Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces with gas masks and rubber gloves during a chemical attack near Chapei in the Battle of Shanghai; August 1937.
The Machine Gun in this picture is a Japanese Type 11 Light Machine Gun.
To understand the Type 11 you have to understand the standard issue rifle. In WW2 if you were issued a Rifle in any army except the United States and their Semi Auto M1’s then chances are you would be issued a bolt action rifle. In a semi or automatic weapon recoil or gas works the bolt, in a bolt action you do it by hand. These kind of Rifles fired slowly, they prized accuracy with long barrels and high velocity rounds. Japan used the Type-38, a 9lb, 1.2 meter rifle with a 31 inch barrel and with the 40 centimeter bayonet it was taller than the average soldier.
The reason I bring up the rifle is the loading system, the rifles magazine unlike modern Assault Rifles the magazines was internal, not detachable and usually held 5 rounds. To load it you used a charger/stripper clip, shown here andhere in a rifle. The clip holds the rounds together, to load you push down on the ammunition stripping them off the clip and into the magazine. Now most Machine Guns use detachable magazines, strips or belts in which rounds need to be loaded onto, if you are in battle and the rifles or machine guns run out of ammo then each round would need to be hand loaded onto a belt, mag or clip to share, time consuming, especially while being shot at… unless you develop a system where the rifle and machine gun can share, one like the Type 11 which is loaded with Stripper Clips.
The Type 11’s loading system is a hopper pictured here and a diagram here. The five round clips are inserted in the top to a maximum of 6, the gun eats them from the bottom. With this system any rifleman can refill the machine gun and the machine gun ammo supply can be distributed if needed. The hopper can also be continuously topped off allowing for uninterrupted fire.
The hopper system used however had three problems on the Type 11. 1. If dust and dirt got in the gun would fail, spare hoppers were carried for this reason. 2. Every 5 rounds needed to be loaded, a tedious task especially if your loader should die. 3. The gun proved temperamental to the high power munitions used by the rifles and would wear out or jam, a low pressure round was developed, this complicated supply and made sharing ammo less common and more for emergencies.
The Type 11 was first produced in 1922 it served at the squad level with 1 per and was the first Japanese gun to do so in real numbers. Most of them would serve in Chinese Theater though their appearance in the Pacific was not unheard of and the ones in the US right now are usually captured examples. The Type 11 was replaced as the main Light Machine Gun by the Type 96/99 Light Machine Gun which arrived in 1936. The 96 featured a more conventional top mounted 30rd magazine like the Bren and a quick change barrel, it used the same low pressure rounds. The Type 11 served as the main squad gun for 14 years, it would be produced for 19 before every factory switched over.
Some quick facts:
- Approximately 30000 were made in total.
- The gun fired a relatively slow 400rpm or about 61/2 rounds per sec.
- It weighed about 25 pounds loaded.
- Fired 6.5x50mm rounds.
- It was bipod mounted and had a combination pistol grip and stock.
- The barrel had cooling fins to absorb heat.
- The hopper had a built in oilier to lubricate rounds.
- There was an anti aircraft variant the Type 81
- The Type 11 had a seldom used tripod designed for it, few pictures exist but here is one.
Bonus Fact: The Type 96 had an ammo counter on the magazine, an advantage made possible by being a top loader.