A Japanese Type 99 light machine gun. Unusual for weapons of this type, the Type 99 could be fitted with a bayonet, which proved to be next to useless in practice, not only for being generally unwieldy, but also as half the blade couldn’t be used due to the barrel length!
From the Russo Japanese War up to World War II the Type 38 Arisaka had always served the Japanese Army with distinction. While accurate, rugged, and reliable, the Type 38 had one flaw however; it used a very weak 6.5X50mm cartridge that was greatly outmatched by contemporaries such as the 8X57 Mauser, the .303 British, the 7.62X54r Nagant, and the .30-06 Springfield.
In 1939 Japanese ordnance introduced the Type 99 rifle. In outward appearance it was almost identical to the older Type 38, however it was chambered for a new, more powerful cartridge called the 7.7X58 Arisaka. This new cartridge easily matched the 8X57 Mauser in power, range, and accuracy. While the Type 99 was near identical to the Type 38, the Japanese did some accessorizing that was hoped to improve the overall Arisaka design. Like all Japanese military rifles the Type 99 had a stamped metal cover over the bolt and action. The purpose of this was to protect the action from mud, dirt, dust, and moisture. While good in theory, in practice the dust cover was a liability. The cover often rattled when the rifle was carried, giving away a soldier’s position to the enemy. More often than not, the dust cover was removed and thrown away by the soldiers they were issued to. While slightly shorter than the Type 38, the Type 99 was still a long rifle, especially considering the average Japanese soldier in the 1940’s was of short stature. As a result Japanese soldiers were trained to fire their rifles in the kneeling or prone position. To aid in firing a metal wire monopod was attached to the front fore-end. This became an accessory that, while good in theory, was useless in the real world. Often the monopod was made of such cheap metal that it would crumple when used. It was also not uncommon for the bipod to rattle and make noise, hinder a soldier walking through thick foliage, and drop open at inopportune times. As a result, like the dust cover, the monopod was often removed and tossed by the Japanese soldiers. A final oddity that came with the Type 99 was a flip up rear sight designed to aid an infantryman in shooting aerial targets. The sight had a guide with which a soldier could estimate the speed and lead of a low flying aircraft. The practicality of the aircraft sight was questionable at best.
While accessorized with a lot of useless crap, at its core the Type 99 was a strong, sturdy, and dependable weapon. Experiments conducted by the gunsmith P.O. Ackley proved that the Arisaka action was the strongest bolt action of World War II. His experiments were later repeating and proven correct by US Army and US Navy Ordnance. While it was intended to replace the Type 38, the need for arms during World War II meant that it was issued concurrently with the older Type 38. In addition, the Type 99 came in three 7.7X58 ammunition variants; rimmed, non-rimmed, and semi-rimmed. Each was not interchangeable between rifles. The resulting mix of 6.5 Arisaka as well as rimmed, semi-rimmed, and non-rimmed 7.7 Arisaka ammunition became a Japanese quartermaster’s nightmare during World War II.
As the war ground on, and it became apparent that Japan was losing, Japanese industry found that it had to manufacture more weapons, more quickly, using less resources. The production quality of Type 99’s took a sharp downward turn, so that by the final year of the war, Japanese industry was producing incredible pieces of crap. Often called “desperation rifles” or “last ditch rifles”, late production Type 99’s were crudely built with as many corners cut as possible. The stock was crudely carved and often left unfinished. Metal working was also crude, with tool marks left all over the rifle, and furnished with crudely machined sights that were non-adjustable. The bipod, dustcover, and aircraft sights were discontinued. Instead of a metal buttplate, the last ditch Type 99 had a wooden buttplate, fixed into place using two nails.
Production of the Type 99 ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945. Around 3.5 million were produced. Most were scrapped after the war, although a number were brought to the US as war trophies by American GI’s. US soldiers were ordered to grind off the lotus flower crest representing the Emperor, Japanese soldiers did the same out of respect for the Emperor. As a result Type 99’s with an intact seal are often worth a lot of money. A number were also captured by Korea and China, finding their way to battlefields during the Koran War in the early 1950’s.