T. Logan Metesh
Type 99 Arisaka Goes Up Against Flamethrower
The battle of Iwo Jima, which took place in February and March 1945, immediately conjures up images of both courage and carnage. Some 110,000 US personnel took part in the five-week battle for control of Mount Suribachi, fighting against approximately 20,000 Japanese.
Despite being just 8 square miles in size, Iwo Jima was heavily fortified with bunkers, pillboxes, artillery positions, and more, all connected by a network of tunnels. Because of these effective defenses, it became clear that the US ground troops would be hard pressed to take the island with traditional small arms. Instead, they opted for flamethrowers.
Seeing a flamethrower in action is one of the most visually impressive acts of combat one could witness during World War II. Humans are naturally fascinated by fire, and the flamethrower takes it to a whole other level.
The M2 portable flamethrower used during World War II had tanks for fuel and for compressed gas, attached to a backpack, connected by hoses to a handheld device used to deploy the flame. The tanks only held enough fuel for a few short blasts at a range of 20 to 40 meters, but it didn’t take much to realize the potential of this weapon against the Japanese defenses.
USMC Corporal Hershel “Woody” Williams was one of the many men who used flamethrowers on Iwo Jima. He spent four hours using multiple flamethrowers to take out a large number of Japanese pillboxes, thereby enabling American tanks to create a path for the infantry. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Many of the Japanese soldiers who were hunkered down at Iwo Jima were armed with the Type 99 Arisaka. What makes this particular gun truly unique is that it was a Marine’s bring-back rifle from Iwo Jima, where it sustained fire damage, most likely from a flamethrower. This fascinating piece of World War II history is now part of the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia.
The Type 99 Arisaka was a five-shot, bolt-action rifle introduced in 1939 as an outgrowth from the earlier Type 30 and Type 38 rifles. Utilizing the 7.7x58mm cartridge, the rifle fed from a fixed internal magazine and had a wire monopod affixed to the stock.
Most unusual about the guns were the addition of anti-aircraft sights, which were measured in ranges of 100, 200, and 300 nautical miles per hour. This particular rifle has anti-aircraft sights, which were later deleted to save on production materials and time.
The fire damage, however, is the most intriguing part of this rifle. (The story continues below the photos.)
The entire length of the gun shows encounters with flames at different intervals. Starting near the back, we see a charred section on the left side of the buttstock in the area surrounding the rear sling swivel. The flames also made contact with the wrist of the stock before travelling to the handguard on either side of the barrel band that also holds the monopod. Finally, another spot further forward also shows signs of having been licked by flames.
When the 36-day battle ended, the US was victorious, having taken the island and Mount Suribachi. To do so, our armed forces had sustained 26,000 casualties, with almost 7,000 of those deaths.
What, exactly, happened to this rifle on Iwo Jima may never be known. It could have fallen victim to an M2 portable flamethrower, or perhaps it encountered one of the M4A3R3 Sherman tanks, nicknamed “Zippos.” Regardless of what happened, this Type 99 Arisaka and its charred appearance is a testament to the hard and brutal fighting that took place on Iwo Jima.
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