Japanese Type 97 Sniper Rifle (Video)

The most common Japanese sniper rifle of World War II was the Type 97, essentially a Type 38 Arisaka rifle with a 2.5x telescopic sight mounted to the side of the receiver. About 22,000 of them were made in total (a smaller number of Type 99 sniper rifles were also made). The scope on the Type 97 was zeroed at the factory, and had no external adjustments for windage or elevation. They were chambered for the 6.5x50SR Japanese cartridge, which produced virtually no smoke or flash from the long barrel of the Type or Type 97, making is a difficult rifle to spot (it also had a quite mild report relative to other contemporary weapons). Virtually all of these rifles in the US today have mismatched scopes, which generally means that they will not shoot to point of aim (this one’s windage is way off).


  1. This and the Type 99 had one of the strongest military actions ever built, one of the most accurate battle rifles ever and from the few Type 38s I have shot they were one of the most pleasant. The only thing I did not like about the sniper versions of either of these was the off-set scope mounts. Concerning the muzzle flash, the Type 99 with the longer barrel was also hard to spot. These two in sniper configuration and as plain infantry versions accounted for many hundreds if not thousands of Allied troops in the Pacific Theater and were hated and feared by our troops. Once again I will state that of all the rifles I own, and several are so-called “top-grade,” if I were restricted to just one rifle it would be my Type 99.

    • Ballistically, the 7.7 x 58mm is very close to the 0.303in Enfield, and in fact has the same bore spec (both generally require .311″ bullets for best accuracy).

      Power-wise, both are in the same category as the .308 Winchster, and are certainly enough for all North American game. (Although bullet placement would be critical on some of the bears, such as the grizzly or Alaskan brown.)

      As Elmer Keith once said, beware the man with only one gun- he probably knows how to use it.



  2. According to Jack Coggins in his book The Campaign for Guadalcanal (Doubleday, 1972), Japanese snipers on “the Canal” often operated from “spider holes”, foxholes about 2 1/2′ diameter by 5′ deep, with camouflaging covers. The would wait for an American unit to pass their position and take it under fire from behind.

    One of my college profs, a Marine Recon veteran of the campaign, said that their usual method of ferreting out said snipers was to use their dogs, who could sniff them out. The snipers did not like those dogs, even though Hollywood to the contrary, they were trained to lie down at a safe distance and point, rather than attack.

    My prof confirmed that the 6.5mm rifle was very hard to spot at ranges greater than 150 yards or so, even when it was actually shooting at you. I might add that my own (sporterized) 6.5 x 55mm Swedish Mauser, even with a 20″ barrel, has significantly less signature than a typical .30 caliber, let alone a hot .22 centerfire like the 5.56 x 45mm.

    The scope/rifle mismatch may not have been the fault of U.S. property conversion. During the war, when the rifles and scopes were shipped from the factory to the frontline units, they were shipped in separate crates, with the scopes in their cases carefully padded to protect them from being damaged.

    While they were supposed to be “mated up” at the far end, there was apparently no guarantee that the correct crate of rifles and its matching crate of scopes would arrive at the same time, or even at the same unit. The Japanese logistics system was much less organized and effective than you would think looking at Japanese commercial manufacture and shipping today.

    BTW, the Japanese car makers, etc., patterned their logistics in the postwar era on those of the U.S. military, not their own wartime system. Having learned their lesson from the war- by losing it.



