A look inside the “worst military pistol ever made”

Japanese Pistol Nambu Type 94 tilt

All right, I should probably clarify that the Japanese Type 94 isn’t the worst military pistol I can think of.  There are a few Chinese contenders right out front.  But it certainly had a cumbersome appearance and a fatal flaw.

A quick history, Kijiro Nambu had been working on a Campo-Giro descended pistol with an external hammer and under-barrel locking block years before the Imperial Japanese Army approached him for a new handgun.  The Nambu Type 14’s weak striker and large size was becoming a problem.  More importantly it was slow to manufacture.  They wanted something small, reliable, quick to produce, and chambered in the standard 8mm Nambu cartridge.

Japanese Pistol Nambu Type 94 leftWith these goals in mind the Type 94 was actually quite successful.  It was small, making use of a very efficient dropping locking block.  It was reliable thanks to the internal hammer replacing the previous striker system.  Production shortcuts were numerous.  The channels required for the lock were not milled out from inside the frame, rather they were milled straight through the frame.  Thin steel plates were then staked into place to seal the action.  Likewise, the bolt was drilled out from the rear and then welded shut and ground to shape.

These shortcuts on milling ultimately brought about the now infamous problem.  A trigger bar runs the length of the lest side of the pistol and sits nested in the frame.  The channel milled for it was never covered and nearly its whole length is exposed.  This would be a minor issue but the bar does not operate by being lifted or pushed back as in so many other pistols.  Instead it teeters, with the front being drawn in by a trigger pull and the back being drawn out, releasing the hammer.  I’ve included a top-down animation of the offending bits to help this description.

Nambu Type 94 Sear Animation

So that means a stray finger, placing just a few ounces of pressure, just a few short millimeters into the front of the exposed trigger bar’s front results in a discharge.  Ultimately though, this didn’t seem to be a major issue for the Japanese soldiers.  The manual safety simply covers the rear of the trigger bar, preventing any discharge, intentional or accidental. Moreover, the location of the sensitive spot wasn’t likely to be squeezed so narrowly.  I know of no reports of accidental discharge or any complaints in the IJA.

Yes, the gun is ugly, it has an odd little grip, limited magazine capacity, potentially dangerous trigger bar, tiny sights, and a high bore axis.  But is was handy, light, went bang every time, and fed standard ammo.  Certainly worth a chuckle, but I’m sure we can find worse.

Japanese Pistol Nambu Type 94 pov



Othais

Othais is practically useless with modern firearms. That’s OK though, because he specializes in Curio and Relic military pieces and has agreed to decorate The Firearm Blog with a little history. He maintains his own site, C&Rsenal, with the help of his friends and the collector community.


Advertisement

  • Karl-InRangeTV

    It’s way better than the Type 14, I can tell you that.

  • DIR911911 .

    just like to point out this was NOT made by Taurus 🙂

    • M.M.D.C.

      Ouch! 😀

    • Ed Canupp

      nor Rossi

  • Mystick

    So…. how do you remove the slide? It looks like it’s pretty much locked onto the action.

    • lucusloc

      My direct link is pending approval, but for now you can just search youtube for “type 94” to see a few videos that cover this.

  • allannon

    And iirc, the Ruger MkI was based on the Type 94. That’s a significant legacy for a fairly questionable design.

    • Tom

      I believe the Rugers are based on the Nambu model 14 not the 94.

    • LCON

      and some of the Worst and best assault rifles on the market are based off the AR18. just shows that if the first follow through fails eventually someone will get it right.

  • john

    When you say “went bang every time” you must realize that there are many guns made TODAY that can’t do that. Manufactures such as Taurus, Remington and Kel-tec have put out models in the last few years that functioned so poorly they were recalled. “Goes bang every time” is the most important aspect of a firearm period, in that case, this one don’t seem too bad.

    • Emir Parkreiner

      You’re looking at it from only one end of the spectrum. The scope of functionality extends beyond “goes bang every time,” under the much larger heading of “Does it go bang when, and only when, it should go bang?” A scenario in which a gun should fire and doesn’t and a scenario where a gun should not fire yet does are equally undesired by the user.

      To put it in grossly oversimplified terms: The M1918 Chauchat is considered one of the worst adopted long arms because it would not fire reliably in the field. The Type 94 is considered one of the worst sidearms because of its propensity to fire while still in its holster.

      • Duray

        “Propensity?” How could the tiny, flush fitting trigger bar possibly be depressed while the gun is holstered? Do you have a link to any information showing this propensity? Would these S.A. guns normally be holstered with the safety off to facilitate this propensity?

