Nambu World: Type 97 Sniper Rifle

   

    The Type 97 rifle is basically a Type 38 Infantry Rifle with a scope and mount attached and the bolt turned down to clear the scope. This one has a monopod, but not all did (see below). I got this rifle from a US collector in 2008. Although the numbers on the rifle and scope do not match, it is in pretty good shape, the bolt and dust cover match the rifle, and the mum, monopod and rubber eye piece are intact, so I am very happy with it. The Type 97 designation comes from the fact it was adopted in 1937, which was the year 2597 according to the Japanese koki calendar, which is based  on the foundation of the Imperial line in 660BC. Kokura arsenal made about 8,000 Type 97 sniper rifles from 1937 to 1939 and Nagoya Arsenal made about 14,500 from 1938 to 1943. Before coming up with the Type 97, the Japanese also made about 700 "Test Type 38" sniper rifles to refine the concept (all figures from the Allan and Macy book cited below). The dimensions of the Type 97 rifle are the same as for a standard Type 38 rifle. i.e. overall length of 1275 mm (50-1/8") and barrel length 793 mm (31-3/16") when measured according to the method specified by Canadian law, i.e. by closing the bolt and dropping a rod down the barrel. The Japanese term for sniper rifle is sogekiju, "aimed fire gun". The left side is shown below.

    Here are the markings on the top of the receiver. They have been whited in with a white grease pencil softened in mineral spirits to make them easier to see. The Imperial Family's symbol, the chrysanthemum (called a "mum" by collectors) is accompanied by characters kyu-nana-shiki, "Type 97". The characters are written vertically, so to read them properly you would have the muzzle upwards (i.e.rotated a quarter turn clockwise from the position shown here). If the rifle still has its dust cover, as this one does, it obscures most of these markings when the bolt and cover are forward, so to take this photo I had to open the action and draw the bolt back a bit. In between the mum and the model designation you can see two holes, which were for the escape of gases if a shell casing ruptured during firing. Like all the members of the Type 38 rifle family, there are two of these holes. The later Type 99 family had only one.

        The other really important markings are on the left side of the receiver, just ahead of the scope mount. The digits 6214 are the serial number. The cloverleaf-like marking to the right of the serial number is the logo of Kokura Arsenal, which was earlier used by Tokyo Arsenal. Kokura made 8,000 Type 97s, so this gun was abouit 3/4 of the way through the production run. That means this it was probably made in 1938 or 1939.

This shot of the left side of the central portion of the rifle shows the general features of the layout: the scope is offset to the left and the iron sights are intact.   

This shot shows the right side of the same area. Note that the bolt handle is turned down on the sniper rifles, unlike regular Arisakas, which all had a straight bolt handle.

    This top views shows the offset scope. The Sayama book cited below has a line drawing that indicates the offset is 31mm (about 1-3/16"), though it doesn't seem quite that much as I measure it. You can also see that as noted above, when the bolt is forward, the dust cover covers the model designation markings.

    This bottom view of the central portion of the gun shows the magazine floorplate. Like other Type 38s, the floor plate releases, allowing the magazine spring, follower and any unchambered cartridges in the gun to drop out. Remember that if you use this method to unload the gun, you still have to pull the bolt back and check the chamber in case there is a round in there.

    Here we have zoomed in on the scope area of the left side. The lever on the scope operates the mechanism that allows it to be fixed (right position) or detached (left position). Note also the rubber eyepiece. This is a fragile part and should be handled with extreme care. Fortunately this one is still somewhat pliable, but they are often brittle and can easily crack and fall off.

The same area of the right side. The bolt handles all have the early "plum" shape. In the inside front of the trigger guard you can also see the magazine floorplate release and the pin it hinges on.

    This shot of the scope removed from the gun shows the lever in the left (forward) position. The scopes were carried separate from the gun in a special hard case and only attached when needed, to ensure maximum protection of the scope. The scopes were designed for ruggedness and hence have no adjustments whatsoever, i.e. no zoom or focus adjustments and no means of adjusting for windage or elevation.

    This series of three photos shows the lever in the "fixed" rearward position (left photo); swinging clockwise (middle photo); and in the "remove" forward position (right photo). You can also see the scope markings. The character at the left in each shot is datsu, short for dat-chaku=remove, while the one on the right (partially obscured due to chipping of the lacquer finish) is so, short for so-chaku=attach or fix. The character that looks like an upside-down y in a circle is the katakana symbol i (pronounced "ee"), which is a series marker. It indicates that this scope was originally issued with a Nagoya Arsenal rifle. The serial number 6220 is the number of the gun it was supposed to go with. Because the scopes were carried separately from the rifles most of the time, and made a nice souvenir in themselves, very few properly mated rifle-scope pairings exist today. Indeed, the authoritative reference on the Type 38 series of rifles including the Type 97, The Type 38 Arisaka by Francis C. Allen and Harold W. Macy, states on page 357 that "Surprisingly, matched telescopic sights/rifles are extremely rare and none were encountered in the research for this publication" [emphasis in the original]. The data sheets in the book cover over 50 Kokura specimens and around 100 from Nagoya Arsenal, so that gives you some idea of how rare a matched scope and rifle would be (makes me feel better!).

