Type 97: Kijiro Nambu Adapts the ZB-30 for Japanese Tanks

Introduced in 1937, the Type 97 was basically a copy of the ZB 26/30 pattern light machine gun adapted to use in Japanese tanks and armored cars. The adaptations included mounting an optical sight to the left side fo the action, moving the iron sights to the right, and moving the recoil spring to wrap around the gas piston so that a folding stock could be used. About 15,000-17,000 of these guns were made in 7.7x58mm (rimless), and used to equip all of the tanks and armored cars in Japanese service from 1937 until the end of World War Two.

33 Comments

  1. Random thoughts from an old Armor Officer (I’m old, not the armor)

    1. You should have Nick Moran’s (Chieftain’s) reaction to this gun (BTW, he is on the promotion list for light kernel in the Texas Guard)

    2. A magazine fed tank machine gun is somewhat of a joke. In my career I worked with British, German, Korean and Israeli tankers as well as US marines and soldiers and one constant is that they all blasted the target with a whole belt, none of the infantry garbage of “short bursts” (hence, the heavy finned barrel on the Type 97). After all, on US tanks, at least, we’ve got 6000 rounds of 7.62 for the coax – that’s a lot of belts

    3. It would have been a better gun without the butt stock and bipod. If you feel you need to bale out of your vehicle, messing around dismounting the gun, gathering up ammunition, getting both out the hatch, etc is the last thing on your mind. You wanna get out of Dodge (yes, I know about the Japanese mentality about dying for the Emperor) as the tank is probably burning and may well be about to brew up – example from Syria

    https://www.military.com/video/combat-vehicles/combat-tanks/saa-tank-turned-into-roman-candle/2119489661001

    The propellant charges ignite, then the shells cook off. Crispy critters time!

    4. Apparently someone had to pull the trigger on the gun, no electric or Bowden cable from the gunner’s trigger to the gun. Odd, because the Bowden cable dated back to aircraft in the Kaiser War

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowden_cable

    If I want a period coax, I’ll take a M1919A5, thank you

    • “(…)magazine fed tank machine gun is somewhat of a joke. In my career I worked with British, German, Korean and Israeli tankers as well as US marines and soldiers and one constant is that they all blasted the target with a whole belt, none of the infantry garbage of “short bursts” (hence, the heavy finned barrel on the Type 97).(…)”
      Note that WW2 Japanese machine guns Type 92 and Type 1 used adjective(Hotchkiss) feed system with trays, each holding 30 rounds meaning similar capacity to magazine, thus also required often reloading and being less suited for used in cramped armoured vehicles interior than flexible belts, so this might discourage decision-makers to use any kind of belt-fed.
      French which also used said feed system widely, also adopted magazine-feed machine gun for armoured vehicles – MAC M1931, although unlike Japanese machine gun it used high capacity (150) magazine https://modernfirearms.net/en/machineguns/france-machineguns/mac-m1931-eng/

    • “(…)tank is probably burning and may well be about to brew up – example from Syria(…)propellant charges ignite, then the shells cook off. Crispy critters time!(…)”
      Applying experience from currently used tank to WWII Japanese tank might give wrong impressions. Currently tank guns are most often 100 mm or bigger caliber and holding much more propulsive explosive. I suspect composition of that charge were different, though I do not know which were more prone to unintended ignition.

      • I also though this was unfit combination. WW2 in Asia and recent techno-war in Syria are not comparable.

      • Most WW2 tanks, of most armies, had gasoline engines and thus a hit in the fuel tanks tended to make them ignite almost instantly.

        Japanese tank engines were about evenly split between gasoline types and Diesels;

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_engines_and_weapons_used_on_Japanese_tanks_during_World_War_II

        The Diesels were adopted due to experience in the war vs. the Soviets in 1938-29, when the IJA noticed the problems of gasoline engines.

        Most Russian tanks after the BT-7 series had Diesel engines, usually developed from marine Diesels. Although the Diesel in the T34 began as a development of a French gasoline aircraft engine.

        In spite of their supposed technical superiority, German tanks retained gasoline engines right up to the end of the war. Even the Tiger II (“King Tiger”) had a gasoline engine.

        As a result, penetrating hits to a Panzer’s sides or rear tended to have unfortunate results for the target. The Panther, for instance, had its twin fuel tanks either side of the engine and its shell racks either side of the turret base. They were separated only by the firewall between the crew compartment and the engine compartment.

