The Worst Pistol Ever: Type 94 Nambu

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What if one of your friends came up to you with a grin on his face and told you that he went out and intentionally bought the worst pistol ever produced? Well, I happened to be that guy in this instance. I was watching one of my old favorite shows the other day called Tales of the Gun from back when the History channel actually had some history on it and the episode was about Japanese firearms before and during World War II. The Japanese produced some really stellar firearms (like the ludicrously strong Arisaka rifles) along with some really, really awful ones. When the program got to the segment on pistols, I was reminded of a gun I had long been quasi familiar with, but never really given much thought. That gun is the Type 94 pistol designed by Kijiro Nambu chambered in 8mm Nambu. Tales of the Gun said that the Type 94 is a collectible “not to shoot, but to ridicule” and with that I knew I had to have one.

A few days later I went to a gun shop close to me that specializes in antiquities and collectible arms and they had not one, but three Type 94 Nambu pistols. Believe it or not, the firearm pictured above was not the worst one of the three! They had a “last ditch” gun that actually looked worse, and an early pre-war gun that looked very nice, but I settled for the mid-grade gun that was made just before the point when “last ditch” guns started being produced:

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Isn’t she a beauty? Ok, so that is pretty much the ugliest firearm I have ever seen as it looks like it was made by a man with a grinder and a file. I stretched the title by saying that the Type 94 is the worst pistol ever, but I can probably declare without much criticism that the Type 94 is the worst service pistol ever adopted. Even the late gun writer Ian V. Hogg had nothing positive to say about it, noting that it was one of the world’s worst automatic pistols. Regardless, I was really excited to shoot this thing. The problem however is that 8mm Nambu is an extinct and obsolete cartridge, but I did manage to find a company online that produces it by resizing .40 S&W brass:

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Oddly enough the round looks a lot like .357 Sig but delivers only as much energy as .380 ACP. This makes the 8mm Nambu cartridge significantly weaker than other service pistol calibers of the day, such as the 9mm Luger, .45 ACP, or 7.62×25 Tokarev. Regardless the 8mm Nambu served the Imperial Japanese armed forces for 41 years.

After I sourced a box of this expensive ammunition I was ready to see how this thing performed. I dragged my friend Chris to the range and we set up a paper target at about 10 yards or so.

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Here I am shooting the Type 94:

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Let me say that I spent many a weekend in college shooting pistols competitively, so I am not a terrible shot with a handgun. At this distance I would expect a group of about two or three inches max with any off the shelf automatic pistol, but the Nambu did not do so well. I shot two groups, one in the center and one in the top right:

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All in all the pistol did work and poke holes in paper, and it did as well as could be expected from what people consider the worst pistol ever made. Aside from its appearance, what makes this thing so bad? The fatal flaw is that this gun has an exposed sear… that when pressed fires the gun. That’s right, if you press the side of the gun it will fire. I got this on camera too …

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This gun could, in theory, go off when holstered, handling it, handing it off to someone, etc. There are stories of Japanese officers handing the pistol over when “surrendering” and then pressing the sear bar to get off one last suicide shot. I have not been able to confirm any of these stories or find anything official, but it is very possible. Here I demonstrate on video how it works:

Scary stuff isn’t it? But that isn’t the only place where the Type 94 falls short. The gun has only a 6 round capacity and the grip is incredibly small. The slide does lock back after the last shot is fired, but a tab on the rear of the magazine follower is responsible, so when you remove the magazine the slide slams forward! The pistol has a magazine disconnect that just raises a small bar to prevent the trigger from moving backwards, but with a little practice you can just depress the lever with one finger and pull the trigger with the other. The gun also is a real pain to clean, almost to the point where three hands are required to take it apart! The sights are very crude as well and are a milled portion of the gun so no adjustment is possible. Lastly I had about five failures with this thing as it failed to reset the sear if I pressed the trigger too hard. All in all I do not imagine I will be using this thing for an IDPA match anytime soon, although that would be pretty damn funny.

