The Rifles of China 1880-1950

by Dan Reynolds

In 1880, China was an Empire beset by the European Imperialist powers seeking to exploit the Celestial Kingdom and control portions of her territory.  Military force had enabled the British and other European powers to gain control of key areas along its coast. The Empire of China lacked the modern arms and effective military organization to throw off this yoke or prevent its expansion.  It had just endured a period of three internal rebellions and its military structure was obsolete.

There had been attempts to modernize the military technology.  Imperial General Tso Tsung T'ang had established a modern arsenal and a dockyard at Foochow on the coast in 1864 and Imperial General Tseng Kuo Feng had founded Kiangnan Arsenal at Shanghai in 1865.  Rifled muskets, bayonets and swords were produced.  In the 1870's, breech loaders on the Remington Rolling Block pattern were made.  Domestic production could not begin to provide what was needed to arm Chinese forces with modern arms.

China had to import modern rifles to arm its forces.  Among rifles acquired in the 1870's were Remington Rolling Block 11mm (.43 Spanish caliber) rifles, Steyr made 11mm (French caliber) Gras rifles and carbines, and 11mm Mauser (Prussian caliber) Model 1871 Rifles, each of these types using a different form of 11mm cartridge.

In the 1880's, various foreign rifle types were acquired.  In 1883, the French, already in control of Cochin China (south Viet Nam) compelled the Vietnamese to cede Annam (central Vietnam) and the Tonkin provinces (North Vietnam) as protectorates.  The Emperor of Vietnam appealed to The Empress of China, who sent troops to garrison North Vietnam.  In 1884, 4000 Remington Lee bolt action Model 1879 11mm (.43 Spanish caliber) magazine rifles were purchased by China for use in the Sino-French conflict of 1884-85 in northern Indochina.

The French defeated the Chinese force and it seemed if China would surrender.  A militant faction in the Imperial Court took control of policy and the conflict continued into 1885 with the French attempting to advance into China's Yunnan Province and being defeated by a Sino-Viet Namese force at the Battle of Liangshan.  The French then blockaded the China coast and invaded Formosa, sinking most of the Chinese Navy.  China was defeated and recognized French rule in Indochina.

Circa 1886-87, 7000 Remington Model 1882 rifles and carbines in 11mm and .45-70 caliber were acquired by China along with Mauser Model 1871/84 magazine rifles in 11mm.  Steyr Model 1886 11mm Mannlicher rifles which arrived near the end of the decade along with quantities of older, used, foreign rifle types in small numbers.  A scaled up copy of the Remington Rolling Block was made in China in large bore requiring two men to operate which was used as a wall gun on fortifications.  Copies of the 11mm Rolling Block continued to be made.

In the 1890's, Japan defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War and now joined the European Imperialists in carving up the wealth and body of China.  During the '90's, China acquired Modell 1888 German Commission 7.92mm Rifles from Steyr and German made Model 1895 Mauser 7x57mm rifles and carbines.

The Ludwig Loewe & Co sold a license and the tooling to produce a copy of the 7.92 Commission Rifle at an arsenal founded near the city of Hankow in Hupei Province, located well up the Yangtze River from Shanghai.  The facility was called Hangyang Arsenal after its locality.  (Three cities, Hankow, Hangyang and Wuchang were located on a bend of the river and eventually merged into one metropolitan area called Wuhan)

Production began circa 1893 with the original German pattern M1888 at Hangyang Arsenal and would change to a modified pattern after a period of time, probably around 1905. This modified pattern known as the Hangyang Rifle replaced the metal barrel jacket of the M1888 with a wooden hand guard. This version remained in production until rifle production at Hangyang shifted to a copy of the 7.92mm Oberndorf Standard Modell of 1924 which was phased into production in very late 1932. The Hangyang design was copied and made at other arsenals and workshops in China for over 50 years and was even made by artisans in villages using hand operated tools.  It was last produced by the Chinese Communists workshops in Yenan circa 1946. Parts will not interchange on most of the Chinese versions of these rifles without hand fitting, sometimes not at all.  Possibly close to one million rifles and carbines and slight variants based on this design were produced in China by 1946.

In 1899, a movement arose in reaction to foreign intrusion into China.  It was called the Society of the Righteous Harmonious Fists and its members practiced traditional Chinese boxing and Kung-Fu martial arts. They were known as the "Boxers" by the Occidentals (or "Foreign Devils" as Westerners and Japanese were known to the Chinese).  They attacked foreigners and Chinese who adopted Western ways. They received some support from the Imperial Court and besieged the Foreign Legations in Peking in 1900, supported by Imperial troops.  An International Expedition was sent to relieve the besieged Westerners.  It was composed of troops from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan and Austria Hungary. This force captured Peking.

After the Boxers were defeated, the Allied Powers took over control of more areas and further infringed on China's sovereignty. They placed an arms embargo on China for several years thereafter.

The Germans had military advisers active in training the Chinese from the 1890's up to WW1. After 1905, surplus German Army M1888 rifles were acquired in different lots over a long period of time. Some Steyr 6.5x53mm Mannlicher Schoanauer Rifles were acquired about this time and were still reported in use by an American military attaché as of 1923.  Model 1904 7.92mm Steyr Mannlichers very similar to the Hanyang Rifle were also purchased in limited numbers. The Model 1904 may have served as the inspiration for the "Hangyang Rifle".

