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 fairly indestructible.

The hammer sports a huge beak-shaped fixed firing pin, and the double action mechanism is at least as smooth as its American counterparts. The hammer sports a large bob on its top and eschews a spur, as this appendage cannot be manually cocked. Grips are a very attractive checkered sort conjured from a dark, relatively soft wood.

There is the obligatory lanyard loop at the base of the butt, and the front and rear sights are meticulously machined. The gun is compact without being uncomfortable and heavy without being cumbersome. The finish on my example is an attractive faded brown.

The 9x22mm rimmed Japanese revolver cartridge that the Type 26 fires is on par with the American .38 S&W round though the two cartridges are not interchangeable. The 9mm Japanese revolver round has an exceptionally thin rim, and handloaders typically turn down .38 S&W brass to thin the rim sufficiently for use in this gun. The cartridge pushes a 150-gr lead round nose bullet to a bit shy of 500 feet per second.

Fit and finish on my old sample are quite literally perfect and speak to a degree of artisanship not found in these days of computer-controlled everything. The various curved joints of the gun drop against one another without so much as a hiccup. The meticulous execution of this classic wheelgun really is quite beautiful.

Now the Bad Stuff...

Despite its obvious Old World quality and duteous execution there are a couple of aspects of this odd design that hopelessly doom this beautiful old gun to failure. The frame is designed such that the gun may be readily opened to expose its inner workings, even without tools. To do so one simply tugs down on the trigger guard and rotates the frame plate to the left and back. In so doing, the lock mechanism is available for inspection, lubrication and repair. While this is commendable, and no doubt required a fair amount of effort in the gun’s design and manufacture, the feature is entirely superfluous. I cannot fathom any set of circumstances under which anyone might need to service this component at the operator level. While there is no harm in including such a swing-open frame design, it does seem unnecessary. The next issue, however, is a deal-breaker.

For some unfathomable reason the designers of the Type 26 failed to incorporate any sort of cylinder stop to the gun. What this means practically speaking is that one might draw and fire the weapon only to find the exigencies of armed conflict such that the gun needs to be reholstered, jiggled or bumped against a rough surface. If in so doing the cylinder gets moved, the device can subsequently rotate out of alignment.

At that point another double action trigger pull will index a chamber ahead of the hammer, but it is the vagaries of fate alone that determine whether this round remains live or not. As such, using the Type 26 in combat becomes an ongoing game of Russian roulette wherein one can never be quite completely sure whether or not the gun is going to fire when called upon. Such a flaw utterly disqualifies a martial firearm for active service, yet the Type 26 soldiered on for more than half a century through three major wars.


The Japanese were quirky about their guns, and many of their military firearms seemed to have been designed for appearance as much as function. Machineguns sported intricately turned wooden carrying handles, and stuff stuck out from them in all directions. Their early Type 99 Infantry rifles incorporated a worthless folding wire monopod and some of the most complicated pivoting anti-aircraft sights ever imagined on an Infantry arm. Machineguns frequently included optical sights, a prescient feature at the time, but the Japanese military suffered throughout the Second World War from a deplorable lack of standardization. Different services contracted different weapons such that the Imperial Japanese military fielded two different rifle cartridges simultaneously along with two different handgun rounds. The logistical requirements must have been nightmarish in the austere conditions that characterized that pitiless tropical war.

The Type 26’s distant cousin, the semiautomatic Type 94, enjoys the unenviable reputation of having been the worst combat handgun ever fielded by any army. Not only are its ergonomics as wrong as Democrats spending our taxes, the exposed sear bar on the left side of the gun allows it to discharge if it is squeezed along its middle or even set down vigorously on an uneven surface. That the Japanese made do with such stuff speaks to their undeniable dedication to their hopelessly misguided cause.


Japanese small arms represent a picture of the unique status of the industry, military and government of late 19th century Japan. At the time the Type 26 was developed the matchlock pistol had remained in common use a mere 40 years prior.

Japan’s legendary standoffishness had resulted in the atrophy of their industrial base, but that was something they rectified in a remarkably short period of time. Given its small geographic size and relative dearth of natural resources, it is amazing to appreciate what the Japanese accomplished militarily.

This small island nation invaded and conquered vast areas of the Pacific and China, subsequently inflicting their own brand of Asian heartlessness on the subjugated peoples. A little known fact is that during the course of the war the Japanese killed more Chinese with Samurai swords than we killed Japanese with the two A-bomb attacks. As Chairman Mao once opined, a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.

The Pacific War

in WWII was uniquely horrific for its unbridled ferocity.

The nature of suicidal banzai charges and kamikaze attacks conspired to minimize the numbers of prisoners taken on both sides. While the rural American Deep South was dotted with German POW camps during World War II, there were precious few facilities needed to house Japanese troops captured in battle.

Our modern fight against Radical Islam is not the first time Americans have been forced to take up arms against an opponent enthusiastic about dying for his cause. Our forefathers did battle against such as these and triumphed. The grand gulf between then and now was a national willingness to substantively threaten that for which the enemy was willing to die. Massive B29 firebomb raids flattened untold square miles of Japanese industrial heartland, and two atomic bomb attacks snuffed out lives by the tens of thousands in a matter of moments. Once the Japanese realized that their cause was hopeless and accepted that continued resistance would result in the utter obliteration of their nation and its people, they listened to reason. Japan can now be reliably counted upon to be one of our strongest allies in the Pacific region. It remains to be seen if today’s generation enjoys a comparably iron will.

The quirky Japanese Type 26 revolver is an interesting footnote to military history. Designed within a few short years of the matchlock in Japanese culture, we can see within the Type 26 a desperate effort to field a weapon competitive with contemporary western designs. The gun is robust, elegant and beautiful and stands as a tribute to the capacity of Japan’s burgeoning arms industry to produce stalwart combat-capable weapons. That it lacks a method of locking the cylinder in place while at rest dooms the gun to history’s dustbin, however.

Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the use of the period reproduction military equipment employed in this article.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N4 (May 2017)
and was posted online on March 17, 2017


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