    • “the 6.5mm rifle was very hard to spot at ranges greater than 150 yards or so, even when it was actually shooting at you. I might add that my own (sporterized) 6.5 x 55mm Swedish Mauser, even with a 20″ barrel, has significantly less signature than a typical .30 caliber, let alone a hot .22 centerfire like the 5.56 x 45mm.”
      This is caused by very simple fact that Japanese 6.5mm rifle cartridge has smaller powder charge than other current military rifle (data from Альбом конструкций патронов стрелкового оружия):
      6.5mm cartridge type 88 (i.e. model 1905) has 2,24g powder charge giving muzzle velocity 730m/s (from Arisaka 1905 rifle) with 9,0g bullet
      For comparison:
      6.5mm Swedish Mauser has 2,33g powder charge, MV: 710m/s, bullet: 10,5g
      7.5mm French (for Chatellerault machine gun) light bullet has 2,89g powder charge, MV: unknown, bullet 9,0g
      7.62mm American [in US known as 30-06] light bullet has ~3,25g powder charge, MV: 850m/s, bullet 9,8g
      7.7mm British [.303 British] with bullet Mk.VII has 2,31g powder charge, MV: 745m/s, bullet 11,3g
      7.92mm German [7.92x57mm Mauser] with S bullet has 3,14 powder charge, MV: 890m/s, bullet: 10,0g

      So far I know when the Japanese rifle powder was compared to American with equal powder charges it wasn’t superior in being flashless.

      • I read an old war manga where a Japanese sniper shot parachuting American pilots whose planes were shot down. “Weak” powder charge doesn’t matter if your intended victim can’t run away (hint: victim is on parachute at least 30 meters above sea level and unlikely to be able to dodge anything, let alone shoot back!). And since the victims were armed only with Colt 1911 pistols, it likely wouldn’t matter if they actually survived getting shot through the brain… You don’t bring a pistol to a rifle fight!

        • ““Weak” powder charge”
          I don’t suppose that 6.5mm Japanese cartridge powder charge was too small. I say only that powder charge was weaker than other military cartridges like .30-06 or 7.92×57 Mauser.
          I assume that is caused because .30-06 and 7.92×57 Mauser were designed as a rifle and machine gun cartridge (remember that in early 20th century indirect machine gun fire was considered as a viable tactic). Notice that countries which adopt 6.5mm cartridge (good for rifles) also sooner or later adopted bigger cartridge for MMG.
          Sweden has 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser for rifles and 8×63 patron m/32 for MMG
          Italy has 6.5×52 Carcano for rifles and 8×59 Breda for MMG
          Japan has 6.5×50 Arisaka for rifles and 7.7×58 for MMG

    • “there was apparently no guarantee that the correct crate of rifles and its matching crate of scopes would arrive at the same time, or even at the same unit”

      Or AT ALL.

      The Battle of the Bismarck Sea is an object lesson in the shortcomings both of Japanese convoy and cargo loading doctrine.

      As often as not, Japanese materiel ended up at the bottom of the ocean, rather than in the hands of the troops… who didn’t stand that good of a chance of getting to their destinations either. When they did, they often AT BEST had the uniforms they were wearing when they got there.

      • Obsessive concern with security on the part of the Japanese High Command didn’t help, either.

        When the A-Go operation in the Marianas went into motion on 15 June 1944, a special one-time code was issued for all communications between the task force and Combined Fleet HQ back in Tokyo. All other codes were discarded and in fact, they weren’t even allowed to take any others with them.

        (This was to avoid the mistaken transmission of identical messages in both the new code and an older one, which the Allies had probably already broken. Duplicate plaintexts, with one in a code you already “know”, make decryption of a new code much easier for a cryptanalyst.)

        For maximum security, the only copy of it with the fleet was in the safe in the comm center of the fleet flagship, the new fast carrier Taiho.

        On 19 June, as the task force approached its initial point, they were spotted by a U.S. Navy fleet submarine.

        Three guesses which ship it put four torpedoes into.

        Taiho’s aviation fuel tanks blew, destroying the comm center- and the code. The ship sank two hours later, and within 24 hours, the operation was abandoned, mainly because without the code, the task force could not receive orders etc. from HQ, nor could it even report “unable to receive”, except in “clear”, which would be a dead giveaway.

        You’d think they’d have learned their lesson a year and a half earlier, on 29 Jan 1943, when the RNZ Navy corvette Kiwi rammed, boarded, and captured the transport submarine I-1 near Guadalcanal.