The next rifle to be adopted by China was based on the M1904 Oberndorf Mauser.  It was purchased in 6.8mm as the M1907 from Germany.  Some in 7x57mm were also purchased. Chinese production of the Model 1907 in 6.8mm began in 1916 at Kwangtung Arsenal located outside the city of Canton near China's coast.  It remained in production there until 1932. Sometime during its production run, a slightly modified version in 7.92mm was introduced. This was when it was decided to standardize 7.92mm ammunition where possible.  Kung Hsien Arsenal in Honan Province began making the 7.92mm M1907 in 1928 and continued until about 1932.  The M1907 in 7.92mm was produced at Mukden Arsenal before 1927, and at other arsenals and workshops in China.  Supply of these rifles from Germany ended with the 1911 Revolution when funding was disrupted.  M1907 rifles not shipped and still in Germany in 1914 were issued to German forces during WW1.

In 1911-12, the Imperial system was over thrown and a chaotic period in Chinese history began.  Centralized control degenerated and various regional warlords took power.  In 1912, China became a republic.  A Republican movement founded by Sun Yat Sen attempted to form a National Government.  Most of the large wealthy cities near the coast were virtual foreign colonies.  The interior was driven by factional fighting among warlords. Yuan Shi Kai, a former Imperial general, became head of a government which was recognized by the foreign powers as the National Government.  It was based in North China at Peking.

Upon taking office, Yuan Shi-kai attempted to dissolve Sun Yat-sen's Revolutionary party, the Kuomintang, and closed the parliament, assuming dictatorial powers.  He declared himself emperor of China on 12 December 1915.  Increasingly, central control was breaking down as regional warlords ignored the Government.  Yuan Shi Kai died on 6 July 1916.  General Li Yuan Hung became President.  Japan issued "21 Demands" upon this National Government which would infringe on Sino sovereignty.  China was forced to yield to Japanese controls in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.  Under pressure from the Imperialist Powers and at American urging, this Government entered WW1 on the side of the Allies in 1917 in the hope of Allied support mitigating Japanese territorial claims on China in the post war period.  Factional fighting continued.

Prior to the outbreak of WW1, some Steyr Model 1912 Mauser rifles were imported.  WW1 cut off European arms supplies.  Japan began supplying rifles to some factions after the 1911 Revolution. These were Type 30 6.5mm rifles and carbines and later 6.5mm Type 38 Arisaka rifles and carbines.  Chinese copies of these were made as well as some modified copies over the next three decades in small workshops as well as at some arsenals.

After WW1, at the Versailles Peace Conference Japan was awarded additional territory in China.  Despite the fact that China had itself sided with the Allies, Japan was given the German Shantung concessions.  The Japanese had taken Korea and Formosa from China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.  During the Russo-Japanese War they had taken the Russian concessions at Port Arthur and well as the railroads in south Manchuria.

In August 1917, Sun Yat Sen established a military government in Kwangtung Province in south coastal China. Sun reformed his party, the Kuomintang or KMT.  In 1921, Sun became President of a new entity called the Southern Republican Government in Canton, Kwangtung Province with support from southern warlords.  The Communist Party of China was formed in 1921 (CCP).

With the end of WW1, surplus rifles from the former warring nations became available for sale.  China and its many factions provided a ready market.  Mosin Nagant rifles and carbines were brought to China from Siberia by fleeing White Guardsman after the collapse of Admiral Kolchak's anti-bolshevik government.

At the Washington Conference of 1921-22, the powers agreed to respect the sovereignty, independence, and integrity of China and to adhere to the principle of equal opportunity in China for trade and development for all nations, and similar high sounding platitudes.  An arms embargo was agreed to in which the powers were to desist from aiding any of the Chinese factions in their struggles for power.

This was supposed to be for the good of China.  Imported rifles were to be contraband. Despite this, gun running was a growth industry.  Surplus German Gewehr M1898 rifles and Kar.98az carbines were in great demand.  Just about any type of rifle was marketable and all sorts were provided.

China was in chaos during the early 1920's.  No one or group could establish unified, central control of the country.  Warlords ruled various regions and conflicts abounded.  In the far north in Manchuria, the Marshal Chang Tso Lin led a powerful army and enjoyed some support from Japanese interests.  Shansi Province was controlled by Marshal Yen Hsi Shan.  Marshal Wu Pei Fu and President Li Yuan Hung representing different factions of the Peiping Army contended for control of the northern capitol at Peking.

In 1924, Sun Yat Sen and his Republican Government set up a military academy to train officers whom would be loyal to the Kuomintang.  From Soviet Russia, Lenin sent aid in the form of Mosin Nagant rifles and advisers such as General Vasili Bluecher, the GRU/Comitern operative Commissar Mikhail Borodin and other agents.  Chiang Kai Shek and others went to Moscow for advanced training.  Chinese Communist Party members now enjoyed membership in the KMT. Chiang Kai-shek was made commandant of this Whampoa Military Academy during 1924.

On 10 November 1924, Sun Yat-sen called for a "National People's Convention" of China's major leaders. Two weeks later, General Tuan Chi-jui, provisional head of the Peking Northern Government met Sun Yat-sen, head of the Southern Government in Peking.  Sun died of natural causes on 12 March 1925 while in Peking.

A KMT junta was formed to run the Southern Government.  It established a National Government in July 1925.  It appointed Chiang Kai-shek commander in chief of its army. With Chiang as commander, the "National Revolutionary Army" set out to bring the warlords to the north under control of the KMT Government.  This so called Northern Expedition went well and in less than year a large area of China was subject to Nationalist control.  Hangyang Arsenal was now under control of the KMT but internal divisions were growing intense.