I dumped the rest of the rounds into the center and made a nice pie plate sized group:

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It is not nearly as accurate as, well, pretty much every other pistol I have ever wielded, but it can still throw lethal lead in the desired direction at the desired target. Shooting the Type 94 was exciting, especially by pressing the sear bar. I proudly show the gun off to my buddies when they swing by the shop but the Type 94 is little more than a curio.

I do my bullet points for every gun I review so I might as well do them for this one:

The Good:

The Bad:

The Ugly:

  • Worst pistol you can buy
  • Underpowered and anemic cartridge
  • Ugly as sin
  • Dangerous as can be
  • Tiny grip
  • Finding ammo is a problem
  • Incredibly difficult to take apart for cleaning

Regardless of the above bullet points, the Type 94 is a unique collectible pistol. But that is all it is. It now rests on my display rack of collectible hand guns and long guns as a monument to how bad a gun can be.


Alex C.

Alex is the Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog who was born and raised in Texas with years of experience in hunting, shooting competitions, and general collecting. A degree in History from Baylor University has contributed to his love of both early and modern firearms technology, but Alex is most fond of machineguns. Alex also owns a firearm consulting business licensed to produce title I and II weapons.
You can reach Alex at [email protected].


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  • Brandon

    It’s hard to believe a human being would ever design that thinking “this will sure be comfortable to use”

  • Nicholas Mew

    Pros;
    1) For the time in which it was adopted, the pistol was very small, compact, and lightweight; for a sidearm firing its nation’s standard service cartridge.
    2) It did fire the standard service round, not a reduced power version of the 8x22mm round. As a result logistics were not further complicated when it was issued.
    3) For a pistol with such a short barrel, it was surprisingly accurate.
    4) The small grip was well suited to its intended users.
    5) The pistol had 2 safety systems; 3 if you also count the spring loaded firing pin.
    6) The controls are laid out in a user friendly manner.

    Cons;
    1) The 8mm cartridge, while more powerful than 7.65mm (.32) was still not as hard hitting as 9mm Parabellum.
    2) The pistol only held 6 rounds, where as most of the service pistols of the day held 8. Still, it should be remembered that many nations still issued revolvers during WWII, such as Britain and Russia.
    3) The pistol’s disassembly and reassembly procedures can not be considered anything but Cons.
    4) The last-round hold open follower in the magazine caused magazine changes to be unnecessarily slow. The bolt would hold back and exert pressure on the magazine, which made it more difficult to remove. Once the magazine was worked free, the bolt would snap forward, forcing the operator to retract it again once a fresh magazine was inserted, in order to chamber a new round.
    5) Not really the design’s fault, but pistols made in the last 2 years of the war can have many specific/individual issues.

    http://ozarkbeararms.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      Yes your points are valid, but I was just being humorous. All in all though if I were to choose a service pistol of the era to take into battle, I would pick… Any other one!

  • Vhyrus

    Worst pistol ever made? Someone obviously never owned a jimenez or cobra. At least the Nambu actually fires most of the time.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      Isn’t a pistol that doesn’t fire better than a pistol that fires when holstered? :D

      • Vhyrus

        That probably depends on how many guns are pointed at you.

      • arisukak .

        Fired when holstered? What? Type 94s were never carried charged and locked. Same goes for the M1911 (except for the cavalry).

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        As in Deputy Barney Fife’s case in “The Andy Griffith Show”? — LOL :):):).

  • 朝花夕拾

    Little wonder why Japanese officers charged armed with swords…. Their machine guns were a bit faulty too.

    • Isaac FluffyWolf Rader

      To quote Dennis Silva in Destroyermen about a Japanese machinegun: “If it jams-and it WILL…” …and I forget the rest of the quote.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Not all Japanese machine guns were unreliable. Some models were well-made and completely reliable under the harshest battlefield conditions, while others were mediocre, to say the least. All these sweeping negative opinions about Japanese machine guns, and weapons in general, reflect a combination of limited experience across the full spectrum of available weapons types as well as ( in many cases ) a nationalistic and personal bias that has not only manifested itself in actual history, but even in fiction. Either way, it constitutes a gross disrespect for hard truths and reality.

