Like most of the belligerents of World War II, Japan found itself faced with an explosive demand for weapons of all sorts in the first few years of the 1940s. Existing supplies of small arms were simply not adequate, and Japan had to improvise as best it could.
But the problems of supplying the Japanese Empire’s large and far-flung armies were not just a matter of numbers. Scrap metal and petroleum embargoes on the Japanese home islands meant that weapons producers often had to make do with inferior quality steel. Not much could be done about this in the short-term. Japan’s strategy had centered around winning a quick victory against the West before it could bring its industrial might to bear. While this strategy proved to be madness, there was at least a precedent for such a campaign in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.
When existing stocks of the Nambu (8mm Pistol Type 14) proved to be inadequate to meet demand, the Japanese Army commandeered production of a civilian handgun design that had been in production since 1934. This pistol, now known as the 94 Shiki Kenju (also called the Type 94 Nambu), was hastily produced in great number. By the end of the war in 1945, over 70,000 were in existence.
This large number was no cause for celebration, especially for the men who were unlucky enough to be issued this terrible weapon. For without doubt, the 94 Shiki Kenju was the worst pistol of the war. It may indeed be the worst handgun ever made.
Why was this so? To begin with, the pistol’s basic design and appearance was just “off.” The receiver was bulky and boxy, and the weapon did not feel balanced when handled. It also fired a round that was not sufficiently robust: the gun used an 8mm round at a time when Japan’s enemies were using calibers of greater stopping power.
Far more serious was the fact that the pistol was literally dangerous to handle and fire when loaded. The pistol was engineered so that part of the trigger mechanism (a sear) projected from the left side of the receiver. If this projection was knocked or pushed, the pistol could fire. For a gun that was expected to be used in the rough-and-tumble of combat, this was simply unacceptable. Attempts to fix this design defect by machining the sear flat did little to correct the problem.
This was not all; there were other serious design flaws. The pistol was also made in such a way that a round could be fired before it was fully seated in the chamber. Manufacturers were also forced to use low-quality steel and rushed production to meet army quotas. The gun design was also too complex for easy cleaning and disassembly.
The pistol was thus ideally suited to accidental discharges, misfires, jams, and mechanical issues of all types. It might fire when being taken out of or put into a holster, or if someone fell onto it.
How could a weapon like this ever come to be made? The sad truth is that Japan simply had nothing better at the time. Authorities knew that the weapon was a horror, but tried to minimize the damage by limiting its use to tank crews and aviation personnel.
Yet without doubt the pistol found its way into the hands of the regular army, where it likely was responsible for the deaths of many good men unlucky enough to use it. This video shows the weapon being fired, but one wonders if it is even safe for target practice.
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