        A penetrating hit to the side in this area, on either side,in front of or behind the firewall, generally caused whichever one was set off to detonate the other in turn, causing the tank to literally explode in what is now known as a “catastrophic kill”.

        Photos of destroyed Panthers generally show the turret having been blown off its ring and lying at an angle on top of the hull, a sure sign of such an explosion.

        cheers

        eon

        • Actually, the majority of tank fires were caused by burst shells propellant sprayed around the interior from an AP penetration. Pure shots to the engine, it explodes and the tank burns are fairly rare. Books by ZALOGA/FORTY/HUNNICUTT et al address this. Sherman crews had some fire extinguishers for engine fires. The TD crews in the U.S. used to get new guys and through a match into their diesel fuel of their M-10s to show how superior they were to gasoline-fueled Shermans, as the match would ignite the gas.

    • Other magazine fed tank machine guns in WW2 were the Soviet DT(M) (DP(M) with a 64 round magazine), the Italian Breda Mod. 38 (Breda Mod. 37 modified to accept box magazines and often used in twin mounts inside armored vehicles) and perhaps surprisingly the Finnish Suomi M/31 tank submachine gun.

      The last one was only used as the hull mounted machine gun of the Finnish Vickers 6-ton tanks, later renamed as T-26e for English, because all other tanks of the same basic model were captured T-26 tanks and there were much more of them than the original Vickers tanks! Renaming the tanks also involved upgrading the main gun with a captured 45mm one and replacing the Maxim coaxial with a more suitable captured DT. The Suomi SMG in the hull was kept, however. (There was also a Soviet T-26E developed in 1940, which had additional hull front armor.)

      As for belt fed tank machine guns, what’s wrong with the Besa or the MG 34? Or is the M1919A5 just something you have personal experience with?

      • The last mentioned gun (M1919) was the least suitable option according to a man who worked in related industry in 1979s. I believe this was for turret mount in M60 tank. According to him the U.S.Army armored corps were in serious strain to find a replacement which was eventually found in form of FN MAG58.

        • Actually the coax in the M60 was first the M73 and then the M219;

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M73_machine_gun

          The M73 was such a PoS that they tried to redesign it into a gun that actually worked. When they got done, and they’d gone through three complete cycles of reworking it to get it to something like a working piece of equipment, they redesignated the “new” gun M219 because 73 x 3 = 219.

          The M219 was still an unreliable piece of junk, so after twenty years of trying and failing, Army Ordnance threw in the towel in 1979 and adopted the MAG58 as the M240, which they could have and should have done in 1959.

          The 240’s only shortcoming is that it’s too heavy to be a reasonable SAW. On a tripod or a vehicle, where it basically functions as a rifle-caliber heavy machine gun, the only way to make it better would be liquid cooling.

          In 1959, Army Ordnance could have saved everybody a lot of trouble if they’d just adopted the NATO standard MAG58 as the coax gun on the M60, and the MG42/59 (Italian version of the MG42 in 7.62 NATO) as the standard GPMG.

          Instead of sticking everybody with those two PoS known as the M73 and M60 machine guns.

          cheers

          eon

          • That matches with what I heard. I consider the M73/ M219 as a generic continuation of Br.1919. I am well familiar with the latter and know its shortcomings.

          • Looking at MG4 and MG5, I basically see H&K ripping off FN with first a Minimi clone and then a sort of bastard cross between Minimi and MAG.

            The Spanish CETME Ameli 5.56mm LMG, basically a scaled-down MG42/59, is probably the best but least-known and most underappreciated SAW of the last half-century. Why the Bundesheer didn’t adopt it, when the manual of arms their MG troops were already used to with MG3 could have been carried over almost unchanged, probably tells more about how much H&K is the tail wagging the dog in German Army procurement than anything else.

            As for the M1919, it worked just fine in .30-06. Trying to convert it to 7.62 x 51 is asking for trouble.

            And as for the M1919A6 on the bipod… um, no.

            In fact, Hell no.

            cheers

            eon

          • My understanding of the situation is that the MG3 is getting slowly replaced by the MG5, because the production line for the MG3 does not exist any more. In the near future they would be starting to run out of spare parts as well. Rebuilding a production line for a WW2 design would not make much sense.

            The MG5 does bring some improvements like suitability for firing from the shoulder. It is also somewhat lighter than the MG3 and has three selectable rates of fire, although the usefulness of that is debatable. It retains the excellent tripod of the MG3.

