How the Anti-Aircraft Sights on the Bolt Action Type 99 Arisaka Worked

The early model Japanese Type 99 Arisaka was by far the most optimistic rifle ever made. The designers envisioned soldiers shooting 175 grain 7.7x58mm rounds and taking down aircraft. The operation of the sights are explained in this excellent video by C&Rsenal

I wonder how many soldiers with bolt action rifles would be required to match the anti-aircraft capabilities of a single heavy or light machine gun, and how much ammunition Japanese soldiers wasted shooting at fast moving aircraft!

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Matthew Groom

    My father’s step father, Riley Leech, was a Marine in the Pacific Theater and credited with shooting down “one-and-a-half” Japanese aircraft which were strafing his unit on the beach of some island they were lounging on after taking it without resistance. He is credited with “duck shooting” it with his ’03 Springfield, which he carried until the war’s close (which ended for him early, after a bout with Malaria). His unit issued him a unique citation in recognition if this act, promoted him to Corporal, and presented him with the blood-stained flag and samurai sword that were retrieved from the downed plane (greatly prized objects by all). All of Riley’s possessions were sold by my grandmother in one lot, for $500, upon his death, to my father’s shock and chagrin. The flag, sword, papers, and everything else are now lost.

    While it may be epochraful, I have no doubt that a cloth-bodied plane at low-altitude could see its pilot felled by a lethal blow from a single, well-placed (however lucky) rifle shot at fairly short range. Such things certainly happened several times in that war, whether it actually happened to Riley or not.

    • cameron


      • Matthew Groom

        Your well-thought out and eloquent counter-arguments have convinced me. The testimony I have heard, and the pictures of said trophies I have seen are clearly forgeries. It is obvious that .30-06 cannot penetrate canvas.

        • Andrew Hobby

          Its like Shakespeare versus the town drunk in here.

        • mosinman

          not many ww2 aircraft were skinned with canvas, but Duralumin could be punched through by 30-06 anyways

          • UnrepentantLib

            All it takes is one lucky shot. That’s not the way to bet, but it’s certainly a possibility. Japanese fighters were noted for lightweight construction and lack of armor, which contributed to their dogfighting ability but made them very vulnerable.

          • moot

            Not to mention their use of indigenous materials in their construction.

            My father had an old friend who was one of the guys in the pacific theater to get dropped on an island before the rest of the company. he was there to observe and mark the locations of japanese emplacements, and measure amounts and strength of troops. before leaving, he would kill several of them to put them on high alert for a few weeks before the invasion happened.

            He possesed a machete he carved from a broken wooden propeller off of a japanese zero.

          • Cal S.

            The Japanese (and Russians) did use many antiquated types of aircraft due to insufficient development for certain roles. There were several fabric-skinned biplanes used for recon and intelligence roles. There are several documented cases of rifle fire bringing down aircraft in WWI, and if you’re using similar tech 20 years later…

        • Ignore the obvious troll, some people aren’t worth wasting the keystrokes. I’m sorry for what happened to your relative (grand-stepfather? step-grandfather?) and his possessions, it could’ve been an amazing piece of history to show off on the POTD! 🙁

        • dskofstad

          There’s always a few trolls lurking about. At least this one didn’t rant on about it.

  • Riot

    Well the red baron was brought down by a lee enfield

    • joshua

      Only if you believe the Aussies, what’s more likely, some muddy Australian or a decorated Canadian air ace?

      • Karl-InRangeTV

        There’s than one eye witness account of his crate being hit multiple times by an Aussie vickers gun. The wounds collaborate their location and trajectory, btw.

        • Zebra Dun

          The TV show I saw showed the only way the Baron could have gotten shot was from a single trench fighters rifle, all the other engaging weapons were at the wrong angle.
          Doesn’t really matter obviously the man flew into the bullet.

          • Southpaw89

            You may be thinking of the Nova episode “Who Killed The Red Baron” they reviewed the evidence and came to the conclusion that it was likely a rifleman on the ground who fired the fatal shot.

          • Zebra Dun

            That was the one. Thanks!

        • Marlon

          You’re spot on, Karl.

          Having said that how about you take an Arisaka out to the range and try and shoot down a model aircraft? I’d watch the hell lit of that. (Then again, I watch everything you and Ian do!)

          • Marlon

            I should change that to ‘I watch every video you and Ian do’ instead. Otherwise it sounds quite creepy.

      • Riot

        He wouldn’t have survived so long if the canadian had hit him.

        • Tassiebush

          Only because we Australians use Lithgow .22lr single shots to make it more sporting.

    • Kelly Jackson

      You mean Vickers machine gun who happened to be sitting up on a ridge.

      And Richthofen’s triplane was much slower moving than WW2 aircraft.

