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Nambu Type 14 Pistol: Unreliable, Underpowered, Unergonomic, but Highly Collectable



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The Type 14 Nambu Pistol got its name from the first year it was made — the 14th year of the Taishõ era, or 1926. The Nambu was produced in four variants, starting with Type A, which came in two versions. 

The first was nicknamed the “Grandpa,” and the second was the “Papa.” They were followed by Type B, also known as the “Baby Nambu,” the Type 14 was next, and finally, the Type 94. The Type A, B, and 94 Nambu pistols were smaller, and the Type B fired a 7x20mm Nambu cartridge instead of the 8mm.

Of all the Nambu pistol models, the Type 14 was the most prolific, with approximately 400,000 produced. Exact production numbers are unknown, as are the number of pistols issued, as Japanese soldiers considered their pistols property of the Emperor and would destroy them or throw them in the ocean rather than surrender them to Allied forces. 

The Nambu pistol shown here is a Type 14 Series B with an oversized trigger guard, which was redesigned in 1936. Soldiers serving in colder climates had trouble firing the weapon with gloves on and requested the modification. The serial number of this Nambu shows it was produced in 1944. Another indicator of its late manufacture is that the bolt knob is the knurled model, which was cheaper to produce than the disc type of earlier production models.

KIJIRÕ NAMBU 

Kijirõ Nambu was born in the Saga prefecture to a former samurai retainer of the Nabeshima clan. Soon after his birth, his mother died, his father ran into financial difficulties, and he was sent off to be raised by a local merchant. A hard worker, Nambu secured a spot at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy at the age of 20. Three years later, he was commissioned as an artillery lieutenant.

In 1897, Nambu was assigned to the Tokyo Arsenal to work on the Type 30 rifle as well as the Type 26 pistol. He was quickly promoted to Major and was tasked with designing a semi-automatic pistol. In 1902, the first Nambu was born and chambered in 8mm. In 1907, Nambu created the second version of the Nambu, the Baby Nambu in 7mm.  The improved version of the Type A, the Type 14, was the third and most popular pistol version.

During his time at the arsenal, Nambu developed the Type III Heavy Machine Gun and the Type 11 Light Machine Gun. In 1922, he was promoted to Lt. General and put in charge of the Tokyo Artillery Arsenal. He retired from military service in 1924 and founded the Nambu Arms Manufacturing Company in 1927. 

Nambu designed many Japanese military firearms, including the Type 92 Heavy Machine Gun, the Type 100 Machine Gun, and the Type 94 Nambu Pistol, which became another official military sidearm in 1934. The 94 was named using a new nomenclature system based on the belief that Japan was founded in 660 BCE, hence 2594, instead of the standard Emperor’s reign nomenclature. Due to his prolific weapons designs, he was described as Japan’s John Browning.

THE NAMBU DESIGN

In the early 20th century, the age of the semi-automatic pistol began. Cosmetically, the Nambu looks strikingly similar to the German P.08 Luger and was called the “Japanese Luger” by American G.I.s, but the two pistols are entirely different internally. One of the pistols Nambu used for design tips was the Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” from which Nambu used the locking system. 

The Nambu has some other quirks in its design. It fires the underpowered bottleneck 8x22mm Nambu cartridge, and the spent casings eject straight up. The Nambu feeds from an eight-round magazine, which is slanted, making magazine changes somewhat tricky. 

The swinging safety lever on the left side of the pistol required the shooter to use his off-hand to position it 180 degrees from safe to fire. 

MARKINGS

At first glance, the numbers and symbols are a bit confusing. This Nambu has a production date of “19.2,” meaning it was built in February 1944. While the number 2 translates to February, the 19 doesn’t add up to 1942 until you add 1925. Why do you add 1925, you ask? 19 and 1925 together equal 1944, the 19th year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign. To the left of the manufacture date is the symbol “Sho,” which is the abbreviation for “Showa.” This is the name for the era of Hirohito’s reign.

Model designation markings: The four characters from left to right are ju-yon-nen-shiki, meaning “ten-four-year-type” or Type 14.

The markings on this pistol indicate it was built by the Nagoya Arsenal – Toriimatsu Branch. At each end of the safety lever are symbols. The symbol at the forward end means “ka,” or fire, while the symbol at the rear translates to safe. Actually, it translates as “peaceful.”

Safety Markings: To the left is the symbol “ka,” or “fire”; to the right is the symbol “an” for “safe” or, more accurately, “peaceful.”

The Nambu was standard issue for NCOs and officers, with the only difference being officers were required to buy their pistols. In 1939, the price of the Type 14 Nambu was 78 yen. This was significantly cheaper than the Type B “Baby Nambu,” which sold for 180 yen, almost an officer’s monthly pay. The Nambu was more of a symbol of prestige and authority for the officers and was sometimes used to perform summary executions of prisoners.

Production date: This Nambu has a production date of “19.2,” built in February 1944. The number 2 translates to February, and the 19, when added to 1925, equals 1944, the 19th year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign. To the left of the manufacture date is the symbol “Sho,” which is the abbreviation for “Showa.” This is the name for the era of Hirohito’s reign. The last Kanji character is “Na,” short for Nagoya arsenal, and the final inspection mark.

OPERATION

The Nambu is a recoil-operated, locked breech design. The magazine is inserted, and a round is chambered by pulling back on the bolt knob. After the last round is fired, the bolt locks to the rear, but when the magazine is removed, the bolt cycles forward since the pistol was not designed with a bolt catch. When stripping out the empty magazine, the shooter must depress the magazine release, but as the magazine doesn’t drop out on its own, the magazine must be pulled out against the pressure of both the leaf spring and recoil spring.  The Nambu magazine has a large baseplate with serrations to make the extraction process a little easier.

8x22mm Nambu cartridge.

In 1949, Bill Ruger duplicated two Japanese “baby” Nambu pistols in his garage from a Nambu that he acquired from a returning Marine near the end of World War II. Ruger copied the silhouette and bolt system of the Nambu for use with the Ruger Standard pistol, which eventually became the Mark IV.

IN THE MOVIES

The Nambu Type 14 has made several appearances on television and in the movies. The Nambu has appeared in television series such as Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and Hawaii 5-O. In Star Wars – The Mandalorian television series, Cara Dune, portrayed by actress Gina Carano, is packing a modified Nambu.

In the James Bond film, Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery relieves a SPECTRE henchman of his Nambu and later disposes it into an ice bucket when he finishes his mission.

Despite its drawbacks, the Nambu served as the basis for many movie props.

THE END OF THE LINE

Nearing the end of WWII, dwindling resources combined with increased production demands forced cost-cutting, and the quality of the Type 14 continued downward as the war dragged on. At the end of WWII, Nambu ceased operations at his factory. American Forces then seized it, and the manufacture of specific products for the police and security forces resumed. In 1954, the Japanese Self-Defense Force was formed and supplied with U.S.-made weapons, and the Nambu went on its way to become a highly sought-after collector’s item. 

SPECS

TYPE 14 Nambu 

  • Type: Semi-Automatic Pistol
  • Caliber: 8x22mm Nambu
  • Weight: 1.98 pounds
  • Length: 9.1 inches 
  • Barrel length: 4.61 inches 
  • Capacity: 8-round magazine

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