Saturday, May 19, 2007

Japanese Type I rifle: An unusual hybrid.

In the late 1930s, Imperial Japan's ongoing invasion of China was beginning to place a strain on the ability of her arsenals to keep the army supplied with rifles. With the army taking all the rifle production from home, the navy was forced to go shopping for a source of rifles for their naval infantry. A call to their new Axis partner, Italy, resulted in one of the more unusual military rifles of WWII.


ABOVE: Japanese Type I rifle. Photo by Oleg Volk.

The new rifle, referred to as the "Type I", was a hybrid of Italian and Japanese features. (Sort of like ramen al dente, or a teriyaki beef calzone. Mmmm. Anyway...) The rifle's action was that of the Mo. 1891 Carcano, which itself was a more-or-less direct ripoff of the old Gew.88 "Commission Rifle", sans the usual Mannlicher-style magazine. In its place was a Mauser-type box magazine that could be fed rounds from stripper clips. The rifle was chambered for the standard Japanese 6.5x50mm cartridge, and the furniture and sights were pure Arisaka, down to the two-piece dovetailed buttstock. Unlike other Japanese service rifles, they were not marked with the Imperial chrysanthemum on the receiver ring. In fact, except for the serial number and various small proof marks, they were remarkably devoid of markings of any sort.

Never common on the US collector scene (less than 60,000 were produced; compared to millions for most other WWII service rifles) it's possible to go many years without ever seeing one at a store or gun show. It's not listed in the Blue Book or the Standard Catalog of Military Firearms. It's mentioned but not pictured in Japanese Rifles of World War II and Scarlata's Bolt Action Military Rifles book. At the previous gun store I worked at, an old guy walked in the door with a long rifle in tow:

"Hey, I got this ol' military rifle. A buddy of mine tol' me that this lady that works here knows a lot about ol' army guns, collects 'em, even, and could tell me what it's worth."

"That'd be me."

As he started to heave the rifle up onto the counter, saying "I think it's Japanese...", I heroically kept from squeaking "Ohmigod! It's a Type "I"!" I'd never seen one in the steel before.

"So, what's it worth?"

"Well, sir, it's hard to say. The gun isn't in any of the usual price guides. Obscurity may work against it, the bore is a nasty dark orange with corrosion, and ammo is so expensive that an empty magazine means the gun's nearly totalled. On the other hand, it's cosmetically nice, and someone who knows what it is and is just dying to have one for their collection may be willing to pay well to get it. What do you figure you need to get out of it?"

"Well, I'd like to get out of it what I've got in it..."

"Which is? If you don't mind me asking..."

"Naw. I paid $75 for it, and I reckon I've got $5 worth of my time in running it over here. How's $80 sound?"

"Let me call my boss."

I walked in the back room and rang him on the cell phone. Bear in mind my boss at that shop didn't know one milsurp from another. To him, they're all just junky old rifles.

"Hey, I've got this guy that wants to sell us a Type I." *long pause* "It's a rifle with Arisaka-style parts on a Carcano action." *longer pause* "Anyhow, it's an oddball old Japanese rifle. He wants $80 for it."

"I dunno, money's still kinda tight right now. You think we could sell it for $150?"

"Hell ye... er, I mean, I know somebody who'd pay $150 for it."

"Who?"

"Me!"

"Okay, give him $80."

Back out front.

"Here you go, sir."

"Thank you very much, ma'am; if I find anything else, I'll let you know."

Later, my boss apparently decided that he could live with making only a $50 profit off me, instead of a $70 one, which was just fine with me. The rifle in question turned out to be one that was produced at Beretta, rather than one of the more common government arsenal-produced specimens. Ammunition is still produced by Norma, but at today's prices, two and a half boxes actually equal what I paid for the rifle, so until I get dies in the caliber, it won't get shot much. Whether it gets shot or not, it's an interesting artifact from WWII and makes for quite the conversation piece.

24 comments:

Sean said...

I have a buddy with an Arisaka that has a "T" shaped mark on the Imperial chrysanthemum, but it is mostly intact. Is this a surrendered weapon, or what?

Kevin said...

I'm curious; how come you didn't pay the guy the $80, rather than let your boss hit you for another $50?

Matt G said...

Because that would've been cheating three people.

Hobie said...

Too cool!

GeorgeH said...

Is that a standard Arisaka bayonet, or did you score a double coup?

Gewehr98 said...

How did the bore clean up?

MauserMedic said...

I picked up one in Des Moines two years ago at a show. I'd never heard of one before that. Neat rifles with an interesting history.

