Firepower, Pride, and Prejudice

First, relax: there will be no 19th-Century chick novels, nor any zombies, in this post. The title lead with “Firepower,” right? It’s about guns.

Guns, national pride, and racial or ethnocentric prejudice.

It’s another thing that turns up reading old, old firearms books and magazines, and if you’re old enough you can remember hearing it from gun-store counter clerks and hangers-on (then, as now, literally the worst source of firearms information this side of Hollywood, as they are just as likely to make up random stuff, and less likely to be called on it than movie directors). Hearing what? Things like:

  • “Those Jap guns are all junk and are not safe to shoot.”
  • “The Italians only expected their rifle to shoot within a couple of feet at a hundred yards.”
  • “The Japs in the Pacific –” (wait, were there Japs any other place outside of the 442nd, on our side?) “– lost because they didn’t have any good machine guns.”
  • “They forged these guns in hibachis, with child labor.”

These things are all coming to be recognized as arrant nonsense, at least in part by the emergence of specialized collectors who understand them, and publishers who release books about them. But as late as the seventies and eighties, that was the “conventional wisdom” of the countertop commandos.

Exercise for the reader: find a surviving infantry soldier or Marine from Okinawa or Iwo Jima (do it quick, as they’re fewer by the hour; that’s the human condition). Tell him that the Jap machine guns were contemptible. We will counsel you this: do not make that statement from within the radius that he can swing his walker at you. (Here’s video of a Type 99 firing its original 7.7 ammo, and a creative 7.62 x 29 hack. Note the rate of fire: the Marines sure did).

These beliefs got started for several reasons. One is that Japanese and Italian rifles were different to the familiar Springfield and the Mauser from whence its design came. These differences seemed like indicators that the Japanese and Italians didn’t know what they were doing, but if you think about it for a moment, that’s pretty illogical. What nation would consciously issue an inferior or unsafe weapon to its troops? What nation entrusts its weapons design to Bubba the Gunsmite, domestic variation? Not Japan nor Italy (both of which had robust ordnance establishments, as can be seen by their wartime ships’ and aircraft armament, and their talented engineers, as has been proven in peacetime industries postwar), but even today, Japanese and Italian firearms are considered less collectible and less valuable than their global competitors.

Original M1891 Rifle (with gain twist!) served well in WWI, and derivatives in WWII. Image from C&Rsenal’s great Carcano 91 page. It was sufficiently accurate that the Italians just issued designated marksmen select iron-sighted Carcanos — any scoped “sniper” is a postwar fake, as is any full-length rifle with a turned-down bolt.

One reason for the persistence of dislike of Japanese weapons is their relatively crude finish compared to the beautiful rust-blue of their European counterparts. But this resulted from the fact that Japan at war’s outbreak was as resource-limited as Germany was during the production of “last ditch” weapons, as Shermans and T-34s did celebratory pivot turns on former arms plants. The resource limitation drove the Japanese to innovate, for example going to chrome linings (for strength, not just corrosion resistance) and phosphate finishes (for speed of production, not just corrosion resistance) before most of the world.

Type 38 (1905) rifle and carbine, 6.5mm. Standard Japanese weapons through early WWII. Not sure where we cribbed this image from — if you know let us know so we can give credit.

Both the “weak” Arisaka and Carcano actions were modern, the Arisaka being a clear Mauser derivative and the Carcano, while a design all its own, offered such modern features as forward dual locking lugs. When introduced (1891), it was arguably the most modern rifle in the world, and like its contemporary the Mosin-Nagant it, and its 6.5 mm cartridge, was still in service at war’s end. (Which came a little earlier for Italy than for the USSR).

Italian and Japanese machine gun designs were different, but that’s not saying that they were practically or tactically inferior. The high rate of fire of the Japanese LMGs is cited in almost every American memoir of Pacific combat. The Japanese could sustain this high rate, especially with the top-mounted magazine of the Type 99. (Guns of this design are much faster to reload, by an a/gunner, than a bottom-loading gun like the BAR is by its single-man crew).

Another reason to disparage these weapons? These nations lost. (Probably not a major reason, given the fanboys of all-things-German loose in the world today. We’re reliably informed that the Third Reich fell short of the planned 1,000 years). In the case of the Italians, there’s also an impression that they lost in part because they weren’t trying terribly hard (probably true for some individuals and not for others). Collectors might want the weapons of losers, just not quitters. 

