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Deflating another Myth, The Type 3 Army Officer’s Sword (Expanded Version)

Article about: Deflating another Myth, the Type 3 Army Officer's Sword To thank this forum for inviting me as lifetime member, I offer you this expanded version of my original short article. Birth of the M

  1. #1

    Default Deflating another Myth, The Type 3 Army Officer’s Sword (Expanded Version)

    Deflating another Myth, the Type 3 Army Officer's Sword

    To thank this forum for inviting me as lifetime member, I offer you this expanded version of my original short article.

    Birth of the Myth

    I admit that only a week ago, the only sword myth I knew was that of Excalibur. I had never even heard of a Type 3 sword and I wouldn’t even have bothered to find out, because it was far afield of my personal area of interest. What provoked me, however, was a WAF thread I read about a mystery sword initially thought to have been used by the NLF, but now captured in a photo that proved it to be an army sword. I smelled a rat, exactly like the kind of fiction concocted by people, who would portray a China Incident Commemorative Medal as a medal for Chinese Collaborators. On top, I learned that Mr. Ohmura, who seemed to be a highly respected Japanese author in the western world also couldn’t quite figure out the so-called Type 3 sword. It sounded exactly the kind of mystery I was good at solving.

    So I decided to read Ohmura-san’s site and within a few lines, I saw his mistake, and that he was barking up the wrong tree for the rest of his account on the Type 3 sword. He wrote that for the first time, the officer’s gunto was going through the process other weapons had gone through, namely a temporary field launch and making it an official model after it proved itself in this shakedown process. Anyway that was how he interpreted the army description of the sword as a”臨時制式Contingency/Temporary Standard”. The rest of his account rambles on for a large part speculating why such a sword could dare to be manufactured without the Emperor’s approval, which was normally impossible. He also admits that it is also a mystery why the so-called Type 3 seemed to have been produced in parallel with the Type 98. I do not enjoy pointing out how other researchers erred in reaching conclusions, but people asking for means of verification are demanding a more detailed account of how I drew a totally different conclusion from reading the same document. So I will explain where the difference originates and why his version is flawed.

    Missing the first turn and getting lost in Fantasia land

    For someone studying swords, it may have been the first time to see equipment going through the paces of an official weapons introduction cycle, but I specialize in researching in a much wider range of army hardware development topics and immediately saw that he totally misinterpreted the army’s bureaucratic euphemism for ”desperate situation ” or even “last ditch”, which is actually the way Rinji 臨時should be read. This word used in everyday life now means “unscheduled and special”, like special increased plane flights during a holiday season or an extraordinary session of the diet, which through overuse by marketing people with special offers to announce lost its edge and became a fairly inert word. So many a modern day Japanese would sense no urgency or alarm in the use of the word anymore. However, the more original tone and meaning is represented still by the “Rinji News” you sometimes see on TV. Rinji news is a News Bulletin that goes “We interrupt normal broadcasting to bring you this breaking news!”. It is actually a word rife with urgency of a looming disaster, not some run of the mill soft launch of new hardware. It is the understated way of the army that will invent further gems of euphemisms like “shattered gems” for mass suicides and “falling cherry blossom petals” for Kamikaze planes raining down on you. The last ditch switch of aluminum canteens to rubber, steel, ceramics, etc was also described as a Rinji change. What that means is that there is a “do or die” situation and an emergency countermeasure was needed to override whatever the current authorized program was. Let’s say, for all intents and purposes it was the IJA’s way of saying “Houston, we have a problem.”

    Besides, the word that should have been used in the scenario he envisioned was not”臨時制式Contingency Standard”, but”仮制式 Provisionary Standard”, which is a status denoting wide scale field trials of equipment intended for official type approval. In this way, what collectors know as the cherry blossom helmet was launched in 1922 (albeit initially without the blossom) simply as a “Provisional Standard Helmet”. As a rule of thumb, this provisional status was to have only a maximum duration of 2 years, but with the helmet it ran much longer, but still never made it to official adoption, and in the end was superceded by the Type 90 helmet. In this sense, you can also call it a Probationary Standard, too, but that sounded a little too “undecided” to me, so being a former manager of an F1 racing team, I used lingo from my trade that sounded slightly more affirmative in the manner of “provisional pole position” (until confirmed legit by the FIA). If the army developers had called the sword a Provisional Standard Army Sword, it would have meant that it was being groomed as successor to the Type 98, so Type 98 production would have ceased and eventually the new sword would have been crowned by the emperor himself as the Type 3 or whatever. This was the scenario that Ohmura-san continues in vain to believe in.

