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The Evolution of the IJA’s Type 30/38 Rifle Ammunition Pouches and Belt (1897-1945)

Article about: The Evolution of the IJA’s Type 30/38 Rifle Ammunition Pouches and Belt (1897-1945) There's more to it than you ever knew Another IJA item typically underappreciated by collectors, because o

  1. #1

    Default The Evolution of the IJA’s Type 30/38 Rifle Ammunition Pouches and Belt (1897-1945)

    The Evolution of the IJA’s Type 30/38 Rifle Ammunition Pouches and Belt (1897-1945)

    There's more to it than you ever knew

    Another IJA item typically underappreciated by collectors, because of lack of information about them are the infantry rifle ammo pouch sets. Most collectors simply think if you have one set in leather and another set in the later rubberized material, you have them all. While there are books discussing details of how the Type 30 bayonet and frog combo evolved, you hardly find any information in books about the evolutionary stages of the ammo pouches. Thankfully things like bayonets retain stamped markings, so one can trace the evolution just by following the markings, but IJA leather items typically got stamped in black ink inside, which simply disappeared due to the darkening of leather through repeated oiling. So unless one is capable of doing archival research in Japanese, all historical details remain lost to the collector.

    Other than the rubberized variant, the pouches are generally regarded as having not changed at all since their introduction in 1897 (30th Year of the reign of Emperor Meiji) as accessory to the IJA’s Type 30 rifle designed by Nariakira Arisaka. However, until 1945 that is a model life of a whopping 48 years, and if you know where to look, history did in fact leave milestones of changes that we can track.

    So let me revive for you through archival research, the historical development story now lost in the darkened leather of the pouches in your collection.

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  2. #2


    1897 – 1905 Treated as part of the gun spec of the Type 30 and 38 Rifles

    When the Type 30 infantry rifle was introduced in 1897, the specification description of the gun included the ammo pouches, the waist belt and the bayonet with frog, all as integral features of the rifle itself. This meant, for instance that the bayonet was not called the “Type 30 Bayonet” at that time, but merely as “Bayonet for the Type 30 Infantry Rifle”. The same applied to the waist belt, which was not conceived as a waist belt at all, but as a “Leather strap for the Type 30 Infantry Rifle Ammunition Pouches”.

    This trend continued into the Type 38 rifle, which was introduced in 1905 as a Provisional Standard (made Official Standard on 5th May 1906 through ordinance 36). Thus the same belt, pouches and bayonet were carried over into the Type 38 specs. By the time the provisional status of the Type 38 rifle got lifted in May of 1906, the Army must have realized that these items were not specific to the guns, but have become common components better managed by keeping them independent from the gun specs.

    So on 20th July 1906, Army Ordinance 53 announced that the belt, bayonet and frog were to be excluded from the specs of the Type 30/38 rifles. Despite this status change, the official designation of the bayonet still remained as “Bayonet for the Type 30 Infantry Rifle” regardless of whether it got paired with a Type 30 or a Type 38, and the belt was now associated with the bayonet as a “Leather strap for the Type 30 Infantry Rifle bayonet”. The designation of “Type 30 Bayonet” so familiar to collectors today was only adopted 1.5 years later on 19th December 1907 through Army Ordinance 1464 (The belt was now officially “Leather strap for the Type 30 Bayonet”.)

    A Hybrid of two types of cowhide

    Before we discuss individual Japanese military leather gear, I need to explain what went into Japanese military leather work in general. The leather sheets used were initially extremely labor intensive products, made by gluing two different types of cowhide together, so that both sides were smooth and glossy, unlike the cheap thin leather used on German equipment with one side in the ruff. The outer side layer was 2mm thick and the specified leather grade was called褐色多脂牛革 (tan rich oil cowhide). I am not certain what this corresponds to in the western world of leather-craft, perhaps harness leather is the word I seek, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, this was ultra high quality in the sense that the time it had to soak in the tanning process was double that of normal leather, which tightened the grain to create a highly durable leather, suitable as shoe soles or drive belts in machinery. The higher oil content kept it supple even when used thick, and made the leather take on a naturally darkened amber look much quicker than normal leather (quick to age). Hereafter I will refer to this as “finishing leather” after the role it plays in IJA gear.

