Reissued Rifles of
"The East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere"
By Dan Reynolds
This article deals
with rifles that were employed against the Japanese in the early stages
of World War II, captured by them, and later reissued to Japanese troops
and also to Asians of other nationalities allied with or working under
In June of 1940,
World War II in Europe was in its second year. The Netherlands were
under German occupation and its Queen and government had fled to England.
France had capitulated to Germany and a new government under Marshal Petain
was formed at Vichy in the unoccupied half of the country.
Both countries had extensive colonial empires and large naval forces.
In the Far East,
the Dutch controlled the vast East Indies with its immense wealth in oil.
The French controlled Indo-china with its rubber. Their ally Britain
ruled over India, Ceylon, Burma and Malaya. These areas contained
many precious resources necessary for modern warfare. The most important
of these commodities were oil, rubber, tin and quinine, a drug necessary
to combat malaria.
The British now
faced Germany with only its Empire forces. Australian, Canadian,
and New Zealand troops as well as the British Army of India provided manpower.
The resources of the Empire provided raw material and some manufactured
goods. Her vast Navy was the key that held the lines of communication
open. It was to the United States that she looked for essential
war supplies such as aircraft, ships, arms and ammunition of all sorts,
food, fuel and thousands of other items. These she got. She
was determined to bring both Russia and America into the war on her side.
Stalin wanted to keep Russia out, but Roosevelt was anxious to join the
British if a way could be found to overcome his domestic opposition.
A year later, Russia
was in the war allied to the British as the result of an attack on the
USSR by Germany. "Lend Lease" was underway to help the British and
Russians, and an Anglo/American oil embargo was placed upon Japan, then
engaged in a war in China but not in the general conflict. This was
designed to provoke Japan as the demands made upon her prior to the embargo
would not be accepted. Japan had a six month oil reserve which would
mean a crisis deadline of December 1941. In Japan there were
two factions within the establishment. A strike north faction to
take out the Soviet Union, perceived as the No.1 enemy, and the strike
south faction to seize "the southern resource areas", the empires of the
White colonial powers of Britain, France, America and the Netherlands.
The Emperor sided with the strike south faction.
Japan had a strategy
to appeal to the Asian people under Western colonial rule, based on the
"Asia for the Asians" slogan. Japan would establish a "Greater East
Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" embracing the various Asian areas with their
own indigenous government under the leadership and protection of the Empire
of Japan. Such governments existed in Manchuko and the Japanese controlled
areas of China. Special intelligence sections were in place to identify
and support nationalist individuals and groups in these various colonial
areas that would be brought to power as the Japanese Army won these areas
During the six month
period leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of general
war in the Pacific, the British began building up forces in Malaya, Singapore,
and Burma and assisting and supporting the Dutch in the Netherlands East
Indies with their fleet and war supply deficiencies. The U.S. was
doing the same for her forces in the Philippine Island Territory.
These efforts were accorded a low priority and fell far short of what was
required for the planned contingency. The French in Indochina were
powerless to resist Japanese demands and had to give virtual control to
The Dutch NEI government
had sent an arms purchasing commission to the USA and arranged the purchase
of a large number of .30-06 M1941 Johnson Rifles and Light Machine Guns.
Dutch Forces in the NEI were armed with Mannlicher Model 1895 rifles and
numerous carbine versions of this rifle in 6.5x53mmR. These were
turnbolts similar to the Romanian pattern M1893 Mannlichers and were made
both at Steyr and Hemburg Arsenal in Holland. In the NEI, arsenals are
believed to have been located at Batavia, Bandung and possibly Suribaya
where rifles could be repaired and cartridges reloaded. There was
a great shortage of ammunition of all sorts which neither Britain nor America
could supply under existing emergency conditions. The .303 British
rifle ammunition case is very similar to the Dutch 6.5mm and it was proposed
to modify Dutch Mannlichers to use British ammunition as it would readily
fit the Mannlicher enbloc clips. It required removing the barrel
and boring out from 6.5mm to 7.7mm, rerifling, then replacing and adjusting
headspace as necessary. It had a benefit of giving a new condition
bore. Existing sights were used. How many were actually converted
before the Japanese victory are unknown, but postwar the Indonesian government
in the 1950's made a large number of conversions to .303. There are
rumors that the Japanese navy converted some to use 7.7mm but it is unclear
whether this refers to the Japanese Army rimless round, or the Japanese
Army semi rimmed round for machine guns, or the .303 British round used
by the Imperial Navy in their Lewis LMG's as the 7.7mm. The Japanese,
especially the Navy, issued the captured Dutch weapons during the course
of the war.