    Legal Basis for a Contingency Standard (Army Weapons Code and the Uniform Code)

    Actually, the official army weapons code (Chapter 11 of the Army Master Regulations Book) allowed for 3 grades in the degree of how official the status of the weapon was, and one grade for “others”. First was the official “Type 制式”, then the “Provisional仮制式”, and thirdly there was the “semi-official standard準制式”, which was a grade of weapon not intended to become standard, but used by the army nonetheless. Finally, there was another “Other Standard”, which was none of the above, but still used by the army. As you see, there was no officially defined weapons category such as contingency standard, but it was a limited-time version of a semi-official standard.

    Rather than the weapons code, the legal justification for the sword in question to exist without the emperor’s signature lies in the Army Uniform Code (Chapter 10 of the Army Master Regulations Book) . The sword falls between these two sets of regulations being a weapon and at the same time a uniform accoutrement.

    The first several articles of the uniform code invest a lot of power in the Minister of the Army to implement necessary changes in the event of contingencies. Article 4 says “If the need arises, the Minister of the Army may designate at his discretion alternative contingency exceptions for fabrics and materials for insignia such as the star emblem, buttons and other accessories described in this uniform code”. This doesn’t sound so powerful, but still packs enough magic to turn an aluminum canteen into rubber and change the sword fitting’s material. However, Article 5 says further “The Minister of the Army may designate uniform items outside this uniform code when the need arises”, which allows him full control when there was a pressing need. This was the basis for Tojo to give birth to the sword, but he was not trying to do something behind the emperor’s back. These clauses exist to ensure that the army did not betray the emperor by failing to enforce the codes he had set. The emperor had bestowed army officers with a unique sword, the Type 98, but you will soon see that there was a grave breach developing and the army could no longer uphold its end of this pact with the emperor. So, if Ohmura-san did not miss the cue in the form of the word “Rinji”, the rest would have been straight forward and years of searching in vain for an officializing signature of the emperor would have been totally unnecessary.

    Identifying the “Clear and Present Danger”

    I took the cue in the same way NASA did when they heard “Houston, we have a problem”, so it did not take me 30 minutes to unravel the story. All I needed was to know what the “clear and present danger” was that forced the Minister of the Army to invoke his “Rinji” emergency rights. The answer to that question would normally be contained in the concept proposal document that launched the development of the sword, which Ohmura-san mentioned was the Army Ordinance number 5668 of 16th September 1938. I understood that people wanted to verify my claims, so here it is, Ordinance 5668.Attachment 888535Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2


    Army Ordinance 5668 of September 1938

    I assume most people reading this do not read Japanese, because if you did, you would have been on to the real story years ago and I would not be writing this now. So naturally I will explain what is written there.

    The title of the cover page reads “Manufacturing and sales of Gunto as uniform accessory for officers and warrant officers” Originator of this memo was the Firearms sections of the Weapons Bureau. It was raised on 14th September 1938 , issued to the arsenal on the 16th and passed the desk of the Minister of the Army on 19th September. The second page asks the Chief of the Army Technical HQ to discuss with the Chief of the Army Arsenal the orders issued to the arsenal for a “Contingency Standard Sword” as described in the attached sheet.

    Finally, the typed attached sheet is the meat that we are after.
    “Regarding the manufacturing and sales of Gunto as uniform accessory for officers and warrant officers”

    1. The army arsenal is hereby tasked with the production of 3000 blades annually at a maximum cost of 80 Yen for a sword (including the furnishings) which is practical and robust for sale to officers and warrant officers.

    2. For the time being, no brass is to be used for the exterior fittings to make the sword a purely utilitarian product. However, manufacturing drawings and other details are to be duly discussed and agreed with the Chief of Army Technical HQ before being presented to the Minister of the Army for his approval.

    3. The sale of the products should be organized through Kaikosha and Gunjinkaikan (Military Hall close to the Yasukuni Shrine)

    One needs to read these documents exactly in the same way you would read a modern business mandate. The title summarizes the whole point trying to be made and 1 to 3 is in the order that the author of the instruction wanted to stress. Firstly, “Uniform accessory” in the title tells you that we were to follow the uniform code, not the weapons code in interpreting the instructions. What drew my attention was that the arsenal was normally NOT in the business of making things for sale to officers, so the whole point of the title and item 1 was that “direct arsenal intervention” was crucial and could not be left to the players in the commercial market in order to achieve the critical targets of 3000 blades a year and a price of 80 yen. This was to be achieved by keeping the sword free of frills and keep it a utilitarian and heavy duty sword.