    The other leather layer on the inside was called 褐色堅牛革 (tan hard cowhide). I don’t know, but this might be called saddle leather in English. This is stiff leather made by compressing thick leather down to a high density and was used as a 2.5mm thick inside layer. This leather served to give the pouches its boxy and solid shape, which could not easily be crushed, so let’s call it “structure leather” hereafter.

    So the original specs for leather gear called for a hybrid of the above two, which together formed a 4.5mm thick sheet for ammo pouches and waist belts to be made of.

    Before the Belt was a Belt

    The focus of this story is the ammo pouch, so I will disregard the bayonet and frog, as that is a well covered topic, but let me briefly cover the belt as it was initially part of the ammo pouch and others have not written anything worthwhile about it yet.

    As already mentioned, the IJA did not have the concept of a standard waist belt to which you attached the various gear, but rather each gear came with a unique body strap/belt, so the belt width, etc varied by the type of sidearm. However the length appears to have been standardized at 100 cm. The number of adjustment holes varied according to the item. Thus what later became the IJA’s standard waist belt for soldiers initially started with 9 adjustment holes when first introduced in 1897, in combination with the Type 30 Rifle. This was increased by 2, making it 11 holes by Army Ordinance 101 of 6th October 1899. This was done to cope with the tendency for the belt to stretch, so they added two tighter positions. (By WW2 the number of holes reached 12, but unfortunately I could not pinpoint when this last addition came.)

    Super-Size it, please

    Soon the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905 brought another size problem, but this time in the opposite direction. A single size waist belt of 1 meter length was not long enough to allow wear of equipment over heavy winter clothing. Field requests were coming in for belts 30 cm longer (1尺/ Shaku by pre-metric Japanese measure) to which the army responded in end of 1904 by deciding on a special delivery of belts extended by 24 cm (8寸/ Sun). However, to expedite production of these longer belts, the army decided to cut corners. Since the beginning, the belt was made of two layers (structure leather inside and finish leather outside), but this meant a lot of extra work compared to using a single strip of thick leather.

    So in January 1905, the decision was made to allow a single layer of structure leather provided it had a thickness of 4mm or more. These extended belts continued to be produced even after the Russo-Japanese War to supply the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. The simplified production formula was also approved in November of that year for ammo pouches as well, but I am not sure how much of the belt production switched to the single layer of leather at this time. There is no doubt that by WW2 the leather was single layer, but this switch could have happened as late as 1937, as the army did not really face supply shortages again until the China Incident of 1937.

    I know that at least one American author claims that the belts came with two slider loops, but documentary evidence in the form of official drawings prove that the correct number was one, not two.

    The above all took place while the belt was still part of the Type 30 rifle specs, but as of 20th July 1906, Army Ordinance 53 separated the belt from the rifle and made it a part of the Type 30 bayonet spec instead. As a side note, I should add that the serial number of the bayonet was no longer required to match that of the gun from this point onwards, as a result of being separated from the rifle.

    Another delivery of 10,000 extended belts took place at the end of 1906 to Manchuria, but this seems to have been the end of the long belt runs. By the next occasion, requiring cold climate gear, which was the Siberian Intervention of 1918 to 1922, the army prepared special belt extensions for each weapon ( Type 30 bayonet, Type 32 sword, Cavalry Carbine Ammo Pouch and Type 26 Pistol all received specific belt extensions). This also came handy for large individuals, who could not wear the standard belt and was finally a happy solution that was also used during WW2.
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  3. #3


    The Rubberized Canvass Option

    The final chapter of the belt story would naturally be the rubberized canvass model. Some say these were developed for use in the tropics, as leather rotted quickly in the jungles. Others regard these as the last ditch model, the result of desperate material shortages at the very end of the war. Both schools are incorrect, but the latter is somewhat closer to the truth.

    The truth is that serious material shortages hit Japan much earlier, already in 1937 due to the accelerated mobilization of troops in the China Incident. This was also the time they ran out of officer swords, which could no longer be procured by new officers and they had to make do with Type 95 NCO swords while the army tried to find ways to boost production, and as part of that scheme, created an oddball sword model, which collectors call erroneously the Type 3 sword.

