|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.
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!