  • Steve

    There is an old saying, “The bullet has to go somewhere”

  • Michael

    During the Cold War, the US Army (allegedly) published a manual on massing fires to take down aircraft with small arms. As for myself, shooting at aircraft is against my doctor’s recommendation.

    • Zebra Dun

      World war two had a similar training manual.

    • Ken

      It was still in a Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks from 1992 that I skimmed once.

  • Zebra Dun

    The old assemble for an air attack and face outboard with rifles at a 45 degree angle and shoot en masse rapid fire on command.
    The Aircraft has to fly through the dome of lead and “COULD” be hit in a vital area.
    How ever in 5.56 x 45 mm that might not work out so well.

    • Jackybadman

      … but a 300blk would be PERFECT!

      • Vitsaus

        7.62×51 would be even better, more likely encountered on a battlefield.

        • welp


          You can probably still find it in most, if not all, modern conflict areas.

  • Alex Nicolin

    In WW2 most aircraft had plywood fuselage and the cockpit had no armor protection. So rifle bullets could easily damage the controls and wound the pilot, if they managed to hit.

    • mosinman

      actually the majority of WW2 aircraft were constructed entirely out of aluminum , the exception would be the Russians who made extensive use of laminated plywood as the skin of the aircraft and on the wings although they still had aluminum airframes underneath. it was also very common to have armored glass and armored plates around the pilot to protect him from rifle caliber machine gun fire. Even the Japanese Zero had pilot armor (A6M3 models and onwards)

  • Dedischado

    Col. Robert L Scott, in his book “God is my co-pilot” had an experience where, after bombing something ( I think either a bridge or a truck park) he heard rounds hitting his P-40. Turning, he saw a square formation of about 100 Japanese soldiers shooting at him with their bolt action rifles, after a couple of strafing passes, there were only a few left and he flew off, but those few were still holding formation and shooting at him until he flew out of sight.

  • tony

    This is very educational, thank you very much for the link.

  • tony

    In Korean war, one British P-51 mustang was shot down during a strafing run by PVA’s machine gun fire.
    So yes light arms did shoot down slow moving aircraft, granted the odds were slim

    • Phil Hsueh

      From what I’ve read, the VC were trained to take pot shots at US and Allied planes whenever they saw them in the hopes of shooting the “golden BB” that would take one of the planes down. However, I never saw anything confirming if any planes ever got hit, much less downed by one of these “golden BBs”.

      • lol

        it was a routine tactic from what i have read.

        certain planes had thick enough armor on the bottom to withstand AK and similar rounds being taken.

        Fly over a strip of jungle, wait for a few pings, loop about, and strafe that section of jungle with the machine guns.

        Repeat until those pesky VC stop shooting your aircraft, and go back to get it fixed.

  • kbroughton77

    “The early model Japanese Type 99 Arisaka was by far the most optimistic rifle ever made”
    I don’t know, the Soviets were quite the optimists’ themselves…

    • yup

      To be fair this rifle was made towards the end of a period where “volley fire” was a legitimate war tactic.

      You don’t need sub MOA groupings at that distance, you just need 20 or so of your russian comrades and a case of steel core.

  • Grindstone50k
  • dan citizen

    I heard my grandfather tell of anti aircraft rifle shenanigans back in the day.

    He said during their extensive down time they would delink some tracers and keep a garand en-bloc clip or two with these, either all 8, every other, or whatever. When they heard an aircraft approach they would load this and then they would mass fire at the plane.

    He pointed out that if the plane was crossing their field of fire they didn’t have much luck, but if the poor sucker was in line with them they were able to pour the lead in. His commander had explained that if 200 men each fired 8 rounds, and only 1% hit, they still had a good chance of hitting something important.

    The one time he reported a kill was when a German plane came in low in line with their trench. The plane went down right away and landed upside down. When they went over to it found the pilot had been hit more than 3 times, including through the head, the bottom of the plane had more than a hundred hits.

    ALl you have to loose by trying is some ammo, and they were giving that stuff away.

  • MrEllis

    Heh, I like the turn of phrase, “most optimistic rifle ever made.”

  • Zebra Dun

    I once owned one of these rifles briefly it was the most accurate rifle I ever had.
    Way too long and clunky but it could really drive nails.

  • Leigh Rich

    Im my 1970’s Army training we were instructed on shooting down air craft. Aim in its path and throw a lot of fire up there. We were also trained using bayonets too using our M 14’s.

  • petru sova

    I have been a WWII buff for over 60 years and in my extensive reading air planes where indeed shot down by rifleman. One must remember that not all of the WWII planes had tremendous speed either especially early in the War. It was only late in the War that technology enabled planes to fly much faster and therefore much more difficult to hit even with machine gun fire and tracer ammo.