The most common Japanese pistols used during World War II were the Type 14 and Type 94 Nambu designs, by a huge margin. However, there were a number of other handguns used in small numbers, and today we’re looking at two of those. The first is the Sugiura, essentially a copy of the Colt 1903 made under Japanese supervision in China. Some 6000 or so of these were made, including production which continued for a time after the end of Japanese occupation. The second is the Inagaki, which was a domestic Japanese design not copied from anything else. About 500 of these were made in .32 ACP before production stopped to convert the design to 8mm Nambu. The 8mm Inagaki pistols were not successful and never went into serial production, though. The first 500 made were used by the Imperial Japanese Navy and as pilots’ sidearms, where compactness was more important than terminal ballistics.
The Sugiura was apparently yet another product of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, which seems to have operated almost as a separate state within Japan’s political structure. I suspect that postwar production may have been on behalf of the later Communist state, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find such pistols with PLA markings.
The Inagaki pistol seems to have been patterned on the basic layout of American .22 LR “sport” pistols of the time, such as the Colt Woodsman, High Standard (Some HS .22s had a similar barrel attachment), and/or the Reising. Which is entirely adequate for the .32 ACP cartridge, actually.
The Soviets declared war against Japan between the U.S.A. A-Bombs, and they invaded Manchuria, loaded up the machinery that the Japanese had used in their war against China, and shipped it to Mother Russia.
So these pistols were made on equipment that now might be in some shed in Bashkortostan?
Did any non-serial-numbered, suppressed Colt 1903 “clones” ever turn up in an old-time NKVD “wet affairs” op back in the Fifties or Sixties?
A .32 ACP pistol that could by definition not be traced to Moscow Center would seem to be an ideal weapon for use in Western Europe. As opposed to a TK 6.35mm, which might as well have had “If Found In Any Storm Drain, Please Return To No. 13 Dzerzhinsky Square, Moscow” stamped on the backstrap.
Seems like a likely scenario. A lot of the factory equipment and tooling shipped back to Soviet Union from occupied territories was never put back to use, either because there was no one who could have re-assembled them correctly (manuals and other paperwork were often misplaced) or because they were broken already during dismantling or transport, and spare parts were not available.
After the Soviets pawed through the useful equipment, most of it was turned over to the Chinese and used in their civil war.
I love the thinking behind the Inagaki’s design. Seems like it would lend itself to further simplification and production.
I saw my first Sugiura pistol at a Kansas City show in the late 1970s. The gun came with a story . The vet entered a concrete bunker and he saw a tall 5 or 6 high stack of new crates. He knocked the stack over and out of a broken crate fell these pistols. He pocketed one and exited the bunker throwing in a satchel charge as he left collapsing the bunker. No one at the show had ever seen that kind of pistol before and it was many years before I learned it was a Sugiura. So many unanswered questions what Island? How many guns to the case? Why take just one? I don’t Know.
The veteran could hardly have had the time or the strength to grab all the guns in the case and get out of the bunker before exploding it! What if the others had been wired to explode if opened?
In any case, these pistols are pretty neat. The Sugiura seems to flatter the original Browning and the Inagaki looks somewhat cute (or just childishly like a water pistol or a prankster’s ink pistol), now that I think about it. “War has never been so much fun! Shoot your brother with your gun! Wash him in his uniform and dry him in the sun!”
As for the Inagaki being used by pilots, the whole point is that the pilot would want a sidearm that would be suited to delivering a nasty ballistic whack to an unwelcome guest’s face should said guest yank the cockpit canopy open after the former has somehow force-landed (either that or a ballistic alternative to hara-kiri). Anyone have any ideas?
I think the bottom line was weight. Air forces are inherently pound-phobic about “ancillary items” like aircrew survival gear and I’m sure Japan’s Army Air Force was no exception. The Inagaki pistol was a lot less portly than any of the Nambu types except maybe the (equally rare today) 7mm “Baby”.
During the war, Luftwaffe crews started out with P.08 9mms, but about midway through the Battle of Britain switched to Walther PPs in 7.65mm, based entirely on the weight factor. By 1942, they were asking Walther for a “PP Special” chambering the round later known as the 9 x 18mm Ultra in the 1970s era Walther “PP Super”. However, the wartime prototype had a “half-length” slide and an exposed barrel, rather like that of the P.38, with the recoil spring tucked down inside the backstrap and working on a crank arm rather like a P.08. Again, weight reduction was the objective, with the frame apparently being all-aluminum like a postwar P-1. It only reached the prototype stage, IIRC. (Ezell shows a diagram of it on p.675 of Handguns of the World. I don’t know if many, or any, survive today.)
RAF fighter pilots were issued the Webley MK IV 0.380in revolver instead of the otherwise standard Enfield revolver because the Webley weighed 2 oz. less than the Enfield. Later on, they got first dibs on the S&W Model 10 “Victory” 0.380in because it was the same weight as the Webley MK IV.
U.S. Naval Aviators carried the S&W Model 10 .38 Special because it was a lot lighter than the 1911A1 .45 auto. Those who actually had to use the .38 said that it was an adequate “shark discourager”. (Hint; aim for the eye.)
According to a friend of mine now gone to his reward (Col USAAF, P-51 pilot ETO), he and his buddies were issued .45s. In the run-up to D-Day, he and some others “promoted” M1A1 Carbines (the folding stock paratrooper version), which tucked neatly into the cockpit in its canvas case which was dummy-corded to the parachute harness. They felt that it would be more practical than the pistol if they had to “walk home” from anywhere in Normandy after 6 June 1944. (He kept his .45, too, just in case. Unlike several of his buddies, he was a pretty good pistol shot.)
BTW, the Armalite/Charter Arms/ U.S. Survival/Henry AR-7 .22 takedown self-loading rifle that stores in its stock (and floats!) was also originally developed as an aircrew survival arm. And its predecessor, the AR-5, was a bolt-action along the same lines, except with the wire stock of an M3 “Grease Gun” .45 SMG and chambered for .22 Hornet. It says a lot for the little beast’s efficiency at its designed mission (being lightweight, compact, utterly reliable, and to be honest “Space-Age Cute”)that it has gone through so many manufacturers and people still buy it.
Don’t forget the cold-war era 38 SPL M13 S&W “air crewman” revolvers that were made for the Air Force–they were so light weight they were not safe to fire very much and ended up being destroyed.
Typical feature of Polish PM63 smg….
Sugiura seems a stong but crudely made 1903 Colt without grip safety but, with better shaped manual safety latch having sloped push surfaces both up and down. Inegaki seems
patterned after WS Hammerless pistol with a hidden hammer instead of original’s striker ignition. Both side recoil spring recesses at slide should have been brough the necessity of making the extractor as canted since its spring hole would cross in the right side
recoil spring tunnel in other case.
There are two characters engraved on the Inagaki pistol to indicate it was captured by the Chinese Nationalist army and used by them for a time. Same marking has been observed in Type 14 and Type 94 pistol as well.
國 = Nation, pronounce as “Guó”
軍 = Army, pronounce as “Jun”
國軍 is short for 中華民國國軍,or Republic of China Armed Forces.