|Pistol||Nambu Type 94||Manufacturer||Nambu Rifle|
|Action||Short Recoil||Barrel Length||3.8″|
|Magazine||6 rnds rmvbl mag||Weight||1.7 lbs.|
Nambu’s Type 94 pistol is popularly known as the worst military handgun ever made. While there are some Chinese 1900’s that may disagree, it certainly has some interesting features.
Military expansion across the Pacific and into mainland China was consuming more and more equipment. Officers at the front were becoming frustrated with the cumbersome Nambu Type 14 and were turning to European pocket pistols in .32 ACP. But these were, at best, defensive rounds and really just confused supply lines. Additionally, army aircrew and tankers needed a capable, small pistol which would chamber the standard 8mm Nambu cartridge.
So the Imperial Japanese Army turned to Kijiro Nambu, who was now running his own factory in Kokubunji. Nambu had actually been experimenting with a pistol based on the Spanish Gampo-Giro which utilized a locking block under the barrel, an external hammer, and a cross key set through the bolt to keep it attached to the slide. Original to his 1929 patent and following prototype was a bizarre fan-shaped grip and curved magazine. While there are many unique features to this gun, we’ll have to cover them another time. For now know it embodied the same general locking system and the use of a hammer. It was also finely manufactured and fitted, making it as complicated to manufacture as early designs.
The IJA, however, wanted simpler, faster, cheaper manufacturing for their new pistol. Working together with Nambu they reworked his prototype into a compact design with an internal hammer shrouded by the cocking piece. This was likely adopted due to difficulties with weak strikes from the Type 14’s striker-fired system. The hammer would prove to be much more reliable. New pistols would also be fitted with a magazine safety after previous difficulties with soldiers in the field confusing a dropped magazine for an unloaded chamber. Officially adopted in 1934, or Imperial Year 2594, this design was titled “Type 94.” Manufacture began in 1935 at the Nambu Rifle Manufacturing Company (which would later merge under Chuo Kogyo). This would remain the sole producer through the end of the war in 1945.
Type 94 pistols work on a short recoil principle with the barrel and slide traveling rearward while locked together by a saddle-shaped block. This locking block rests between two metal extensions below the barrel and is carried rearward with it. It has two raised lugs, one on either side of the barrel, that engage notches in the slide, pushing it rearward with the barrel. Channels milled into the side of the frame cam the locking block downward as it travels rearward. This releases the slide and allows it to travel on its own, after the barrel is halted by striking the inside of the frame. The bolts were also constructed to save time, with the rear bored straight through and later welded shut and ground to shape.
In order to speed up production, the channels were milled from the outside of the frame in, essentially boring holes in the gun. These could not, however, be left exposed and so thin steel plates were dovetailed into place and staked. There is one on either side of the pistol for the locking block, and a third at the rear to allow for easier milling of the interior shapes of the frame. Although somewhat unattractive, this seems to have been a reasonable solution to production as they have proven to be quite robust.
Over time the Type 94 would exhibit a number of minor changes in response to limited resources and the demands of manufacture. Bakelite grips would give way to wood, complicated cosmetic milling would be eliminated, and the quality fit and finish fall away. One easily noted change is that later pistols would forgo the rounded cocking knob for a square-backed one. Rust bluing with high polish was used in the beginning, giving way to less and less polish, then finally salt bluing. By the end of 1944 the outside of the pistols were, frankly, horrid. But interior finish and fit were still high. There was an administration change in January of 1945 and, surprisingly, from then until June the finish quality rose considerably. In the final few weeks a number of “last ditch” guns were hastily assembled with truly terrible appearance and a lack of clear markings. Now this is a very basic overview and the Type 94 displays numerous smaller variations. I highly recommend picking up a book if you’re curious about any pieces you may own.
Markings for the Type 94 are refreshingly simple. The earliest few examples were marked “Type 94” in characters from left to right 九四式 but this would soon give way to a more traditional right to left alignment 式四九. On the right side of the frame you’ll find the Nambu Rifle Manufacturing Co. logo and the mark of the supervising Nagoya Arsenal. Placement and order may be slightly different from our example here as these changed a bit. You’ll also find a character and two sets of numbers. These represent the Showa Year and Month of production. To get the Showa year simply add 1925. For the month, well just count like normal. So our example here would be 1944, December.
With all the basics out of the way, let’s get to why you’re really reading this: the bad and the ugly. It’s true, the Type 94 is an awkward gun to look at, let alone hold. The grips are exceedingly small and the bore sits rather high above them. Its fixed iron sights are small and hard to pick up without focusing. But, surprisingly, the grip angle and overall handling aren’t as bad as you’d think. It points much more naturally than expected, although unless you have exceedingly small hands you’ll likely be tucking a pinky. Another problem spot is the large and unprotected magazine release button, which is easy to depress when holstering.
But, I think everyone may know about the notorious exposed trigger bar on these pistols. Unlike the other milled spots, this one was not covered with a plate. Instead it remains open from the left side of the receiver. While we’re sure it saved time, it may have just not been worth it. We’ve provided an animated image to help with this next bit; this is staged from top down, with the sear on the left and hammer on the right.
The 94’s trigger has a nested sear with a diagonally cut head. This rests in a matching diagonal cut in the trigger bar. A pull of the trigger tips the sear forwards, pressing the front of the trigger bar deeper into the frame. Being pinned in the middle, the trigger bar acts like a teeter-totter, and its rear is tipped out from the frame. This movement drags the rearmost end of the trigger bar from inside a recess in the hammer, releasing it and firing the pistol. Have we got all that? Good.
Because the trigger bar is exposed, we can skip the trigger all together, and just depress the front of the bar manually from outside the pistol. While this is a small and unlikely target, it is still a great failing of the action. Stories about these guns being essentially “Suicide Specials” and that they will go off in the holster are most likely embellished since the motion necessary requires narrow pressure rather than broad. But, a finger in the wrong place could still make for deadly consequence. Thankfully, the Type 94’s ridiculously simple safety stops any movement of the rear portion of the trigger bar by swinging right over it. This means neither trigger nor stray finger can discharge the gun on safe.
Despite the major failing of the trigger bar, ugly appearance, varying finish quality, limited capacity, and awkward handling, the Type 94 was actually a success for the Japanese Army. Roughly 70,000 units were produced and issued broadly. Officers appreciated having a smaller handgun that still chambered a cartridge they could restock readily. Being produced specifically for the Army, the Type 94 was not issued to the Navy or Naval aircrews unless they bought them privately. Maybe it was just for lack of alternatives, but there doesn’t seem to have been any resistance to the design. Not until the U.S. troops started capturing them anyway.