Compared: The BAR vs. Nambu

Deadly Pacific adversaries

At left is a Japanese Type 99 Light Machine Gun. At right is a U.S. M1918A2 BAR (replica).

As a World War II history buff I favor studying the Pacific Theater of Operations. Most likely that’s because a family member served there in the U.S. Marine Corps. Regardless, you don’t have to read much about the Pacific Island invasions to encounter comments about two full-autos often pitted against one another. Those were the Japanese Nambu Type 99 7.7mm Light Machine Gun (LMG) and the United States Model 1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Nambu and Browning were both the names of their respective weapons’ inventors.

I’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with both of those full-autos, even to the point of owning a Type 99 LMG for 10 years now. Actually, I also owned a facsimile BAR for several years; facsimile as in it was a semi-auto version made by the Ohio Ordnance Company (OOC). Except for its inability to fire in full-auto mode, OOC BAR’s are dead- ringers for originals. However, a friend does own a WWII-era BAR I have been privileged to shoot.

Duke got the opportunity to fire this WWII vintage
Browning Automatic Rifle Model 1918A2.

The Same But Different

The Nambu LMGs and Browning BARs as used in World War II are alike in some regards and vastly different in others. First off, they were both full-auto-only and both weapons were issued with bipods. However, vintage photos show many BAR-armed Army and USMC infantrymen firing their weapons standing or kneeling without using the bipods. The same might have been possible with Type 99s but I’ve never read or seen instances of it. Both weapons were fed with detachable box magazines and both had a nominal weight of 20 lbs.

Turning this knob frees the Type 99’s barrel so a cool one can replace a heated one.
Wooden handle is used so barrel changer doesn’t burn his hand.

Now Here Are Some Type 99 And BAR Differences

Type 99 magazines held 30 rounds of 7.7mm while BAR magazines held 20 rounds of .30-06. BARs had a lever to switch cyclic rates from approximately 350 rounds per minute to 550 rounds per minute. The Type 99 cyclic rate was a relatively fast 800 rounds per minute. Type 99 magazines were mounted atop the receiver and BAR magazines were inserted from the bottom. BAR sights were mounted so aiming was in line with the barrel while Type 99 sights were mounted along the weapon’s left side. BAR barrels were semi-permanently installed — meaning a new barrel could only be fitted by a qualified armorer with proper tools. Type 99 barrels were issued with two quick change barrels. At first glance one might think the handle attached to the Type 99 barrel was for carrying the 20-lb. weapon. I thought so too. Actually, that handle is for dismounting a hot barrel so a cool one can be replaced.

Early in World War II, a single BAR was standard issue to a squad of soldiers and marines. Later the USMC changed their doctrine. A squad consisted of three fire teams; a BAR man, assistant gunner and two ammo bearers who also served with M1 Garand rifles as protection for the gunner. The 13th man was their squad leader. Type 99 LMG machine gun teams consisted of four men: gunner, assistant gunner and two men for packing ammo and protecting the gunner. For protection, the Japanese might have Arisaka Type 38 or Type 44 6.5mm carbines and the gunner was armed with a Nambu Type 14 pistol chambering the 8mm Nambu cartridge. Yes, Colonel Nambu designed the pistol and LMG just as John M. Browning designed the U.S. Model 1911 .45 and the BAR!

Here’s a hint about how the U.S. Marine infantry felt about their BARs, as told to me by an Iwo Jima veteran. When a Marine was wounded on Iwo, as the litter bearers took him rearward for medical care, his M1 Garand or M1 Carbine was also placed on the stretcher. In the rear an armorer inspected and, if needed, repaired rifles and carbines for reissue to replacement troops. However, BARs never left the front lines. If the BAR gunner was hit, it was handed to the next ranking member of his team and the assault continued.

Naturally, I’ve not been advised by Japanese soldiers as to their opinions about the Type 99. However, U.S. Army Lt. Col. John George in his book Shot Fired in Anger tells of his feelings. He writes, “… Nambu Light Machine Guns caused me the greatest and most demoralizing fear I have known in all the combat I have seen.” His reasoning was with such a high rate of fire, being caught in a Type 99 burst meant being hit multiple times.

It’s a common American fallacy that Japanese weapons were “junk.” Their later war production quality declined greatly but until then their pistols, rifles and machine guns were built to fine standards. I have many and shoot them. The Type 99 7.7mm is definitely the most impressive.

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