        In doing so, she captured the troop-carrying sub’s cargo- which included 200,000 copies of the new codebooks that were to be distributed throughout Japanese units in that area, from the Bismarck Archipelago to the Marshall Islands.

        The High Command thought that distributing them from the Bougainville area, instead of directly from the home islands to each OPAREA, was very clever. Unfortunately, the codebooks were intercepted literally by accident when they were all on one transport. Oops.

        (Source; Kahn, David. The Codebreakers. New York; MacMillan, 1967. Chapter 17, “The Scrutable Orientals”.)

        The war in the Pacific was a hard-fought one. But as my one uncle, who was in communications (aboard the Missouri) said, “It’s always helpful when the enemy outsmarts himself.”



        • Why didn’t the IJN just go with a simpler plan?

          I wrote a story (and I’m still revising it, by the way) where the carefully planned smuggling of captured nuclear-armed tanks (built by a fictional equivalent of the PRC in the fifties) is thrown off simply because one of the ships transporting one of the tanks gets mechanical problems and is boarded by fanatic cultists. The other ship gets secretly boarded by 10 commies, one of whom is the unfortunate jinx I mentioned in an earlier article, and nine of the ten get smashed up in the hold when the ship goes smack through a nasty storm. The unlucky conscript didn’t get injured like the others simply because he got sent out on a wild goose chase after a supposed rifle prototype (unbeknownst to the squad leader who gave the jinx the order, there was a drum-fed prototype battle rifle somewhere in a scrap pile in the hold, and the jinx manages to get it to slam fire 100 tungsten-carbide-cored 8x57IS rounds into some of the aforementioned cultists later on, literally chopping them right down the middle). How many complications are there in this paragraph anyway? And if you have to flak me, please be civil about it.

          • This is what’s known in the trade as a snowballing Charlie Fox. Not the paragraph, the incident described. And it has happened more often than you might think in real life.



          • “Why didn’t the IJN just go with a simpler plan?”

            The WWII Japanese military didn’t DO “simple plans”.

            They did, fiendishly complicated, byzantine plans, impossible to accomplish against a modern enemy, at least with the resources available to them.

            They developed their tactical and strategic doctrine from fighting the Chiang Kai Chek. That didn’t work out so well against Zhukov, MacArthur (after the first Battle of the Philippines) and Halsey.

  3. The Type 99 is also a sweetheart to reload for. I have a lot of 7.7 Jap cases from Norma but also shoot cut-down .30-06 cases, M-60/M-14 cases, .308 cases and anything else that will fit. With the .30 cal. military cases you only neck-size after fire forming. I only use one powder, 4831, and load to the shoulder no matter the bullet. Any .311 bullet will do and for cast bullets I use a .30 cal block casting with reclaimed wheel weights and do not resize. I drop the hot bullets directly from the mold into ice-cold water to harden and then “lube” with Teflon tape pushed through a special die to just barely compress the Teflon and bond it without touching the bullet lube grooves. So far there has been nothing I shot that this thing did not stop and I would tackle a brown bear with it without a moment’s hesitation. With the hardened cast bullets I have shot through both shoulders of a 1200+ pound bull and broke both of them. He dropped in place. I have made unbelievable, even to me, shots on small game and taken many deer with it. I have seven Remington 600s (with variations) but still always gravitate back to my 99.

  4. As a boy playing in my Grandfather’s basement I’d dig out the sniper rifle my dad brought back from the Pacific. I remember it being complete. My uncle had a rifle too – which I remember as longer. Probably standard infantry issue. My cousins and I would play “army” in the back yard with them until Grandma spotted us. Then it was off to clean up the coal shute as punishment – which drove my mother crazy as we looked like miners afterwards. No idea what happened to them after the house was sold. Hopefully they’re in someone’s collection. No idea if the sniper matched the one in the video – too many years have passed.