    How expensive was a 80 Yen sword in those days? To give you a sense of scale, here is what other weapons were costing that year. The Nambu 14 Pistol was 68 Yen, Type 30 Bayonet 8.4 Yen, Type 38 Rifle was 57.7 Yen. So for the price of the sword you could get a Nambu and bayonet combo and some change. That was what the army thought was a reasonable price for a sword, but in reality, market forces would have driven the going price for a Type 98 Sword far above that level.

    Ohmura-san also missed the points that this letter was trying to stress. He only picked up the part about robust and simple, but hopefully you see that “robust and utilitarian” was meant not as an end, but rather as a means of achieving the prime objective, which was the price and volume. In summary, I read the true message as “The commercial market cannot be trusted any more to secure an affordable supply of officer swords. The arsenal must intervene and through focusing on the hardcore qualities of a combat weapon, and doing away with the frills, a new compromise between traditional craftsmanship and mass production must be sought to achieve a breakthrough in productivity”.

    Ohmura-san skipped over the “affordable supply” mandate of the order, which not to mince words, threw the baby out the window with the bath water. It was obvious to me that the commercial market had let the army down by not being able to supply the volume or by raising prices to its officers to prohibitive heights. That was the emergency situation against which Tojo had to invoke the Contingency clause. Once I knew what I was looking for the rest was easy.

    1937 Officers had to make do with Type 95 NCO swords due to a worsening shortage

    The only shortage problem that Ohmura-san’s site refers to is the long ago case of 1931/32 when shortages of officer swords required the arsenal to sell prototype type 91 NCO swords to officers. He failed to notice that by 1937 new officers found that they could not get hold of any swords to complete their outfits as per regulations. So in desperation, they turned to the arsenal, asking that they be allowed to purchase the Type 95 NCO swords as a substitute. On 29th July 1937, their request was granted and it was agreed to let them buy Type 95s at a price of 33 Yen a piece. They were to fill in the private purchase application forms as provided in the July 1937 memo and apply to Kokura or the Tokyo Arsenal directly with the money. Not only officers in the field, but also vets back home were allowed to buy these NCO swords. The army thus ended up with many officers equipped with the wrong swords.
    Here is the July 1937 application for officers to purchase their Type 95 NCO swords. Part one was the request to buy and the other sheet was a note promising to pay the 33 Yen by the date to be designated by the arsenal. One required the unit commander’s signature and signet or when one was a veteran, that of the regimental district commander.
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    The 1938 concept starts to take shape ( Short on Flair, but long on combat readiness)

    The ordinance of 1938 proposing the so-called Type 3 came in the wake of this mess, seeking to find a production solution to the shortage by yielding on the specs. It is clear that the army was trying to correct the mess it had created for itself by offering officers who bought the Type 95 to trade up to something that looked more officer-like. In essence, the arsenal was given 47 (80-33) Yen of elbow room to come up with looks upgraded from the Type 95 and making it more like an officer’s sword, but without the bottle neck features that caused the Type 98 production to fall so short in production volume.

    Ohmura-san’s site is very helpful in clarifying the design concept followed to keep the sword simple and heavy duty, as many war time newspaper clippings explain how the army’s intention was communicated to the layman. According to this, the type 98 was inspired by the ornate Tachi design of the late Kamakura period, whereas the Japanese Sword further evolved into a leaner and meaner combat weapon during the Warring Sengoku era. The modified sword design was trying to emulate this latter sword design, tempered through years and years of actual hand to hand combat. One of the features adopted was the simplified manner of Tsukamaki, handle cord wrap pattern called the Kansuke-maki attributed to Shingen Takeda’s Chief of Staff, Kansuke Yamamoto. This simplified pattern would take only about 30 minutes to do whereas the diamond pattern used for the type 98 would take half day to a full day to complete, according to a clipping. Striking a new balance between traditional craftsmanship and mass production did seem to have some promising tricks up the sleeve when you read the clippings. Short on flair, but long on combat readiness was the army’s sales Spiel, which sounds good enough to sugar-coat the real agenda behind the program. Though it was conceived as a poor man’s edition, of course, that was no way to introduce the sword to young officers, so they even employed a clever press campaign to put a positive spin on it.

