The Japanese Type 96 Light Machine Gun – a troubled weapon

By: shortfinals

Mar 03 2011

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Category: military, Museums, Second World War, ships, United States


Focal Length:23mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

The Imperial Japanese forces had, during the interwar period, borrowed from many sources when it came to designing their weaponry. The Japanese Type 96 Light Machine Gun came about because the earlier Type 11 Taisho LMG – an odd design which stripped the standard Arisaka 6.5 mm infantry cartridge from 5-round clips inserted into an open-topped hopper – had run into major problems in the field (mostly China, where Japan had been fighting an episodic, undeclared war since 1931). The Type 11 had an unenviable reputation for jamming, due to a too-tight tolerance between bolt and barrel. The designer, Kijiro Nambu, tried to get around this problem by having a small oil-pump incorporated into the feed mechanism on the Type 11 to ensure rounds were lubricated as they were fed into the breech. This only made all the grit and dirt, carried into the machine gun’s action from the open feed hopper, into a gritty paste which caused even more stoppages!

An example of the new design, the Type 96, is shown here on board the USS Massachusetts (BB-59), moored at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts; this impressive ‘South Dakota’ class battleship contains many excellent exhibits of WW2 artifacts and weapons.

Nambu and the staff of the Kokura Arsenal had access to captured examples of the excellent Czech-designed ZB-26 (in 7.92 mm Mauser calibre) which had been exported in large quantities to China, as well as being locally produced. When mixed with elements of the French Hotchkiss machine gun designs (including the heavily finned barrel, to improve cooling) and a quick-change barrel, the Type 96 was adopted. The hopper was dispensed with (reducing the amount of dirt admitted) and a 30 round curved top-mounted box magazine was utilized. The same reduced-power version of the standard 6.5 mm Arisaka cartridge lacked penetrating power, and its effective range was only about 600 yards, despite an initial muzzle velocity of 2,400 ft/sec. Some design ‘quirks’ were noted. No single-shot capability was available (unusual in a light machine gun of the period), a low-power telescopic sight was sometimes used, and the standard infantry bayonet could be fitted! Coupled with a slow firing rate of around 550 rounds per minute, this meant that the Type 96 was only slightly faster that the British Bren LMG (also derived from the Czech ZB-26).

Kijiro Nambu tried to ease the cartridge extraction problems by incorporating an oiling mechanism in the magazine loader (the curved magazine was inserted on the right of the loader, and cartridges fed into an open hopper, with the operating handle to the left of that). Unfortunately, the thin film of oil only carried more dirt into the breech, via the sticky cartridges, and maintenance in the field under dusty conditions could be a nightmare. A new cartridge (the 7.7 mm) and a new gun (the Type 99 with a better extraction mechanism) came too late to alter the outcome of the war. Post-war this weapon was used by the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China and North Korea and was encountered in the Korean War.

The weapon shown here is minus the box magazine but is fitted with a prominent flash-hider, something that is not seen on every gun. All in all, an interesting LMG, but a seriously flawed weapon.

2 comments on “The Japanese Type 96 Light Machine Gun – a troubled weapon”

  1. Two facilities per day for several days — what a welcome and enjoyable challenge to information overload! You are fortunate and I hope you enjoy the trip — I am enjoying the information from the road 🙂


    • Thanks! David made it onto his BA flight back to London, (just), and I am now settling down to review over 1000 images! Some might actually make it to the blog…….cars, boats, gliders, jet engines, tractors, bicycles, wine making equipment (!) and much more.


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