The Empire of Japan tried to outdue all of her wartime counterparts with the introduction of the Type 97 anti-tank rifle. The system utilized a custom mammoth 20x124 Type 97 ammunition round which was a vast departure from the common 14mm types appearing with British, German and Soviet forces throughout World War 2. As ambitious as the weapon was, it suffered from being excessively heavy to tote around effectively on the battlefield and the recoil action was more than the traditional Japanese soldier was physically designed to handle.
The Type 97 appeared for a time between 1939 and 1942. Early on, the system proved its worth against the lightly armored systems being fielded by the United States Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater. However, this advantage would drastically shift with the introduction of the heavier armored M4 Sherman types soon to follow.
The Type 97 was not an optimal weapon to operate, let alone an economical one to produce. It took four Japanese infantrymen to tote the various components about and took a full crew of two personnel to operate the weapon once entrenched. In a fixed position, the crew needed to fit the rear-mounted monopod into the ground for the recoil effect of the weapon was tremendous enough to send the firer and the weapon itself back a short distance. An additional bipod was fitted forward of the body for additional aiming support. Ammunition was fed from a 7-shot top-loading magazine and could be made up of a standard armor piercing round, a high explosive round, an incendiary round or a practice round.
In theory, the Type 97 was amazingly designed to be fired from the infantryman's shoulder though in practice this action proved quite dangerous to the standard, small-build Japanese soldier. Though classified as a semi-automatic weapon, this classification was hardly practical due in large part to the recoil force that negated any accuracy from a follow-up second shot. As such, use for this weapon began to dwindle by 1942, relegating the Type 97 to a strictly defensive role.
Improvements in armor types on USMC tanks compounded the need to removed the Type 97 as a practical weapon. The massive recoil and overall weight - not to mention the high production commitment and number of crew allotted to each Type 97 - would all eventually force the system to be retired in favor cheaper, mass-produced infantry weapons. Nevertheless, the weapon would long be remembered as an "ultimate" evolution in the anti-materiel rifle realm - particularly during World War 2 - a weapon bold enough to mate a powerful 20mm round to a man-portable system.
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