    Other Initiatives to close the demand and supply gap

    While this sword was taking shape, the supply crisis was getting worse, so other back up measures were introduced one after another. One was the Military Sword Appraisal Committee formed in late 1938 as a joint program between the army and navy officer clubs, the Kaikosha and Suikosha and the Gunjinkaikan supported by the Army and Navy Ministries. The purpose was to buy up family Samurai swords that could be made into army and navy Guntos. Appraisers and affiliated dealers got together to offer you a fair price for swords you brought in.

    Another measure was to reduce demand for officer swords, the decision to switch the swords for probationary officers to Type 95s , a proposal presented to the Army Minister on 5th July of 1940.

    1940 The new sword is born

    Nearly two years after the arsenal was tasked with the development of a new sword, the design was finally ready and they applied for the final nod from Army Minister, Tojo on 10 August 1940. The drawing that was originally attached is now missing from this document, but it said a few examples were to be manufactured already that year in 1940 and from 1941 onwards to be increased to the level of 3000 swords a year. Price was expected to be 110 Yen (80 Yen for the blade, 30 Yen for scabbard and fittings). The arsenal was to conduct the quality inspections and sales were to be through Kaikosha or the Gunjinkaikan. This scheme was endorsed by Tojo on 17th August. A scribbled memo attached to this document in barely legible handwriting says “In view of the ever worsening supply situation of officer Guntos and the many substandard examples unsuitable for use seen on the marketplace, this sword’s blade and exterior furnishings were conceived and manufactured to be heavy duty and utility focused. The blade will be of hand forged Tamahagane” This memo I was only able to decipher now, but it confirms my version of the story as to why the sword was conceived. Here is that memo
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    1941 Rent a Type 95 Sword program as last resort and doubtful fate of new sword

    As the report to Tojo proposed, some examples were actually prepared in 1940 and these were presented to the press, which became featured in many newspaper articles from January 1941, featured on Ohmura-san’s site. But whether they ever reached annual production of 3000 is for me doubtful. At least they did not seem to get there in 1941 as planned. That is because even more than a year later new officers were still having difficulty getting officer swords so that as a last resort they had to introduce support in the form of Army Ordinance 9283 of 23rd December 1941, which allowed officers who could not get their own swords to rent a Type 95 NCO Sword until they could buy one.

    End of 1942 supply finally meeting demand?

    Perhaps by end of 1942 some volume may have been reached to ease the shortage, as in November of that year the Military Sword Appraisal Committee moved into the Arsenal and it now also checked the quality of the swords sold through the arsenal and also started to hold Japanese sword promotion events, as well as research on various aspects of the sword maker’s craft. Such “cultural enrichment activities” seem to indicate to me that they were no longer under the pressure of a “contingency” that kicked everything off 4 years ago. Of course the rent-a-sword program must have reduced a considerable burden of pressure on the production of the new sword, so the new balance was found to some extent through reduction of demand rather than increase in supply.
    A memo of 12th May 1944 further reports on a plan to prepare 160,000 officer swords for sale, but by then talk was cheap and reality was grim.

    1945 Bring your own Samurai Sword Program

    Ironically, the army’s action of selling the Type 95s to officers back in 1937 and now renting them away may have contributed in turn to a shortage of Type 95s in 1945, as in May and July, the Army had to repeatedly ease its regulation on NCO swords to the extent that they said NCOs who had family Samurai swords may wear them, so long as they returned issued ones to ease the overall shortage of swords in the army!

    Summary Was There a Type 3 Officer’s Sword?

    The short answer is that there was no such Type. It was only intended as a special contingency edition to boost productivity and cope with the emergency of an acute shortage of officer sword supply that tormented the army between the years 1937 and 1941. It was not intended as an official type, but was rather a production variation only for the duration of the supply crunch. The root cause of the shortage was simple, the inability of the labor-intensive traditional sword smith’s craft to keep up with the rapidly swelling size of the Japanese Army. An attempt was made to shave production time off by sticking to practical features only, but as long as they stubbornly held onto a hand forged blade, streamlining would have only seen limited results. So the program probably never fully met its full production objective, and needed the aid of demand reduction measures like switching probationary officers to type 95 swords and renting type 95s to officers.

    They had to deal with this humiliating fact that they could not even properly equip its officers just as the war with the USA was starting, a very bad time to admit defeat of traditional values, which in this case was nothing less than the “Spirit of the Samurai”. The result was a half-cocked attempt that came to be called by collectors of today as the Type 3 Officer’s Sword, an army sword that became so obscure that it was even thought to be a sword used by the navy’s special landing forces.