   

    The other scope markings are those applied by the manufacturer and appear on the top rear part of the scope tube just ahead of the rubber eyepiece. 2.5 X 10 means that the scope is 2.5 power with a 10 degree field of view. NTC Kogaku is the name of the manufacturer, Nippon Type writer Company, Optics Division, which was in Hatagaya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. The Allan & Macy book indicates on page 356 that NTC made just over 7% of the scopes used on Type 97s and later became the Canon Nippon Typewriter Company, a part of the Canon Group. The Summer 1982 edition of Nikkei kaisha joho, a compendium of business information, indicates that when it was an independent company its stock market number was 6431, it was established in May of Taisho 6 (1917) and it was listed on the Second Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in October of 1961. The number 26522 is the serial number of the scope assigned by the manufacturer (note the use of the English letters in the abbreviation for Number, i.e. No.). These numbers correspond to ranges assigned by the Army when they placed orders with different suppliers. There were at least eight scope makers that made scopes for the Type 97 rifle. The scope had the same official designation as the rifle, i.e. Type 97. The last line is J.E.S. and the Japanese hiragana characters for ne-ji. Neji means screw and J.E.S. stands for Japan Engineering Standard, which identifies the thread pattern on the screws.

    The reticle (cross-hairs for aiming) inside the scope is T-shaped, with a horizontal line across the middle and then a vertical line bisecting the lower half of the sight picture.

There is a good photo of the reticle on this Japanese-language site: ㎵_e@Q (look at the second photo on the page). I can't figure out how they took the photo, but if I ever do, I will add one of my own here.

When the scope is dismounted from the rifle you can see the attachment mechanism on the right side (look at the row of square-ish bits in the bottom of the photo).

The middle one of these squares is the really key piece.

When the mounting lever is rotated, this middle square piece moves up and down. In the up position (right photo) it locks the scope in place, while in the down position (left photo) it allows the scope to slide off to the rear.

 

    With the scope removed from the rifle, you can see the scope mount on the left side. Those square pieces shown above slide in the upper and lower tracks of the mount. The long thin piece with the checkering at the forward end (left of photo) is the release. Once the mounting lever has been moved into the proper position, pressing this checkered spot pushes the spring in and allows the scope to slide in the tracks.

    Here is a front view of the scope and mounting system so you can see how the two halves on the rifle and scope mate and where the lever and release spring are.

    Sliding the scope on and off seems to have worn this light line in the finish on the stock just behind the scope mount.

    The bolt seems to be a standard Type 38 bolt except for the bent bolt handle.

This angle shows the curve of the bolt handle more clearly.

The bolt has the last three digits of the serial number, i.e. 214, which are visible right where the handle joins the bolt body (lower left of photo). You can also see this number on the extractor (centre right of photo).

To my surprise, even the dust cover's number matches, i.e. 214. To the left you can also see another small mark, which is the katakana symbol se, used as an inspection mark by Kokura Arsenal.

    As noted earlier, the iron sights remain usable even when the scope is mounted due to the offset scope position. That way you can use the iron sights for fast acquisition of close range targets when there is action going on and switch to the scope when settling on a more distant target if time allows.

The front sight is the variation with wings used on later Type 38 rifles.

    The safety has this lovely radial checkering pattern as was standard on Arisaka rifles until wartime production pressure forced a simpler finish. The notch in the upper left is the safety. The safety works fine when the scope is off but is hard to operate when the scope is on. This is because the proper way to operate the safety is with the heel (lower palm) of the hand. The scope gets in the way, so you have to try and do it with the finger tips, which is difficult since you are basically attempting to compress the strong firing pin spring in order to turn the safety.

Moving to the other end of the gun, here is the monopod and the rear barrel band to which it is attached. The monopods made by Kokura and Nagoya Arsenals differ slightly in the shape of the foot and are not interchangeable.

    Here it is in the lowered position. This seems to have been one of those ideas that sounds better in theory than it works in practice. The monopod on this particular rifle is very wobbly because the barrel band fits a bit loose, but even under the best of circumstances I think it would be marginal. I suppose if you had to maintain a position for a long time it might alleviate some of the stress on your arms. It depends on your physique, flexibility and preferred shooting position, but personally I found it was too high for comfortable aiming from a fully prone position. On the other hand, it was just right for sitting at a table and aiming with the monopod resting on the table. I'm not sure what practical value that would be to a sniper, though.

