Rifle: Carcano Type I

Carcano Type I Tilt

Rifle Carcano Type I Manufacturer Terni, Brescia, Beretta
Cartridge 6.5x50mmSR Overall Length 50.75″ or 49.75″
Action Rotation Bolt Barrel Length 30.75″
Magazine 5 rounds staggered Weight 8.75 lbs

 

Japan was the poster child for limited resources and sustained its empire with the resources of the conquered.  Luckily joining the Axis powers gave the Imperial Navy another source for small arms from their Italian allies.

Before we start on the rifle, please join us for just a moment as we set the political scene and point out how an unexpected turn of events spawned an unusual weapon.  Anti-Comintern Pact is most immediately recognized as the ink and paper start of the Axis Powers of WWII.  What many don’t know is that the original intent was to give Germany a way to support both its traditional ally China and Hitler’s new friends in Japan.  The hope in Japan is that this would subordinate China and open opportunities for further exploitation. The Kuomintang wisely declined any interest but the pact went on to seal Germany, Japan, and later Italy.

Japanese Carcano Type I

Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, the Imperial Army began a full invasion of mainland China and quickly strained Japanese manufacturing to the limit.  Every other outpost and the whole of the Navy were given second priority with regards to military production.  Luckily, Italy joined the Anti-Comintern Pact later that same year and the Imperial Navy wasted little time in approaching their new ally with an offer to purchase rifles for their own men.  A delegation was sent to Italy to oversee the design and production of a rifle comparable to the Arisaka Type 38 in the 6.5x50mmSR cartridge.  Ultimately, existing manufacturing was turned to producing an Italian arm with Japanese fittings.  A contract was begun in 1938 and completed in 1939.

What was provided, in very simple terms, was a Carcano made to look just like an Arisaka.  A standard Carcano M1891 receiver and bolt were mated to a standard twist rifled barrel chambered for 6.5x50mmSR.  Japanese five round staggered fixed magazines were replicated on the new rifle.  The stock was an Italian duplication of the Japanese two-piece, semi-pistol grip Type 38 design.  Unfortunately it appears Italian hard wood was used as the stock is much heavier than any Arisaka stock we’ve encountered.  Duplications of the Type 38 rear sights appeared graduated from 400 to 2,400 meters.  Barrel bands, bayonet lugs, and cleaning rods also followed the same Japanese patterns, if not exactly identical.  Two lengths of stock appear to have been made with one larger by a full inch through the shoulder, making for a somewhat awkward rifle for the small stature soldiers of the time.  The Japanese designated the rifle the イ式 (“i shiki”) or “Type I” after the first phonetic sound in “Italia.”  Type 30 bayonets were provided back home in Japan.

Initially Fabbrica d’Armi Regia Esercito Terni (“Terni”) began with barrel production but several other manufacturers became involved in completion.  Fabbrica d’Armi Regio Esercito of Gardone V.T. (“Gardone“), Fabbrica d’Armi P. Beretta (also of Gardone V.T.), and Fabbrica Nazionale d’Armi Brescia (“FNA-Brescia“) all assembled and Type I rifles.  Serial prefixes were applied by 9,999 rifle blocks and ran from letters A through L with an estimated production near 130,000.  It is known that Japanese inspectors gave final approval but some sources say each of the three assembling factories had inspectors while others say all inspections occurred in Gardone V.T.

One of the reasons Type I rifles tend to go unnoticed is that they very rarely have any visible distinguishing markings above the stock line.  Generally, unobservant collectors mark them off as Italian Carcano or Japanese Arisaka variant rifles and assume they have been scrubbed or otherwise mistreated.  Rifles prefixed A-F were assembled at the Gardone arsenal, G-J at FNA-Brescia, and J-L at Beretta.  If you dismantle your Type I rifle you should be able to find a simple two or three character initial on the underside of the receiver and barrel.  When present these will represent your assembling factory.  Unfortunately, we haven’t had the occasion to confirm all the manufacturer markings.  Our example has a PB for P. Beretta.  If you have the occasion to take apart a Type I of your own, please let us know in the comment what markings you encounter!

From the start, the Type I was seen as a second standard weapon and was given over to training cadets, Naval Guards, and many went straight to storage.  Despite lives lived mostly in lockers and boats, the Type I rifles did find their way to the front lines on occasion.  Naval Guard units would be dispatched to defend shore installations and, because of U.S. island hopping, quickly become entangled as standard infantry units.  This was noted especially at Kwajalein Atoll.  Most Type I rifles, however, appear to have come from storage on the Japanese mainland post war.

I sincerely doubt many troops would be happy to lug around the exceedingly heavy and awkward Type I rifle.  However, Japanese soldiers did enjoy sniping from concealed positions with the Type 38 due to its long barrel and light cartridge giving very little away.  The Type I shared these same characteristics and the added weight could only assist with follow-up shots.  While much maligned, the Carcano action is still hearty and reliable and certainly matches other split bridges like the man Steyr-produced Mannlicher military rifles still in service at that time.

