After Some Soul Searching It Turns Out To Be One
Not Replicated And Very Difficult To Replace.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
The question, “What is your most unique gun?” a visitor to my gun vault asked me. It surprised me because others have asked what my most expensive gun is or what is my favorite gun or what is my most historical gun. But, “unique gun” baffled me for months thereafter.
I have a few fairly rare guns such as the Sharps Long Range No. 2 target rifle of which only about 290 were made. But it isn’t complete. I got it with no forearm and a trashed barrel and had new replacements made for it. And if someone wanted to copy it today they could prevail on either Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing or C. Sharps Arms to build an exact replica.
What about favorites? Well, that might change from day to day. I have a fuzzy warm spot for my Colt Frontier six shooters (.44-40s). Sometimes my US Model 1903 .30-06 on which I’ve had fitted a 6X Montana Vintage Arms scope is cherished most because it is so darn easy to hit distant targets with. My competition passion is NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette. I have six Sharps and Rolling Block-style rifles dedicated to it but hesitate to isolate one as a favorite, let alone unique.
Expensive? I won’t say what I paid for my M1 Thompson .45 ACP submachine gun but it was the same as Yvonne and I paid for our first house as a young married couple. And my German MP40 9mm Machinen Pistole cost even more. They aren’t really unique because thousands more are legally owned.
So one afternoon I sat down on my buffalo robe-covered wicker chair in my gun vault and carefully scanned its contents for uniqueness. My goal was to determine which gun I owned that I would still have to explain exactly what it was to a reasonably knowledgeable gun person. And too, it had to be one that couldn’t be easily replaced or replicated regardless of cost.
And bingo! There it was. My Lewis gun is my most unique firearm. It is a machine gun capable of full-auto fire only. It was designed by an American named Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis. It’s a beast of a machine gun, too, for one considered a LMG (light machine gun). Mine weighs 28 pounds.
It’s also a funny-looking duck. The wooden buttstock is fairly traditional to early machine guns but the huge casing around the barrel makes it look like a cannon to the unknowing. Instead the casing is actually considered a cooling radiator. The relatively small diameter barrel is inside and the casing’s purpose is to provide an air space. Lewis’s idea was that the muzzle blast would draw air from the rear, pass it along the barrel and let it exit from the front. The air’s passage was supposed to cool the barrel.
Another odd feature to modern shooters who are used to belts or large magazines hanging under full-autos is the rotary magazine atop the action. It is not spring-loaded as with early Thompson submachine guns drum magazines. It is rotated by the action’s cycling which in turn is gas operated. Col. Lewis got his new machine gun up and running circa 1912.
Duke’s believes his most unique gun is this Japanese-made Lewis gun (basically
just a copy of the British-built Lewis gun down to the rimmed caliber).
Note the loaded 47-round drum.
This rather odd peep sight is on Duke’s most unique firearm.
The US Army was not interested and that story is too long to worry about here. (The US Navy did buy some in .30-06 caliber and made by Savage.) The British Government after entering World War I in 1914 certainly was interested so Lewis guns were licensed for manufacture by Birmingham Small Arms (BSA). Caliber then was .303 British. Lewis guns were made by the tens of thousands and used both by infantry troops and also mounted on fighter planes. On aircraft the radiator/casing was taken off because there was plenty of air for cooling when airborne. By all accounts the British greatly appreciated Lewis guns pulling many from storage for use again in World War II.
So if tens of thousands were made by BSA why is my Lewis gun unique? It’s because mine is a Japanese Type 92 Lewis gun made at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal. Its caliber is 7.7x56mm Japanese Rimmed. Look up its dimensions. That is merely the Japanese name for .303 British. Here’s something else. Only the Imperial Japanese Navy used Lewis guns—with Rikusentai (naval infantry) carrying ones with casing and IJN dive bombers carried ones without casings facing rearwards. Those drum magazines issued to ground troops were of 47-round capacity but aircraft drums held 97 rounds. Aside from Japanese markings on their Lewis guns the easiest way to identify them is their large oblong triggerguard. Mine is the infantry version. (The Japanese also captured many Lewis guns from the British early in WWII.)
I’ve had my Type 92 for five years now and fired well over 1,000 rounds of handloads and factory loads and never experienced a stoppage. It’s also reasonably easy to hit with—at least for the first couple rounds of a burst. In my study of WWII history I’ve found instances of Japanese Lewis guns being used during most of the island invasions US troops made.
If my Japanese Type 92 Lewis gun were lost or destroyed I could never replace it and of course there are a myriad laws preventing replicating it. It is my most unique firearm.