Light Machine Gun (LMG)
The Type 96 Light Machine Gun superceded the Type 11 Light Machine Gun of 1922.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
For all intents and purposes, the Type 96 model machine gun varied little when compared to the Type 11 it was meant to replace. One of the most notable differences proved to be its use of a 30-round detachable curved box magazine set along the top side of the receiver (ala the Czech ZB vz. 26 and similar British Bren). This arrangement did away with the meddlesome Hopper feed system of the Type 11 and made the Type 96 more inherently reliable within the rigors of combat. The reciever contained all of the major working internal components of the machine gun to which were attached the pistol grip with trigger system and a wooden buttstock. The barrel was fitted ahead in the receiver and protruded a distance away and, consistent with other Japanese machine gun designs, sported integrated cooling fins for heat dissappation. The barrel was also specifically designed for quick-changing of the system, allowing the gunnery crew to switch out an overheated barrel with a fresh, cool one as needed with little stoppage in fire. The gas cylinder was connected under the barrel system and a folding bipod was affixed to the front end of the cylinder proper. A carrying handle was fitted at the front top end of the reciever and a shoulder strap could be added, attached midway along the gas cylinder and right side of the shoulder stock. Sights included an adjustable rear leaf and front blade though a drum or 2.5x telescopic sight could be optionally fitted to the right side of the reciever for accurized fire (the telescopic sight eventually won out). The benefit of utilizing such optics on a machine gun platform was questionable. One decidedly interesting quality of the Type 96 design was its ability to mount an infantry Model 30 series field bayonet at the front of the gas cylinder, the thought being that - if pushed to close-quarters action - the machine gunner could wield his weapon as a bayoneted rifle. In practice, it is suspect as to the usefulness of such a design quality when considering the weapon's 20lb weight, 41.5 inch length and relatively small stature of the average Imperial Japanese Army soldier.
The Type 96 featured a barrel legnth measuring 21.75 inches and fielded a rate-of-fire between 450 and 550 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity in the vicinity of 2,400 feet-per-second. The machine gun was designed for automatic fire-only meaning that burst, or even single-cartridge fire, would have been handled by deliberate trigger pulls and not a built-in selector switch common to today's assault rifles and submachine guns.
Once in the field, the Type 96 - like the Type 11 before it - proved to be of limited worth. It soon shown that an internal issue existed with spent shell casings becoming jammed in the firing chamber - of course at the most imopportune times. Cartridges were, therefore, lubricated by an oil system set at the magazine loader but this naturally introduced the all-too-common issue of dust and debris collection once more.
The Type 96 saw production throughout World War 2 and, though it was meant to replace the Type 11 outright, the Type 11 was available in such quantities that the two fought alongside one another for the duration of the war. This was somewhat beneficial for both were of similar design and utilized the same cartridge. However, this also meant that the Type 96 saw the same limitations of the low-powered Arisaka rifle round in combat. Neverless, the Type 96 was generally accpeted as a quality, reliable gunnery platform for Japanese machine gun crews and utilized to good effect throughout the Pacific campaigns. It was not until the arrival of the Type 99 Light Machine Gun design of 1939 - with its use of the newer and more powerful 7.7x58mm Arisaka cartridge - that the Type 96's legacy was threatened for the foreseeable future. However, the end of the war and a total defeat of the Empire of Japan to the Allies by September of 1945 ensured that no Japanese weapon then in circulation would hold on to any notable long-term legacy.
Beyond actions leading up to and throughout World War 2, the Type 96 made an appearance in a variety of regional conflicts including the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950), the Indonesian Independence War (1945-1949) and the Korean War (1950-1953). Operators of the weapon (beyond the Imperial Japanese Army) included China, Indonesia, Taiwan, North Korea and the United States (the latter to a limited extent).