    Likewise they also foresaw shortages of wool and took up the backup plan of using rabbit fur felt to make felt field caps. Such items appear disconnected from the context of previous design history of the individual items and make collectors scratch their heads, why they suddenly appeared out of the blue, but those were all planned production alternatives to turbo-charge total output to catch up with the quickly swelling size of the army.

    The canvass and compressed rubberized canvass models were such an additional repertoire. These were already on standby for production in March of 1938, when the army made a listing of all current leather items and determined in what phases they should introduce substitute materials. This list already gave the green light for “heavy water repellent cotton canvass厚織綿帯地(防水)” material to be used for belts as Stage A, and indicated “compressed rubberized cotton canvassゴム引圧搾綿布” as the next step, Stage B as required. Accordingly the army belatedly issued material standards for compressed rubberized canvass on 6th September 1941, but actual production of rubberized goods was already in full swing well before that by January of 1941, and surely already had begun in 1939 much earlier than collectors believe.

    One interesting thing about the 1938 new material launch plan listing is that regarding Type 30 bayonet belts, both “standard” and “extended” versions were foreseen, which means that, though even as recently as 1936 the army had delivered belt extensions, they still kept the longer version in the spec book as late as 1938. However, judging by the rubberized belt in my collection they may have reached a compromise between “standard” and “long”, as mine measures 115 cm in length with as many as 14 adjustment holes.

    In addition to rubberized material, as of 13th July 1939, Manchurian pig skin also received the green light for application to ammo pouch production, so this likely got applied to belts as well.

    The whole point of alternative materials was that these were extra to the original designated material and was not meant to replace the whole production volume. One could produce whichever version material stock on hand allowed. In 1939 the army already reported happily that use of compressed rubberized canvass could save a lot of leather and reported usage in the past one year period as 883 tons of leather and 1038 tons of compressed canvass, which greatly reduced the pressure of shortages in production of weapons that absolutely required leather.   
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    Last edited by nick komiya; 12-22-2015 at 08:39 AM.

  4. #4


    The Ammunition Pouches

    Finally onto the main theme, the ammo pouches. If I followed the pattern of the other “Evolution” stories I wrote, I ought to start with the Murata rifle and its pouches, but as I suspect reader interest is not that high so far back in history, I choose to start with the Type 30 pouches as these were carried over into the Type 38 and Type 99 rifles, making it very relevant to WW2 as well.

    1897-1903 Type 30 Rifle Rear Pouch with loops for Chamber Cleaner

    Let’s first take a look at the ammo pouch design as introduced in 1897. As you see in the drawing below (taken from the Type 30 handling manual issued by the army in December 1899), the two front pouches look no different from the WW2 era models. However you’ll see that the rear pouch is showing some kind of rod attached diagonally to the front of the pouch. That is the cleaning tool for the gun chamber, shaped like a hockey stick and illustrated just above the rear pouch. Also illustrated to the left of that tool is the folding screw driver. This also went into a small pocket on the left side of the rear pouch.
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    In order to best illustrate details of the design, I will show photos of a hand-made replica, accurately made directly from an original example. These replicas are the work of Artisan Kimura of Studio Dekunobo Japan.

    The color coded photo of the front and rear pouches show how the two types of leather were combined in the manufacture. The parts marked in green were to be kept supple and whale oil was considered best for that purpose. The parts marked in red on the other hand were structural parts that needed to remain stiff, so soldiers were taught in the care manual not to apply oil to those areas.

    The fact that the main shell was made of 2 layers of leather can be seen at a glance when one sees the bottom of the rear pouch. Notice the sewing around the finger holes. For the front pouches, if the inside is glossy, that is the sign of this early construction.

    Both the front and rear pouches were made in this solid form specifically to hold the boxed stripper clips. Each box contained 3 clips of 5 rounds each. The front pouches each held two such boxes and the rear pouch held 4 boxes, making it a total of 120 rounds.
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  6. #6


    1903 December- 1904 November Omission of Chamber Cleaner Loops

    Army Ordinance 110, dated 11th December 1903 deleted the carry loops for the hockey stick chamber cleaner. The rod was henceforth to be carried in the bread bag or back pack. This was to ensure that the rod did not fall out and get lost. The pouches in stock would continue to be issued with the loops.

