Japanese Nambu Pistols.

   by Cliff Carlisle
Kijiro Nambu was born Sept. 22, 1869.  He entered the Japanese Army to pursue a career as an arms designer.  In early 1897 Capt. Nambu was assigned to Tokyo Arsenal.  He was promoted to Maj. and placed in charge of the development of a semi auto pistol for the Japanese military.  In 1902 he had completed his design of an 8mm pistol.  This was followed almost immediately with a 7mm officer’s model & changes to his original 8mm design.  These pistols are known to collectors as the Grandpa (Model 1902), Baby & Papa (Model 1902 Modified).  All 3 are marked on the right side of the receiver with Nambu Shiki, which translates to Type Nambu.
The Grandpa is easily distinguished from the Papa by the very small trigger guard and wood based magazine.  All of these pistols are cut for a shoulder stock and were originally issued with a shoulder stock holster.  Less than 2400 pistols were manufactured.  Of the 130 recorded pistols listed in "Hand Cannons Of Imperial Japan" 34 of them still have the shoulder stock holster.

The 7mm Baby Nambu was produced for private purchase by Japanese officers.  The pistol & cartridge are scaled down versions of the Grandpa.  It was expensive to produce.  The Officers Union, where most of the Japanese Officers equipment was purchased, listed the Colt M1903 & Browning M1910 .32 acp pistols for 100 yen, the Baby was listed at 180 yen.

The Baby was produced primarily by Tokyo Arsenal. Less than 6000 were produced there. Tokyo Gas and Electric also produced Babies, but only about 550 of them.  This makes the TGE Baby one of the rarest Japanese pistols produced.


Baby Nambu shown with a Papa Nambu for size comparison.

The Papa Nambu (Model 1902 Modified) was produced by the Tokyo Arsenal and by Tokyo Gas and Electric.

Tokyo Arsenal began production in approximately 1906.  Production ended with the adoption of the Type 14 in 1925. Less than 4600 completed pistols were produced.  Though produced at an Army arsenal, it was never officially adopted by the Japanese Army but was for private purchase by officers.  In addition to the Type Nambu markings on the right side these pistols have Riku Shiki or Army Type stamped on the left.  The markings on the grip of the pistol shown is a rack number.  It is 25 or the 25th pistol in the unit it was assigned to.

Tokyo Gas and Electric produced pistols with a 2-piece frame to eliminate some of the difficult machining steps.  Note in the photo of the Papa & Baby that the Papa has a recess milled into the frame just behind the upper rear of the grip.  This is a 1-piece frame.  This photo shows no recess and it is a 2-piece frame.

The first of the production of Tokyo Gas & Electric was for a 1500 piece Naval contract in 1909.  The initial pistols were cut for a shoulder stock but the Navy changed its mind before delivery and had the stock slots filled at the arsenal.  During WW1 the Japanese Navy placed an additional order for about 2500 guns.  Though it was officially adopted by the Navy & not by the Army, Naval documents refer to it as the Army Type pistol.

For the final production of the Papa, Tokyo Arsenal shipped it’s remaining supply of parts, including frames, to TGE.  Starting with serial number 8000 (the highest recorded S/N for a TGE with all TGE parts is s/n 4866) pistols were produced with mixed parts from both manufacturers.  The TGE logo is over the chamber & the Tokyo Arsenal stacked cannon balls are on the right side of the receiver. Less than 700 were produced with this combination.

Naval anchor on early Tokyo Gas and Electric Papa Nambu.  The WW1 order used an anchor with a "v" shaped bottom instead of the rounded one.

Tokyo Gas and Electric 8000 s/n range pistol with holster, strap & spare magazine.  The paper label inside the flap reads "Hirakawa Syo-i" or 2nd Lieutenant Hirakawa.  The veteran scratched into the holster "Chuck Rooney 37667933 158th, Camp Maxey Texas, Paris, Texas 158th Engin’s, 3rd Army and 1st Lt. Japan Army 16 May 1945".  The 158th Engineers were with the 3rd Army at Bastogne.  Apparently Chuck Rooney got around.  After the war ended in Europe he must have been sent to the Pacific.

By the early 1920s the Japanese army realized that they needed a new pistol that was easier & cheaper to manufacture.  The development of this new pistol was assigned to Tokyo Arsenal, which was under the command of General Nambu.  The new pistol was adopted in 1925, the 14th year of the reign of Emperor Taisho.  Hence the model designation Type 14.  From 1925 through 1945 over 280,000 Type 14s were produced.

The initial production was with a small trigger guard. Experiences in China in the mid 1930s showed a problem with the small guard.  A gloved finger couldn’t get into the guard to fire the pistol.  So the guard was modified by extending it toward the muzzle creating a somewhat unusual appearance.  These are referred to by collectors as Large Trigger Guard Nambus. Toward the end of the war additional shortcuts in production were taken such as not grooving the grips & changing the cocking knob to make it round & eliminate machining operations.

Type 14 pistols representing early, mid & late production.  Even though the late production pistol shown is in near new condition, the bullets keyhole when fired indicating the poor quality control that was overtaking Japan as the war progressed.

General Nambu retired from the Japanese Army in December 1924 and established Nambu Rifle Manufacturing Company, a private arms production company.  In 1934, just after he had started production of the Type 14 pistol in his plant, he was approached by the army. They ask him to design a new smaller 8mm pistol for the use of air crews, tankers & any other personnel that needed a smaller hand gun than the Type 14.  The final prototype was tested & adopted by the army in late 1934 & designated the Type 94.  1934 was year 2594 of the Japanese calendar.  Between 1935 (the first production) & 1945 over 71,000 Type 94s were delivered to the Japanese military.  As with the Type 14 as the war progressed the quality of the Type 94 deteriorated.  The un-grooved grips were introduced in mid 1944.  By 1945 the cocking knob was no longer having the radius machined at it’s top.  The resulting pistols are referred to as "Square Back" types.

Type 94 pistols representing early and late war types.  The lower pistol is one of the 1945 produced Square Backs.

Another Nambu site: http://members.shaw.ca/tju/jhg.htm


copyright Carbines for Collectors 2003