Yet another, and possibly the major, underlying reason for the belief, of course, is the residue of war-era (and “Yellow Peril”-era) racism against the Japanese, and northern European ethnocentrism against Southern Europeans in general, and Italians in particular, from the later waves of United States immigration. These expressions are less open now, but in 1976 you had no difficulty hearing negative impressions of Japanese and Italian firearms by countertop commandos, impressions that were invariably followed up by negative stereotypes (Japanese all had bad vision and made lousy shots; Italians wanted to make love, not war).

Let’s assume arguendo that there are two human phenotypes, call one “martial ardor” or “readiness to fight,” and one “strategic/conceptual ability” or “combat-oriented leadership,” that represent the scrappiness and cunning of a combatant. Let’s further assume that these phenotypes are to some degree heritable, and that there are distinct median levels in these traits in distinct groups. Let us make a fourth assumption, that the medians of these traits might be lower among the Japanese and Italian populations than among, say, Germans.

As the history of the war tells us, these two nations produced men and units that were the equal in “scrappiness” and “cunning” of any force in the world. Consider the thorough Japanese defeat of the ABDA allies in the first six months of the Pacific War, or the Italian naval special operations of the Decimo MAS, or for that matter their forerunners in the war with Austria-Hungary, the first proto-frogmen to sink a battleship. 

If you still think that these two great nations produced junk guns, try to get some trigger time on any of the Japanese LMGs, especially the Type 99; or on a Beretta M38 SMG or its derivatives (which is what the MP40 wants to be when it grows up).

And don’t let yourself believe that an enemy weapon is an inferior weapon because you think the enemy is — well, choose your favorite put-down. Because whatever your enemy is, the guys who designed his weapons probably are not.

41 thoughts on “Firepower, Pride, and Prejudice

    1. Daniel E. Watters

      Yes, the Red Chinese routinely converted captured and surplus weapons for ComBloc standard ammunition types. Some of these conversion kits made it to the US market back in the 1980s and 1990s.

      1. Hognose Post author

        In Korea, a lot of Chinese Volunteers were actually recently defeated/surrendered Nationalist units that were given a choice between camps and proving your loyalty to China for your fraternal Nork brothers. US captured lots of 7.92mm weapons, US Caliber .30 weapons, etc. at that time. One reason they attacked with such fervor was that there was quite literally nothing behind them.

        Survivors were, as I understand it, released with the equivalent of an honorable discharge, and were not further molested when they went home, unlike many other Chinese Nationalist officials who were late switching sides.

  1. Boat Guy

    Would love to get some trigger time with any of the Japanese MG’s.
    A friend once wanted to give me his Dad’s Arisaka but I told him it needed to stay in his family. . He probably gave it to someone who wouldn’t have taken care of it like I would’ve. Thing was a bring-back; intact mum, with bayonet. I’d bought him a box or Norma ammo for it; but he never shot it
    Jeez I’m a dumbass sometimes.

    1. Brian

      @Boat Guy, you and Hognose have made me reconsider my grandfather’s broughtback Arisaka. I previously valued it merely for sentimental reasons. I think I will buy some ammo for it and warm it up. After my gunsmith checks it, of course

      1. John Distai

        Boat Guy – Don’t feel bad. When I was a youngin, I “sold” (damn near gave away) my dad’s hunting rifle along with his .22/.410 over and under. My dad always referred to that rifle as a “Jap action with a German barrel”. The stock was a bit of an oddity. The .22/.410 over under was all rusty, but I still should have kept it and refinished it.

  2. Brad

    Dig that nifty offset/not-offset scope arrangement on the Type 99 LMG. What a clever solution to the top-magazine-feed sighting problem.

    Check out the forgotten weapons video on the Japanese Type 92 HMG, very interesting stuff.

    Another notable Japanese weapon of WWII is the Type 89 50mm grenade discharger, arguably one of the best light mortars of all time.