The KMT was divided into Communist, Pinko and Right Factions.  The Pinks tended to side with the Reds against Chiang's Right Faction.  In March 1926, following an abortive kidnapping, Chiang cashiered his Soviet advisers, and moved to neutralized Communist power in the KMT leadership.  It is said that his Japanese advisers arranged a secret agreement in which the Japanese agreed to support the unification of China under Chiang's KMT, if Chiang purged the Communists from KMT and gave Japan greater presence and control in Manchuria and Mongolia as a buffer against the Soviet Union and Communist expansion.  The  Chinese Communists had held automatic dual membership in the KMT (Nationalist Party).  Chiang believed the Communist's intent was to gain control of the KMT and establish a Soviet China.

At the beginning of 1927 a major schism in the KMT took place.  The Northern Expedition was going well when the Reds and Pinkos moved the capitol of the KMT government from Canton to Wuhan, site of the great Hanyang Arsenal and other major industries.  Chiang set his forces, marching on Shanghai, to destroy the Shanghai Red cadres and organization.  Wang Ching Wei, a founding father of the Chinese Republic and the leading figure in the Pinko faction of the KMT, advocated continued cooperation with the CCP and the Comintern.  Wang demanded a halt to the Northern Expedition.  Wang's position was strongly opposed by Chiang Kai-shek, who was engaged in the ruthless purge of the Communists in Shanghai.

Chiang Kai-shek then established his KMT Right Faction Government in Nanking on 18 April 1927.  China now had three entities claiming to be the National Government: the Peking Government recognized by the powers of the world, the Pinko/Red KMT Government in Wuhan, and Chiang's KMT in Nanking.  Chiang continued his purge and the Northern Expedition.  Unable to resist the growing power of Chiang, Wang and the Pinko faction collapsed and the Wuhan government was no more.  Wang reconciled with Chiang and adhered to his authority.

Chiang banned the Communist Party.  The anti-Communist purge that Chiang set in motion forced the Communists to retreat into the countryside.  Such Red leaders as Mao Tze Tung , Chou En Lai, and Sun Ching Ling were forced to run for their lives. The campaigns against the warlords and Communists continued, to build a unified China under the centralized control of the KMT.

The Comintern (the Communist International organization controlled by Soviet Russia) called for a new policy initiative from the China Communist Party of armed revolution in cities and countryside.  The urban uprisings were crushed.  The rural insurrection fared somewhat better. (The armed Chinese Communist forces will be called the CCF or Reds in this article.)

Due to the arms embargo on rifles, a great demand for pistol carbines developed for the police and military market.  Japanese trading companies supplied huge quantities of Mauser, Royal and Astra pistols of this type in the 1920's and early 1930's as they were not banned.

Feng Yu Hsiang was a former officer of the Imperial Army.  He joined Yuan Shi k’ai’s new Republican Army and converted to Christianity in 1914.  Feng became a warlord with the passing of Yaun in 1916.  He ruled his area with a form of militarized Christian socialism, rising to prominence among northern warlords.  Sometime in 1926-27, General Feng Yu Hsiang, after having lost Peking in factional fighting with Marshal Chang Tso Lin and Marshal Wu P'ei Fu, went to Soviet Russia and received some support in re-equipping his Army.  Some Type 30 and Type 38 6.5x50mm Japanese rifles which had been sent to Russia during WW1 were provided.  These types had recently been withdrawn from Red Army service as Soviet Russia was beginning to standardize on the Dragoon Model 7.62x54mm Moisin Nagant in an attempt to rationalize logistics.

Feng then joined Chiang Kai Shek and the KMT Northern Expedition against his enemies.  He would later rebel against the KMT in 1929 and 1930, losing both times.  As a result, he lost all his military power.  After full scale war with Japan flared in 1937, he supported Chiang's KMT and was given various positions in the KMT government until the Civil War resumed following the Japanese surrender.

Chiang Kai-shek continued to strike northward to bring under control the warlords of central and northern China.  In early 1928, moving north, the National Revolutionary Army was advancing on Chinan, the capital of Shantung Province when the Japanese sent 3,000 soldiers to the city to block the movement.  Attempting to negotiate to avoid an armed conflict, the Nationalists sent an officer to parley. The Japanese killed him and massacred thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians.  It was in 1928 that Chiang's National Government at Nanking was recognized by the international powers as the government of the Republic of China .

In the late 1920's, the small arms producer Fabrique Nacional De Guerre (FN) in Herstal, Belgian began supplying their Model 1924 7.92 Mausers to the Republic of China government, and later their Model 1930.  The National Government was gaining arsenal capacity at this time to make new rifles.  Hangyang Arsenal and others were now under its control but badly needed new tooling and machinery.  The military campaigns accelerated the demand for rifles and all sorts of locally made copies of existing rifles and crude adaptations of these designs were produced.  Some had counterfeit markings such as "Mauser", "FN", often mis-spelled.  As Chiang advanced, he gained control by defeating the warlords in his path or accepting their fealty if they recognized his authority.  It was now possible for Chiang to purchase arms openly on the world market.  Brno in Czechoslovakia supplied Model 98/22 7.92mm rifles, Vz24 short rifles and ZB26 light machine guns.  Copies were later made in China. Surplus Japanese made Type 30 and Type 38 Arisaka 6.5x50mm rifles were purchased from Finland.

Marshal Chang Tso Lin was the preeminent figure in Manchuria during the warlord period, from 1916 to his death on 4 June 1928.  He had led a band of irregular troops in support of Japan during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War and had enjoyed some Japanese support from that time onward.  He declared himself Generalissimo of all Chinese forces in 1926.  He had Japanese advisers attached to his staff.  About 1926, Chang Tso Lin arranged to have the arsenal at Mukden in Manchuria expanded and modernized to produce a new design based on an Austrian Steyr experimental Mauser with a firing mechanism similar to the Japanese Type 38.  Machinery and technicians came from Austria to establish production of this design.

