By Rick Cartledge
Around the end of World War I the Japanese Military saw the need for a light machine gun. By 1922 they had perfected and adopted a gun. This gun would remain in service with them until the end of World War II. This first Japanese light machine carried its name stamped across the top of the receiver. The characters translate as ’11th year model’. The ‘11’ refers to the year 1922. It honors the reign of Taisho, Emperor Yoshihito of Japan. Emperor Yoshihito served as the 123rd Emperor and reigned until 1926. These stampings date the gun’s adoption to the 11th year of his reign. Emperor Yoshihito served as the immediate predecessor to Emperor Hirohito.
The Jap 11 served as an incredibly well made and well thought out gun. Its solid feel and beautiful workmanship belie its weight of 22 and 1/2 pounds. The Japanese chose the 6.5 (0.256 inch) cartridge to conform the gun to their already extant Arisaka rifle cartridge. Unlike its successor, the Jap 96, the Jap 11 takes the standard 6.5 rifle round. The ‘11’ boasts a muzzle velocity of 2,440 feet per second. Its sight gradates from 300 to 1500 meters with no windage adjustment. The Jap 11 pounds out 500 rounds per minute in full auto only fire. All parts of the gun show excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail. The Japanese even made some heavy tripods for these guns.
The Type 11 possesses two interesting features, one of which is unique to the gun. On examining the gun, one immediately notices the short off-set stock. This feature later appeared on the Japanese Type 97 tank gun, a 7.7mm gun freely adopted from the ZB-26. One suspects that the 97’s off-set stock comes from the Type 91, a tank mounted version of the Type 11. The Type 91 distinguishes itself from the Type 11 by carrying a long focal length telescopic sight. The Type 91’s sight resembles the Type 97’s long focal length except that it necks down just before the front clamp and front optic.
The Type 11 contains one unique feature, the feed hopper. This hopper supplies the bullets to the chamber by way of five round 6.5 Arisaka rifle stripper clips. The hopper feed serves as a magazine for six stripper clips. The king size hopper feed first appeared on the modified Type 11 designated in 1931 as the Type 91 tank machine gun. The Type 91 also boasted the previously mentioned long focal length scope. Some guns registered as Type 11s may actually be Type 91 tank guns sans scope.
Some criticism of the Type 11 comes from its somewhat complicated internal parts. This criticism stems mostly from point of view, whether Japanese or American. The internals of the Type 11, though more complicated than American design, do work well. The reader shall learn this from the last Japanese soldier who fired this particular gun. He sat deep in the jungles of Burma finding no problem with his gun. The soldier’s bullets traveled straight and true. He found his problem to be the American bullets that were coming back. From the American bullets he did not escape.
Dolf Goldsmith, Ed Libby, and Kent Lomont
Two years ago, Forbes Mathews acquired the Type 11 and a Type 96 from a collector in other climes. Just after these two guns cleared to Forbes, Dolf Goldsmith came to Marietta to research his Browning book and witness the birth of his new grandson. As explained in greater depth in another article, Mr. Goldsmith met Mr. Mathews at a private shooting range in north Georgia. The newly acquired Type 11 became a major player in both of their meetings.
Inside the well-equipped machine shop, Forbes and Dolf examined the newly acquired Type 11. Mr. Goldsmith first examined the exterior and mechanics of the ‘11’. He found the weapon to be in excellent shape. Mr. Goldsmith then tore down the Type 11. He found the interior parts to be well oiled and in excellent condition. Dolf found the hopper to be another matter. Though the hopper appeared to be in the same condition as the rest of the gun, Dolf found a piece missing.
Prior to Mr. Goldsmith’s arrival, Forbes had consulted with Doug Hollberg and Herman Lisle about the ammunition. Mr. Lisle, a long time shooter and reloader, came up with a formula for making the 6.5 reloads. Then, as they say, it got down to cases. For the Type 11, Doug found that the Norma Japanese 6.5 cases work in the stripper clips. For the Type 96 he employed a different solution. Doug took a tip on the 96 cases from the shooters of the Banzai Society. He fabricated the 96 6.5 cases from 35 Remington. The 35 Remington cases neck down to 6.5 X 48. The Japanese and reloadable Norma 6.5 cases calculate to 6.5 X 50. Mr. Lisle calculated the load. Mr. Lisle’s load works well in either gun. .
Before assembling the ammunition, Doug placed a telephone call to Ed Libby. Ed complimented Mr. Lisle on his calculations. Mr. Libby explained that their 6.5 load would work in both the Type 11 and the Type 96, and also advised Doug of the previously mentioned different cases used in the Type 11 and Type 96. Mr. Libby then added this caution. DO NOT USE ANY WORLD WAR II JAPANESE AMMO IN JAPANESE LMG’s. Because the powder deterioration after more than 50 years can produce very hot loads. These hot loads not only can damage a prized war relic but also may do harm to the shooter.
Dolf Goldsmith reassembled the Type 11. He then took it to the firing range. Though the gun fired accurately, the missing part made it a single shot. Afterward, Forbes Mathews placed a telephone call to Kent Lomont. Mr. Lomont sent Forbes the needed part to fix the Type 11 hopper. Forbes, a master machinist, duplicated the part and sent the original back to Kent Lomont. Forbes Mathews later showed us the part and correctly remarked, ‘Don’t try this at home.’ With the gun fixed, Forbes and his son have spent many an afternoon ‘putting brass on the ground.’ In the following the reader will learn the history of this particular gun.
The war went badly for the allies in Southeast Asia. Gen. Frank Dow Merrill had had enough of backing up. He vowed to take the fight to the enemy’s heart in Burma. Merrill’s Marauders, along with a unit called Mars Task Force, marched into Burma to take the fight to the Japanese. Both units on separate missions were aided by the Kachin. Even today, no matter what flag flies above them, the mighty Kachin walk free.
Capt. John K. Benfield Jr. joined Merrill’s Marauders early on. The Marauders arrived outside their main objective of Myitkyina Airfield on the night turning July 28, 1944. Capt. Benfield, Sgt. Patton, and Cpl. Wooten took bayonets to well dug in soldiers from the Japanese 18th Division. A night fight, both fierce and terrible, ensued. At battle’s end, only Capt.Benfield remained wounded but standing. His two incredibly brave friends and more than 30 of the Japanese soldiers had perished in the fight. The rest of the Marauders went through the gap to take the airfield. Capt. Benfield brought the Type 11 gun out of the fight. A piece of the Japanese defender’s shirt still remains embedded in the stock at this very hour. Just before his death several years ago, a photographer snapped a picture of Capt. Benfield holding the Jap 11. This photograph ran in Capt. John Benfield’s obituary. A copy of the article and a number of other authenticating documents came with the gun.
On a personal note, I found firing this particular Jap 11 to be extremely interesting. My uncle Will Howard served with Merrill’s Marauders. He knew Capt. Benfield. He very well may have seen this gun in the jungles of Burma so many years ago. Uncle Will did not come out of the jungle until 1946. Until the day he died Uncle Will had nothing but the highest praise for Gen. Frank Merrill and everyone who served with him. The United States Army agrees with Uncle Will. The Army Ranger School outside Dahlonega, Georgia proudly carries the name of Major General Frank Dow Merrill.
In the fullness of time, Forbes Mathews intends to pass this historic weapon to his son. This historic weapon fought battles long ago and half a world away. In time the old gun shall pass from one generation to the next. In the meantime, father and son will continue to shoot together. They have at their disposal a gun in wonderful condition that also embodies an almost incredible history.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N3 (December 2000)|
and was posted online on October 31, 2014