      • Pete

        Consider: Only officers would have been issued pistols, presumably the better trained men. Also, I’d bet that the way they were taught to carry was with the chamber empty. The gun would only be ready to fire just prior to actually firing, or when the need to fire would be anticipated. So NDs were probably rare. Remember that the Soviets used a pistol (the Tokarev) with no safety at all.

  • Phaedrus

    One can do the same with a Luger as well.

  • Isaac FluffyWolf Rader

    I saw a man give a lecture on world war 2 guns, and he had a good long laugh at how bad this was. Japanese military hardware… I realize someone’s gonna probably jump in to defend their guns, to point out that a lot of it was pretty good, but come on. They had some real crap.

    • Sam Schifo

      The Arisaka was really good (excluding the end war “last ditch” ones) but it is just a Mauser action, it’s pretty hard to screw up one of those.

      • Ian McCollum

        The Arisaka is an improvement on the Mauser – simpler and stronger.

        • Sickshooter0

          PO Ackley’s, and later the War Department, testing showed the early Arisakas to have a stronger action than any WWII bolt actions: Mausers, Mosins, Enfields to name a few.

    • Ian McCollum

      Their submachine guns and armored vehicles were not very good. Their rifles and machine guns were very good. The “knee mortar” was an outstanding weapon.

      • DGR

        They had been fighting natives and the Chinese, what need did they have for anything better? What they had worked and they see the need to replace what already worked.

        • Zachary marrs

          Because there was this thing called “world war two”

          You may not know it, but they weren’t exactly fighting a bunch of natives with sticks

      • Tassiebush

        I really love the genius of the knee mortar design with the adjustable internal space to adjust range and the dual use grenade/mortar bombs. Seemed like a very well thought out idea!

  • Alex Nicolin

    The 8x22mm Nambu was a weak cartridge, comparable to the .380 ACP. So I wounder why they didn’t go for straight blowback, which would have made the pistol simpler.

  • RealitiCzech

    Probably not the best choice of gun for ‘Mexican carry.’ Might be mildly hazardous to things you’d prefer to keep.

  • Southpaw89

    Am I the only one who doesn’t find this pistol to be ugly? I actually kind of like the crude outward appearance of it. Of course this could be just the result of plastic frame with square slide overload.

    • Tassiebush

      I share your kink…

  • patrickiv

    There’s a reason for the little grip.

  • Lance

    “but I’m sure we can find worse” It be a very very very short list.

  • Ian McCollum

    The Type 14 Nambu is worse.

  • Bill

    I don’t think soldiers, or anyone, in the Imperial Japanese military were likely to “complain” about much of anything, not when they had MOSs like kamikaze pilot and human torpedo.

  • apl

    I read an account of a Japanese officer killed in a AD of a pistol- maybe one of these? It as in the Time Life series of WW2 books.

  • LCON

    well we could say the worst mass produced military pistol? I think most of the worst Chinese models were hand made.

  • schizuki

    Bonsai charges? Those tiny trees were more bark than bite.

    Now, a banzai charge… That would be scary.

  • Uniform223

    I remember watching Tales of the Gun on the History Channel way back when. They mentioned this pistol as the worse pistol issued in WW2.

    • Nicholas Mew

      Compared to most of everything else it is generally true.

  • Mystick

    I see… that wasn’t readily apparent in the pictures…. thank you!

  • Follow Me Boys

    I wonder how many people were shot in the back on the head by this type of pistol in Nanking?

  • Ian McCollum

    It would be very hard to accidentally fire the gun while holstering by way of the exposed sear. Speaking as the guy in that video, you have to push it reasonably deep into to frame to fire. Much more likely that you’d shoot yourself while holstering because you kept your finger on the trigger.

    • CW

      I think the whole argument over the exposed sear is pretty much nonsense. Yes, you can press down on it and trip it, but as an owner of one, it’s not as easy to do as people assume. The grip isn’t all that bad once you get used to it and the 8mm round isn’t too far off from standard 9×18 Makarov. It’s an “ok” pistol. Not my first choice for carry or going to the range, but I feel a lot safer with it than say an old copy of an Iver Johnson or Röhm revolver.

  • Frank Schoner

    Although issued in large numbers I’d put the Russian/Soviet Nagant M1895
    revolver up there for worst ever. Sure it was as reliable as most
    revolvers, but with a double action trigger pull of 20 pounds or more,
    an utterly pointless forward moving cylinder to seal the cylinder gap
    and a terribly anemic 7.62×38 wadcutter bullet which had to be buried in
    the case due to the gas sealing idea this revolver was a solution to a
    problem that didn’t really matter. Oh yeah, and an extractor reminiscent
    of the Colt Peacemaker but 100 times more slow and crudely manufactured
    with no return spring. BTW, I own one of these revolvers as many others do and I like
    shooting that dumb little revolver. But I would hate to have one in combat.