Nambu World: Japanese Type 90 Triple Barrel Flare Pistol-Third Variation

    I thought I was lucky when I found a Second Variation triple barrel Type 90 flare gun, but then a few months later a visitor to the site contacted me and offered to sell me this even rarer Third Variation. All three variations of the Type 90 triple barrel flare gun were made by Kayaba Kogyo K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Note the position of the serial number and manufacturer's logo just above the trigger guard. Approximately 5,300 of these pistols were made: around 1,400 of the First Variation, 3,400 of the Second Variation and probably less than 400 of this final, Third Variation, which incorporates a number of production simplifications. Below is the left side.

    The serial number is on the right side above the trigger guard. The Third Variation started some time after number 4705. This one, number 5175, is the highest known surviving serial number. Previously the highest known was number 5131. This high serial number means this specimen was almost certainly produced in 1945, which is when production ended. The mark in front of the serial number is the logo of Kayaba Kogyo company. This company still exists. It is now known as KYB and trades on the Tokyo Stock Exchange under the stock ID number 7242. It makes shock absorbers, among other things.

    The right side has the patent number in the corresponding location. The designation Type 90 comes from the year these flare guns were introduced, 1930, which was the year 2590 according to the Japanese calendar then in use. Just to confuse you, the Japanese also made a double barrel flare gun that was also called a Type 90. In fact, the double barrel Type 90 was the most common of all Japanese flare guns. However, the model designation "Type 90" does not appear on any of the variations of either the double or triple barrel models!

The safety on the left side has the character for "fire" in red in the upper position and the one for "safe" in white in the lower position.

    The other main markings are across the top of the rear of the barrel assembly. From left to right they are: the Kayaba logo; the sakura (cherry blossom) mark of the Navy; the katakana to in a circle, used as an inspection mark; and the Naval anchor.

Here it is opened up for loading. I don't have any flares, though.

SOme parts are serialized with an assembly number. Here you can see the number 14 on the unbreeching lever beneath the barrels. There is also a very small "3" above and to the left of the digit "1".

    These same numbers are on the button on the barrel assembly. The flares for this gun are 28mm, but the barrels taper to 26.5mm at the muzzle. Flares came in red, yellow, white, black, blue and green, and in a variety of types, including ones with a parachute so they would float slowly down to earth (or water).

    In this shot of the back you can see a large lever at the top and a smaller one below that. The top one is for cocking the piece. You turn the lever about 150 degrees to the left and then let it snap back into its natural resting position, which is more or less vertical. The lower lever is for selecting which barrel you want to fire. Note that there is a fair amount of chipping of the lacquer on the back of the grip strap.I think this is due to the poor quality of the surface preparation and paint used on late war guns. My third variation double barrel Type 90 has similar paint loss, even though neither specimen shows much sign of significant use. Note also the roughness of the back of the casting.

    On the second variation everything is lacquered, but on the third variation only the housing for the action, the grip frame, and the lanyard ring are lacquered. The other parts, like the barrels and the cocking lever, shown here, are blued. Note that Kayaba company logo on the lever again.

    Here are before and after shots of the cocking process. Look carefully at the three holes. In the uncocked position (left photo), the holes are empty. In the cocked position (right photo), the rear of the striker for each barrel protrudes through its hole as a cocking indicator. When I got this piece the left barrel would not cock. However, I sprayed in a lot of G96 Gun Treatment (my favorite all purpose cleaner/lubricant) and worked the cocking lever several times and eventually it started to work. The mechanism inside is extremely complex and disassembly should not be attempted except in cases of absolute necessity, so I was glad it was just stuck and not broken.

    Here is another before and after shot that requires some close examination. All Type 90s (double and single barrel) incorporate a recoil buffering system in which the top part of the gun (the action housing and barrel assembly) moves backwards on the grip frame against spring pressure when the gun is fired. This is a bit hard to see as the range of movement is only a couple of millimeters (about 1/8") . The left photo shows the gun at rest (top part forward). The right position shows the gun with the action pushed back into the recoil position. Look carefully at the relative positions of the front part of the grip and the lower front corner of the action housing (just below the screw). If you compare the two you can see the difference. This recoil mechanism was also stuck when I got it but a little lubrication and some pushing carefully back and forth freed it up.

The front of the grip frame also shows a fair bit of chipping...

...as does the butt and lanyard ring.

    When I received this piece it had a lot of light surface rust on it, as you can see in this photo. This kind of light rust tends to form from condensation, usually when a metal item (gun, bayonet, etc.) has been stored in circumstances where the temperature and humidity change a lot, such as an unheated basement or garage. Often such rust is not highly visible until you expose the item to extremely strong light, such as a flash (this shot was done with flash). I was not too worried, though, as this type of rust usually comes off fairly well with some 0000 (ultrafine) steel wool. Another thing that is interesting about this photo is that you can just see the remains of a green decal on the barrel. These decals were to indicate what colour of flare to put in each barrel. Unfortunately, since this one was not very visible under normal light, I polished some of it off when I was cleaning up the rust. You can still just make out the upper green band in the after photos that were taken with flash.

This angle shot shows the rust even better.

`Here is the same area after some careful polishing with 0000 steel wool. Some light pitting remained, but nothing too serious. Two of the barrels had small spots with this kind of light surface rust, but they polished off completely and now you would never know they were there.

This is a "before" shot of the other (left) side.

Here is the after.

The bottom of the trigger guard before...

...and after. I was also able to remove some rust from around the screw heads in the grips.

    Now let's look at some detailed comparisons of the Second Variation (left) and Third Variation (right). The easiest thing to see is that the unbreeching lever (to break the gun open for loading) is shaped differently. It is underneath the barrel. You can also see the difference in finishes that I mentioned earlier, with the Second being completely lacquered and the Third being partially blued (easiest to see on the barrels). If you look carefully you will also see that the Second Variation action housing has two parts while the Third has only one (look at the two seams behind the barrel on the Second Variation and the single seam between the barrel assembly and action housing on the Third). If you are really eagle-eyed you will also notice that the grip screws are in slightly different positions, reflecting a change in the recoil buffering system inside the grip.

    Together with the change from a two-piece to a one-piece action housing, the markings on the top of the gun were moved from the front part of the action housing (Second Variation, left photo) to the rear of the barrels (Third Variation, right photo). The order of the markings is also different in the two photos, although their order changed many times during production, not just when the variation being produced changed.

    One change that is only visible from the rear is the barrel selector lever arrangement. Note that the Third Variation (right photo) has detents for positive identification of the selected position, while the Second Variation (left photo) does not. This is one of the few modifications that is an improvement. Note also the much cruder casting of the third variation.

    Here is a comparison of the Third Variation of the triple barrel with the Third Variation of the double barrel. You can see that the construction is very similar, e.g. barrels blued on the Third Variation of both and the shape of the unbreeching lever is the same.

The markings on top are also on the barrels (rather than the action housings) on both the double and triple barrel versions of the Third Variation.

    So what does a gal need when she already has two triple barrel flare guns? Well, obviously I still need the First Variation triple barrel to complete the set! The First Variation has a nicely blued finish, a slightly hooked vertical unbreeching lever, paint rather than decals on the front ends of the barrels, and a rectangular lanyard loop. The serial numbers run from 1 to about 1400, and most had wooden rather than bakelite grips. I also hope to get a holster and a playing card-sized aluminum instruction plate that was issued in lieu of a manual. A flare or two would be nice, too. Wish me luck!

Last updated: August 1, 2008. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.

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