Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Japanese Handguns in Shotgun News

The April 20th issue of Shotgun News there’s an article entitled “Japanese Handguns of World War II” – unfortunately as a Japanese collector, the subtitle sort of gives you the slant of the article from the start: “Were They as Bad as They Looked?” Peter Kokalis spends the first part of the article discussing Japan’s modest increases in production from 1937 to 1944 as compared to other nations, and then spends a fair amount of time berating Japanese Handgun experts as biased whiners who generate “puff pieces.” So from that “unbiased” starting point, Kokalis then goes on to detail many of the military sidearms used by Japan in world War II including the Type 26 Revolver as well as the Type 14 and Type 94 semi-automatic pistols.

The article is a bit more in depth than most of the Shotgun News articles I’ve read as it goes through many of the technical specifications of each gun. However, Kokalis seems to be fixated on the technical shortcomings of the firearms, especially as the war progressed. He also faults the Japanese lack of a credible sub-machine gun in quantity (which is fairly valid) and the lack of a semi-automatic rifle, referring to the Type 5 developed at the end of the war a “pathetic attempt.” Never mind that German and Soviet semi-automatics were of dubious reliability and weren’t fielded in quantity either (and the fact that Britain and Italy didn’t even field a semi-automatic rifle!).

While much of the information presented is indeed factual, many facts that are either favorable to Japan or unfavorable to nations he compares Japan’s efforts to are conveniently left out of the analysis. Japan’s level of preparedness for war was certainly no worse (and indeed, much better) than Italy’s. The quality and quantity of Japanese weapons also would compare favorably to Italy – and Japan was frequently not facing the same quality of armament that Italy was during World War II. While Japan’s handguns were of unusual design and fired a relatively weak cartridge, the Soviet Union fared little better with its ungainly M1895 revolver. A fair comparison of Japan’s Type 99 Arisaka rifle to the Mosin Nagant or any Italian bolt action would also tend to favor the Japanese arm (at least early in the war). Post-war overpressure stress tests showed the Arisaka possessed the strongest bolt action of any rifle fielded in World War II.

At the end of the day Kokalis fails to recognize that Japan, like all of the rest of the nations of World War II, prioritized design and production resources. Naval and air forces were given priority over tanks and many small arms, though Japanese rifles were very competitive until later in the war. Japan’s primary reason for war was to secure resources the island nation lacked; therefore they lacked the raw materials to produce at the levels of the United States, Soviet Union, or even Britain (which could still call upon an empire). Throw in the fact that the United States practiced unrestricted submarine warfare on Japanese shipping from 1942 onwards, and the lack of increase in industrial production is easy to understand.

Overall, I was fairly disappointed in the article as it really seems to be a hit piece or at least a “rebuttal” more than anything else. Granted, Japanese militaria has become more popular (and thus more expensive) in recent years, and that’s bound to bring detractors out of the woodwork. I put this article clearly in that camp.

Until next time!!!

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