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What was the standard WWII Japanese rifle?

8/2/2012 • Ask Mr. History, Gear

What was the standard Japanese rifle of World War II and how did it compare to its Allied counterparts?

Joseph Forbes,
Pittsburgh, PA

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The principal long arm of Japanese infantry was the Arisaka Type 99 7.7mm rifle. This, like the American Springfield M1903, was based on the action of the German Mauser K98k rifle. The Japanese-modified cock-on-closing action, however, was an improvement over the Mauser’s cock-on-opening design. Produced by seven Japanese arsenals, as well as one in Mukden, China, and one in Jinsen, Korea, the weapon came in long, short, foldable paratroop and sniper versions. It was the first rifle with a chrome-lined bore to aid in cleaning and had an antiaircraft sighting device.

With its strong receiver assembly, the early Arisaka Type 99s were among the best bolt-action rifles of the war, but were outclassed by semiautomatic rifles such as the M1 Garand. Also, in the war’s later stages the chrome lining and the anti-aircraft sight were abandoned and the general quality of the rifles rapidly fell off—as did the quality of the German Mausers, built by slave labor under deteriorating conditions.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


7 Responses to What was the standard WWII Japanese rifle?

  1. Larry C says:

    The overall best combat rifle of WWII and the Korean conflict was the M1 Garand by Canadain designer, John Garand. Both the German and Japanese generals wanted something like the Garand.

    The cock on closing is not necessarily an improvement. The effort to close the bolt by a wounded soldier was sometimes too much. Also there was a problem if a cartridges had been banged slightly out of shape. A cock-on-opening left the additional effort to the tremendous camming action of the bolt. I have (professionally) used both and would never trade a cock-on-opening for the other.

  2. EmeraldPawn says:

    In looking at the typical Japanese infantrymans height and then the length of their rifle it gives the appearance that it is too long and gangly compared to the standard US military issue rifle of that era.
    I am curious that since Japanese culture was rich in Martial skills that most men were very proficient in sword, bo staff and hand to hand combat. Would that have been considered in the design or would the length been for better accuracy at longer distances?

    • Joe Camp says:

      The Japanese officer was well trained in swordsmanship but the average line soldier was not, as he was not from the same socio-economic tier as the officers. Their edged weapon of expertise instead was the bayonet, and early on, the long Arisaka Type 38 6.5mm gave them a decided reach advantage over the Allied soldiers. The Type 99 was more on par length-wise with the ’03, M1 Garand, and Lee-Enfield. All Arisakas have very strong actions, as shown after the war when the Ordnance Corps tested them to failure. But none are as accurate as anything the Allies had in Theater. Even the early Arisakas are comparatively crudely made, and parts often do not interchange between rifles from the different arsenals. If you read Ronald Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, he bears out a lot of the bayonet training emphasis for the Japanese enlisted ranks, and its social “caste” significance. The old book, Small Arms of the World, contains info about the amazing overpressures sustained by the Arisakas in testing. Joe H. Camp, Jr., Ph. D., in South Carolina

      • EmeraldPawn says:

        Thank you for your reply Dr. Camp, a very precise description as to this particular weapon of war as well as to the Soldiers that used them in warfare. I will refer to Mr. Spectors book you recommended. In boot camp I remember physical training drills with the 1911 Enfield. The M16A1 was
        our issued service rifle but I used the M14 considerably in Vietnam. I think they do that to the the skinniest guy in the platoon:) Thanks again. .

  3. gun guy says:

    i liked the AK-47 they were the best in ww2

    • Wholehawg says:

      The AK-47 came out in 19″47″ so it never saw action in WW2. The STG-44 is close though.

  4. Joe H. Camp,Jr., Ph.D. says:

    Adding the following: Another book that comes to mind, regarding WW2-era Japanese martial culture and their use of the bayonet vs. sword, is John Dower, War Without Mercy. Good luck and good hunting. Joe C.

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