New Acquisition: Japanese Machine Guns from WWII

The Naval War College Museum has a small but impressive collection of small arms from World War II. We recently acquired two Japanese machine guns that help illustrate the progression of military technology as the Japanese army worked to improve on pre-war designs.

Type 97 (above) and Type 99 (below) machine guns
Naval War College Museum Collection

The Type 97 began life as a heavy machine gun intended for use on tanks and vehicles. Approximately 18,000 were built between 1937–1945. The inner-workings were based on the Czech ZB vz/26 light machine gun of the 1920s, but they featured different stocks and grips. The Type 97 fired the same 7.7mm round used by the standard issue rifle at that time, the Type 99 Arisaka, allowing individual soldiers and weapons crews to easily share ammunition with each other. When mounted on vehicles, they were often fitted with a 1.5 power telescopic sight. The Type 97 could be stripped down to a slightly lighter version for use by infantry, but even this type weighed nearly 25 lbs and was found to be too heavy for widespread use once the war started.

The Type 99 Nambu gas-operated light machine gun entered trial service with the Japanese Army in 1939, and mass production of these weapons began in Apr 1942. Its predecessor, the Type 96, fired a 6.5mm round that had excellent range and accuracy, but lacked the hitting power of more modern weapons. The Type 99 was designed to use the 7.7mm cartridge. As the war progressed, shortages of this ammunition caused many units to retain their older Type 96s and abandon the Type 99 when forced to retreat. Most Type 99s were deployed with 2.5 power optical sights which were powerful enough to allow these weapons to be used as sniper rifles. It could also be used in an anti-aircraft role if necessary. More than 46,000 were produced in three government arsenals and two privately-run factories. Though the quality of manufacture declined as the war progressed, U.S. Army ordnance specialists rated it as one of the best light machine guns of its time.

Type 99 in action as an anti-aircraft weapon
February 1942

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum


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