during World War II. However, some Japanese NCO’s in the South Pacific also used the Meiji Type 26 revolver.
Automatic pistol Taisho 04 Nambu
The Type 04 automatic pistol was designed by Colonel Kijiro Nambu, but was never officially adopted for the Imperial Japanese Army. It was also called ‘Taisho 04’ because it was perfected in the fourth year of Taisho rule and entered the commercial market.
According to contemporary newspaper articles, the new weapon was first demonstrated by Colonel Nambu to the Japanese Emperor in September 1909 at the graduation ceremonies of the Toyama Military Academy.
However, so many of these weapons were bought by Japanese officers and used in service that the armed forces designated them as ‘Type 04’. In the West, however, it became known as ‘Nambu’ and was eventually so widespread that all subsequent Japanese pistol models were called ‘Nambu’.
Although the Nambu pistol has similarities with the Luger Pistol Parabellum model 1908 and has therefore sometimes been called the ‘Japanese copy of the Luger’, there are no mechanical similarities between the two weapons.
The Type 04 shot an 8 mm cartridge and the mechanics were not dissimilar to the Italian Glisenti, but more powerful. This mechanism gave the Type 04 its unmistakable appearance and probably Nambu used the Italian pistol as a starting point for his design.
There were several variations of the basic Type 04 model, the most drastic of which was a special 7 mm ‘baby Nambu’ version intended for use by staff officers.
Despite its widespread use, the Type 04 was apparently not a very satisfactory pistol. A constant cause of problems was the mainspring, which sometimes became so weak that it could no longer fire a cartridge. For this reason, during the Second World War, the standard pistol holsters also contained a separate bag with a replacement spring.
Another problem was the generally low standard of the steel used for some components in the production. This could break if the gun was used hard.
Furthermore, the pistol used an unusual bottle-neck shaped cartridge with a bullet weighing only 100 grain (6.5 grams). Apart from the Japanese sub machine guns, this cartridge was never used in any other gun.
Nevertheless, the Type 04 remained in use for many years and was still in use during the Second World War, despite the availability of a generally improved automatic pistol, which had been introduced in 1927 as Type 14.
Automatic pistol Taisho 14 Nambu
Although the Type 14 was still called Nambu and can easily be confused with the Type 04 model, this version was no longer designed by Colonel Nambu.
This automatic pistol had its origin in a development office of a state arsenal, probably the Nagoya arsenal. It was supposed to replace the Type 04 with a weapon that was easier to produce, and this pistol was actually officially adopted by the Japanese armed forces.
The model number indicates that it was completed in the 14th year of Taisho rule, i.e. 1925.
The main changes compared to the Type 04 consisted of the installation of a safety in a position that could only be operated with the shooter’s free hand and the replacement of the simple offset return spring by two springs, one on each side of the frame. In addition, there were some minor internal changes to simplify production.
However, nothing was done to improve the durability of the mainspring, so that this remained the weak point of this design as well.
Another disadvantage was that the bolt was kept open at the magazine platform after the last shot had been fired. The pressure of the two recoil springs and a strong magazine retaining spring then made it difficult to remove the empty magazine.
If the shooter’s fingers were slippery from oil or sweat and the gun was dirty, it was almost impossible to change the magazine quickly.
There are one or two less significant variants of this weapon. One, the ‘Baby-Nambu’ as a smaller model for a special 7 mm cartridge. Originally developed for commercial sale, it seems that the entire production was then taken over by the Japanese Air Force.
The ‘Kiska’ model is a Taisho 14 with an extra large trigger guard to allow use with gloves. It was developed for use in Manchuria in the early 1930s, but received its unofficial Allied name from the fact that it was first found by Allied troops during the Aleutian campaign.
As with Type 04, this model was widely used and was deployed in combat throughout the East Asian theater of war.
The only concrete report on its use in combat is in a manuscript by Lieutenant Colonel R K Wilson, who reported an encounter in Burma with an unfortunate Japanese officer. After the Japanese had emptied his pistol on the approaching British, he was shot by the latter while trying in vain to remove the empty magazine. Thus, the man was a victim of the aforementioned faulty design feature.