  3. Ray

    My father and three of my uncles fought in the pacific The CBI and China (MARS task force/Marauders) They fought on “The canal”(“Uncle Ross” never called it anything else) Pelelu . Uncle “Bill” was at Lete and later Okinawa. Frank and Robert (Bobby) were in the CBI. They ALL hated the “japs” and ALL of them would tell you that, as my “Uncle Ross” put it, “Them fuckin’ Japs fought like they thought they was god’s. G_D Damn them people. The only way to make ’em stop was kill em.” I asked him and pop once when I was 10 why they won. They both said “Cause we killed them yellow bastards before they killed us” The type 38 and later type 99 are the two strongest rifle actions ever made. The 7.7 Jap. ammunition, both rimmed and semi rimmed are ballistic twins to the .303Brit. Mk7 z . Not a pansy round. The 6.5 Arisaka used truly smokeless and flash less powder, with a bullet both accurate and lethal. Japanese MG were known for being fantastically robust even under conditions that would(and often did) red line any and all of the US weapons. The Japanese were also trained to use captured weapons (they thought our weapons inferior to theirs and hated using them) They lost because they could not get supply’s and replacements to the battle and didn’t have the domestic resources to sustain the war. NOT because they were “inferior” in any way. They probably came closer to the “last man” ideal than anyone since Sparta. Had they not been Asian you’d see one hell of a lot more fanboys dressed as “Sendi” at the gun shows than you would Waffen SS. They were warriors . With REALLY good weapons for most of the war.

  4. Mike_C

    >They forged these guns in hibachis, with child labor.
    You can do that with a hibachi? Holy crap, I have to dig mine out, and maybe volunteer to, er, foster some of those kids. […] What? Oh. Okay, nevermind.

    > [passing on an Arisaka] Jeez I’m a dumbass sometimes.
    I feel your pain, though my personal regret from dumbassedness has to do with en skånsk flicka rather than a Japanese firearm :-(

    >[the Japanese] thought our weapons inferior to theirs and hated using them
    Japanese prejudice* aside, were there possibly any ergonomic issues involved, i.e. with respect weapon/operator size mismatch?

    *prejudice: what “white people need to shut up and die” white (yet!) apologists seem to not understand is that every group is to some degree prejudiced. Good Lord, what east Asians (who all hate each other, BTW) think of whites, not to mention browns and blacks, would melt a good little prog’s brain.

    1. Clarence Chen

      I have no problem with anyone’s skin color. East Asians don’t really “hate each other” as a people, mostly their respective governments don’t get along. While I agree that modern progressives are way overcompensating for past transgresses, those trangresses did occur, and all humans should try to overcome biases and racism, not accept it as a fact. Man can overcome many things, let’s hope prejudice is one of them. P.S. I am in no way apologizing for the progressives. They have issues.

      1. Mike_C

        >East Asians don’t really “hate each other”
        Sure they (we? I’m not sure how to phrase this) do. Perhaps it’s mostly only along the lines of “those frogs” vs “les sales rosbifs” but it’s there. (Japan’s WWII legacy notwithstanding, and China’s combination of self-assumed cultural superiority, and recent throwing its weight around also notwithstanding; the bad feelings there are beyond mocking dietary stereotypes.) I’ll grant “hate” may be an overly strong term, but my point is that while individuals can get along just fine, it’s not one vast undifferentiated mass that are all the same and all get along happily — which seems to surprise a fair number of people who are not surprised by, say, Anglo-Irish tensions. Then again, those same people are often surprised that there are Finn/Swede animosities, and the like, so it’s not just an Asia-myopia thing.

        >I have no problem with anyone’s skin color
        I’m not implying anything about you personally. But FOB Asians I’ve known are at best bemused by our American attitudes on race; they’ve just been warned to keep their mouths shut about it. (Personally I think our insistence on “there is no [social] class in the US” causes conflation between race and class issues.) Also, I would note that stereotypes and biases do not all come out of nowhere either. The point, to me at least, is we must consider each individual as an individual on his own merits or lack thereof, but use of stereo- (or perhaps archy-) types is a part of daily life. That’s why the EMT radios in “I’ve got a 64-year old obese man with chest pain” (heart attack being much more likely than in “25-year old woman crossfit instructor”), or “19-yo woman with abdominal pain” where ectopic pregnancy is on the differential (list of possibilities) whereas “80-yo man with abdominal pain” puts other possibilities higher on the differential (no matter what he identifies as). Walking around alone at night, I would be considerably more concerned about being approached by a bunch of loud young males than the same number of elderly women, and so forth.

