Arisaka Type 99 (Rifle) Bolt-Action Service Rifle
The Type 99 rifle was designed from the existing Type 38 infantry rifle, though chambered to fire the more effective 7.7x58mm Arisaka cartridge.
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The Type 99 was one of the standard bolt-action combat rifles to be utilized by the Empire of Japan during the Second World War. At her start, she proved a reliable and robust weapon but the closing noose of the Pacific Theater soon brought about drastic changes in her production methods, often leading to a subclass weapon system. The type was intended to replace the turn-of-the-century Meiji 38th Year rifle but never materialized as an all-out replacement due to demand. The Type 99 was furthered a handful of designs that included the Short Rifle, Long Rifle, an airborne variant and a dedicated sniper model. Production lasted from 1939 into 1945 before ending with Japan's surrender.
Origins: The Type 38 Rifle
The Meiji 38th Year rifle (Type 38)
appeared in 1905 and was considered an improvement over the previous offerings of the 1897 and 1902 attempts. The bolt work followed more in line with the original Mauser design and featured a larger, easier-to-grab, bolt handle. A new cartridge with a pointed tip - the 38th Year Type, 6.5x50mm - was also introduced at the same time as the rifle. Some 3.4 million of the weapon were produced and included both a carbine and a cavalry form. The Type 38 went on to serve the Empire for thirty years as the army's rifle of choice. In fact, the Type 38 even served as the official primary service rifle of the British Army for a time. 1914 saw the British Army is a desperate search for quantitative service rifles for training to counter its growing wartime enlistment numbers. As such, the Arisaka rifle was selected for purchase and given British-applicable designations upon delivery: Rifle, Magazine, 256-caliber Pattern 1900; Rifle, Magazine, 256-caliber Pattern 1907; Carbine, Magazine, 256-caliber Pattern 1907.
Once Again, Combat Experience Forces Change
However, combat actions in the Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan of the late 1930's soon showcased the Japanese Army was, yet again, behind the technological curve. The Chinese 7.9mm cartridge proved superior to the 6.5mm and was notably better at range. As such, a new weapon would have to be devised for the Japanese Army to replace the outclassed Type 38 and put the Emperor's land army on equal footing with her adversaries.
The New 7.7x58mm Cartridge and the Type 99 Rifle
A new cartridge was soon under development and ultimately became the 7.7x58mm Arisaka round. After a short period of testing using modified Type 38 rifles and ironing out of teething issues, the Type 99 was born. The Type 99 appeared in 1939 and was similar to the Meiji 38th series with the major exception of it being chambered to fire the 7.7x58mm Arisaka cartridge. The type was meant to compete on the battlefield against similar "Short Rifles" fielded by Japan's contemporaries but was also produced in an unwieldy "Long Rifle" form. She was designed as a more affordable, easier-to-produce rifle system and proved the point particularly moreso towards the end of the World War 2 when resources across Japan proved quite scarce to come by.
Despite its intent to become the average infantryman rifle, the system maintained some rather interesting, albeit rather relatively useless, features that stood it apart from the rest. For one, the rifle was fitted with a rather fragile-looking monopod just under the foregrip body. The idea behind the addition was for a more accurized and stable firing platform when used against low-flying aircraft. The other similar addition inherent to the Type 99 design was in the form of an integrated sighting device ranged far enough to allow the rifleman to accurately sight these low-flying aircraft. While a novel concept, this was a rather optimistic attempt on the part of the designers. It did serve to show the concern of aerial attack by vulnerable infantry forces. The sighting mechanism was concentrated mostly to the rear sight implement and consisting of folding bars.
World At War
By the time full-scale war had broken out over the Pacific, the Type 99 was already in use by forces of the Imperial Japanese Army. However, production seemingly never caught up to full demand and forced the continued use of the older yet still reliable Type 38. Both were used concurrently while the Type 99 never fully replaced the Type 38 as it was intended to do.
The Mauser Rifle, Japanese Style
While the Type 99 was based on the original concepts brought forth by the Mauser design of Germany (most any bolt-action rifle of the time lent its history to the fabulous Mauser), it also showcased some indigenous ideas that tried to make for a better rifle. Rate-of-fire was slightly improved in the Type 99 by introducing a bolt action that would cock the rifle system on the close action rather than on the open motion. The bolt cover was rotatable and, while it was meant as an improvement, often led to Japanese soldiers simply discarding the feature for it tended to rattle during movement.