Automatic pistol Type 94 Shiki-Kenju
In the 1930s, the Japanese armed forces used the Type 14 automatic pistol, which was a solid design and was usually referred to in the West as ‘Nambu’ like the previous Type 04 developed by Colonel Nambu.
But after the rampant campaigns in China from the mid-1930s onward, the need for more pistols for the ever-expanding Japanese armed forces also became greater and could no longer be met by the Nambu pistols.
A simple solution appeared on the scene with an automatic 8 mm pistol, which had been commercially manufactured since 1934. But sales of this pistol were low, mainly as a result of the strange and clumsy appearance of the gun.
Therefore, the Japanese armed forces were able to take over the existing stocks as well as the entire ongoing production.
This weapon was originally issued to the personnel of the tank troops and the air force. By the end of production in 1945, more than 70,000 units had been produced and by then the presence of the Type 94 Shiki-Kenju automatic pistol had spread to other arms.
The designation Type 94 originates from the Japanese calendar year 2594, which corresponds to the year 1934 of its introduction according to Western calendar.
According to all that is known about this pistol, it was one of the worst handguns ever adopted in the service of an armed force. For the first time the design was unsound in several respects, in addition the overall appearance was unattractive and the weapon was difficult to handle and often unsafe.
The reason for the last circumstance was that a part of the trigger mechanism protruded from the left side of the frame. If pressure was applied to this and there was a cartridge in the chamber, an unintentional shot could be fired.
Another bad feature was the device that was designed to ensure that only single shots could be fired when the trigger was pulled. This feature was so poorly designed that a cartridge could be fired before it had fully entered the chamber.
The cartridge only reached 244 joule when leaving the short barrel.
Together with these errors, there was also poor quality in the production of the weapon with inferior materials. The result was a weapon that was dangerously unsafe to carry and use. The production of this weapon was so rushed that the result was a poorly made pistol.
The Type 94 pistol had to be issued to the military despite all its shortcomings because Japanese industry could not produce a better weapon at that time. Thus, specimens of this pistol were captured where markings and traces of machine tools can still be seen on the outer frame.
The degree of inferior manufacture and function of the gun is so dramatic that it should not really be used for carrying or shooting.
Japanese handguns specifications
|Specification||Revolver Meiji 26||Taisho 04 Nambu||Taisho 14||Typ 94|
|Type||Revolver||Self loading pistol||=||=|
|Caliber||9 mm||8 mm||=||=|
|Length||9.4 in (23.9 cm)||9 in (22.9 cm)||8.95 in (22.7 cm)||18,3 cm|
|Weight||1.98 lb (0.9 kg)||1.98 lb (0.9 kg)||=||0,69 kg|
|Barrel||4.7 in (11.90 cm); 6 grooves; right hand twist||4.7 in (12.0 cm); 6 grooves; right hand twist||4.75 in (12.07 cm); 6 grooves; right hand twist||3.125 in (9,6 cm); 6 grooves; right hand twist|
|Feed system||6-chambered cylinder||8-round detachable box magazine||8-round detachable box magazine||6-round detachable box magazine|
|System of operation||Revolver; hinged-frame, double-action only, self-ejctiong||Recoil; hinged block lock||=||Recoil; vertical sliding lock|
|Muzzle velocity||909 ft/sec (277 m/sec)||1,066 ft/sec (325 m/sec)||=||1,000 ft/sec (305 m/sec)|
|Figures||Revolver Meiji 26||Taisho 04 Nambu||Taisho 14||Typ 94|
|Manufactures||State Arsenal Nagoya||Japan Special Steel Company State Arsenal, Nagoya||State Arsenals||=|
|Service delivery||1893 for Japanese cavalry||unofficially by officers||1927||1934|
|Price per unit||?||?||?||?|
References and literature
The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II (Chris Bishop)
The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II (Ian V.Hogg)
Infanterie im 2. Weltkrieg (J.B.King, John Batchelor)