    One year later, a minor improvement in the sewing pattern of the rear pouch was announced on 23rd November 1904. The easiest to explain change was the method of sewing the central partition, which overlaps the rear crimping point of the press stud located in the center. They decided to notch out a small piece from the partition’s edge to allow for the crimped stud base and also skipped one stitch there, so the thread would not rub against the metal and get worn through.
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  7. #7


    1905 November 28th Approval of single layer structure leather casing

    In order to ease the kind of production shortages experienced during the Russo-Japanese War in the future, the army approved use of single layer thick structure leather for the main body of the pouches, which until now required 2 layered hybrid leather. This did not mean, however, that pouches ceased to be manufactured with double layered leather. Instead simply both versions were accepted as official spec from this time and the choice was left to the manufacturer’s material stock availability. Having said that, I should add that the manufacturers seem to have held onto the 2 layered-construction, pretty much until the IJA hit the next supply crisis of 1937. It appears in hindsight that the army prematurely compromised its specs, as I know of no actual examples of single layer leather shells from these days.

    It was at this stage that the pouch designs were carried over to the newly introduced Type 38 Rifle.

    1910 December 2nd Dulling of the Stud Tip Design

    I unfortunately do not have any illustrations to show how sharp the initial version of the closing studs were, but when multiple pouches were stacked together for storage or shipping, the army noticed that the pointy tips caused unsightly scratches and dings in the leather of pouches they came into contact with, so they dulled the tip design at this time for the front and rear pouches alike.

    1916 July 28th Redesign of Rear pouch and oiler

    The end of WW1 engagements against the Germans in China brought a slightly more significant change. The oiler kept in the small harness on the side of the rear pouch had gone through some small changes before this time, but the overall size was small, limiting the oil amount and the small mouth of the bottle made it not easy to fill. This was now replaced by a larger oiler with a larger mouth and cotton wadding was added to the oil application stick on the lid to make it more useful. As a result, the harness size needed also to be increased.

    The lid of the rear pouch went through a very visible change in that it got a hold-down loop for the closing strap and stud fixture to prevent accidental opening of the pouch lid. At the same time putting the stud through the closing strap was made easier by tapering the tip by grinding off on an angle.

    Although documents do not specify when the shape of the screwdriver pocket was changed, two rear pouches in my collection with the later style screw driver pockets both have the lid hold-down loop. Furthermore one still retains a fairly clear set of markings. The date is marked in 2 digits ending with a 1, which can only be for Taisho 11 (1922) and the inspector and arsenal markings all match the markings on a bayonet frog that is clearly marked 1923. Admittedly this only means that the design change occurred before 1922, but my gut feel is that the pocket design was changed along with the oiler harness design in 1916, as it fits well with the other changes that took place that year.
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  8. #8


    1934 July 5th Discontinuation of rear pouch and front pouch closing straps shortened to 308 mm

    I suppose many collectors hear for the first time that the rear pouch was actually discontinued and no longer issued nor made for 3 years between 1934 July and 1937 May. This was based on a plan proposed at the end of the previous year to generally lighten the load of soldiers in combat. The idea was to have soldiers carry the 60 rounds of ammo in the bread bag or in the back pack along with the oiler and screw driver instead. At the same time, they planned to discontinue the visor cap to wear only field caps and have shelter halves loaded in the trunks instead of having the soldier carry them. Instead the soldiers were to be newly issued with rain coats.

    This was actually enforced and the rear pouches disappeared. The front pouches got a minor tweaking at this time, too. Until this time, the closing strap on top of the front pouches had an overall length of 312 mm, but this was regarded as not holding the lid down tightly enough, so the length got reduced to 308 mm.

    All of us as collectors know that the rear pouch existed at the end of WW2. There were no big complaints from the field about not having the rear pouches between 1934 and 1935, but as more troops got sent to the continent from 1936/37, as war with China flared up, there were repeated calls for renting rear pouches or special issue for troops requiring fire power to combat partisan activities, etc.

    1937 May Rear Pouch Revived

    By the spring of 1937 it was clear to the army that it had made a mistake in discontinuing the rear pouch and it was revived in May along with a tweaking of the oiler which I will not get into here.