At this time, the "Arsenal" was a series of shops, huts, and forges, but a modern production line and power house were erected to make the new rifle.  This was the Type 13 rifle (Type of 1924 if the system used was based on the years from the 1911 revolution, a fact which has not been established.  See explanation of how rifle designations were made later in this article.) in 7.92mm.

It took some time to get into production, but production was established by 1927 and lasted into the period of Japanese control in the early 1930's.  Serial numbers in excess of 100000 exist.  During the period of Japanese control from 1931-1945 the arsenal at Mukden was called Hoten Arsenal. Circa 1935.  The Japanese began manufacture of the Arisaka Type 38 rifle and carbine in 6.5x50mm Japanese and circa 1944 the Type 99 7.7x58mm short rifle.

Marshal Chang had briefly resisted the advance of the Northern Expedition in the spring of 1928 after he had proclaimed himself "Head of State" at Peking in 1927, but then retreated back to Manchuria.  This displeased the Japanese elements which were seeking expanded control of China. Chang's private train was blown up as he approached Mukden. The Japanese advisers assigned to his staff had previously disembarked at a water stop and as always a second train was preceding the Marshal's for security reasons, to be sure the line was clear and intact with no obvious ambush laying ahead, and this was allowed to pass unmolested.

The Type 13 is known as the "Manchurian Mauser" to collectors.  There is one version of the Type 13 with the typical German upper band assembly over a t-bar for the bayonet, fitted to the fore end of its stock.  Workmanship is most excellent and stock wood seems to be walnut. The common version Type 13 version is stocked like the M1907 Mauser: the forend with upper band and bayonet attachment point has a different design.

In the 1930's, the KMT "National Revolutionary Army" was advised and reorganized along German lines with military advisers from Germany increasing its efficiency. The Standard Modell of 1924 Oberndorf Mauser short rifle was adopted as standard along with an improved form of the Modell 1908 Maxim machine Gun and the Czechoslovakian ZB26 light machine gun, all in 7.92mm.

The " Standard Modell" and Chinese made copies and variations was variously known as the 'New Asia Model", the "Generalissimo Model", the Type 24, Type 77, Type 79 and other names depending on where and when made and used.  Copies were produced in Chinese Arsenals and workshops beginning in late 1932. The Germans later supplied tooling and technical assistance to establish four complete production lines, but it was also made in other arsenals and small shops.  Some of the copies were simplified in various ways and parts are not easily interchangeable among the many variants.  The Germans continued to supply 7.92mm rifles from Oberndorf up to the time of the Axis alliance with Japan.  Some rifles were in 7x57mm and other were rifles originally produced for the new German Wehrmact as the Kar 98K, but rejected by inspectors for non critical defects.  These were accepted by China due the critical shortage of rifles needed to fight the Communists and Japanese.  German made rifles also may be found marked "Standard Modell of 1933" and "1934" that were purchased by China.

A further word is needed here about how the Chinese marked their small arms.  A particular model of rifle was usually given a "Type" number.  The Nationalists usually used the year of formal adoption which was calculated from the year of the Republican Revolution of 1911. Thus a rifle adopted in 1935 A.D. being 24 years after 1911 was the Year 24 and the Rifle Type of 24th Year or Type 24.  Marking on a rifle receiver ring might include Chinese characters indicating "Type" in Chinese characters, plus other information such as date of manufacture. The date is not always marked.  The date was usually in the form of two groups of western style numerals such 28-6.  Based again on the start date of 1911, this would indicate it was made in the year 1939, month of June.  This was not universally true.  Rifles made at Hangyang might have only a number representing the Western year of manufacture such as 30 (for 1930A.D.), or just 3 indicating 1933, or may have two numerical groups such as 26-3 indicating 1926 A.D., March. Nanking Arsenal post 1945 can be found with a western date used as in 46-9 for 1946 A.D., September. The Chinese were fond of "numerology" and often used numbers to commemorate some occasion or to evoke good fortune.  The Type 77 rifle is essentially a Type 24 copy but it commemorates the date 7 July 1937, the date the Sino-Japanese official war began.

Another mark, which can be found on many rifles, is a symbol that identifies the arsenal.  The reverse swastika is found on many Hangyang rifles and on some Nanking rifles.  There are many other symbols representing an arsenal in different locations at different time periods. Ideographs of other types can also be found.  The Chiang Kai Shek "chop" or ideograph representing his name is commonly encountered on receivers along with other markings.  It is sometimes defaced, having been captured by Communist forces.  There are often strings of characters that must be figuratively taken which describe the place of manufacture.

The Type 24 Rifle and the "Generalissimo" model. The name "Generalissimo" comes from the "chop" or special ideograph of Chinese characters meaning Chiang Kai Shek which was stamped on the receiver ring of many of these rifles as made in different arsenals.  It was rolled on the receiver ring along with other symbols and, at times, western numbers. Traditionally the Chinese attribute good luck to certain symbols and numbers.  The reverse swastika, an ancient symbol in Asia, is one such mark and it is often found on rifles made at Hanyang Arsenal.  At this point in time Chiang had a reputation for victory and common soldiers had confidence in using "his rifle".  It also was good propaganda for Chiang.  The Chinese Communists eventually called this rifle the Type 79 Rifle and when they captured such a rifle often defaced Chiang's chop if present.