        1. Clarence Chen

          I can see what you are referring to. Hell, both sides of the Taiwan strait are “Chinese”, and the animosity is very real. I was referring to the fact that East Asian countries are by far and large fairly homogeneous, and in-country “race-relations” are almost non-existant as compared to more ethnically diverse countries in the West. Inter-country animosity was and is a fact of life. I agree that we should judge every man by his own personal worth, not merely which group he belongs to. I’m also not condemning stereotypes, although far too many people take them much too seriously. Different types of people may gave different predominant traits, but too often people assume that the sterotypes encompasses the entire being in question. And of course, certain types of people have much higher probabilities of doing specific actions. So, by and large, I agree with you. I’m sorry if I misconstrued your comment.

          1. LSWCHP

            Mike and Clarence, my hat is off to both of you. At first I thought “This won’t end well” but it was a civilised and intelligent discussion about race on the internet! What next?!!

            This is why I come to WM….an intelligent and genial host, and pleasant discourse with other intelligent people.

            Good on you both.

          2. Mike_C

            >but it was a civilised and intelligent discussion

            LSWCHP: That’s because Clarence is a gentleman. (I, however, am a stubborn @$$hole with “strong opinions about everything” or so I’ve been told — c.f. my comment above about Regrets, Scanian girls, one each ;-)

            I woulda said it’s because we Chinamen gotta stick together, but on CC’s end all I’m going by is the surname of his tag, and on my end, these days I have no idea how I should be classified, other than “American”. For reasons unclear, in happier times SG decreed that I should be a Finn. (Yeah, I’m as confused as you are. I mean, the brooding and excessive drinking didn’t start until after parting ways from SG. Heh.) The three mainland Chinese in the office down the hall all smirk or roll their eyes when someone makes reference to my “Chinese-ness”. I asked what that was about and was told “Sure, you speak the language, but you don’t think like us. You don’t even walk like us. Back home, any of us could pick you out of a crowd as a foreigner in an instant.” Nods all around. (That, incidentally, while it came from a friend, was an insult from their perspective.) Korean girl says she has the answer though. “Jintao is right, you’re not Chinese. You’re a redneck, duh. You like guns and knives and beer and listen to country music. You even listen to bluegrass. Who listens to bluegrass?” Then again, KG identifies as a Texan. It’s a confusing world.

  5. Nick

    My father never talked about the war, until I got stationed in Okinawa in 80.
    They only thing he said to me was “when I left that rock there wasn’t even a weed growing,what’s it look like now”?
    I spent a lot of time researching the Pacific Theater, 1st Mar Division caught hell there.

  6. Winston Smith

    I have mixed feelings about this blog entry.

    The first firearm I ever owned was a 7.35 Carcano, bought as a 1st birthday gift from my grandfather (he drank a lot). This started a lifelong fondness of Carcanos which of course lead to a reloading obsession. The mixed feeling part is that I don’t want to see those gunshop commandos that know everything to realize that a Carcano actually wont blow up if you shoot it. That would drive the market higher from its ludicrous current and historical depths. eg, I bought my last 7.35 for $80 just last year.

    1. archy

      ***I bought my last 7.35 for $80 just last year.***

      I’ll give you $90 for it, if it’s got Finnish [SA] property marks on it….

  7. Haxo Angmark

    I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it all again. After a bad start – bad Generals, not troops – in 1940 (defeats in Greece, N. Africa), the Italian Army gave a generally excellent account of itself for the next 2+ years. Empire troops who fought against the Italians at Keren (Ethiopia, 1941) and against German paras (Cassino, 1944)…say in their war memoirs that the Italians were tougher. Rommel’s “point” Division during the Crusader battle (Libya-Egypt, Nov.-Dec. 1941) was the Savona, out of northern Italy; which fought on until it was ground into a powder. At the onset of the same battle, the Italian Armored Division Ariete routed the British 22nd Armored Brigade and did well throughout. The only unit in either side in the Second World War granted full Battle Honors (retention of colors, weapons) by the victors was the Italian Folgore paratroop Division which anchored Rommel’s line at el Alemain: 90% KIA, and those few captured, mostly wounded. Overall, Regia Aeronautica gave as good as it got, and produced a number of outstanding aces. And overall, the Italian Navy sank more tonnage than it lost. One minor correction: the Italian Frogman didn’t sink “a” battleship; they sank two British battleships – QE and Valiant – in the same operation.