    The Omission of the screw driver pocket

    Unfortunately my archive studies could not pinpoint the timing of discontinuation of the screw driver pocket from the side of the rear pouch. My feeling is that it never came back when the rear pouch got revived in 1937; that it disappeared in 1934 with the pouch. After all, between 1934 and 1937 soldiers got used to carrying the screw driver in the bread bag and probably would not have fussed about it anymore, and 1937 was the year of severe shortages, so every simplification counted greatly in coping with the supply crisis. It will remain an educated guess until confirmed in a drawing or document, but no one has ever offered a date to my knowledge, so my theory is the best you’ve got at the moment anyway.

    1939 July Manchurian high oil content leather pouches

    On 13th July 1939, Manchurian pig skin also received the green light for application to ammo pouch production, but I have never seen an actual example.

    1939 September lid flap stiffened and front pouch straps further shortened to 295 mm

    The final change made to the leather pouch specification was to tighten the lid closure of the pouches. As the lid used supple finish leather the lid became soft and floppy with use and would develop gaps through which clips occasionally fell out. So in order to remedy this problem, the leather was switched to stiff structure leather, and the front pouch closing straps, which had already been shortened to 308 mm in 1934 got further shortened to 295 mm to hold the lid down even tighter.

    The Canvass and Rubberized Model Pouches

    As already explained under the topic of belts, the production of heavy water repellent canvass versions of the pouches already got the green light in March 1938 and by mid 1939 the compressed rubberized cotton canvass items were already in production. The January 1941 listing of manufacturers and their production capacities for gear made of substitute materials gives the following information on rubberized pouches.

    Manufacturers of rubberized front pouches and contracted production volume for 1941

    1. 高砂ゴム工業  東京目黒 Takasago Rubber in Meguro, Tokyo  60 thous. pcs
    2. 横浜ゴム製造  横浜鶴見 Yokohama Rubber in Tsurumi, Yokohama 40 thous. pcs
    3. 坂東調帯ゴム  神戸林田 Bando Chotai Rubber in Hayashida, Kobe 40 thous. pcs
    4. 昭和ゴム     東京京橋 Showa Rubber in Kyobashi, Tokyo 60 thous. pcs  
    5. 国華工業     東京蒲田 Kokka Industries in Kamata, Tokyo 40 thous. pcs
    6. 昭和ゴム     東京足立 Showa Rubber in Adachi, Tokyo 163.8 thous. pcs

    I only picked out Type 38 rifle pouch production, but all the above are also shown as producing Type 99 rifle pouches as well. All companies were operating well under capacity, according to the document.

    By the time these were produced, the shortened closing strap of 295 mm was in use and the tab loop on the lid of the front pouch; there to keep the straps from getting lost was increased to two, instead of one as in the leather models. These are all rock hard with age, so I have never tried to open any of mine, and therefore I frankly do not know how they look inside.
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    Last edited by nick komiya; 12-21-2015 at 09:50 PM.

  9. #9


    How to date your pouches

    The easiest way to date your front pouch is to measure the length of the top strap

    295mm is a post September 1939 Model

    308mm dates it between July 1934 and mid 1939

    312mm dates it between 1897 and June 1934 ( if the inside leather is not glossy, it gets narrowed down to between Nov. 1905 and June 1934).

    An easy way to measure it alone without involving your reluctant wife, and costing you a free dinner for her is to mark out approx the 300 mm point from the edge of your desk with white tape and mark in the 295, 308 and 312 positions by pen. All you have to do is unbutton both ends of the strap, lay your pouch upside down on the desk with the tip of one strap stretched flat on the desk resting at the edge. Now rest the other strap end flat on the desk and read which marked position the strap tip reaches.
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  10. #10


    Here’s a survey of my pouches

    1. 312 mm with glossy inside x 2 (one with brass studs and other with aluminum)
    2. 308 mm with glossy inside aluminum studs
    3. 308 mm with ruff inside brass studs

    What interests me in the above result is that though the single layered manufacture had been approved since 1905, they still made double layered models after 1934, but some time by 1939 all pouches must have switched to single layer production. Once again I suspect the switching point to be around the crisis year of 1937. Both of my rear pouches with screw driver pocket are double layered, so I guess this remained pretty much in force up to 1934. And my mint rear pouch with riveted on belt straps is dated 1940 and is single layer production, which jibes with my theory that 1937 was the watershed point.
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