( Although not in
Asia and directly related to the subject of this article, it is noted that
the US Government supplied .30-06 M1903 Springfield Rifles to Dutch Surinam
at this period. Dutch troops in Surinam modified these rifles by moving
the sling swivel from the middle band to replace the stacking swivel on
the upper band and carried slung rifles muzzle up in this configuration
in the jungles to reduce hang-ups on vines and creepers.)
In the Philippine
Islands, US Army troops and the Philippine Scouts were armed with the M1903
.30-06 Springfield Rifle. Shipments of .30-06 M1 Rifles were received
and both types were in issue. This caused a lot of trouble during
the fighting in 1941-42 as ammunition was packed on two types of non-interchangeable
clips and often men were forced to remove the ammo from the wrong clip
and repack it on the right clip or if in a battle feed it as a single shot.
Mi clips could be a problem, as used ones were frequently damaged under
foot. The new Philippine Army under General MacArthur was armed with the
Model 1917 .30-06 Enfield. Ejector spring breakage was an ongoing
problem with this rifle and the small stature troops found it hard to handle.
The Japanese reissued all these captured rifles later on and used them
against us in 1944-45 during the recapture of the P.I.T.
The British Indian
Army was a separate entity from the British Army. Its history is
quite complex. It was armed in this period with the following small
arms: Rifle .303 No.1MK111, No.1MK111*, Machine Gun .303 Vickers Heavy
Water Cooled, LMG .303 Lewis, air cooled, LMG .303 Vickers-Berthier, air
cooled, LMG .303 BREN, air cooled, Pistol .455 Webley of various marks.
The British Indian Army was a professional force, used to police the east
Asian empire, and during WW1 and WW2 used in Africa, Europe and the Middle
East. Its officers where mostly British, other ranks were drawn from
certain groups within the Raj. The British preferred men from the so called
"martial races", Sikhs, Pathans, Jats, Gurkas,
northern India. They were kept in their own communal units and not
integrated. They could rise to the equivalent of warrant officer
status in US terms, with titles such as jemadars and subadars. These
were called VCO's or Viceroy Commissioned Officers. They were always
assigned to units of their own ethnic group. KCO's were Kings Commissioned
Officers, always white men until in 1917 when 10 slots a year were created
for native KCO's. These were assigned to selected units slated for
Indianization as they slowly replaced white KCO's. By 1941, the ratio
of white to native KCO's was 10-1. The Army was kept non-political,
but with the wartime crisis many men were inducted from the southern "effeminate"
races and some of the native KCO's were of the upper Hindu classes, both
coming from a background influenced by the independence movement of the
By the fall of 1941,
war with Japan was imminent. Australia demanded that some of its forces
serving under Imperial Command in North Africa be returned to provide some
defense for their homeland. Churchill delayed, and ultimately diverted,
these forces to East Asia to defend Imperial interests in Singapore, Burma
and the Indies where they fell into Japanese captivity.
By December 1941,
the British had moved the Indian Army and other Imperial Units to reinforce
Malaya and Singapore against the expected blow which fell on December
7th. On Sunday 15 February, Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese
by an Imperial Force which had greatly out numbered it. The
lightly armed Japanese had taken the Malay Peninsula and the Gibraltar
of the Orient in quick time against light resistance. Among the prisoners
were about 50,000 British Indian Army men and less than 300 native KCO's.
The Japanese assembled about 40,000 Indian men and KCO's at a race track
in Singapore on 17 February where they were addressed by a Colonel Hunt
of Malaya Command who told them they were now prisoners of the Japanese
and he was turning them over to them. He saluted a Japanese officer
who gave a short speech telling them they were not prisoners but friends,
that Japan was freeing the people of Asia from colonial rule and then turned
them over to Mohan Sing. A Sikh, Mohan Sing announced that "we are
forming an Indian National Army" to free India.
From there the "Indian
National Army" would experience many twists and turns. Formed to
fight in India as an ally of the Japanese, many thousands of volunteers
joined. Finally committed to battle along the India-Burma border
toward the end of the war, it was swept away in the Japanese defeat.
Led by Subhas Chandra Bose, it ultimately numbered 43,000 volunteers.
It was armed with captured British material and wore British Indian Army
style uniforms. The Japanese failed to properly collect and preserve
British rifles, machine guns, mortars and ammo so that this material quickly
became unserviceable in the tropical climate. This led to shortages as
the Indian National Army expanded. The standard Indian issue rifle
was the S.M.L.E. No.1Mk3 and No.1Mk3*, somewhat rusty, but British issue
cleaning kits were scarce and bores suffered. Machine guns were in
such short supply that Dutch Madsen LMG's in 6.5x53mmR were supplied along
with captured Lewis, Bren and Vickers Guns, creating another ammo problem.
No special markings are known to have been used on these rifles and machine
Of all the captured
rifles employed by the Japanese in East Asia, it is said they most preferred
Dutch Mannlichers in 6.5x53mmR.