In the early phases of World War 2 when the American’s were first encountering the Japanese in the Pacific, nothing instilled more fear into the American GI than the Japanese sniper. During these early phases of the war, the snipers from Japan were very effective gaining a reputation of exceptional fieldcraft and concealment capability. As tactics developed to counter the sniper threat and as the Japanese losses to their experienced sniper corps mounted, their effectiveness diminished, but their reputation had already been solidified. During the war, one of the rifles the Japanese snipers utilized was a sniper variant of the type 38 rifle called the Type 97.
The Type 97 was based off the Meiji 38th Year (Type 38) infantry rifle and chambered in the 6.5x50mm Arisaka Cartridge. The Type 38 included many design elements from the legendary Mauser action and was a considerable improvement on their own Arisaka 1897 design. Two of the main differences in the Type 38 infantry rifle and the Type 97 Sniper rifle was that the later model used a 2.5x scope, a turned down bolt handle, and the early models came with a bipod.
As was common on sniper rifles during this period, the scope was mounted offset to the left of the receiver to allowed the rifle to be loaded using stripper clips, also known as a charger, and it also allowed the sniper to still be able to utilize the iron sights. The Type 97 was a large rifle with a very long 31.4″ (798mm) barrel and an overall length of 50″ (1.27m) and it weighed in at 8.6 lbs (3.9 kg). The internal 5-round box magazine could be loaded either by a 5-round stripper clip or individually.
The standard sights on the Type 97 rifle was a ladder style adjustable iron sights with a “V” notch granulated to 2200m. The rifle was included a carry case for the scope so when it was not being used it could be removed and protected. The scope for the Type 97 was serialized to match the rifle, and the rifle/scope combo came zeroed from the factory. This was important because the scope did not have any elevation or windage adjustment capabilities so a mismatched scope and rifle were not zeroed. Because there was no windage or elevation adjustments, the reticle was a BDC style calibrated for the 6.5 cartridge. There are vertical stadia lines from 0 to 1500m and horizontal stadia lines to compensate for wind. The center of the crosshairs, where the vertical and horizontal lines meet, is marked as the 300m zero, and the vertical line is slightly canted to compensate for the scope being mounted off to the side. The scope mount was designed to be removed easily and is mounted to the rifle’s receiver using a rail with a rotating locking lever.
Due to the long barrel, when fired the rifle produced virtually no smoke or flash which made it very difficult to locate the sniper who was often hidden and tied into the tops of trees or from well camouflaged positions. This was a big contributor to the initial reputation of Japanese snipers in the early parts of the war. The Type 97 was introduced in 1937 but the designation is taken from the Japanese calendar of 2597. Over 20,000 of these sniper rifles were manufactured in the Japanese Kokura and Nagoya arsenals from 1937 to 1945.
The Type 97 was not exceptionally accurate from the beginning and by the end of the war the shortage of raw materials and the desperate situation that Japan found itself in lead to the quality of the rifles suffering even further. The late war production rifles are of poor quality and accuracy. Even then, the Type 97 ended up seeing considerable action in various conflicts beyond World War II including the Second Sino Japanese War, Korean War, Chinese Civil War and the Vietnam War.