There were some interesting figures mentioned in passing at the end of the chapter on Japanese wartime pistols in Ezell’s Handguns of the World. The statistics were interesting enough that we thought we’d parse them out and expound on them a wee bit. Because, you see, different nations gave pistol production entirely different priorities during the war and in the very long period leading up to it — for Ezell started counting in 1875. So how many pistols did three world powers buy for their armed services in the seventy years from 1875 to 1945?
Pistols & revolvers bought, 1875-1945 (estimated)
|United States||3-4 million|
Source: Ezell, Edward Clinton. Handguns of the World, Harrisburg, 1981: Stackpole Books. p. 626.
Interesting. Unfortunately we don’t have figures for the British Commonwealth and the USSR.
There are a number of factors involved. Ezell suggests that the Japanese did not emphasize pistols, while the other nations’ services did. (The Imperial Japanese services were also smaller than the American or German armies). He further suggests that this lack of emphasis may be why Japanese handguns — how shall we put this politely? — fail to achieve world standards. The Japanese also had the least handgun variety of any of the major powers. (They also had less penetration of pistol-caliber submachine guns in their armed forces than any of the other belligerents; they had a functional if plug-ugly and hard to manufacture SMG in the Type 100, but it never seemed to catch on).
Japan also seems to have required its officers to purchase their own sidearms, or do without. The other nations generally issued pistols. Pistols were seldom carried by anyone but officers in the Japanese Army and Navy. And officers seemed to prefer, as a badge of rank, the traditional Japanese sword. Cavalrymen, heavy-weapons and artillery crews, and paratroops were generally supplied with bolt-action carbines or even full-length rifles.
In the German service, those special-purpose troops were generally armed with pistols, and sometimes they were the only weapon carried by officers, even in ground-conbat units. Senior officers particularly wore pistols, often personally-owned small pocket pistols, as a token and privilege of rank. All German paratroopers carried pistols on airborne operations (Crete being the largest and best-known in the West) because all their long arms were dropped separately, in canisters. (Gliderborne forces, an important part of the German airborne, kept their rifles and MPs with them).
As a result, German demand for pistols during the war was insatiable, with numerous captured weapons and even captured production lines being pressed ino service. This was true not only of weapons that were already in or readily convertible to fire Germany’s standard 9mm cartridge, but also of many other handguns in a wide range of sizes and form factors. So while Germany could put 9mm Browning High Powers and Radom VIS’s to work right away in their existing logistic system, they also used a wide variety of .32 and .380 pistols, and even the 7.65mm French Long M1935 pistols. We’ve even seen 9mm Largo Spanish guns with documented and credible Nazi provenance. This must have been irritating for German logistical planners.
The USA fit midway between German enthusiasm for and Japanese disinterest in pistols. Our paratroops armed themselves as heavily as possible, and a .45 was never more than a secondary weapon. We had, prior to our war entry, developed what is today called a personal defense weapon to increase the range and lethality of crews’ and officers’ defensive armament. Many officers disdained the concept of pistol armament for leaders, and supplemented that with a rifle or carbine.