The Rifle Japan Thought Would Win the War

July 2, 2019 Topic: History Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Japanese ArmyWorld War IIImperial JapanArisaka RifleGun

The Rifle Japan Thought Would Win the War

Spoiler alert: It didn't.

The new gun, designated the Arisaka Type 99 7.7mm rifle, was initially produced in 1938 in two lengths. The earlier prototype had a slightly longer barrel and was heavier. A second prototype design for a gun to use the new 7.7mm cartridge was completed in 1939. This model was shorter (44 inches) and lighter (8.25 pounds) than the Arisaka Type 38.  The Type 99 design was finally accepted for widespread use. The longer rifle was for infantry and the shorter for cavalry, engineers, and other specialty troops. However, only a few thousand longer Type 99 rifles were produced, and by 1940 it was decided to issue only the shorter rifle to all troops, even though the longer model remained in service.


Apart from being fitted with a forward-folding monopod, the Type 99 was identical in construction and operation to the Type 38 Arisaka rifle. However, because the Type 99 and the older Type 38 rifles were used simultaneously, this complicated logistics in that quartermasters had to now distribute two different types of ammunition for nearly identical weapons. The Type 99 rifle had a chrome-plated bore to prolong barrel life, stand up to the harsher climates of the tropics, and facilitate cleaning.

A variant of the Arisaka Type 99 7.7mm rifle was fitted with a bipod as well as an antiaircraft sight to shoot at attacking aircraft from trenches, although the latter was mainly a morale booster since it was very unlikely to down a speedy World War II aircraft. By 1943, with the war going poorly and home factories experiencing shortages of raw materials, a revised Type 99 went into production. This version had a lower grade steel in the barrel, and some miscellaneous items such as a sliding bolt cover and a sling swivel were removed. A carbine model of the Arisaka Type 99 was also produced, but this particular weapon had too much recoil.

Grenades and Ammunition For the Arisaka

Both the Arisaka Type 38 6.5mm and Type 99 7.7mm rifles could be used as grenade launchers. There were basically two types of grenade launchers, one called the cup and the other the spigot. Either could be attached to the Type 38 or Type 99, and they were heavily influenced by Western designs, notably those of the United States and Germany. Japanese grenades were often attached to finned adapters to provide stability in flight. The Japanese infantryman still favored the non-rifle-based 50mm barreled Type 89 grenade discharger, which came into service in 1929 and acquired the misnomer of “knee mortar” because of its curved baseplate. The Type 89 grenade discharger could send a grenade much farther than either a soldier hurling it or launching it from his Arisaka rifle.

Ammunition for both Arisaka rifles was stored in glued cardboard boxes or pouches.  These contained three brass or steel clips of five 6.5 or 7.7mm rounds, clearly noted on the outer labels of the boxes. Ammunition types were ball, tracer, or armor piercing, each color coded.

The Bayonet: A Japanese Infantryman’s “Officer’s Sword”

Japanese infantrymen saw themselves as modern ashigaru, or lightly armed peasant warriors. For them, Japanese doctrine stressed that the bayonet was the soldier’s most essential weapon. It was 20 inches long and was almost always fixed rather than carried, as its weight helped to balance the long-barreled Arisaka Type 38 rifle. Japanese infantrymen were such great believers in the value of the bayonet that even light machine gunners had their bayonets fixed in battle, even when not engaged in actual hand-to-hand combat.

The bayonet, or juken, that was produced to fit the developing Arisaka rifle at the end of the 19th century was designated the Meiji 30 (1897) infantry bayonet. The bayonet was as important to the infantryman as the sword was to the samurai warrior. Every soldier was issued one, whether or not he used a rifle. To the lowly private, his bayonet was his own “officer’s sword.”

The Japanese bayonet was never shortened during the Pacific conflict, while, for example, the British abandoned their sword bayonet. The bayonet remained 20 inches in length until 1945. The design and quality of the bayonet deteriorated from 1943 onward. Although its official designation was Type 30, there were many variations in the design principally due to lower manufacturing costs. The infantryman
also referred to his bayonet as his gonbo-ken or burdock sword due to its similar appearance to the leaf architecture of the plant of that name. Those leaves can grow up to 500mm in size, and their tapering appearance is similar to a sword.

Japanese infantrymen were given frequent and rigorous instruction in the art of using the bayonet on an Arisaka rifle. The bayonet was fixed using a crossguard loop and a lock stud, both located on the pommel of the Type 30. To prevent reflection, blades were frequently covered with mud before combat operations, although many American veterans of the Pacific war reported seeing the flashing of the bayonet steel during a banzai charge.

Unfortunately, the brutality and savagery of some Japanese soldiers was evident when enemy wounded or prisoners were tied to trees for bayonet practice. This atrocity was verified in China and Malaya.

Over 10 Million Arisakas Manufactured

It has been estimated that during approximately 40 years of production over 10 million Arisaka rifles were manufactured. A 16-petal chrysanthemum on the barrel indicated that the rifle was the property of the emperor. If a rifle were to be sold, demilled, or surrendered, the chrysanthemum was usually ground off.

Both types of Arisaka rifles made before and during the war were of good quality. They were as reliable and rugged as any five-shot bolt-action rifle used by Japan’s Western counterparts. During the last years of the Pacific War, due to a lack of quality materials and bombing of the home islands incapacitating factory production, the weapons’ overall quality deteriorated. Since sufficient numbers of the Type 99 rifle were never produced, the Type 38 remained in service until 1945.

This first appeared in Warfare History Network here

Image: Wikimedia