Japanese Type 97 Tank Machine Gun

While in Las Vegas last week, I stopped into Battlefield Vegas to check out some interesting machine guns (and join Tim from Military Arms Channel for a video). While there, the owner took the time to pull this Type 97 Japanese tank machine gun out of his personal collection for me to take a look at. It’s quite the cool gun, and all the more so because he also has a mounting socket for it cut out of a recovered Japanese tankette!

Japanese Type 97 tank machine gun

The Type 97 was a copy of the Czech ZB-26, and chambered for 8×57 Mauser ammunition instead of a Japanese cartridge. It was fitted with a 1.5x scope for aiming (as opposed to many other tank guns, which were simply walked onto target with tracers), and a complex stock that couple be used from the shoulder or folded out of the way when inside a vehicle. I wasn’t expecting to see one of these, and did not have a chance to do any in-depth research, so more details will follow later…

(Also, please note that the video link goes to Full30.com instead of YouTube – I am slowly transitioning my video hosting to Full30, as it is a much better provider.)

28 Comments

  1. Ian, the 97-Shiki tank MG was not a ‘licensed’ copy of the ZB-26 – all Japanese copies of that machinegun (96- and 99-Shiki) were reverse-engineered from ZB-26s captured in China. There’s not a trace left of any license agreement or even of negotitions over one at the Czech archives.
    One cannot escape wondering what were Japanese (and Italians, for that matter) thinking using multiple MG rounds at the same time in their units: that had to bring about a logistical nightmare on the battlefield. Just consider that: 6.5x50SR for rifle, 6.5x50SR LMG (same dimensions, different loading), 7.7x58SR for rifles, 7.7×58 (same dimensions, but no SR) for MGs, 8×57 for the tank MG, plus .303 for aircraft. And that’s all counting out the captured weapons…

      • First of all, thanks you for moving your videos to Full 30. Since the last Mozilla update, YouTube doesn’t work for me anymore. (And BTW, do not install “YouTube Center”. It doesn’t work, and there’s no way to uninstall it.)

        Regarding Japanese ZB copies, one thing that muddies the waters is that most Japanese MGs were based on the French Hotchkiss pattern, and were in fact built under license. But changes were made to adapt them to specific roles, resulting in designs that didn’t look all that “Hotchkiss-y” on the surface.

        The Type 96 LMG in 6.5mm, for instance, looks a lot like the later 7.7mm Type 99, and both are generally assumed by most people to be ZB-26 clones. In fact, the 96 is based in the Hotchkiss pattern; the 99 is more-or-less a ZB type, but with quite a few Hotchkiss features.

        Probably the oddest of the bunch is the big Type 93 13.2mm HMG. It is definitely a Hotchkiss type, but according to Chinn, it was based on a Hotchkiss prototype aircraft MG, intended for belt feed in fixed installations. The Hotchkiss firm sold the license to the Japanese government, with a proviso added by the French government that it was not to be used as… a belt-fed aircraft fixed gun. Or indeed as any sort of aircraft gun at all.

        Which could explain its status as the “world’s biggest bleeping Bren”. Once you rule all that out, you’ve got a box-magazine fed ground HMG.

        AKA the world’s biggest contradiction in terms.

        cheers

        eon

    • To add to the supply officer’s misery, according to W.H.B. Smith, not all Type 97s were 7.9 x 57 Mauser. The Naval Special Landing Forces (“Imperial Marines”)in the PTO were apparently OK with 7.9, but in China, the Japanese Army wanted them in 7.7 rimless. So an armorer dealing with the darned things had to make sure that he knew which subtype he had, because of course 7.7 x 58 and 7.9 x 57 aren’t really interchangeable.

      IIRC, a 7.9 will chamber in the 7.7, but firing a .323″ or even .318″ jacketed bullet down a bore intended for .311″ jacketed bullets can have surprising results, to say the least.