    These two close-up shots show how the swivel attachment works. In the left photo the monopod (often called a "pod" for short by collectors) is in the upper, stored position. Note that the mounting system has a central body with a "wing" on each side held on by the screw. The peened-over head of a rivet can also be seen in the upper right of the right wing, just above and to the right of the screw in the photo. That rivet is the axis on which the monopod swivels.  In the right photo the monopod is in the down position ready for use. In that photo you can see that the left wing (bottom of the photo) has a rounded notch in it; there is a similar notch on the right wing. These notches retain the two vertical shafts of the monopod when it is in the upper, stored position. Pulling downward on the shafts of the monopod causes these wings to flex outwards, allowing the monopod to swivel downwards clockwise into the lowered position ready for use. You can see that there is a wear point on the shaft from the friction of pushing the wing outwards when the shaft is pulled down.

  

The foot of the monopod is held in place by friction on the front end of the stock just behind the front barrel band, as can be seen by the marks on the stock in this photo.

    The cleaning rod is 747 mm (29-7/16") long and seems to be the same as a Type 38 rod.

The front tip has a slot for a patch. The notch further back (towards the left of the photo, between the two bulges) is where the bayonet retaining spring fits.

This cleaning rod has a small inspection mark, which is the kanji character ishi. Literally it means "stone", but it was probably the first character in an inspector's name.

The other end of the rod is threaded.

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References on the Type 97 Sniper Rifle

The Type 38 Arisaka by Francis C. Allan and Harold W. Macy, pages 351-377. This is by far the most detailed reference on the Type 38 series of rifles (of which the Type 97 is a part) and should be in the library of every Arisaka collector.

Military Rifles of Japan by Fred  L. Honeycutt, Jr. and F. Patt Anthony, pages 78-83. This is the standard reference book on Japanese rifles and should probably be the first book a collector of Japanese rifles buys.

 Shoju-kenju-kikanju nyumon (Introduction to Rifles, Handguns and Machine Guns), pp. 112-115 by Jiro Sayama. A small, handbook-sized reference, exclusively in Japanese but with neat diagrams and black-and-white photos.

Nippon no gunyo-ju to sogu (Japanese Military Small Arms and Equipment) by Shigeo Sugawa, pp. 72-74. In Japanese, but the excellent colour photos have English captions.

Handbook on Japanese Military Forces, 15 September 1944 (Technical Manual TM-E-30-480), p. 191. Brief reference, but shows the case for the scope.

Japanese Rifles of World War II by Duncan O. McCollum, pp. 50-52. Brief reference only.

Links on the Type 97 Sniper Rifle

Here are links to some pages with information or photos of the Type 97. The best one is in Japanese but has excellent photos. If you don't read Japanese you might not know where to click to continue from one page to another on the site, so I have put direct links to each of the three pages it has on this rifle so you can just come back to this page and then click on the next link.

Type 97 sniper rifle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (very basic)

WW2 militaria collectors-War relics forum. Uniforms, Guns, helmets, battlefield archeology - Firearms and ordnance - RSS Feed (just some photos)

http://www3.plala.or.jp/favicon.ico (one small photo and basic specifications)

XV_e@P (many very nice photos and a lot of text, but all in Japanese; the next two links are pages two and three of this website's section on the T97)

㎵_e@Q (second of three pages in the above website)

㎵_e@R (third of three pages in the above website)

_eƏƏዾ (also good but only in Japanese)

Bayonets for the Type 97 Sniper Rifle

The Type 97 took the standard Type 30 bayonet used by all Japanese small arms from 1899 to 1945. Since the production period of the Type 97 sniper rifle covered the period when many modifications and simplifications were made to the basic Type 30 pattern, one might try to match a bayonet to the type of bayonet then being manufactured, but certainly the Japanese paid no attention to such niceties when issuing equipment.

Ammunition for the Type 97 Sniper Rifle

    The ammunition used was standard 6.5mm Arisaka ammunition. There is no evidence of any special sniper cartridges. At one point some sources said it was thought there was a special low-flash round for sniper use, but this notion has now been discredited. Offsetting the scope to the left also allowed the use of the standard five-round Arisaka charger clip.

Manuals for the Type 97 Sniper Rifle

I don't have one yet, but if you have an original one for sale, please let me know!

Accessories for the Type 97 Sniper Rifle

    The most significant accessory for the Type 97 sniper rifle was a hard case for carrying the scope when it was not on the rifle. I don't have one of these yet, but they do turn up fairly often on eBay, among other places, as the scopes and cases were interesting souvenirs in themselves, and many also became separated from the rifles while being stored by post-war owners. Usually they have a scope with them, but maybe one day I will find one without the scope (since I already have a scope).

    This photo of one of the hard cases is from page 191 of Handbook on Japanese Military Forces, 15 September 1944 (Technical Manual TM-E-30-480).

Last updated: September 3, 2009. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.

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