        • Isaac FluffyWolf Rader

          I actually don’t remember what machinegun it was. It was one of the machineguns that was fed through a hopper that you dropped stripper clips into, though.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            You were probably thinking of the Type 11 Light Machine Gun, which was introduced in 1922. It had a hopper mounted on the left side of the receiver which could accept up to six 5-round stripper clips ( referred to in some publications as “chargers” ) of 6.5mm x 50 Arisaka cartridges. The whole idea was to provide a certain degree of modularity vis-a-vis the 6.5mm Arisaka rifle so that the Type 11 LMG could be recharged directly from the riflemen’s ammunition supplies, and vice-versa. In practice, the Type 11 suffered from headspace and extraction problems that made it necessary to supply it with a special reduced-charge 6.5mm round, which negated the whole concept of ammunition commonality with the rifle. Also, even with the reduced-charge round, the Type 11’s ammunition still required oiling to ensure a modicum of functional reliability.

            Now here are some interesting follows-on to the saga of the Type 11. The Type 91 6.5mm tank MG was a version of the Type 11 designed for armored vehicle use, and featured a 50-round hopper that still had to be filled with the 5-round chargers — and it still used the lubricated reduced-charge cartridge. The bulkiness and sheer inconvenience of this arrangement made it a liability in the confined space inside a tank, and the Type 91 was replaced in service not long after its introduction. Some guns were fitted with a bipod and telescopic sight and issued to some infantry units, who were understandably less than enthusiastic about the weight and fussiness of the design. The Type 89 Aircraft Flexible MG ( NOT to be confused with the Type 89 Fixed Aircraft MG, which was essentially an air-cooled Vickers aircraft MG and therefore an entirely different weapon ) was also a descendant of the Type 11, but chambered for the larger and more powerful 7.7mm semi-rimmed cartridge. In a twist of fate, the internal ballistics of the 7.7mm cartridge happened to suit the design quite well, and the Type 89 became a reasonably reliable and effective weapon.

          • Isaac FluffyWolf Rader

            Yeah, it was a Type 11.

    • arisukak .

      Japanese officers weren’t issued Type 94s. They were required to buy their own personal sidearms until 1943, which they were then issued Type 14s.

      The Soldiers that were issued Type 94s were tankers, machine gun crews and pilots. Contrary to what people say, the soldiers issued these guns LOVED them as they needed a compact pistol.

  • mirk

    Looks like a Ruger 22/45 with slab sides and three bags of Halloween candy.

    • allannon

      The Ruger MkI was based on the design of the Nambu, so that’s relatively unsurprising.

      The action has some advantages, at least for target pistols…they just don’t counter the horrible implementation in this case.

      • schizuki

        The Ruger was inspired by the Type 14 Nambu. Totally different design.

  • /k/ommando

    Still better made than a Taurus! And probably safer too since you have to press on the sear instead of just shaking the gun to discharge it.

  • Azril @ Alex Vostox

    JAPAN SHOULD STICK ON TENTACLE SCHOOL GIRL R*P* ANIME CARTOON INSTEAD BUILDING SOME GUNS! HA! HA!

  • Tony Williams

    This ammo has been made in the west before. I have a round in my collection from Midway, dating back maybe 20 years.

  • Duray

    It’s ironic that a fully loaded Colt Single Action army will fire when the hammer is hit, yet it’s hailed as one of the greatest handgun masterpieces of all time. And if a Japanese officer wanted to commit suicide, why couldn’t he just draw the pistol normally?

    • allannon

      The SAA is a whole different era of gun, so it’s compared against a different set of standards; being older, failures due to relative unsophistication are acceptable. The Nambu was produced during an era of reasonably modern firearms, so it’s failings are relatively inexcuseable.

