Email a Page to a FriendPrint this pageAdd to Favorite



ITALIAN MACHINE PISTOLS manufactured by Pietro Beretta at their Gardone Valtrompia, Italy


TOP: Model MP38/43 produced for the Japanese Imperial Navy in 1943. Note the traditional
split, [two piece], stock similarly used on Japanese rifles.


BOTTOM: A Model MP 38/42 produced for Italian troop distribution. The magazine is a later version. The automatic (rear) trigger set missing was one method of deactivation performed by the U.S. Government on these weapons to render them unserviceable for their troops as take home souvenirs after World War II.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, beginning in their years of armament and throughout World War II, relied on the army arsenals for their small arms, [rifle, handgun], requirements. This would prove to be a grave misjudgment in the ensuing years when the need arose for both military services to become involved in the aggressive expansion of Japan’s borders.

On July 7, 1937 the Japanese garrison forces along the Ping-yu sector of the Peining Railway attacked the Chinese at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking, China, which eventually progressed into the Sino-Japanese War. All small arms being produced by the army arsenals were being delivered to the Imperial Japanese Army troops at the eastern front. The Navy, previously relying on those arsenals for their needs, was left without source means and lacked machinery and equipment to produce small arms. Their existing inventory was a combination of mostly Type 35 and small amounts of Type 38 rifles, produced by the Army’s Tokyo Arsenal. The expansion of the Navy’s role for the increased exploitation of China and Pacific Territories with their Special Forces and land troops placed an increasing demand for rifles. Without alternatives it forced them to turn to their Government’s War Ministry for assistance in procuring armament needed from foreign sources.

On November 6, 1937, Italy joined Germany and Japan’s November 25, 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact. The agreement included several treaties one of which was for mutual assistance in industrial aid among the three participants.

With an agreement between the two governments, the Imperial Japanese Navy contracted directly with the Italian Royal Arms Factory [Fabbrica Armi Esercito] of Terni Italy, with specifications to provide a rifle with the Type 38 characteristics and cartridge ballistics. The Navy requirement was supplemented by the Army’s demand for quantities of the rifles for their troops fitting into their China and Pacific Territories expansion plans and as an apparent interim supply of rifles during the transition of the Army’s production of the Type 38 and Type 99 rifles during this critical period. The reported first of a two-part order for 60,000 rifles was placed in late 1937 and completed in the fall of 1938. It has been sourced that the Navy received and distributed rifles to their forces from this first order. In the fall of that same year another reported 60,000 rifles were ordered for delivery in 1939. However because of Italian arsenals involved in heavy production of their model 38 rifles, two civilian manufacturers were contracted to each produce 30,000 of the second order. One company was Pietro Beretta, [Armi Beretta], of Terni, Italy. By late 1939 the Beretta firm had manufactured some 20,000 when production for the Japanese ceased. The Imperial Japanese Navy controlled both contracts. No slings were furnished under the orders. Although specimens have been located in storage in military arsenals, throughout the eastern fronts and South Pacific territories, the connotation is that their issuance was on a somewhat as needed basis.

An interesting feature of many of the rifles was a split, [two piece], shortened buttstock design. The lesser length was intended to adequately fit the average short stature of the Japanese soldier and an economical advantage in use of undersized lumber blanks. This traditional and unique feature on most all of their series rifles was two pieces of wood dovetailed and glued together. The horizontal split line was located just above the pistol grip and extended the entire length of the buttstock. The lower piece was cut for the grain to run parallel with bottom edge of the stock. The purpose was to help strengthen the neck and provide additional support in that area when using soft wood. The split line is quite visible and makes a good reference for identification.

The rifles had another unique personality characteristic. The manufacturer’s name was absent and only the serial number with a letter appeared on either the receiver or barrel depending on the manufacturer. Some rifles had manufacturer markings, proof marks and year of production, again depending upon the maker. These were located on the bottom of the receiver. Some had no markings other than the serial numbers. Since the Japanese had a commission of inspectors at the various Italian plant locations, and the weapons were inspected and approved prior to shipment, reasons why no Japanese arsenal inspector markings were present.