    1. Scipio Americanus

      The other lesser partners like Romania and Hungary also fought pretty well on the Eastern front, taking into account their awful equipment situation. A lot of the underrating of these nations is a matter of passing-the-buck by German generals in their postwar memoirs.

  8. BAP45

    I hate to admit it but I once had the same mindset. Although in my defense the examples of Japanese stuff I was exposed to was just falling to pieces. Thanks to some of the new sites like forgotten weapons and getting to see what a normal not beat to deat example lools like I have a new appreciation for them. Still don’t like them but that’s more due to the difficulty it getting ammo for them.

  9. robroysimmons

    I sold my fair condition 38 with Mum for about $400 last year, certainly making it a not forgotten weapon. It was a fine shooter, didn’t care for its stock but then again I am a picky guy for stocks and triggers.

    I hope it went to good home but at that price I am certain that it did.

  10. HORSE GUNNER

    RE: FRENCH SMALL ARMS. There is also a palpable prejudice against French weapons. And most French weapons are excellent. France was the first to replace Black Powder with Smokeless Powder and incorporate this into the 8mm “Lebel” rifle; France’s 75mm gun-howitzer (circa 1890) was the first modern artillery piece. In WWI, the French developed modern Artillery Survey, Artillery Meteorology, and Indirect-Fire Gunnery. (Between the Wars, the US developed modern Fire Support Coordination–“All guns within range, available to any FO.”.)

    After an annual Airborne Battalion TF BRIGHT STAR deployment from Fort Bragg to Egypt, a hand-picked (“All-Star”) platoon-sized detachment of Division Paratroopers trained with the Foreign Legion in Djibouti (previously French Somalia) for 30 days. The French weapons–M1950 9mm Pistol, M1949 9mm Submachine Gun, M1949/1956 7.5 x 54 (NOT to be confused with 7.5 x 55 Swiss) Rifle, M1924 7.5 x 54 Light Machine Gun (think French BREN)–are great weapons. A French Rifle Squad with 6-7 rifles and a LMG had a decisive firepower advantage vis-a-vis an Airborne Rifle Squad with then-issued M16A1 and, as yet, no SAWs. (Although we did have 2 M203s per Rifle Squad, which fascinated the French, who are very much “into” Rifle Grenades).

    The French M1949/1956 7.5 x 54 rifle got a bad reputation in the US when they were modified to fire the readily-available 7.62 x 51 NATO ammunition.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Ah, yes, the 49/56s that passed through the Monkey House at Century International Arms. Epicenter of many a Bubbavirus outbreak.

  11. 10x25mm

    The common Type 94 handgun hurt the image of Japanese small arms, as the rarer Model 1910 Glisenti hurt the image of Italian small arms. Just about every article written about these handguns cautioned against their usage. An inverse halo effect?

    1. Hognose Post author

      Good point.

      I suspect the Japanese creation of training rifles for kids to use with blanks, often made of cast iron with unrifled barrels, but that would (if one were careless, clueless, or, well, not Japanese, was also a factor. So was the Japanese continuation of the old Hotchkiss strip loading system on some of their guns, and the weird hopper feed on the Type 11. (Weird and too complex, perhaps, but there was no mag to lose, and it worked).

      The Type 94 has a flaw, but not a terrible one. The Glisenti has the poor fortune to be designed for a cartridge that is a downloaded version of the common 9mm and it will chamber a 9mm, which generates pressures it was never designed for. Reminds me of the warnings you used to see, not to fire a .38 super in a .38 Colt Auto pistol. Who today would fire a .38 auto, let alone with modern .38 super? But it would chamber, and back when it was just a “used gun” there was, no doubt, some knucklehead who did it.