  5. The Japanese made the best matchlock muskets ever made.

    There was however never much of a tradition of individual marksmanship in Japan to rival that of Japanese archery. Firearms were something issued en masse to peasant conscripts, and as such held little interest… until the bayonet became a mainstay of the Imperial Japanese Army. They even mounted bayonets on light machine guns. I’m surprised they didn’t at least TRY to mount a bayonet on the grenade discharger.

    • Issuing firearms to peasant conscripts was not that different from their European use… All the way to the second half of the 19th century infantry was the branch of the peasants, factory workers and (lower) middle class. Real gentlemen wanted to be in cavalry, where the sword (and in some countries lance) remained important almost as long as horse cavalry existed. Pistols were of course adopted and later carbines, but more out of military necessity (which the Tokugawa shogunate era Japan did not really experience) than free choice.

      • Unlike the Japanese, European powers simply accepted the firearm and integrated it into their organizations.

        The Japanese, on the other hand, saw it as a threat to the social order. They never wanted to see a society in which a half trained farmer with an arequebus could take down a swordsman trained from birth.

        Of course the military necessity you mention came with the “black ships”. They had to accept reality or become a colony. Shipments of western rifles followed shortly.

  6. A wild idea: Is it possible that there was no effort to “zero” the scopes, but instead the user was expected to learn the point of aim with his rifle/scope combo, and mentally interpolate?
    If they really were zeroed at the factory, what was the method/mechanism for that? Without external scope adjustments, wouldn’t it be excessively difficult and time-consuming?

    • The scopes were zeroed at the factory by adjustments to the mount. This was done by painstaking filing of the mating surfaces on the mount’s attachment to the rifle during zeroing until the metal-to-metal contact between the rifle mount and the scope base mount held the scope precisely in boresight with the rifle and the zero at the selected range of 300 meters. After which the mount contact surface was surface hardened to “lock” the zero.

      The procedure is analogous to filing down an intentionally over-tall front sight on a fixed-sight revolver, and “bending” it to right or left, to zero the pistol at normal combat range, usually 25 or 50 yards. And yes, it is a PITA to do.

      Jeff Cooper held that all scopes used on rifles intended for serious purposes (dangerous game, combat, etc.) should have no internal adjustments. Instead, they should be fixed-power (he favored 4x) and have the adjusting system built into the mount.

      Apparently, while operating as a Marine sharpshooter in the Pacific during the war, Cooper had problems with wandering zeros on Springfields with internal adjustment scopes, and as a result came to distrust them. His Scout Rifle concept was always built around a fixed-power long-eye relief scope mounted solidly to the barrel, with all zeroing adjustments on the mount, not internal.

      Incidentally, this is also the system used by the Wehrmacht for Kar.98 sniper rifles with the standard 1.5x Zf.41 scope mounted on the rear sight base, replacing the standard tangent “iron” sight. The bigger, receiver-mounted 4x Hensoldt or 10x Voigtlaender scopes were much less common. But they, too, were fixed-power AFAIK.



      • Variable vs. fixed power scopes was also a matter of optical technology. Variable power requires more complex optical design, which means that less light will pass through the scope (lower transmittance, higher T-stop). That could be significant in low light conditions. In general, more glass surfaces also increase optical aberrations of the lens system. The problems with the transmittance were largely solved by optical multicoatings, which became available for mass production only in the late 1960s. Aberrations were reduced by computer calculated lenses, “exotic” lens glasses and aspherical lenses.

  7. And while I’ve got the floor, I want to mention that “type” is not a very good interpretation of the SHIKI character. Nearly all Western collectors say “type”, because early US Govt translations did it. But “model” is a better interpretation of SHIKI in this context. If you open a dictionary, “type” is the first definition, and “model” is one of the alternates. But a good interpretation of a foreign language, especially a language from a much different culture, requires applying the proper context.
    Just sayin’.