    Why in hell is it called a Type 3 when it has been clear for some time that the green light to enter mass production was given in 1940 (Year Zero, 2600) instead of Year 3 (1943)? Ohmura-san has chosen to believe the collector’s legend in Japan that it was finally blessed by the Emperor in the year 1943 and that perhaps this document had simply gone missing. I say that Tojo had the full power to make the army produce this sword without the emperor’s sanction, so it never became a Type nor aimed to become one.

  5. #5


    Now I am receiving comments that doubt that there was any shortage of officer swords. In case these doubters think that what I wrote in the article is only my opinion, I need to point out that I am only conveying to you what the war-time army documents in the Japanese National Archives are saying. Duplicates of these documents must also be stored in the US National Archives, as they are all documents that had been in US possession and returned to Japan only after Americans had finished with them.

    There are several army documents that you can read to verify the shortage and I have already shown you the 1940 memo that explains that these shortages were the reason for the new simplified sword design. Another good example is the one explaining the reason for the extraordinary sale of Type 95 NCO swords to officers back in 1937. I have posted already the purchase application form template given within this 11 page document, but here is page 2. It explains that the arsenal will now sell officers the NCO swords and the last part explains the background for this exceptional decision, which I will translate for you.

    “ Reason……..Approval of the request to sell Type 95 swords is given, after due consideration, for the purpose of easing the supply shortage in the private sector (commercial market) of uniform designated swords for officers and warrant officers, in connection with the current Incident (China Incident). 12th Year of Showa (1937) July 29th “
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    If there are any other original documents you wish to see, which I refer to, don't hesitate to ask. However, I cannot supply you with spec drawings, as these are missing from the 1940 document as explained.

  7. #7

    Default Original documentation related to the So-called Type 3 Sword Article

    I thought another document would be good in proving that the officer's sword shortage lasted from 1937 to at least end of 1941. That is at least 5 years of short supply that those who have "not noticed any shortage" had missed, long enough to miss a whole war.

    Here was the situation right after Pearl Harbor. If one takes the phrasing of this ordinance at face value, one can assume that combat branch officers in the field seem to have had their officer swords by then. So new officers and rear area people like quarter masters would be the ones most eligible to buy the 1940 variation.
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    Last edited by rbminis; 10-06-2015 at 12:18 PM.

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    Another point people don't seem to understand is that, though the 1940 variant was conceived for the sole purpose of turbocharging production volume, the blades were were never meant to be cheap low grade items, but made by proper smiths. The only catch is that the army would pay them only 80 Yen for their work, while on the free market they surely must have gotten more. So they probably were not too enthusiastic about the program and were coerced into producing a certain quota as a patriotic duty. Once that quota got filled, they must have gone back to making the better paying Type 98s. Pegging an artificially low price got the army involved in an unhealthy planned economy scheme like the communists were known for, leaving someone holding the short end of the stick.

    And like Type 98s there naturally would be luxury versions and barebones versions even for a sword conceived as a poor man's version. There will also be older blades made into the 1940 style, as the Appraisal Committee was sponsored directly by the army and navy. Also the scoundrels, who exploited the earlier shortage to peddle substandard quality swords, ripping off officers would have now tried to make money selling upgrade aftermarket kits, etc, etc. Officer items were private purchase items, and though they may have had difficulty buying one without having to pay an arm and leg for it, once they got one they could dress it up as they liked. So the existence of high quality examples of the 1940 model is totally natural and in no way conflicts with the account I have given you.

  9. #9


    I very much enjoyed your 'abridged' version of this article Nick, but this is just superb research and of great benefit to the community of collectors. Thank you for taking the time to expand the original article!

    So, to get rid of the in-correct title this sword has had for years, we as a community need to start calling it something more relevant.

    As it is not a 'Type' as such I guess something like "1940 Army Contingency Sword" may be appropriate - what are your thoughts on this?



  10. #10


    I am not a sword collector, so I would rather leave that to collectors who have a need to refer to it. I thought "1940 variant" would be neutral enough, but I am not able to tell whether that name is already taken by some other sword in the collector world. This sword did not even take over during the contingency, but was produced in parallel to the Type 98 to pad up the production volume. Kind of like introducing a stripped down version of a car as a "Sports" or "Rally" version.

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