In 1930, Wang Ching-wei, along with General Feng Yü Hsiang and Marshal Yen Hsi Shan, revolted against Chiang again and once more was a loser.  He again rejoined Chiang but in 1940 he defected to the Japanese and became head of the puppet Central China Government until his death in 1944.

In 1931, the Japanese Kwantung Army staged an incident and seized Manchuria.  The "Old Marshal" Chang Tso Lin had been assassinated in 1928 when the Japanese blew up his train. Now another explosion was staged by the Japanese on the South Manchurian Railway line near Mukden (this railroad taken by Japan from Russia after the Russo-Japanese War).  The Chinese were blamed and it was claimed that this act of terror required Japan to maintain order and protect Japanese nationals.  Japan attacked and took over in Manchuria.

A new Japanese protectorate, called Manchukuo, was proclaimed with a puppet Emperor on its throne.  Henry Puyi, the last Manchu Emperor of China, had been deposed by the Republic. The son of Chang Tso Lin, the "Young Marshal" Chang Hsueh Liang, having taken command of his father's army after the assassination and to the Japanese's surprise, winning their loyalty, had allied himself with the KMT.  He was sick with typhoid in Peking with most of his forces in North China when the take over happened.  He relayed orders by phone not to resist.

The local forces were unable to stand up to the better trained and armed Japanese.  Mukden Arsenal was taken over by the Japanese and production continued with the Type 19 in 7.92mm for a period of time to arm puppet troops of the new Manchuko.  Eventually production shifted to a 6.5x50mm version and then was phased out in favor of making the Arisaka design.

In 1933, production of a copy of the new FN Model 1930, which had been purchased for the Nationalist 17th Army, was begun at Kwangtung Arsenal.  Replacing the M1907 after a long production run dating back to 1916.

In 1933, after a string of defeats the Communist forces were trapped in a mass enrichment, but were able to breakout and escape the Nationalist Army.  Withdrawing on their "Long March" of 6000 miles to China's remote northwest mountains in Yenan, they were able to hold out there until the war with Japan allowed them to rebound.

In 1935, the Type 24 rifle was put in production in the four German tooled arsenals and copies were being made in other arsenals and workshops.  Other designs were also being made in China including copies of the FN Model 1930, the Vz24, the Kar 98az, Type 30 and Type 38 Arisaka, and variations on these.  The Hanyang rifle continued to be produced but not at Hangyang as it was now producing a copy of the "New Asia" model short rifle.  The M1907 was also being produced in some work shops.  All except the Japanese rifles were in 7.92mm and there were even some Arisaka variants hand made in 7.92mm.  The German Model 1935 helmet was adopted and put into production.

By 1936, the Japanese had advanced south of the Great Wall in North China and expanded in the coastal provinces.  Chiang continued to give priority to fighting the Communists to achieve a unified China before confronting the Japanese.  This plan was not popular with many Chinese.  He was forced to accept a cease fire and alliance with the Communists after being kidnapped by the "Young Marshal" in December 1936.

On 7 July 1937, Japan staged another "incident" at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking which led to them taking control of Peking.  It was an uneasy alliance between the KMT and the Reds.  It began to break down rapidly as the Communists quickly gained strength.

The Japanese advanced rapidly south from Peking.  They forced Chinese troops to retreat inland from the coast taking many major cities.  Driving up the Yangtze River, they took Wuhan.  The Hangyang Arsenal plant was relocated well before it fell.  The capture of Nanking was a terrible blow with a horrific massacre of prisoners and civilians.  The machinery of Nanking Arsenal and possibly Hangyang too, was mostly evacuated to Chengtu, in an area of Szechwan Province near Chungking, the wartime Nationalist capitol.  Whenever possible, all sorts of machinery and supplies were moved inland before the Japanese could capture them. Production was re-established when and where possible.

The Japanese were able to go where they wanted and could smash any organized Chinese force, but lacked the numbers to occupy any but the key points.  This led them to control the railroads, provincial capitols and important economic zones but left the smaller cities and rural areas beyond their control.  This favored the Communists whom moved into the vacuum when Nationalist control was smashed by the advancing Japanese.  The Japanese began organizing puppet entities with local Chinese troop and police units to help guard communications and fight the Communist and Nationalist partisan units left in the wake of their advance.  The Japanese collected captured and abandoned Chinese rifles and set up shops to repair them.  These were issued to the puppet troops and police.

In 1937, the greatest number of foreign Mausers reached China, including FN M1930, Oberndorf Standard Modell, and ZB Vz 24 types.  Soviet aid began arriving in the form aircraft and pilots in the fall of 1937.  Some Mosin Nagant rifles and ammunition were provided along with other material.  When Japan joined the AXIS, Hitler ordered the withdrawal of German assistance to China.  Soviet Russia began providing advisorys and arms, including tanks (87 Model 1933 T-26 tanks), aircraft, and artillery.  After the Hitler/Stalin Pact in 1939, this aid dried up.

However, with the covert assistance of elements in Germany that were pro Chinese, Czech and Belgian Mausers continued to find there way to China after the NAZI occupations of these countries.  Even in 1941, the Japanese protested to Hitler that Mausers from Europe were reaching China by way of the Burma Road.

The war against Japan did not go well for the Chinese in the period 1938-40.  In March of 1940, a KMT official and former member of the Pinko faction, Wang Ching Wei agreed to head the Japanese sponsored Central Government of China, a puppet state, that Japan recognized as the legitimate government of China.  It had an Army and Police apparatus which was responsible for order in areas of Japanese conquest in classic China.  Conflicts between the Communists and Nationalists escalated.