    • In Russian book “Справочник по стрелковому оружию иностранных армий” (1947) Japanese firearms are described with обр. (образца) word for example “ручной пулемёт обр. 11 (1922 г.)”.
      I am not sure the correct translation of “образца” but I suspect that it is “pattern”.
      After “образца” always is year/years (if design was updated).
      I also think that using “type” with year like “type 97” is incorrect as after type should be factory index, not year.
      BTW: Designation systems of WW2 weapons and equipment is extensive enough for encyclopedia. This matter is complicated well enough with only original user designation, but become even more so when considering intelligence reports, allied users and nicknames.
      Multiple names are rather uncommon for small-arms but heavier weapons very often has multiple names:

      Get for example Japanese navy bomber which was known as:
      Mitsubishi G4M by factory
      Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 attack bomber by Imperial Japanese Naval command
      “cigar” by Imperial Japanese Naval pilots
      Betty by American Intelligence
      “the flying cigar” by American pilots

      Allies also give other names for supplied weapons, do you know that “Dakota” name for C-47 was given by RAF? American name was “Skytrain”

    • The “type” translation is still used widely even for post-WW2 and current weapon systems. For example the 90式戦車 is translated commonly as “Type 90 tank”.

  8. Ian,
    I wanted to thank you, and presumably Karl, for including the video through the scope showing the rifle as it was to have been used. I can not immediately think of another example of such a clear demonstration of how the field of view, optical clarity and reticle design work together to effectively employ the rifle in field conditions. I hope to see more of this in the future. Thanks!

    Ps. Please ignore the inevitable comment about the obvious dangers of pointing firearms at people. The bolt was clearly removed from the action. Even if that had not been apparent, anyone familiar with you will know that all precautions would have taken…

  9. About snipers hiding in trees: this tactic was occasionally used by Finnish snipers as well. It was really not that suicidal as long as you changed positions before being spotted. It was also borne out of necessity, since there aren’t really that many possible sniping positions in a forest. Camouflaged foxholes or other positions on the ground (like the Japanese “spider holes”) are one possibility, but they have the problem of very limited firing arcs. In any case you want to vary the type of positions as much as possible to avoid being predictable. Also, spotting a sniper up in a tree in a dense forest is not easy.

    • It gets worse if you’re trying the old “spray and pray” approach with no idea of the general direction of the sniper’s tree. Who said there was only one sniper? And what if there was a tank behind one of those clusters of trees instead of just one sniper?

  10. Eon: Thanks for the info on the zeroing of the scopes. As is probably readily apparent, I am a serious advocate of these weapons but never knew that. As for the scope-view video segment, this is a standard element of the long-range pellet gun crowd to show the sight picture of mil-dot scopes and often is the main view of the shooter using a small movie camera and not actually looking through the scope. If the video is slowed down enough the pellet can easily be seen in the view field. I wonder if it might not be an advantage for long-range snipers in the future… Like Will Smith in “Independence Day,” “I’ve got to get me one of those!!!”

  11. In Ordnance Went Up Front by Roy Dunlap, the 6.5 mm sniper round had a reduced charge relative to the standard round.

    • I’m not sure that’s really accurate. The round for the Type 11 LMG had a reduced charge. I’m not sure the rounds aren’t one and the same.

      • Actually, the Type 11 did not have a reduced charge. It did have ammo with a powder charge formulated to give less flash and the same velocity though (since the Type 11 barrel was relatively short), and US Intelligence misconstrued that in the 40s as being a reduced charge.

  12. You can zero the Japanese scopes by rotating the first lense in the scope. I’m sure the arsenals took extreme care in mounting the scopes then fine tuned each one using the lenses. I have zeroed both the T97 and T97 (4x) scopes.

  13. My father was a Marine rifleman on Okinawa. His partner was a guy named Casey, from Arkansas. Casey was an excellent shot. My dad went back from the front line one day to do his laundry. He got back to the foxhole, and hung his shirt on a bush to dry. A sniper shot a hole in the shirt, dad jumped into the hole, and Casey shot the sniper. Then Casey said, “Thanks. That guy has been shooting at me all afternoon. I was waiting for him to shoot at somebody else, so I could spot him.” My father had a few choice words for Casey.

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