Type 99 Walk-Around
Design-wise, the Type 99 followed in line with much of the rifle offerings of the time. She held all of her major components in a wooden frame featuring an ergonomic pistol grip and integrated shoulder stock. The trigger sat within an oblong ring under the main body. Metal works were exposed along the top of the receiver and included the rear sight and the ball-tipped bolt-action lever, offset to the right-hand side. The ejection port was just ahead and above the trigger group and the rear sight just ahead of the ejection port itself. The Type 99 was the first quantitatively produced combat rifle to feature a chrome-lined bore to help with maintenance and cleaning of the rifle. This feature was wholly dropped towards the end of the war to ease production and demand on resources. There were two bands along the foregrip, one just ahead of the receiver and the other just behind the barrel muzzle. The barrel extended a short distance away from the wooden body and sported a simple forward sight atop the muzzle.
The 7.7x58mm Cartridge
The Type 99 made use of the 7.7x58mm Arisaka cartridge of which five such rounds were fed into the system by way of an internal box magazine or "stripper clips". Muzzle velocity was rated at 2,394 feet per second and the firing action was known as "bolt action", requiring each individual round to be loaded by operating the bolt handle. This action ejected any cartridge currently in the firing chamber (spent or not) and introduced a new cartridge ready to fire. Weight was a manageable 8.16lbs while the length measured out to 44 inches with a 26-inch barrel (Short Rifle). An optional bayonet could be fitted to the underside of the barrel, this by way of an attaching lug and loop. The bayonet could be removed and used individually as a combat knife or field utility tool. The monopod was hinged at the second band and folded up against the stock forend. This could be removed if needbe.
Type 99 Variants
The Type 99 was developed into other useful forms. This included the Type 99 Parachutist's Rifle of 1940. The rifle was developed for use by Japan's airborne soldiers, featuring a joint set between the barrel and the action. In practice, however, this mechanical change did not endear the rifle to her users and led to the development of the Parachutist's Rifle, Type 2 of 1942. The Parachutist's Rifle, Type 2 attempted to right the wrongs inherent in the earlier airborne version. A sliding horizontal wedge replaced the previous joint and the rifle proved a better end-product. However, production of the system was very limited and only a few saw extensive action in the Pacific Theater.
The Type 99 "Short Rifle" was the regular issue Type 99, appearing in 1942, while the Type 99 "Long Rifle" appeared in limited numbers. The Short Rifle sported a 26-inch barrel while the Long Rifle was given a 31-inch barrel. The Sniper Rifle Type 99 was a specialized form fitting an optic sight (Tomoika Type 1, 2.5x) along the top of the receiver, offset to the left side on a mounting bracket. The monopod was retained to help with accuracy. A strong leather sling was issued for field work and hooked along the left side of the forend and buttstock. The optic sight was carried in a hardened case for protection.
Poor Crop at War's End
Despite some early-earned respect, the Type 99 suffered from quality control towards the end of the war with the Japanese Empire war machine was on life-support. Raw materials and competent production processes were both in short supply resulting in rather poor quality and finishes on most of the outgoing Arisaka rifles including the Type 99. Some were shipped without finishes of any kind while others had their rear sites wholly replaced by a more basic and fixed system. Additionally, the machining process involved in the internal components often led to the rifle being quite dangerous to fire for the operator for the core components were ill-produced. As Japanese surrender became all the more imminent, many Army rifles bearing the Imperial Chrysanthemum marking of the Emperor had this emblem grounded down in 1945 to spare the Emperor the embarrassment of surrender. Many surviving rifles are often found with this particular condition, especially late-war/late-model model production versions.
The Type 99 and the Korean War
The Type 99 Short Rifle made something of a reappearance in the upcoming Korean War (1950-1953). South Korean Army forces took to modifying existing Type99s to fire the .30-06 Springfield cartridge that was in use by a multiple set of American weapons including the Springfield M1903. Other changes greeted this re-envisioned weapon system such as a lengthened magazine and revised ejection port. While somewhat useful in the field, these modified Type 99s proved somewhat inaccurate for the Type 99 was a rifle never intended to fire the longer .30-06 Springfield cartridge. Nevertheless, this revised Type 99 was still used in some number (about 133,000 according to sources) and made a statement all its own.
The Type 99 was produced by a wide variety of state factories across Japan (including come production coming out of Korea). This included Toriimatsu Arsenal in Nagoya, Dai-Nippon Heiki Kogyo of Notobe, Kayaba Kogyo of Tokyo, Toyo Juki of Hiroshima, Tokyo Juki of Tokyo and Jinsen Arsenal of Korea.