In 1940, relations with the USA began to develop towards American support and aid of China. In 1941, the United States brought strong diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on Japan regarding the war in China.  An oil embargo was declared.  If Japan did not accept America's terms it would run dry of fuel.  The U.S. knew from intelligence sources that war with Japan was inevitable.  Japan would not accept the terms for releasing the embargo and they had about a six month oil reserve.  Colt Browning M38B 7.92mm machine guns were purchased as were some 7.92mm BAR (Colt Browning Automatic Rifles).  Similar automatic weapons had been purchased from FN in Herstal Belgium in the 1930's.

On 23 July 1941, President Roosevelt ordered the provision of arms and equipment to China, along with a Military Advisory Group to help train the Chinese in their use.  The mission was known as MAGIC (Military Advisory Group In China).  The mission arrived in October 1941. The Burma Road was the only viable supply link to China by this time.  In December 1941, Roosevelt agreed to train and arm 30 divisions of KMT troops.  After the U.S.A. and British Empire entered the war against Japan on 8 December 1941, things did not improve.  Hong Kong fell and the only supply route to China was a very long one from the port of Rangoon in British controlled Burma by rail and road through to Lashio on the Burma- China border, and then by truck through Yunnan Province to Chungking.  The Japanese took Singapore and soon threatened Burma.  The U.S. Army Mission, headed by General Stilwell, together with three good Chinese divisions Chiang sent into Burma, attempted to help the British defend Burma and keep the Road open.

The British were rapidly defeated and the Chinese units along with the Americans were swept along in the British retreat to India.  This closed the Burma Road.  The Chinese units were well armed by prevailing standards in wartime China.  They had good Type 24 and Standard Modell Mausers, ZB-26 light machine guns, Type 24 Maxim Guns and even artillery. They performed well against the Japanese.

The situation in China grew worse in 1942.  In India, the American aid for China began arriving. The Rifle .30 Model of 1917, the so called American Enfield, Automatic Rifle .30 M1918 and M1918A2 known as the "BAR", and the Browning Machine Gun .30 M1917A1 were issued to the Chinese troops in India which were placed under Stilwell's command.  Some of these small arms were issued to British Indian Army troops at first, due to shortages of .303 weapons and fear of a Japanese advance into Assam.  The British supplied the Chinese with 5000 Submachine Gun .45 M1928A1.  The Chinese 7.92mm Mausers, MG's and LMG's were withdrawn as .30 weapons became available.  Logistics dictated this move. 7.92mm ammunition was in very short supply.  The U.S. Government had placed an order with Western Ammunition Co. for 7.92mm ammo loaded to Chinese needs (actually the compromise 8mm Mauser being loaded for the American commercial market was just about right except the bullet needed to have an FMJ (jacketed) bullet to comply with the Geneva Convention), but it was not yet available and no longer a high priority as China was blocked by the Japanese. These Chinese forces were reorganized and trained by American officers.

In China, domestic production of rifles of all type in improvised shops, small factories and arsenals had to provide for the demand of the KMT Chinese forces.  The Communists were making a copy of the 7.92mm Hangyang Rifle, and capturing other rifles from puppet troops, the Japanese when possible, and attacks on Nationalist units and stores.  All foreign aid had to be flown into China from India over "the Hump" in C-46 and C-47 AAF transports, and bulky objects like rifles did not take priority over 55 gal. drums of AVGAS.

In 1944, major Japanese offensives were underway in China and Burma. Large advances were made in China as the Japanese launched the Ichigo Offensive to capture the Sino American air bases which the U.S. 14th Air Force using to great effect against the Japanese.  The rapid advances and great defeats inflicted on the KMT troops caused the Chinese 500000 casualties, wiping out many of Chiang Kai-shek’s best divisions.  In Burma, the Japanese surged forward only to reach the end of the line logistically, unable to continue.  They were hit by a massive counter attack which included the American trained and armed Chinese troops.  A new road to China had been built called the Ledo Road and alongside it a fuel pipeline.  When it opened, supplies began pouring into Kunming in Yunnan for the Chinese.

At this time, U.S. Rifles .30 M1903 and M1903A3 (American Springfield Rifles) were being received in quantity to supplement the .30 M1917 Enfields for arming the Chinese.  Altogether about 400,000 .30 Enfield and Springfield Rifles were supplied by the end of WW2 to Nationalist China.

By 1945, American small arms for China were joined by .303 Canadian No.4 Mk.1* Enfields, .303 Bren Guns , and 9mm Sten Machine Carbines, Canadian Inglis 7.92mm Bren Guns, and Inglis 9mm Browning Pistols.  The Japanese surrendered after the U.S.A. dropped two Atom Bombs on Japan and the Soviet Union rushed in to attack Manchuria before the war ended.

When the war was over, the Nationalist Government had by far the greatest number of serviceable small arms in its history. The best were the American supplied rifles and the Canadian 7.92mm BREN Guns.  The Chinese Communists were short of weapons but very disciplined and well led.  The Russians took the surrender of all Japanese troops in Manchuria and in Korea north of the 38th Parallel.  The Chinese Communists began moving 20 central committee members, 20,000 Political cadre, and over 100,000 troops to Manchuria from the south and south west and by January 1946 began taking local control.  The Russians then turned the captured Japanese war material over to the Chinese Communists.

Chiang prevailed upon the U.S. to fly his best American armed troops north to Manchuria to take control from the Russians as had been agreed upon.  The Russians used the interim to strip all they could, including light bulbs, from industrially developed Manchuria.  While the Chinese Reds, initially thin on the ground in Manchuria, continued to force march as many men as possible northeast to assume control before the Nationalists could.