      Regarding the suicide shot, unless they were a practiced speed-draw artist (and perhaps not even then), they couldn’t clear the holster. However, if they drew in a (typically) safe manner then mashed the sear, they could get that one last shot off.

      Also, the first time I heard about this pistol was in relation to it occasionally going off if the user slapped their holster on a draw.

      • Callum King-Underwood

        Nailed it with the age thing I think. The nambu was first introduced in 1934 so is not as old as a colt 1911 which is probably superior in every regard but overall size and still around over 100 years later…

    • DaveP.

      Load five. Problem solved.

    • Cymond

      I believe the “suicide shot” refers to a Japanese officer pretending to surrender, holding the pistol in a non-threatening way, and pushing the sear when his enemy comes to take the pistol. In other words, a single final shot at the enemy at point blank range. It would be suicide because retaliation would be swift & fatal.

      Keep in mind, we’re talking about a group that committed mass suicide rather than surrender. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa#Mass_suicides_and_murder.E2.80.93suicides

  • Frosty_The_White_Man

    This would make a fine prop gun in a scifi flick. Just add some wires and voila!

  • 小銃

    During WWⅡ,the empire of Japan produced many strange guns.
    For example,officer’s sword pistol and type 4 rifle(Japanese Garand)

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      Yes, the Empire certainly produced some unique guns. Some were great like the Arisaka rifles (proven many times to have the strongest action of any bolt action of the era), and the type 96 and type 99 light machine guns. In contrast, the Type 92 required lubricated ammunition and was prone to gathering dust and grime! I would love to test some more Japanese firearms for the blog, but there just aren’t too many Japanese machine guns in the USA. I could do an Arisaka test and a Type 14 Nambu test though!

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Alex, why don’t you get in touch with Ian McCollum over at http://www.forgottenweapons.com, if you haven’t already done so? He might be able to help you there.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Two more examples of excellent Japanese-made wartime machine guns that come to mind are the Type 37 7.7mm tank MG ( a reverse-engineered version of the Czech ZB26 with some modifications to suit Japanese service preferences ), and the Type 93 13mm HMG ( which was usually used in the light AA and AT roles ).
        When production had gained sufficient momentum, the Type 37 was also fitted with a bipod and issued to a number of infantry units.

  • Patrick Mingle

    I freaking loved tales of the gun! I used to watch it after school

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      I have been re-watching the series on Yoututbe for the last few weeks. I watched Guns of Mauser a while back and have a splendid Mauser article in the works. The show also compelled me to buy a broomhandle so it is also having the negative effect of emptying my wallet! Thank you for reading!

      • Patrick Mingle

        I actually just watched the sniper/long range episode

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

          Yep I saw that one also—good stuff!

      • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

        It’s back on the Military channel these days.

  • Tyler

    Im a gig fan of IJA arms. This pistol has always been interesting and I remember watching it on Tales of the Gun way back in the day. Some things to note about that episode; the Type 99’s dust covers were most removed post war by the US servicemen while in transport back to the states ( always thought most of them were removed by the Japanese). Interesting about Mauser, I didnt know he lost an eye?!?!

  • schizuki

    So… I’m not looking so bad now, am I?

    Sincerely,
    The Nagant Revolver.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Good one!

      • iksnilol

        From what I have seen, Nagants are pretty good if you do some tweaking. Mainly putting a bullet (make sure its a boattail bullet) under the mainspring.I read a couple of years ago that a Nagant revolver was used in the Olympics to win gold in 2007.

        Too bad it is hard to get one of the swingout versions.

        • schizuki

          There were no Olympics in 2007.

          I’ve done the lead-under-the-mainspring mod on both of my Nagants. It takes the trigger pull from “insane” to merely “horrendous.”

          • iksnilol

            True that, no olympics in 2007. I must have misheard or something, I do know they are capable of good accuracy IF you can smooth up the trigger (polish, bullet under mainspring, whole shebang).