Tam said...

sean,

Rifles that have defaced mums were surrendered weapons, yes.

kevin,

What Matt said.

georgeh,

That's a standard Arisaka bayonet. It works with Type 38, Type 99, and Type I rifles. It looks quite silly on my dinky Type 38 carbine, btw. :)

gewehr98,

It's dark, but not very pitted.

staghounds said...

I had his brother walk into a gun show with a Gustloff pstol.

staghounds said...

I've also seen a full cased outfit mint unturned Colt 1849 pocket walk in, it rossed the counter for $150 back in 1990 r so.

FWMOIW, this isn't cheating anybody. Assuming the seller is competent and willing, e has a right to price his goods as he wishes.

Remember, the buyer is assuming some risks. If the rifle turned out to be stolen, or when Tam got it out of the stock to find it had been demilled or in a fire, she'd have been out $80 for nothing.

Caveat vendor, caveat emptor.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm.

I may have the dies you seek. Things are currently boxed up for an impending move but when I have an opportunity, I'll dig out the dies. There may be a small number of bullets and empty cases. They're marked (I think) 6.5 x50R.

jb

Tam said...

Since posting this, I have scored some dies, as well as some extra Norma brass. Of course, since I also have 6.5 Swede and Carcano, I have lotsalotsa 6.5 bullets. :)

Thank you for looking though! :)

Anonymous said...

It seems to me also that my cases are re-sized .30-40 Krag brass; does that seem possible for your rifle?

he move is over but the unpacking will take months - no house at this end. :-(

jb

Arsenal Man said...

Just bought a Type I Carcano-Arisaka on Auction Arms. Stock is pretty beat up, but there's a guy in KY that restores military stocks to like new. Since there's very little collector's interest, I'll fix it up a bit, fix the stock, maybe reblue, maybe sporterize (probably not...but on the look out for one already sporterized). If you go to Graf and Sons website, there's 6.5mm Arisaka ammunition for $15.99 a box, and Mr. Nambu at mrnambu.com sells some for $15.50 a box. I plan on picking up a few boxes, shooting one box, then storing the rest for a rainy day. The bore is supposed to be excellent...we'll see when I get it. Maybe we should form a Type I discussion board somewhere...stimulate some collector interest.

Danielle said...

Hi, I found this blog on a Google search. I am 99% sure the old rifle that my grandfather handed down to me when he died is a Type 1. He was in Japan in WWII and this is among the more interesting things he brought back. I am a trucker & currently OTR- so it'll have to wait till I get home to make a comparison with the photo- but it's GOT to be what I have. No markings anywhere & looks just like the photo, only missing the shoulder strap. Husband knows a bit about guns & he says it is in good working order, needs to be oiled up but should be ready to fire. Sooo...I am also interested in finding some ammo for it! Would also like to know if anyone can help me locate someone near Sioux City, IA or Sioux Falls, SD, who could take a look at this gun for me? NOT interested in selling- just want to have a pro look at it to make sure it's in good working order. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

My Grandfather was in the Navy in WWII and brought home A Type I. Unfortunately for collector value he cut off the butt and removed a lot of the wood past the strap assembly, so the bayonet fix and cleaning rod are long gone. But for what it's worth the serial no. is G5220

Bram said...

Grafs.com has cheaper alternatives to the Norma stuff.

madsenshooter said...

What type of rifling does the Type I have? Rounded like the type 38 (metford), or rectangular, ie, enfield type rifling?

Tam said...

I'll go check the attic in the morning. :)

madsenshooter said...

Nevermind Tam, I bought one. I think it used to be recntangular rifling. but it isn't so much anymore. Running a .270 diameter #2 buckshot down the bore shows the throat has a .268 groove diameter, so Hornady's bullet for the Carcano should give the best accuracy, provided you can find a set of dies that will accept a bullet that large. My CH 6.5 Jap dies won't. I make brass from 30/40, or, since it is presently scarce and I have a couple Krags to feed, from .303 British. The stock on the Type I is like pointing a 2x4 compared to the sleekness of my model 92 Krags.

Joseph said...

Just saw this old blog. I have one of these rifles my father got in japan right out of the crate with sling and bayonet. i'd like to talk about them how can we email.

Joseph said...

I have one of these. I'd like to find out more about it.How can we talkor email is ok

Tam said...

tamslick AT aol

Say beach said...

I have a type I, it is the first rifle my father ever customized. He designed the loads before they were ever published. I shoot a120 grain Sierra at 2900 fps. The barrel is floating. I hit bulls eyes at 400 yards.
The bolt has been cut off and welded on the back end. The groove for the bolt was then welded over with nickel. Providing a second place to mount the scope. I load my own. My brother shoots a 6.5, I think it was a carcano, however after he shot one of my 6.5 rounds it would not fit into my chamber. It has now been resized for a 6.5 sweed.
Dave