Type 11 (Light Machine Gun)
Light Machine Gun (LMG)
Despite her 1922 origins, the Type 11 survived all of World War 2 in frontline service.
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The Type 11 was a light machine gun system utilized by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and developed and accepted into service during the interwar years just in time for World War 2. The weapon system entered operational service in 1922 and was produced from then up to 1941 to which some 29,000 examples were made in all. The Type 11 remained in IJA service up until the end of the war in 1945 to which all of Japan's weapons producing capabilities were then eliminated by the conquering powers - forcing the Type 11 to fall to the pages of history. Beyond World War 2 proper (1939-1945), the Type 11 was also fielded en mass in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1936), the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Soviet-Japanese Border Wars (1938-1939). Design of the weapon was attributed to gunsmith and career army man Lieutenant General Kijiro Nambu (1889-1924) and the weapon garnered the nickname of "Nambu" from Allied soldiers.
The Type 11 was chambered to fire the 6.5x50mm Arisaka cartridge from a gas-operated action. The Arisaka cartridge was of a semi-rimmed design accepted into the IJA in 1897 to coincide with the new bolt-action Type 30 Arisaka standard infantry rifle (as well as its associated carbine form). The Type 30 served as the standard Japanese infantry rifle up until 1905 to which it was replaced by the bolt-action Type 38, also chambered for the 6.5x50mm Arisaka cartridge. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japanese authorities were sold on the firepower inherent in the machine gun when complementing offensive infantry actions. This was further proven by the devastating effects that the machine gun lay on tens of thousands of infantrymen across Europe in the upcoming World War 1 (1914-1918). As such, the authorities sought to produce the first indigenous machine gun design for the Empire of Japan. Up to this point in history, the Japanese had leaned largely on the French Hotchkiss designs of heavy and light machine guns. The new light machine gun weapon was developed base on experience in ownership of these weapon systems and the designation of "Type 11" was afforded to the system (in honor of the 11th year in the reign of Emperor Taisho). The weapon first appeared in 1922 and made use of the readily available 6.5x50mm Arisaka rifle cartridge.
The Type 11 exhibited much of the Hotchkiss influence including a ribbed barrel and internal working components. There was a collapsible bipod near the muzzle for sustained fire from the prone position. The ergonomic shoulder stock acted as the pistol grip and took on an unusually exaggerated shape when compared to her contemporaries. An optional shoulder strap ran from the stock base to the forend for porting the weapon on marches. However, Nambu elected for a different feed mechanism that separated the type from its true French origins. The feed mechanism made use of a "Hooper" magazine system (fixed to the left of the receiver) that allowed the machine gun to fire from the 5-round 6.5x50mm rifle "clips" without any in-the-field modification. Up to six of these ammunition clips could be fed into the Hopper system with each cartridge individually stripped by the feed mechanism before firing and the next clip automatically introduced while the empty one was ejected clear of the machine. This allowed the machine gunner to utilize readily-available rifle ammunition from the rest of his squad as opposed to relying on specially-designed and packaged ammunition boxes or belts. Ammunition was issued in a hardened box containing 12 rifle clips (60 rounds).
With a full load of six clips (x5 cartridges each), the Type 11 could hold up to 30 rounds of 6.5mm ammunition. However, these full-size rifle rounds proved too powerful for the inherently sensitive Hopper feed system and forced the design of a new specialized cartridge - the less powerful 6.5x50mm Arisaka "Genso" (or "Reduced") - to be introduced for crews assigned to the Type 11 (and subsequently the Type 96 machine guns and Type 97 sniper rifles). The Hopper system also proved highly prone to collecting those unwanted debris from the unforgiving battlefield environments due to its need to remain lubricated in order to keep the system operating at an optimal level.
In the field, the Type 11 earned itself a less-than-desirable reputation by its gunnery crews. It was only available in a full-automatic fire mode which, in theory, was an acceptable design move for a machine gun but, in practice, the use of the Hopper feed system made the gun rather imbalanced when firing due to the collective weight of the rifle-caliber cartridges all stacked together along the one side. It was these issues, and operational combat use of the weapon against Chinese forces in the 1930s, that led to the design and development of the newer Type 96 machine gun, accepted into service in 1936. The Type 96 went on to replace (at least on paper) the Type 11 in service with the IJA though the Type 11 was still available in enough numbers to see combat until the end of hostilities in 1945 - this due more to a lack of a capable industrial sector in war-torn Japan by this stage in the war.