      I’m assuming (probably incorrectly) that a 7.7mm version would be able to use the magazine of the Type 99 7.7mm LMG. Which might explain the Army’s preferences.

      Myself, I’m sure I’d have preferred not to be one of their armorers. Aspirin being in short supply in Japan at the time.

      cheers

      eon

      • I would hate to be a crewman in one of the tanks even more than I would hate to be an armorer! Japanese tanks could just barely withstand rifle caliber bullets of Chinese, Soviet, or American troops (laughably thin armor due to weaker engines and scarce raw material for tank armor already stretched thin). Most of the time in a Japanese tank, any machine gun not on the hull was located somewhere on the back or side of the turret–no coaxial armament, which is somewhat stupid in my opinion.

        I did read a “what-if” short story where a Type 3 Chi-Nu engages an entire squad of Sherman tanks and trashes them. In that work, the main gun is fired by a pistol-grip trigger setup just below the gunner’s scope (the device in question looks suspiciously like the receiver group of the MG we’re discussing). If I had a pistol-grip trigger setup for a tank gun, wouldn’t it make sense for me to have a selector switch for a coaxial MG (or an optional second trigger)?

        • IIRC, the Chi-Nu’s 75mm main gun had exactly that setup, because it was based on a pre-WW1 British 3-inch naval “anti-torpedo-boat” secondary gun, similar to this one;

          http://www.cannonsuperstore.com/British/QF_12_pounder_gun_pedestal_mounting_left_elevation8.jpg

          Note the flare-pistol like “pistol grip”, below the breech.

          The IJN had a close working relationship with the Royal Navy from the 1880s to the 1920s; in fact, some of their WW1-era capital ships had originally been built in Britain.

          So when they needed to “up-gun” their tanks and decided on a 3-inch class gun to do it, basing it on an existing naval QF gun they were already familiar with actually made pretty good sense. Especially since after all, it was going to have to fit in either a rotating mount with splinter shield on a tank destroyer, or a fully-enclosed turret on an actual tank. Note that this one only has 12″ of recoil; very useful in a tank turret setup.

          Back in WW1, tanks weren’t originally called “Land Ships” for nothing.

          cheers

          eon

          • I’m pretty sure that the 75mm Type 3 tank gun on the Type 3 Chi-Nu tank was based on the Type 90 field gun and not any naval gun. The Type 90 was a based on the 85mm M1927 Schneider (Canon de 85 modèle 1927) sold for Greece, but also trialled by the IJA. They modified it to 75mm and did not pay any licensing fees…

        • Weirdly, Japanese tanks tended to not have coaxial machine guns. The hull machine gun, and the often-mounted turret rear machine gun were the options.

          • The idea of a rear machine gun was to protect the tank from enemy infantry attacking from the rear. Some Soviet heavy tanks also had a turret rear MG for the same reason. It did not work very well in practice, though. Rear MGs were common in armored cars even in Europe. Later the Japanese tended to skip the turret mounted MG completely, although the Type 98 Ke-Ni light tank did have a coaxial MG.

    • The Italians in fact had only two major cartridges in use for most of WW2: the 6.5×52 and the 8×59. This was not much different from current use of separate assault rifle (also SAW) and GPMG (& DMR etc.) cartridges. The addition of the 9×19 for the MAB 38A in 1942 (yep, no earlier than 1942) of course came on top of that (SMGs use a lot of ammo), but still the situation of small arms was not that bad for logistics. 7.35×51 saw only limited use (mostly training) and almost no combat use in Italian hands during WW2. They gave most of the 7.35mm Carcano rifles to Finland in 1939 (the decision to halt production of 7.35mm small arms was made already in 1938).

    • The supposedly logistical nightmare is quite overstated. Everyone had their own supply chains. The chances of getting the wrong ammo is slim to none. The British didn’t even bother to change the caliber of the BESA MG for their tanks as the tank corps had their own supply chain. Having multiple calibers didn’t hurt Japan.