Overall the Type I was a serviceable firearm, certainly more robust than some of the other hybrids we have seen.  As a collectible it can really serve to remind us of the truly global nature of the second world war.  These rifles can be pretty common in the United States collectors market and are often sold for reasonable prices even today.  So if you have the slightest curiosity after reading all of this just keep an eye open and I’m sure you’ll find one to look over yourself.  Don’t forget to tell us what markings you find under the stock!

 Japanese Carcano Type I

 

13 Responses to “Rifle: Carcano Type I”

  1. Havan Tucker says:

    Thanks for the great and informative article! I have a Type I that was brought back from Japan by my grand father following his tour with the Blacksheep. It is S/N F8014, so apparently built in Gardone, and the marking under the barrel is FAT. From what I’ve seen this stands for Fabricca Armi Terni.

    Thanks again for the information. Really helped me learn a little about this family relic!
    Havan

    • Nagao says:

      That is some useful information. Thanks! If you ever get a chance and some good lighting (hardest part really) snap a picture of that marking.

  2. Jacob says:

    What kind of value would you typically expect a good condition example to hold these days? Also, is a bent bolt handle at all typical? I’m looking into picking one of these up, if I do I’ll put together good lighting and get you a good marking picture (Caon T3i, not a cell phone).

    • Nagao says:

      The Type I is just such an unusual gun that it commands only a little more than say a Mosin carbine these days. Most people don’t recognize it and it seems few appreciate it enough. I’m afraid I have never seen a bent bolt and would assume it was either sporterized or taken from a regular Carcano.

  3. martin mudd says:

    I have PB with a crown with a cross above, also several staps

  4. John Shannon says:

    I’ve aquired one of these rifles from an uncle who served inWWII, it is a shortened version with a slide-in front blade site. I need a stock for it and I’m sure I’ll never find a shortened stock for it. Maybe I can aquire a long stock and rework it to size. The serial # is H673 and it has a large 39 on the barrel under the stock, it also has what looks like a little “AS” in a small box.

    • Nagao says:

      There were no military shortened Type I rifles. I would recommend trying to find a sporterized stock to work with. The 39 is likely the year the receiver was made. I have never seen an AS mark but an SA mark would mean we are not talking about a Japanese Carcano.

      • John Shannon says:

        This rifle is definately a shortened type 1, no doubt. This rifle had to be shortened in it’s period, maybe in Japan. The machine work and the dovetail front blade site as well as the patina are all consistant across the weapon and are factory done. It’s a shame that I fitted it into a 38 stock with typical Carcano mag-box trigger guard, it looks perfect but as I now realize, it wont take a Stripper-clip. In it’s current stock, it’s 37 inches long and looks beautiful. It’s too bad that I waisted so much time an effort fitting into the wrong lower. I started with just the complete action ( reciever, barrel, complete bolt, trigger assembly, front blade sight and the long 2400mm adjustable windage rear sight) and was hoping to make a complete rifle (which I did, just the wrong rifle), now I have to hope to find the correct lower for it. I really hope you can help me locate the type 1 complete lower, maybe I can offer the 38 parts I have to somebody who can use them or may have what I need towards a trade. I’m convinced this rifle was a war trophy and had seen action, it wouldn’t have been among my 92 year old uncle’s possessions. He was in The Pacific during WWII. I really hope you can help me complete this project, I pulled this out of storage after 20 years just to spend money putting it together with the wrong parts, what a shame. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated, thank you very much. John.

      • John Shannon says:

        P.S. Remember, theres a first time for everything and I’ve been researching this gun for years and I’ve never seen a shortened Type 1 as well, that why I didn’t realize it WAS a type 1. I think this is a very rare version and there may be very few that exsist, thats why I really want to put it back together with the right parts. I realize that I will have to shorten the stock, if I’m luck enough to get on, but I’m good with this stuff so it shouldn’t be that difficult.

        • Nagao says:

          There are no records of a shortened Type I being assembled in Italy or modified by the Japanese Navy. Also, please note this is a “I” as in “eye.” The term “Type 1″ refers to a prototype weapon of a completely different make.

          • John Shannon says:

            Is it possible to aquire what I need to make it functional? With the way I have it set up, would it take a standard Carcano tin-box magizine or is the reciever too different to allow that to lock in place?

  5. JCitizen says:

    @John Shannon:

    I empathize with your mission as I had an uncle with many great trophies after the Pacific war! I just admit that what you describe jibes with a few rifles captured by soldiers in Vietnam. By then, they had a mini arsenal rebuilding old Japanese infantry rifles – the ones with the machined trigger guards – into something completely different. One of them I collected had a modified magazine well to take the 7.62mm AK round, and the barrel was actually a Browning machine gun barrel cut at both ends to make rechambering possible. They did a great job touching it up to look like a modern government arsenal rebuild, but I suspect it was a jungle shop run by the VC in a desperate attempt to get enough weapons out there. The thing didn’t shoot half bad, and was more accurate than most junked out SKS I’ve found from the period. An uninitiated person might think it was an original carbine, when it started out as a full length Arisaka of WW2.

  6. Matt says:

    Got one that has a FAT mark under the barrel and is numbered C64.

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