|Pistol||Nambu Type 14||Manufacturers||Kokura, Nagoya, Chuo Kogyo K.K.|
|Caliber||8mm Nambu||Overall Length||9.06″|
|Action||Short Recoil||Barrel Length||4.61″|
|Magazine||8 rounds||Weight||2 lbs|
The Japanese Type 14 pistol may be the most recognizable small arm of the pacific conflict to collectors. Despite nearly unbelievably rapid modernization and military improvement, the Japanese Empire appears to have put very little emphasis on pistol development.
Kijiro Nambu (September 22, 1869 – May 1, 1949) was born shortly after the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate to a former samurai. He was sent to be raised by a merchant family and later enrolled in the army academy. The rapidly advancing Japanese Military was the only tool of social mobility during this period of cultural upheaval and so Kijiro enlisted after graduation. He worked hard and by 1897 was assigned to the Tokyo Arsenal under Nariakira Arisaka. Briefly working on the Type 30 rifle and later the Type 26 revolver, Kijiro was involved in the “30th Year Automatic Pistol Plan” which involved a surveying of current trends in the European military theater. Years later this research would influence a pistol design of his own.
Kijiro Nambu’s original pistol was an eclectic mix of ideas and many have pointed out he borrowed concepts from other military models such as the Glisenti or the Mauser C96. Unfortunately there is no proof of which designs, if any, influenced Nambu and the whole must be considered as a unique assembly. Known in the U.S. as the “Papa Nambu,” this 8mm handgun was developed by 1904 and sold well commercially and in small numbers to Thailand, China, and the Japanese Navy (as the 4th year naval pistol). A mechanically identical but scaled down model in 7mm was also produced (Baby Nambu in the U.S.). There is a lot of detail to cover on these two pistols alone that will merit another article at a later date.
The Japanese military appreciated the Nambu and many officers elected to purchase them privately due to shortages of service revolvers during the Russo-Japanese War. Unfortunately the design appeared needlessly complicated and expensive for official adoption. The Great Kanto Earthquake changed the pistol’s fate when it destroyed much of the Koishikawa factory’s machining equipment and halted production of commercial models in 1923 (Before I get any notes, it’s worth mentioning that assembly of early Nambu pistols did continue years after actual raw production stopped). Afterwards the government took the initiative to update the Nambu with an eye towards adoption. As early as 1916 Kijiro Nambu had taken steps to design a simplified and less expensive version of his gun for military use. However, he retired from the army in 1924 so at least some of the changes made for the new service sidearm came from arsenal staff. In 1925 the Fourteenth Year Type pistol was complete and officially adopted by the empire.
Changes to the original Nambu included simplifying the frame and removing the adjustable sights. The grip safety was removed. Instead a manual lever was provided. The spring system was rearranged to be more symmetrical and ease manufacture, removing the return spring chamber. Improvements were made to the locking block and tolerances were adjusted for interchangeability. The striker’s tab was moved to the bottom; the sears were also simplified. The disconnector spring was dropped in favor of a lug on the trigger, and other little changes abound.
The final Nambu Type 14 pistol is a short recoil, locked breach semi-automatic using an 8x22mm rimless, bottleneck cartridge. Ammunition is fed by a detachable eight round box magazine. The pistol features a manual safety on the left side front of the frame and an automatic magazine safety. There is no bolt hold open or release for maintenance. The sights are simple and fixed. When the trigger is pulled a striker is released to discharge the cartridge. Recoil force from the shot presses the barrel and barrel extension rearward while locked to the bolt. This locking of the barrel extension to the bolt is achieved by a locking block roughly resembling a hammer head that is attached to the extension and engages the underside of the bolt body. As the components travel rearward an opening in the frame allows the locking block to drop slightly, releasing the bolt but stopping the barrel and extension. The bolt continues back, ejecting the spent casing and cocking the striker. The bolt, and subsequently the barrel and extension are returned forward by two springs set in recesses on either side of the bolt body. In this same return stroke a new cartridge is picked up from the magazine and chambered. The manual safety prevents the trigger bar from traveling and locks the barrel and extension in the frame.
To operate, load ammunition into the detachable magazine and then insert into the pistol. Pull the cocking knob at the rear of the gun all the way back and release. Make sure the manual safety on the left side of the gun is set for fire. Pull the trigger once for each shot desired. When the magazine is expended the bolt will catch on the follower and lock open.