            I would love to have one of those swingout versions. Integrally suppressed, target sights and a 8 shot cylinder.

  • Gregory Markle

    I was lucky enough to be working with a dealer that got in a very nice collection of Nambu pistols from the estate of a deceased collector. It was nice to see a Grandpa (Type A), Papa (late production Type A), and Baby (Type B) next to each other along with a pretty representative collection of Type 14s from various manufacturers from pre-war to late war production, several Type 94s (although none as rough looking as the creature featured here), and several Type 26 revolvers.

    If you have ANY questions regarding these pistols, the markings, or value Teri who runs the Nambu World website is an AWESOME source of information. The mere fact that she is Canadian and has managed to navigate Canadian firearms laws in order to collect these pistols should give you an idea of her passion for the subject!

    http://members.shaw.ca/tju/jhg.htm

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      She does have a great website. Thanks for sharing that with us.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Excellent call, Phil!

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      I’ll definitely second that. Teri at Nambu World knows as much as, if not more than, any number of other acknowledged authorities on Japanese military pistols. She has been featured as a guest on the Forgotten Weapons web site and enjoys universal respect throughout the historic firearms community with good reason because she closely examines the cultural, socio-economic, military and other factors related to weapons development in conjunction with the technical side of that development itself.

  • Independent George

    Still looks better than a Beretta Neo.

    • Blake

      You’re entitled to your own opinion on the controversial appearance of the U-22 Neos.

      But anyone bashing them has never held one in their hand. It looks the way it looks because it’s very well balanced & extremely ergonomic & comfortable. It shoots almost as well as a Woodsman & I paid $250 for it new from my LGS.

  • Hunter57dor

    so IF you hit the guy, and IF he notices, he might be a little pissed off at you. and then when he sees you shot him with such an ugly looking firearm, he will kill you with his bare hands for disgracing his honor.

    LOL

  • tomassino

    Kijiro Nambu worked for Uncle Sam secretly

  • Ryan D

    “…back when the History channel actually had some history on it…”

    Isn’t that the truth!

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      You mean before this idiotic so-called “reality” format came about? Alright for entertaining the unaware and uninformed, good for sales in this lop-sided economic climate, and “educational” to a limited extent, I suppose — but simply unconvincing for anyone with real critical thinking skills and a knowledge and appreciation regarding factual history, especially military history.

    • Nicholas I

      But Hitler’s alien Bell technology IS history!

  • Ryan D

    Excellent article, BTW!

  • RocketScientist

    Anyone know a good source for these? I have my C&R, and inadvertently started a collection of oddball poorly designed military handguns (since that seems to make up a large part of the C&R market). I think a Nambu 94 would be the crown jewel. Saw a few on gunbroker ith insane opening bids.. hopefully there are some importers with more reasonable pricing?

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      If you haven’t already contacted them, Teri at Nambu World and Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons might be able to point you in the right direction. Best of luck in your search!

  • Vincent

    Pros;
    You can throw it at your the enemy and hope they piss themselves laughing.

  • Lance

    Japan never made great infantry weapons the fact you can push on the sear and make one go off w/o touching the trigger is proof too.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      They made several great infantry weapons. As I mentioned, the Type 38 and Type 99 rifles were the best bolt guns of the war. And the type 96 and type 99 machine guns were excellent as well. Their pistols however left much to be desired.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      The Japanese designed and made infantry weapons that either worked very, very well or not well at all, so to say that they never made great infantry weapons is not correct.