It was obvious a Civil War would break out.  The Communists, armed with the Japanese weapons were a formidable force.  The U.S. wanted a coalition government. General Marshal was sent to negotiate this new government.  For the moment, the Nationalists had the upper hand, but time was not on their side.  Chiang had gambled by not securing the lines of communication through areas of North China which the Reds had come to dominate during the late war.  The Reds whom had sent many of their troops from these areas into Manchuria, still had enough forces to undermine the Nationalist position.

Chiang's troops were able to seize the key cities and railroads in Manchuria from the Reds, but were not able finish them off.  They became established in the rural areas as the U.S. pushed Chiang into four cease fires in 1946.  Each time the KMT lost ground. Marshall put an embargo on the supply of .30 (U.S. thirty caliber) ammunition to Chiang to pressure him into accepting U.S. proposals.  The U.S. had supplied Enfield and Springfield rifles to Chiang's troops during WW2 that needed this .30 ammunition and the best trained troops were armed with them.  The Nationalists couldn't make this ammo in country.  From the summer of 1946 until May of 1947 the U.S. would not supply ammunition for these rifles.

There was an American military mission still assigned to the Nationalist Army in 1946. General Lucas, then head of MAGIC, said  "All we can do is draw up a new table of organization for the Chinese forces.  We are getting them to shift from the four squad system to the three squad system, as we had done in our own forces.  We are also preparing paper plans on logistics.  But every one of my men is forbidden, from Washington, to go within fifty miles of any front.  The exercise I am going through here is a pretense.  I'm not able to do anything effective."

The Nationalists were forced to withdraw the .30 small arms from issue and store them.  Some M1917 rifles were converted to 7.92mm at the arsenal in Mukden by pulling the barrels, boring out and re-rifling, shortening the chamber end, reaming and refitting to the receiver.  Most of the .30 weapons were captured in storage when Manchuria later fell to the Reds. You can spot the conversion when bayonet is mounted as the muzzle ring is seen to be forward of the front sight at the very end of the barrel.

The Nationalists had captured large numbers of Japanese rifles in the south after the surrender.  The Nationalists also converted Japanese Type 38 and Type 99 rifles to 7.92mm, as they sought to get more serviceable rifles in a caliber they could manufacture ammunition for readily.  Most Chinese Armies had facilities to reload 7.92mm ammunition.  German machinery was available for large scale production of this caliber in the arsenals.

The Communists strategy was to hold onto their foothold in Manchuria.  As they knew from their prewar experience the Nationalist Government could isolate and destroy their base areas anywhere else.  The U.S. pressure on Chiang for cease fires allowed the Reds to survive.  The halt saved their sanctuary in northern Manchuria and kept their main forces intact.

The Communists were now ready to launch a counter offensive.  Their aim was to divert Nationalist forces away from Manchuria by attacking in Shantung and in central China.  The Nationalist command made the strategic error of dividing its forces in reaction to the new threats instead of concentrating its strength on a focused strategy of securing Manchuria. The KMT gained several victories on other fronts, but allowed the Communists to build their strength and eventually take Manchuria.  That was the beginning of the end for the Nationalists.

By 1948, Communist manpower growth was approaching the level of the Government.  Chiang's forces were over extended and tied down in defensive positions guarding railroads, lines of communication and cities.  Large amounts of arms, material and troops fell to the Reds.  KMT command, control and discipline was inferior to the Communists.  Initiative passed to the Reds whom could attack in superior numbers at places of their choosing, isolating key positions.

Chou Chow fell in October 1948 and the remaining Nationalist positions in Manchuria, being cut off and isolated, rapidly collapsed.  This was followed by the fatal defeat of half a million Nationalist troops at the Huai Hai battle in central China in December 1948.  At the end of 1948, most of the North and Northeast was dominated by the Communists.  In January 1949, the Northern capitol of Peking fell to the Reds without a fight as the Nationalist General commanding went over to the Reds with his divisions.  In April 1949, the Communist forces crossed the Yangtze River and Shanghai fell without a fight as the the KMT General withdrew his still large force.  The People's Republic of China was proclaimed in Peking in October 1949.

Production of the Mauser rifle in China appears to have dropped at the end of WW2 and again during the later 1940's, but new ones were still being made on captured machinery at least into 1951.  The later drop in production may be attributed to the loss of major arsenals to the CCF (Chinese Communist Forces) and the destruction to facilities which probably took place not only to rifle production machinery but also to steel making plants.  One of the largest and best arsenals in China was located in Shansi Province at the city of Taiyuan (known as the Pittsburgh of China) beyond the Yellow River in north central China.

Marshal Yen Hsi Shan was the Governor of this Province.  He had received military training in China and in Japan at the Imperial Academy.  He seized power in Shansi after the 1911 Revolution.  Under his rule it became the industrial gem of China.  Employing German and Japanese technicians to aid development, Shansi produced half the coal in China, had steel mills, a locomotive factory, cement works and many other productive enterprises.  Yen accepted Chiang Kai Shek as the ruler of China in 1926.  In 1929, he, Wang Ching Wei, and Feng YU Hsiang joined in an attempt to over throw Chiang.  They lost out.  Forced from power in Shansi, he soon returned to power and instituted changes to combat growing Communist influence in the province.

In 1926, the Arsenal at Taiyuan had produced 1500 rifles, 500 Mauser type Broom handle Military Pistols, 300 mortars, mortar shells, hand grenades and three million rounds of ammunition a month with foreign technicians, assisted by American trained Chinese, supervising and training 8,000 Chinese workers.