  12. Keith

    Every nation has there mistakes (shall we mention Krag here?) but unfortunately when the nation is a looser in a war the mistakes tend to get more lime light. Also the Japanese and Italian weapons are still affected by W W II propaganda. Funny how time changes things. In W W I Japanese and Italian rifles and MG’s were sought after because they were considered to be first quality and were considered substitute standard by many nations. Of my four pistols only one is USA home grown (M1911A1), Browning HP (Belgium), Beretta 92FS (Italy) and replica P-08 Luger (Germany). My short know-I’ll-never-own-them wish list is all foreign designed pistols.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    1. Jim Richardson

      I actually like the Krag, as a sporting rifle. Gets the job done, but I can see the limitations as a military arm compared to the Enfield or Mauser clans.

  13. DSM

    Some of it may be bravado in dehumanizing your opponent’s ability to a great extent too. Not long ago I read a few comments on another site regarding a photo of a middle eastern fellow who had a busted up AK. People were saying this or that, generally talking trash as commentors tend to do. All I thought was– hey, that’s what that guy has, is all he can get and he’s making it work. He doesn’t need a thousand bucks of Gucci crap hanging off his rifle, he just needs his hatred and a desire to kill you, if nothing else than to take your superior gear.

    1. John M.

      That’s the way I feel about people who talk smack about people with Hi-Points. We all have to run what we brung.

      -John M.

  14. JSW

    I have a dog-eared old copy of “Shots Fired in Anger” that I read and re-read. It still holds up amazingly well on the subject of being on the receiving end of Jap firepower.
    His description of a dug in and expertly camouflaged JapType 99 gunner waiting to ambush a patrol is the stuff of nightmares.
    In his opinion, the 99 killed more GIs than all other Jap small arms combined.

    1. Brad

      Found this tidbit, don’t know if it is true, but very interesting about the Japanese 50mm Type 89 heavy grenade discharger (better known as the “knee mortar”)…

      The fragmentation rounds did their work well enough. Postwar U.S. Army medical studies concluded that approximately half of all Allied battle casualties were caused by mortars, and of those roughly 80 percent came from knee mortars. Technically, the Type 89 shells had too much explosive and not enough metal, producing a lesser amount of relatively small shrapnel much more likely to wound than kill. This was not any consolation to men hit by these flying shards of steel.

  15. redc1c4

    the timing of this poast is awesome, as i brought home a Carcano Type I Monday…

    it was made from 36-38, for the IJN, when they felt the IJA wasn’t giving them enough rifles for the construction units etc.

    “they shipped them on U-boats…”

    no, they didn’t: they went via freighter, because there wasn’t a war going on then, other than in China.

    dinged wood, but clean, strong bore, decent trigger, and chambered in 6.5.

    i also have 2 regular Arisakas, one w/o the crest and one with. the one that has the crest has the bayonet too, and the bayonet has bullet strikes on it.

    i guess some GI’s great grandkids took it to the local toy store to score a couple of bucks. i’m thinking i’ll donated it to a museum someplace, maybe the WW2 one in New Orleans.

    if i ‘member, i’ll send pics of the Type I to our hose.

  16. Looserounds.com

    You will not find a bigger fan of Japanese small arms of WW2 than me. I adore the Arisaka. People who would tell you it is a weak action are the very epitome of ignorant. Its a fine rifle if not always made to modern internet commando fit and finish requirements in some cases. Excellent rifles. Anyone who has one or can get one easily and passes on shooting it is greatly missing out.

    I shot one out to 750 last summer and recorded the results. I had sadly not had a change to write it up yet because of various things delaying it as well as laziness. I admit I assumed few would even care about reading it. I never understood the disdain people held for Japanese firearms. All of my best electronic tech is from Japan/korea/asia. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why would I think they couldn’t make quality arms? I even prefer my women to be asian lol

    1. C Otto

      I think i could give you a run for your money on Arisakas. I don’t know why or how it happened, but I can’t get enough of them. I currently have 20+ Arisakas. Still trying to track down a paratrooper rifle. Type 30, 38, 38C, 44 and my favorites, the 99. Only have one long 99, trying to put a 99 sniper back together, one 99 in .30 US meant for Korean troops. One of the coolest aspects in my opinion is the fact you can watch the war progress for the Japanese in their rifles. Early rifles were actually really well made and quite fetching (in my mind) opposed to the late war truly last ditch rifles. Fascinating stuff.

      I don’t shoot mine very often, I haven’t gotten my reloading table quite finished yet.

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