Production began at the arsenal in Nagoya (Chigusa) in 1926 and ran through late 1932. Tokyo (Koishikawa factory) started 1928. In late 1932 Kokura began assembling Tokyo’s pistols but did not gain inspection privileges until late 1934 when Tokyo stopped producing entirely. From then into March of 1935 there was a mixed batch of parts as Kokura took over full production while still using Tokyo-made components. Afterwards pure Kokura pistols carried on until mid 1936. Kijiro Nambu’s Rifle Manufacturing Company began production in its Kokubunji factory by the end of 1933. The company later merged with another concern and changed names to Chuo Kogyo Co. Nagoya supervised production but inspection was provided by Tokyo. The Kokubunji factory ceased production in late summer of 1944 in favor of the Type 94. Nagoya’s Toriimatsu factory began production in 1941 and continued until manufacturing collapsed in 1945.
Each production line can be identified by characters on the Nambu frame. This can get a bit confusing so we’ve included a picture to help. Nagoya Arsenal oversaw three factories in production: Toriimatsu, Chigusa, and Kokubunji. Chigusa produced few examples and just used the Nagoya emblem alone. Note that there is one exception; early Kokubunji pistols share markings with the Chigusa series but use a period between the month and year instead of a coma. Toriimatsu production started with a series mark to differentiate from the original Chigusa production and later had a second due to rollover at number 99,999. Kokubunji used a stylized version of the first character of Nambu’s name and later made a second run. The Koishikawa and Kokura locations are marked the same. From 1932 to 1935 there was some overlap with Kokura assembling Koishikawa built parts. After that pure Kokura pistols show up. It’s best to think of the Tokyo/Kokura situation in three phases: Tokyo, Tokyo pistols assembled by Kokura, and Kokura. Checking your gun would be easiest in reverse order. Kokura made pistols have one of only two inspector stamps on the right side behind the grip. If your pistol shows the character 幡 or 小 it is pure Kokura. If you have any other character there, flip the gun over and check the very rear for the character セ. If it is there your gun was made by Tokyo and assembled at Kokura. If neither 幡 nor 小 appear and there is a character other than セ you have a pure Tokyo pistol.
Determining the date of manufacture for your Nambu Type 14 should be simple. It’s struck on the right side rear of the gun, usually next to the first character of “Showa” to denote the period. The first number is the year, the second is the month. We can read the month as normal (11 means November, etc.) Japanese years relate to the reign of specific Emperors. The Type 14 is named for its creation on the 14th year of the Taisho calendar (1925). The Showa calendar begins immediately after as a coincidence. Just add 1925 to the year listed on your pistol. A pistol marked 17.8 is therefor August of 1942. Our pictured example is from February of 1932.
Service life for the Type 14 was relatively short when compared to other military pistols. It saw combat with the Empire of Japan throughout what Americans see as the Pacific Theater. Early combat lessons exposed unfortunately poor striking and weak firing pins. The first attempt to fix these issues was simply issuing spare firing pins along with the other holster accessories. This failed to impress operators in the field and in 1941 an update was made to the striker. The only real change was the shortening, and subsequent accommodations, of its length. This gave the a higher lock time with further travel of the striker but the military failed to address the obvious issue of the spring strength. Another problem was discovered during use in the cold regions of Manchuria. The trigger guard was too small to easily permit the use of the pistol by a gloved hand and so when the striker was updated the trigger guard was expanded. At the same time an additional spring was added to the front of the grip area of the frame in order to prevent the unintended loss of magazines during reloading. The cocking knob was also simplified for manufacture. Otherwise the pistol served unaltered until the end of World War II when the Empire of Japan was forced to disarm. Where firearms were still necessary America provided the equipment.
The Nambu Type 14 was issued with a hard shell flap holster in a roughly triangular shape. Inspectors marks can be found under the flap lid and earlier examples will be dated. They were made of either cowhide or rubberized canvas. Storage for a spare magazine, spare firing pin, and a cleaning rod were provided. A pouch within also accommodated two 15-round packages of ammunition.
The handgun was a solidly built pistol with a unique mechanism, but it suffered from some simple (but ultimately unresolved) issues and a weak cartridge. The 8mm bottlenecked cartridge was somewhat roughly comparable in power to the .380 ACP cartridge. This really didn’t necessitate a locked breach system and the same power could have been delivered by any of a number of reliable blowbacks already invented. The poor striking strength could have been fixed easily and was never completely addressed. Springs in the guns, overall, do not age well and are often of poor quality. The safety was an improvement, but required a free hand to operate where most pistols kept it in reach of the shooting hand. Lastly, a bolt hold open would go a long way to help with maintenance, especially when the barrel is integral to the slide extension. These problems probably don’t reveal incompetence as much as a lack of concern for sidearms in the Empire.
There are some good features, however. Conceptually the Nambu Type 14 was a decent action. The grip angle lent a natural point of aim to the pistol. The fixed sights are actually very clear and easy to read for the period. Combining these with the low recoil ammunition makes for a very accurate handgun when fired one handed as was the custom of the time. Ultimately, the historical aspect far outweighs any problems with the handgun itself. It’s an unusual and readily identifiable piece with singular personality. If you have the chance to own or at least investigate one we highly recommend it.