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 them.

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 in battle.

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 them.

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 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,
Generally from 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 Congress Party.

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 guns.

Of all the captured rifles employed by the Japanese in East Asia, it is said they most preferred Dutch Mannlichers in 6.5x53mmR.