It was a habit of the Imperial Japanese Navy not to identify small arms with a formal title unless they were of prototype development status or produced in the arsenals or by civilian companies under Government control. When ordnance was procured from foreign sources for service it was identified either by the foreign maker’s name or the country of origin and may only be an abbreviation. Sourced information indicates the Japanese referred to these rifles by using the katakana syllabary character イdenoting ‘i’ for Italian manufacture.

The Japanese were expanding their thrust into the South Pacific territories and heading toward The Dutch East Indies in 1942. They would again impose upon their Italian mutual assistance partner for additional supplies of small arms. This time it would be in the machine pistol category.

In 1942, the Beretta firm had introduced a 9mm machine pistol derived from an earlier version of their model 1938A. This new modification titled Moschetto Automatico Beretta 38/42 Machine Pistol was of a simpler more economical design of sheet metal stampings, rolled steel receiver and simpler surface finishing. The perforated barrel shroud was eliminated and a new barrel was adopted having horizontal flutes to decrease barrel weight and enhance heat dissipation. Compensator slots were cut on the top at the barrel’s muzzle. This series was produced by the Beretta firm as a standard issue for the Italian troops. In 1943 the weapon barrel was modified by eliminating the flutes and providing a smooth round configuration. No other changes were made. The Beretta firm titled this as Model MP 38/43 however they did not change the original MP 38/42 markings.

The Imperial Japanese Navy did not produce or possess a machine pistol of their design or of copy for their troops prior to and through World War II. Instead they purchased limited lots from foreign sources or utilized captured enemy material. Examples of foreign source material included products from France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland while captured weapons originated from Australia, China, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States.

In June 1943 the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal issued a purchase order contract directly with Beretta for the purchase of 350 itariya machine pistols which included three, 20 round capacity magazines and 2000 cartridges of Beretta “special” ammunition per gun. Although no slings were furnished the guns did incorporate the provisions. The buttstock heel plates were metal with the traditional double screw securing. No magazine loaders were mentioned in the order. The special parabellum type ammunition was of high velocity and produced by the Beretta firm for use in their machine pistols. It is identified as follows:





There were some interesting features of the Japanese version. The Beech stocks were of the traditional split pattern. The otherwise smooth barrel retained machine marks as an additional cooling feature. [This feature has historically been referred to as a characteristic of poor quality workmanship but in reality, it was deliberate, serving a specific purpose]. They lacked manufacturer identification on the weapons. Only a four digit-serial number and “cal 9mm” were inscribed. There was no specific serial numbering to identify the Japanese contract guns. The numbers were of normal production sequence and except for the noted features were incorporated in their lot runs. There may have been an additional purpose to this lack of identity; the Italian and German relationship was becoming strained by mid 1943. After the September 8 announcement of a possible armistice between Italy and the U.S. allies the Germans moved swiftly against the Italian military forces for intended occupation.

In early August of 1943 the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal received the first and only shipment of 50 guns of the model MP 38/43 with the specified magazines and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. There were no Japanese identifying marks on the weapons indicating the Japanese inspection commission authority in Italy accepted the guns at the time. Weapons were referred to by the itariya abbreviated Kanji character:

Distribution of the weapons is unknown and survival of the single digit count is limited to specimens captured in the South Pacific Territories.

REFERENCE: [030917] Excerpted from the soon to be published book: DRAGONS OF FIRE by William M.P. Easterly [www.dragonsoffire.com]

All content and graphics (including Web pages, illustrations, photos, articles HTML code and all other materials) on this site are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws and international treaties. Material on this Web site may NOT be copied without the expressed permission of the Owner (William M. P. Easterly)  which reserves all rights. Re-use of any of DragonsofFire.com or The Belgian Rattlesnake content and graphics in any format for any purpose is strictly prohibited. DragonsOfFire.com permits the printing of pages from the web site only for personal and non-commercial use of our visitors, provided: all copyright and other notices on any such printed copy are accurately reproduced, and such pages are not subsequently copied or distributed in any manner to any other parties. Except for the above stated use, permission for any other use of materials from the Web Site must be granted in advance in writing by william m.p. Easterly