The Truth About the Type 94 Nambu “Surrender Pistol”

If there is a historical military firearm out there as badly misunderstood as the Chauchat, it is probably the Type 94 Nambu pistol. Nambu designed this pistol with an exposed sear bar, which was not a great idea – but it was also nowhere near as bad of an idea as many people think today. In fact, the Type 94 was preferred by many Japanese officers because it was smaller, lighter, and more reliable than the Type 14 Nambu that preceded it. So let’s take a closer look, and see if we can bring some reality to this unfairly maligned pistol…


  1. Other people have proven that the sear bar is practically impossible to set off in a leather holster (even with the safety catch turned off), so any story about the Type 94 going off during a pratfall has got to be a myth! To set it off by the sear, you would have to deliberately mash the bar or carelessly sit on it! No proper officer would sit on his side-arm, let alone abuse it with a rock! And just how would it perform compared to larger pistols like the M1911 in a “get your mitts off me” scuffle?

  2. The vaunted Luger also has an exposed sear (which pivots outward from the forward left quadrant of the frame when the trigger is pulled), and its safety operates the same way, at a few removes. The safety catch at the back of the frame gets put on, and a block rises and stops the sear from moving.

    It seems Japanese gun design (not unlike Japanese art, architecture, and industry) was an amalgam of wholesale borrowing combined with wholesale domestic originality. The earlier Nambus, with Lugerish shape, Mauser-Bergman bolt, and Roth-Sauer bolt pull, show this off. The Type 94 looks like nothing else in the world that I can think of, but has this Luger-like sear, and the Luger-like scallops at the bottom of the frame to facilitate pulling the mag.

    • Structurally, the Type 94 has a good bit in common with the Spanish Astra blowback pistols, notably the recoil spring around the barrel inside an outer sleeve integral with the slide.

      The locking system seems to be less Mauser-inspired and more a variant of the Blish “hesitation lock” of the Thompson SMG. You can get into an interesting debate as to whether the Type 94 is an actual locked-breech design or a retarded blowback. Smith in SAOTW classes it as a short-recoil system; Ezell in HOTW tends more toward retarded-blowback.

      As for the external sear bar, the problem is less where it is than how it works. The Type 94 is definitely a weapon best carried in a hard-shell holster. Which, by staggering coincidence, is exactly the way the Japanese military did it.



      • The issue happens to be the locking block system, which keeps the slide from flying away when it returns to battery, unless the slide has a separate magical stopping point along the frame.

        • Such a system requires very careful machining and probably hand fitting to avoid peening of the locking block where the slide impacts it in back and where it impacts the frame. Late Type 94s were fairly crudely made and didn’t get much of the hand-fitting, so it’s questionable how safe they are to fire.

          In fact, their safety was questionable in 1945.

          As a rule, most Type 94s made after about mid-1944 probably shouldn’t be fired on general principles.



      • “Ezell in HOTW tends more toward retarded-blowback”(С)

        Just short stroke barrel with positive locking.

        The gun is largely original, not just the shape of the handle.
        The most interesting thing is that Nambu managed to achieve decent reliability with this quality of manufacture.
        Although, perhaps, the quality of the finish is misleading, and the dimensions of the mating surfaces can be quite accurate …
        I think it’s all about the conical cartridge. It is easy to throw it into the chamber, if only the slider would not get stuck.

    • A Luger can be fired without the frame! If you stupidly leave a round in the chamber before taking it down (removing the side plate and the frame) the barrel-receiver group still constitutes a firearm. If you press that little pin in front of the sear (normally covered by the side plate) with your thumbnail, it WILL go BANG! Be sure the pistol is unloaded before trying this.

  3. I think the biggest problem that the Type 94 had were its incredibly ungainly looks. There is something absolutely alien about it, and if you stuck it into a pile of other pistols, it would be the last one anyone chose from the pile. It is purely an issue of aesthetics, and I have to give Ian props for seeing past that. I am now looking at this pistol a lot differently than I have in the past.

    Still… I think I would pull something else out of that pile, if it were up to me…

    • “(…)There is something absolutely alien about it(…)”
      I think grip panel shape have serious impact in that regard.

      “(…)Type 94 had were its incredibly ungainly looks(…)”
      For me its shape is somewhat similar to Mars Automatic Pistol, just take a look at images in following queries:

      “(…)biggest problem(…)”
      What is does in terms of resource needed to produce, when compared to older Japanese patterns of automatic pistols and European automatic pistols of that era?
      Fact of developing Hamada automatic pistol
      suggest there was urge for more economical automatic pistol (which was also more European-looking, FN 1910-like to be exact).

    • It’s been said that the odd, inverse-taper grip was made to fit “smaller” hands. I find this curious in view of the hand-filling grip of the 1904 “Grandpa” Nambu, and the blockier but still full-sized grip of the Taisho 14 (1925 model).

      It has been suggested that the Type 94 (1934-Japanese calendar year 2594) was originally developed as a possible export sales item rather than for issue to the military, or perhaps as a pistol for issue to domestic police. Either explanation, if true, might go some way toward explaining its peculiarities. After all, if it were not originally intended as a MILSPEC weapon, its seeming lack of MILSPEC design elements might be understandable.



    • He would not have used this for a fake surrender. Anyone doing a fake surrender would have gone for a grenade, killing his foe and himself in a suicide attack. Nobody puts a shredded corpse on trial.

  4. Japanese handguns, even going back to the type 26 revolver all fired a rather anemic cartridge. I have some custom made ammo for my type 26 and I’d rate as only equal to the .38 short Colt. Odd for such a large, heavily constructed gun.

    • If all your ammo is FMJ, then even the lowly .32 ACP will penetrate 12″ of ballistic gel. I used to laugh at the Europeans for using such weak cartridges in warfare, now I’m about to pick up a .32 ACP from my FFL for pocket carry.

      • backbencher – you keep laughing at Europeans and their puny 32s until your ribs do burst, but then remember your own folks going to Civil War with S&W Model #1 revolver in .22 Short… First Rule of Handgun Combat: Better a .22 at hand than a .45 left at home

    • It would, indeed, take considerable pressure to release the hammer by pressing back on the M9 exposed trigger bar to release the hammer. The bar must be moved forward to release the hammer.

  5. Nambu 94 is the first “Locked Breech” pistol with a separate locking block under the barrel wrapped around by the slide and also the first locked breech pistol with the recoil spring mounted around the barrel. The rear end of recoil spring is propped against not to the barrel but a fork shaped support integrated with the receiver to manage the slide retention during recoil. It is far before the P38 for the first and far before the VZ52 for the second features. It is very well designed pistol with unique features and fully reflects the Japanese approach at pistol construction. IMHO.

  6. This sounds like typical fiddling by uninformed troops of unfamiliar captured enemy kit – the knee mortar coming to mind. If you can do something the wrong way, then almost inevitably somebody will and then waves of myths spread out.
    Also a case of the natural / habitual belittling of the enemy kit (including the not invented here syndrome) – in this case with some justification. As an indifferent at best pistol compared with the Colt M1911.

  7. This might be an individual example thing (please try your own Nambu 94s and comment back) – but when you apply the safety on a Nambru 94 I have access to in my friend’s collection and pull the trigger, the shot would rang the moment you disengage the safety. Or rather – a click would rang, as the lack of ammo prevented us from checking out this feature in reality

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