Tuesday, June 27, 2006

One From the Vault

Nambu Type 14
Living on a small island with few natural resources, Japanese officials wanted to create a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It would not be a free collection of friendly trading partners, but assembled by Japanese swords, bayonets, and guns. The Japanese Empire seemed unstoppable in the 1930s. Manchuria and much of China fell under their sway. They bombed Pearl Harbor as a preemptive strike and, as we all know, their plan backfired.

Japan had long been a closed society, suspicious of foreigners and their ideas. When Japanese leaders looked outside, they realized that technology had passed them by. They had to play catch-up and learn fast. They coupled their old Samurai ways with new technologies in a sometimes uneasy pairing.

One antique concept was Bushido, the “Way of the Warrior.” Bushido meant that a fighter’s spirit was the most important ingredient to victory. Because a warrior’s spirit was most important, the quality of his weapons was secondary.

Japanese arms of the World War II are not fine quality examples of the gunmaker’s art. Arisaka rifles were obsolete even in the 1930s, their machine guns were clumsy, and their semi-automatic pistol, the Nambu, was under powered and moderately unreliable. Despite their flaws, their weapons still worked. Coupled with Bushido, Japanese soldiers won victory after victory until they ran up against a more modern military.

The Nambu was the principal side arm of the Japanese Army for much this time although some officers were armed with a revolver and late in the war another semi-automatic was introduced. Still, when you think of Japanese side arms you think of Nambus.

Kijiro Nambu was a young weapons designer when he invented his first pistol in 1904. It was a large, ugly-duckling of a gun that most collectors have nicknamed “grandpa” Nambu. Its designer came up with a similar design now nicknamed “papa” Nambu. General Staff officers and the Emperor carried much smaller pistols, “baby” Nambus.

Nambu’s early pistols were expensive to manufacture and he needed to simplify his gun. By 1927, he finalized his designs with the Type 14, which Japan adopted as its issue weapon for non-commissioned officers. Commissioned officers had to purchase their own side arms.
My Nambu Type 14 and the standard reference work on these guns

The Type 14 looks a lot like its grandpa and papa, with significant internal differences including doing away with a grip safety. Its slab-sided grips are unlovely, but “pretty” was not part of its design. Still, Type 14s are interesting handguns to handle, take apart, and shoot.

They handle much like a Luger because of its similar grip angle. When you disassemble a Type 14, the trigger guard is the key. It slides down and off when you have the magazine catch in the right position. Once taken apart, you’ll find more springs than what seems necessary.

I’ve shot my Nambu, but not successfully. Despite having springs everywhere inside it, the firing pin spring was worn out and that led to too light primer strikes. I'll buy a new one soon. However, the few shots I got off though were very accurate.

Nambus are accurate partly due to balance and pointability. The sights just naturally fall on target. A Nambu’s sights are like few others. The front sight is a pyramid and the rear notch is an inverted pyramid. They work together quite nicely.

Nambus were not known for reliability. In fact, there was a major recall in the 1930s due to firing pin breakage. Later Nambus had a large trigger guard, but early Type 14s had a small trigger guard. That was fine on a range, but soldiers couldn’t get their trigger fingers into the guard when they were wearing gloves (Manchuria is cold in the winter). Its cartridge, 8mm Nambu, is also notoriously under powered.

My Nambu was made in November 1930 at the Koishikawa Arsenal. Koishikawa was a government operated factory, but many Type 14s were made by private companies, even The Tokyo Gas and Electric Company. My Nambu was originally equipped with a small trigger guard, but many officers paid to have the arsenal install a large trigger guard. When the arsenal did so, it numbered all the newly installed parts so that they matched the gun.

My Type 14 has all matching parts (except the magazine) and is in decent condition (after I eradicated a layer of old cosmoline and gunk). It’s a welcome addition to my World War II firearms collection.

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