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Combat Swords


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Hi all,

 

I was having a read through the Type 3/Type 0/Rinji sword threads previously discussed and it got me thinking about the types of swords used in combat and in the field. What was being debated in these threads, was whether officers preferred Type 98 'fancy' koshirae such as pierced brass tsubas, or whether it was more practical to have the solid, iron tsubas and koshirae of the Rinji sowrds when in the field. Some hypotheses were made that staff officers and those out of the front line may have preferred the Type 98, whereas those who actually took part in combat may have preferred the Rinji variety.

 

In an effort to approach this matter, I searched for photographs of swords either being used or being captured. The problem with the latter, is that usually these swords are massed and could either have been taken from staff or field officers. 

 

The former brought up photographs of Japanese officers, cheering after victory in battle with swords drawn. None of the photographs that I saw were of sufficient quality to determine the tsubas or koshirae used on the swords they depicted. Photographs of atrocities committed by Japanese troops, however, did give some answers. There is no political impetus behind this post, and I would like to focus purely on the sword fittings being discussed here.

 

There were many atrocities committed in Manchuria, with Lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai participating in one such. Without going into detail, we can see that he indeed was carrying a Type 98 in the field (keep in mind the Rinji had not been 'invented' yet). This sword is displaced in Shanghai and was the subject of controversy in 2017 when a Taiwanese man used the blade to attack an official Japanese government party. The tsuba on that particular sword is visible here - and is of brass/ornate construction

 

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Interestingly, this took me to another source Uno Shintaro, a Kempeitai officer involved in massacres in China. An oral history that he gave Japan at War - An Oral History stated:

 

My every day sword was a Showa sword...my other sword...was presented to me by my father and dated from the sixteenth century. Sukesada was a sword made for fighting. It cut well, even if you were unskilled. It wasn't a particularly magnificent sword, but it was the kind the samurai in that time of constant warfare appreciated...

 

The remainder of the account is too graphic for me to publish here, but the excerpt emphasised the use of old blades in combat during the Second World War, to replace mass-produced Showa blades of the time. I understand that Japanese soldiers were confident of winning the war and also wanted a sword to pass down to the family with an heirloom quality blade mounted, hence the upgrades to Gendaito and ancestral blades.

 

Progressing on through the war, the Australian War Memorial describes the following sword as belonging to a war criminal who hung for executing 8 Australian soldiers with this sword. This shows clearly a Type 98 sword and not a Rinji. The War Memorial caption describes the tsuba as pierced. 

 

Struggling to find any conclusive evidence of Rinji use in combat, I managed to spy this photograph of captured swords by American forces in 1944. Here, on the 11th, 27th and 29th blades from the foreground of the photograph, we can see what appears to be cast iron tsubas. Have we finally found photographic evidence of Tsubas used in battle? This photograph appears to only depict a few swords of perhaps a battalion and not a mass as is usual.

 

What did we gain from that research (apart from a little project for myself)?

 

1. Even knowing that Rinji were less common, they certainly seem photographically to not be depicted in as much battlefield use

2. Type 98's were still used in combat situations by frontline troops

3. Soldiers seemed to find ancient/older blades more useful than their mass-produced Showato in a practical sense  

 

Kind Regards,

 

Andrew

 

 

 

 

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The question is interesting, and finding conclusive answers to your questions are only conjecture. But, as the RS model was really only a year old by wars end, they are of course much rarer. And by 1945, the RS model degenerated into very basic, lacking refinement, rushed into service, swords due to lack of materials and bombed factories. 

Knowing what swords were preferred in a combat situation again is speculation, also you find very few ancestral blades in RS mounts. There are however many examples of RJT traditionally made blades in RS mounts, with star stamps. For example, ENDO TOMONARI was favored for the blades cutting ability late in the war. This would mean the officer who chose one of his blades, wanted a good cutter. This would indicate that they were used, and not for show.   

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6 hours ago, IJASWORDS said:

The question is interesting, and finding conclusive answers to your questions are only conjecture. But, as the RS model was really only a year old by wars end, they are of course much rarer. And by 1945, the RS model degenerated into very basic, lacking refinement, rushed into service, swords due to lack of materials and bombed factories. 

Knowing what swords were preferred in a combat situation again is speculation, also you find very few ancestral blades in RS mounts. There are however many examples of RJT traditionally made blades in RS mounts, with star stamps. For example, ENDO TOMONARI was favored for the blades cutting ability late in the war. This would mean the officer who chose one of his blades, wanted a good cutter. This would indicate that they were used, and not for show.   


Neil,

 

We both know which sword we are talking about! Yes that is totally plausible and the fact that swords were upgraded even towards the end of the war, shows their intention to be used in combat. There is an argument to be made that swords with standard blades/Showato could have been surplus, but those with RJT are more likely to have been issued.

 

My next question has been triggered; did they government acquire blades from manufacturers or did individual personnel on a private basis? Surely the government would have requestioned all swordmakers’ blades as their own in such a time of crisis? 
 

Kindest Regards,

 

Andrew

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9 hours ago, Droocoo said:

did they government acquire blades from manufacturers or did individual personnel on a private basis? Surely the government would have requestioned all swordmakers’ blades as their own in such a time of crisis? 

Andrew,

There are a number of scattered pieces of this discussion all over NMB, but I don't think there is a dedicated thread to it (note: What a great topic for a thread!), so the abbreviated version is "all the above."  Officers had to buy their own gunto, NCOs had them issued to them.  Swords were sometimes brought from home.  Some villages pooled together and commissioned a "sending off" sword.  There were big sales events at Department stores, Sword clubs hosted sales, individual forges sold swords, and both the Army and Navy had Officers Clubs that sold swords.  I cannot say whether the arsenals did any selling.  In 1942, the Army Sword Office took control of all sword manufacturing for the war, so you see a concerted effort to funnel swords from all over the country into key arsenals.  But how they got from there into the hands of officers, at that point, I cannot say.

 

Good post about a 1942 sale in a department store, by Nick Komiya: https://www.warrelics.eu/forum/f216/1941-ija-weapons-prices-todays-values-786328-post2158440/#post2158440

 

and another: https://www.warrelics.eu/forum/f216/1941-ija-weapons-prices-todays-values-786328-post2154949/#post2154949

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Bruce,

 

Aren't those excerpts great? I wonder what became of those swords, and what service they saw both in China and the Second World War. 

The sword "fete" and demonstration that Nick describes is also very novel and interesting. There were many Western examples of this as commissioned officers took to Saville Row to purchase uniforms, and Sheffield cutlers for swords.

 

I can imagine the excitement of young men as they fitted inherited blades before mobilising for war.  I find it interesting that Japanese shops carried antique blades to sell to troops, rather than these being solely inherited. The concept that an old blade could still outclass a new blade is very interesting.

 

Andrew

 

 

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59 minutes ago, David Flynn said:

The reason sword shops sold so many antique blades is,  because  with the end of the Samurai as a class,   most could not afford to keep their swords.

 

The recycling of these blades is what surprised me 

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