  • Isaac FluffyWolf Rader

    I remember I saw one of these at this… lecture thingy… in New Hampshire. They had a whole bunch of American and Japanese weapons, along with a Sten, a Bren, and a couple Webley revolvers. There was also a Johnson rifle there. I just remember them going through the American weapons, and then explaining how high-quality the American ones were, and how the Japanese ones went to shit as the war went on. So then, and this is the one line I remember from the guy with all the old Arisakas and Nambus, this man with all these weapons says “And that’s why the Japanese lost the war.”
    He also mentioned how most other Nambu pistols were crap… said he took them all out one winter to go shooting, and ironically, this was the only one that fired.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      That lecture you attended in New Hampshire was probably as prejudiced and half-baked as a so-called “lecture” by presumed “experts” can get. The explanations were not only highly incorrect, but the blatant sweeping disregard for truth and hard facts is appalling, as is the gross failure to distinguish among individual weapons types. Like any other nation, Japan designed and manufactured some really outstanding small arms, and some that were abject failures. The Arisaka rifle definitely belongs in the former category, as do some models of Nambu pistol.

      As for the person who claimed that most other Nambu pistols were crap based on his supposed winter shooting session, one wonders what sort of condition those pistols and their ammunition were in when he carried out his grand experiment. No firearm or ammunition, no matter how reliable and robust, will function properly if subjected to enough abuse and lack of maintenance. The only difference is where the outer margins of tolerance lie regarding those individual firearm and ammunition types, and those would obviously vary from one type or design to another.

      It is precisely this sort of biased idiocy ( not on your part — I am referring specifically to the “lecturers” you mentioned ) that we need to avoid because, if nothing else, a respected web site like this, with its many highly-knowledgeable contributors, deserves to have discussions based on hard truths and informed opinions, not mere opinions without objective backing.

  • UnderPo

    If you look into the Japanese history since 1900 before the Russo-Japanese War, you can see that Japan didn’t improve its military foundations and weapons. It was because maintaining its own colonies like (cough cough Worst) Korea was more important than acquiring better firearms for the military.

  • mechamaster

    Wow, I think Liberator Pistol is the most ugly pistol in the planet.

  • BryanS

    Wait? no link to the 8mm nambu ammo? Ive always wanted to pick up a nambu pistol… but not that model.

  • arisukak .

    So many misconceptions and half-truths, a lot of which was started and/or repeated on the Tales of the Gun episode.

    Japanese officers weren’t issued Type 94s, they were required to purchase their own sidearms until 1943. The soldiers who were issued these guns (tankers, pilots and machine gun crews) LOVED them. They were small and handy, which is what they needed.

    Does it matter how powerful the cartridge is? It’s a sidearm, a fallback weapon. And still, 8mm Nambu is actually more powerful than most common calibers carried by soldiers of that era. .25ACP, .32ACP and .380ACP were VERY common calibers f pistols that soldiers and officers carried during this time period.

    The exposed sear is not really a design flaw as they were not meant to be carried charged and locked. Same goes for a M1911. Soldiers were instructed to only carry it holsted with only the magazine loaded and to charge the weapon when it was ready to be used. You may say “Well, then what was the grip safety for?” It was for the cavalry. They were the only ones who would actually be carrying a M1911 holstered with a round in the chamber.

    Also, the Luger has an exposed sear and no one ever shits upon that design!

  • Jamie Clemons

    If it is such a terrible gun I will give you 20 bucks for it.

  • Tango Down

    Hey, the Nambu 94 looks a whole lot better than a Glock! *LOL*

  • jozin_z_bazin

    piece of crap

  • Joshua Madoc

    Have you looked into recent Japanese firearms? I may be remembering it wrong, but I seem to recall 2 of their handguns that seemed to be good, but have little information on – one being the Sugiura pistol, and the other being what seemed to be a Type 94 that was given a modern treatment, and the result being a gun with the bottom of a Type 94, and the top of an M1911. The latter may have been a fictional gun, as there were so little information about it even to this day, that the one I saw in a Japanese book on how to draw guns may as well have been fictional.

  • matthew

    nice article, i love history of guns. i have some guns handed down in the family, one is a c.j hamilton and sons model 39. the other is a type 99 arisaka late version. my grandfather picked it up during his pacific theater service, during the battle for the Aleutians. i keep well maintained, im trying to find some ammo for it too see how well it fires. should be fun