          • The M60 wasn’t as much a POS to the troops that used it, as people today make it out to be. The guys I knew in service that had been in Viet Nam and used it, LOVED the thing. They also loved the M16, despite all the interwebz expurts saying otherwise.
            But then, in regard to the M60, they had no real options, nothing to compare it to.

            One problem is, it was built too lightly and used too long, and the degraded older gun is where most of the unfavorable reports come from, IMHO.
            The other problem is, despite being built lightly, the Pig is…well, a pig. It’s too heavy for a squad automatic in a real foot based maneuver unit.
            But I sure loved sending tracers across a valley and watching them drop into a ridge 1500 yards on the other side.

          • “(…)Bundesheer didn’t adopt it, when the manual of arms their MG troops were already used to with MG3 could have been carried over almost unchanged, probably tells more about how much H&K is the tail wagging the dog in German Army procurement than anything else.(…)”
            Are you writing about forces of Austria (i.e. Bundesheer) xor of Germany (i.e. Bundeswehr)?

          • “Looking at MG4 and MG5, I basically see H&K ripping off FN with first a Minimi clone and then a sort of bastard cross between Minimi and MAG.”
            —————
            Check 🙂
            Nothing particularly original. And definitely not cheaper.

          • I also have to back up that AMELI opinion – exceptional design, except RoF is a tad too high – due to semi-rigid lockup. For sure it is better than complicated and heavy Minimi (and I am not even talking about manufacture of it).

          • the M-60 machine gun has had a bit of a rebirth. Either Norway or Denmark just readopted it. With some new design features, it is lighter than the M240, and I have talked to some Vets who humped it in the bush who liked its firepower. Yes, I have fired many rounds through an M-60.

          • M60: Denmark adopted the M60E6 to replace their aging MG3 GPMGs in 2014. The M60 beat the HK121/MG5 in the competition. Rumor has it that price may have been a factor, since the MG5 is expensive, but that may have very well been the source of the rumor. They have about 700 of them, so not a huge amount, but from what I have heard (not a lot, admittedly) their experiences have been mostly positive.

      • “Other magazine fed tank machine guns in WW2 were the Soviet DT(M) (DP(M) with a 64 round magazine), the Italian Breda Mod. 38 (Breda Mod. 37 modified to accept box magazines and often used in twin mounts inside armored vehicles) and perhaps surprisingly the Finnish Suomi M/31 tank submachine gun.(…)”
        There was also magazine-fed German MG 13 used as armament of some early-war armoured vehicles like Sd.Kfz. 101 or Kfz. 13.

  2. I have long been interested in such a thing.
    How did it happen that the Japanese took over this strange 7.7 cartridge?
    It would be understandable if they just used the existing English cartridge, but create a new ammunition that practically copies the old one?..

    Any ideas?

    • I think Ian mentioned they were influenced by Mauser 8mm; they came to touch with it (very personally) during war in China. Similarly, during second Spanish war the U.S.soldiers picked up Mauser cartridge and later made .30cal. Springfield out of it.

    • I recently read that the Japanese Navy had, on its own, adopted machine guns in British .303. Then the Japanese Army Air Corps modified that round into 7.7 semi-rimmed for aircraft guns. Then the Army modified that into fully rimless 7.7 for this gun. The Army ammo would actually work in the aviation guns, but every other combination was incompatible. All were used together until the end of the empire. Add that to the long list of stories about Japan’s Army-Navy antagonism.

  3. This is well designed machinegun. At first looks a bit quirky (specifically the butt), but when you go thru it, it starts to make sense.

    Thanks to Ian for showing rare Japanese small arms. This would be hard to see anywhere in Europe.

  4. Always amazes me how different designers go about making a firearm easy to take down. This Type 97 is elegantly simple, at least to the level Ian broke it down today. The human mind is so inventive!

  5. Given the hell of Japanese logistics, and the extreme terrain they were operating on, I suspect that Japanese tankers were more likely to ‘bail out’ without worrying about fire.
    ‘Oops, that’s the last bridge toward the Chinese we’re chasing.’ Or. ‘We aren’t getting any more gas this year.’

    • And I suspect that far more Japanese- or any- vehicles that were stopped with a living crew were broken down rather than shot up.

      • Pretty much. If the tank broke down, the crew continued on foot with personal weapons and salvaged weapons. They were expected to fight, tank or no tank.

  6. Please could someone explain me these: if Type 97 tank machine gun was introduced in 1937 how could it use 7.7×58mm Arisaka Type 99 ammo which was introduced in 1939? Does it mean that 7.7×58mm Arisaka was used before adoption in 1939?
    Thanks

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