Imperial Japan’s Type 3 Machine Gun: America’s Worst Nightmare or Paper Tiger?

Imperial Japan’s Type 3 Machine Gun: America’s Worst Nightmare or Paper Tiger?

Kyle Mizokami

Security, Asia

The Type 3 was an excellent example of a good infantry weapon that served far too long, ultimately to the detriment to the troops it was supposed to arm. Even when a smaller, lighter gun that weighed a mere fifth of the Type 3 was invented, the Japanese military would not retire the older, heavier, clunkier gun

One of the most infantry-heavy armies of World War II was the Imperial Japanese Army. Although the country itself is today synonymous with innovation, the infantry weapons used by the Imperial Army and Navy were generally copies of European weapons ill-suited for notoriously small-statured Japanese soldiers. Such weapons often remained in service much longer than prudent. An example of this was the Type 3 machine gun, which at the time of its introduction weighed as much as a Japanese soldier.

In the late 1890s, the Austrian arms inventor Captain Baron Adolf Odkolek von Ujezda designed a new machine gun. The concept of the machine gun was fairly new but von Ujezda’s design differed from others in being gas-operated, rather than recoil-operated. Unlike other machine guns, which relied on bulky water jackets to cool a hot barrel, the new gun used ambient air to reduce barrel heat. The design for the machine gun was finalized in France, where it was known as the Hotchkiss, serving as the front-line machine gun during World War I.

The Imperial Japanese Army came into being during the Meiji Restoration, a period of breakneck modernization, and Tokyo imported French advisors in the late nineteenth century to help build the first real national Japanese Army. This gave France a considerable amount of military prestige in Japan and it’s probably no accident that the country adopted the Hotchkiss Modéle 1900 machine gun. Hotchkiss guns served the Imperial Army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, where trench warfare and massed infantry tactics gave the world a glimpse of the future of warfare.

In 1914, the Imperial Army adopted a modified version of the Hotchkiss heavy machine gun. The gun was designated the Type 3, so-called because it was adopted during the third year of the reign of the Emperor Taisho (1912-1926). Japan’s Hotchkiss guns were chambered for the Japanese 6.5-millimeter (.30 caliber) rifle cartridge, the same caliber powering the Arisaka rifle. This was a major plus for an infantry unit, allowing Japan’s army to streamline its logistics and by carrying just one rifle and machine-gun round. The downside was that the 6.5mm round did not have the range and power of other heavy machine guns.

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