Defense Media Network

The Five Worst Light Machine Guns (LMGs)

4. Nambu 6.5mm Type 11

The first Japanese machine gun of indigenous design and manufacture (although it borrowed features from the French Hotchkiss M1897 design), the 6.5mm Type 11 LMG was introduced in 1922. While Japanese achievements during World War II in ship and aircraft design are well known, their infantry weapons, especially small arms, ranged from adequate to appalling. The Type 11, designed by the prolific Gen. Kijiru Nambu, fell somewhere in the middle. It was ungainly, with a strange arrangement of a pistol grip incorporated into an overlarge butt stock, both offset to the right of the weapon’s centerline, along with the sights, and a fully finned barrel resting on a stalky bipod.

Japanese Type 11 LMG

A Japanese Type 11 LMG with its hopper fully loaded with six 5-round 6.5mm stripper clips. Note the offset butt stock and sights, and the ammunition box with more stripper clips of ammunition. Wikimedia Commons photo

Eventually, a special lower-powered 6.5mm round had to be produced for the Type 11, which left the LMG shooting an even weaker version of a round that was marginal to begin with, and which defeated the whole purpose of the hopper as a feed system in the first place.

Its oddest feature was a square hopper mounted on the left side of the receiver. Into this hopper went up to six 5-round stripper clips of 6.5X50mm rounds identical to the ones used to load the Type 38 Arisaka rifle, the standard Japanese infantry rifle of World War II, pushed down by a spring loaded follower. This must have seemed like a brilliant idea to Japanese logisticians, with 5-round stripper clips that could be used in two different weapons. The stripper clips went into the hopper on their sides, and  a ratcheting feed mechanism stripped each round from the clip, fired it, and ejected the empty cartridge case to the right. When the final round was fired, the stripper was ejected along with the empty cartridge.

In theory.

IJA soldiers with Type 11 LMG 1940

Imperial Japanese Army soldiers of the18th Infantry Regiment with a Type 11 on the west side of the Han River, China, on the evening of May 31, 1940. Note the very deep pistol grip and rather tall bipod. Imperial Japanese Army/Public Domain

In fact, this gas-operated weapon didn’t have strong enough extraction for each cartridge being fired under some conditions, so an integral pump oiled each of the rounds. This caused more problems than it solved, since it meant a weapon that already had a big open hopper to collect dirt, mud, grass, and other debris also had oil actively being pumped in. This created a nice abrasive soup in the action. The rate of fire also had to be kept low; otherwise the complicated feed system couldn’t keep up. There were many stoppages, including ones caused by the cartridge cases rupturing as they were being pulled from the chamber. Eventually, a special lower-powered 6.5mm round had to be produced for the Type 11, which left the LMG shooting an even weaker version of a round that was marginal to begin with, and which defeated the whole purpose of the hopper as a feed system in the first place. While at least three other more satisfactory LMGs were issued to replace it, Japanese production being what it was, the Type 11 served throughout World War II.

Nambu Type 11

Type: Light machine gun
Operating System: Gas
Weight: 22 pounds, 8 ounces unloaded
Length: 43.5 inches
Barrel length: 19 inches
Cartridge: 6.5mm
Muzzle velocity: 2300 fps
Cyclic rate: 500 rpm
Feed system: 30-round hopper

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