      The real nightmare for Japan was less than stellar quality control of ammo. Ever seen a video of a Type 92 firing? You will see several case head failures in one strip. Like they never annealed their cases. Also, the 7.7SR is only for the Type 92, the rifle ammo was semi-rimmed, as was the ammo for the Type99 LMG, though it had a different loading.

      Also, I shall point out that there wasn’t a different loading for the Type 11 LMG. The US thought that the G stamped on ammo boxes of 6.5x50SR stood for Genso-reduced. It wasn’t even a translation, it was just some guy thinking it might be Genso. New evidence has come out saying that it stands for glycerine; as it was had of the new double based powder, not a single base powder. And it doesn’t make sense to use a reduced loading in the Type 11 as you can change the gas setting.

  2. Looks like extremely compact setup. In my distant memory I recall pulling Goryunov tank version out of T-55. That was hefty piece of ordnance.

  3. Many Chinese arsenals were making ZB-26 in 8mm. Could the Japanese be using some captured Chinese toolings to make the Type 97 and that’s why at least some Type 97 were in 8mm?

    • ZB-26 were made for them in Canada (by J.Inglis in Toronto) and in CSR; they probably did not have their own production capability. As far as Japanese taking something over from China, you are talking of something like rock from Mars; there was in past huge superiority complex by Japanese and bias against China. (I happen to know this from Chinese person I knew rather well; he traded between both countries recently and was immersed into Jap. culture.)

        • Chinese copy or monkey-see monkey-do? I am not convinced. What adds to my feeling is also this line from mentioned page:

          “However, due to the lack of templates and standard drawings, parts were not standardized and interchangeable. The steel used was also below standard.” (man, oh man…)

          So short in short, this claim looks like bull to me. At the same time I know that cheap version of somehow ‘modified’ Mauser 88 rifle were made by Chinese state arsenal. Not the ZB-26 though. Anything can be used to build sense of national pride.

  4. If I find my way to Vegas I will definitely check them out. I worked with someone who went to some other range there and shot a bunch of fairly normal (full auto) stuff and it struck me that they could have done a lot better job. A liberator and a howdah pistol would be good additions to their collections as many historical gun enthusiasts would pay their cost to fire one rather than having to own one.

  5. If the Japanese copied the ZB vz.26, why did they keep using their own, inferior (albeit interesting) designs rather than just adopt it as standard? I imagine a ZB vz.26 would be a great improvement on the type 11. Even the type 96, which was partially copied from the ZB vz. 26, still had issues.

    • Armies do strange things that don’t always make a sense on the surface. The British used the 7.92mm BESA as their tank MG even though the BREN would have been completely adequate for the job. The US Army did not copy (or license) the FN D instead of adopting the inferior M1918A2 BAR. I’m sure it’s easy to come up with more such odd decisions.

  6. The Type 97 — in spite of all the logistical and inter-service rivalries that bedeviled Japanese wartime procurement and supply chains ( eg., the multiple-caliber and caliber sub-type kerfuffles )— was by all accounts a remarkably reliable and successful tank MG due largely, no doubt, to its basically sound Czech ancestry. However, the Japanese manufacturers should also be given credit for getting their clone right. What is less well-known is that a number of them were fitted with bipods and used as infantry LMG’s once the armored unit requirements had been fulfilled, and they proved quite effective and successful on the battlefield.

    To quote Hogg, this “must have been a revelation to the Japanese soldier used to Hotchkiss-Nambu weapons” ( due to no need for cartridge oiling with all its attendant issues, no issues with primary extraction, superior material / mechanical qualities, etc.). Hogg also brings up another good point — that the Type 97 in AFV service was handicapped by the Japanese military’s adherance to the original ZB vz.26 top-mounted magazine feed system, which was a potential issue in the tight confines of a small tank turret ( as most Japanese tanks were so equipped ), in addition to being a hindrance to adequate sustained fire.

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