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The Wonderful Terrible Japanese Type 26

By Will Dabbs, MD

The Best-Built Worthless Combat Revolver in Military History

According to Wikipedia, Satan invented crack cocaine some time around 1984. However, the guys who designed the Japanese Model 26 revolver were clearly smoking the 19th century equivalent back in the late 1800s when they thought up the Type 26.  Built like an armored fighting vehicle and executed to a simply gorgeous level of workmanship, the Model 26 was nevertheless hopelessly, irrevocably flawed.

The Type 26 double-action-only revolver was the first modern handgun adopted by the Imperial Japanese Army. The Japanese referred to the design as “hammerless” despite its obvious exposed hammer as it lacked a single-action function. Developed at the Koishikawa Arsenal, the Type 26 is so designated due to its position in the Japanese dating system. The 26th year of the reign of the Meiji emperor equates out to 1893.

The gun was used operationally in the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and World War II. Production ceased in 1923, and there were around 59,900 total copies produced in five major production runs. Though supplanted by the Nambu series of autoloading combat pistols, the Type 26 nonetheless saw substantial use against the Allies during the war in the Pacific. Veteran bringbacks account for most of the guns available on the collector market today.

Pertinent Particulars

The Type 26 was indeed a fascinating design. Developed in the days before widespread use of smokeless propellant and autoloading actions, the Type 26 made the transition from black powder cartridges in 1900 fairly painlessly. The gun is aesthetically beautiful with flats and curves melding seamlessly together to speak to a certain engineering elegance not seen so much these days.

The rugged design had much to commend it. The revolver is a break open design not philosophically unlike the British Webley. To break the gun open for reloading one needs to lift up on the knurled latch just behind the rear sight and tip the barrel downward. A star-shaped ejector automatically removes empty casings in the manner of the Webley as well. The barrel pivot is hugely over-designed and...

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