By late 1948, the Arsenal was making 3,000 Mauser Type 24, 60 7.92mm Type 24 Maxim water cooled machine guns (MG08/30), 300 7.92mm ZB 26 light machine guns, eight 75mm field guns, and large quantities of grenades, mortar rounds, swords, bayonets and ammunition every month. But small arms 7.92mm ammunition production was down.  Over 150,000 Reds surrounded the city and it was necessary to air drop ingots of brass for the production of ammunition casings.  Early in 1949 two Curtiss C-46 transports of Civil Air Transport flown by American pilots landed on an improvised runway carrying dynamite and caps to destroy the steel mills and arsenal.  The city fell in the spring and it is not known to me what was the fate of the Arsenal. Perhaps a reader can supply that information.

Chiang Kai Shek was nominally replaced as leader of Nationalist China earlier in 1949 and had begun shipping his personal forces, cultural treasures, and other key assets to the island of Formosa (Taiwan) before the final stages of collapse.  When most of the KMT hierarchy and their families and others fled there to escape the Communists.  In December 1949, Chiang proclaimed Taipei the new capitol of the Republic of China Government.

Chiang, once again the President, began rebuilding his forces.  Initially, the small arms situation was quite good as the troops transported there were considered among the best and had been armed with better quality rifles, including German made 7.92mm Standard Modell 1924, 7.92mm Type 24 of good quality, .30 Caliber Carbines M1, and M1903 and M1903A3 .30 Springfield's. U.S. aid shipments had been diverted to Taiwan as China was falling.  The first .30 M1 carbines had reached China in 1943 when Captain Milton E. Miles, USN, presented about 100 to Tai Li for Chiang's personal bodyguard.  Tai Li was head of the BIS (Chinese Nationalist FBI/OSS equivalent).  Miles was U.S. Navy representative to SACO (Sino American Cooperative Organization) and for a time OSS representative in China. UD-42 sub machine guns in 9x19mm were also provided.  After 1951, .30 M1 Garand rifles were provided in quantity and by late 1950's 7.92mm Mausers were largely in storage.  Circa 1962 these Mausers were transferred to an other power.  The Garands were replaced by a Chinese made version of the M14 7.62mm NATO rifle beginning in the mid sixties.  These were followed by the 5.56mm M16A1 and then supplemented by a Chi-Nat derivative of the Stoner design which avoided license costs.

On the mainland of China in 1949, Soviet advisers began arriving around November to help reorganize the victorious CCF.  Huge numbers of men were under arms and conflict continued over the off shore islands belonging to China.  There were about 5,3000,000 men in 253 divisions, but less than half of these could be considered properly equipped and trained. Serviceable rifles were in very short supply and stocks of 6.5x50mm Arisaka ammunition were very, very low.  The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) (CCF) was basically a light infantry force that had captured tanks, artillery, trucks and planes from the defeated Nationalists.

Millions of men had be taken prisoner or defected from the KMT forces.  The policy towards these Nationalist troops was generally this:

Prisoners taken after defeat: rank and file prisoners were debriefed, "re-educated" ("brainwashed" is the term used when American prisoners were subjected to the process during the Korean War) and incorporated into the CCF; Officers and other class enemies were interrogated, evaluated for "crimes" and either denounced at a meeting of their former troops or of a group of peasants from their area of operations and shot after a vote as to their guilt...or if it was decided that the individual in question was not a threat or technically needed, and willing to "sincerely reform", he was sent to "Military College" where he was "reeducated" and taken into the CCF as a non command role soldier.  They were expected to atone for their past errors and crimes and to become a "Beet" (that is a vegetable that is red on the surface and all the way through under its skin...not a "Radish" which is red outside and white under the skin).

Defectors: Sometimes whole divisions or once even an entire Army Group went over to the Reds.  These units were politically organized and commissars placed at every level and allowed to retain their existing officers (after vetting) as command personnel ( no more "officers" ) and the unit then grafted into the CCF.  Units that surrendered after initial resistance were treated with more caution.  The officers were interrogated , evaluated and sent to "Military College" and rank and file were given a new command structure with political commissars at every level and new command personnel.

This policy encouraged surrender and defections, preserved material which might otherwise be destroyed, ( have seen several hundred Mausers with stocks broken at wrist, missing bolts, with smashed handguards, made unserviceable before surrendering by hard-core Nationalist troops) and freed up resources otherwise needed to guard and feed all these former Chi-Nats soldiers.

Coming Soon Part 2 China Rifles 1950-1980

When the Korean War began in June 1950, Chiang had about 300,000 troops on Formosa and perhaps another 100,000 on offshore islands such as the Pescadores, Quemoy, Matsu and others, as well as holdouts on the mainland in various partisan bands. A well known power began providing some arms directly to Nationalist troops not on Formosa which included Vz 24 7.92mm Mausers purchased from Spanish Civil War surplus material, the origin obscure so the benefactor need not take credit, while the ammunition was locally available.

Some Major Chinese Arsenals were located in:

Province/Region ...Arsenal Common Name...............................Geographic Area.....

Kwangtung.... (Canton Arsenal)............ Southeast Area

Honan ............(Kung Hsien Arsenal).... Central North Area

Manchuria .....(Mukden Arsenal).......... Northeast

Hupei .............(Hangyang Arsenal)... Central

Shansi ............(Taiyuan Arsenal).......... North Central Area

Szechwan ......(Chengtu Arsenal).... Southwest


Arming the Dragon Dolf Goldsmith

China Pilot Felix Smith