The Nambu pistols (南部拳銃 or 南部大型自動拳銃 Nanbu kenjuu or Nanbu ōgata jidou-kenjuu) were a series of semi-automatic pistols produced by the Japanese company Koishikawa Arsenal later known as the Tokyo Artillery Arsenal. The series had five variants, the Type A Model 1902 (also called the Grandpa Nambu), the Type A Model 1902 Modified (also known as the Papa Nambu), the Type B (also known as the Baby Nambu), the Type 14 (南部十四年式自動拳銃) and the Type 94. The pistols were designed by Kijiro Nambu and saw extensive service during the Russo-Japanese War, Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. The Type A was made in very small numbers. Type A Modified and Type B Nambus were never formally adopted by any branch of the armed forces of Imperial Japan but were sold to officers through officer stores. The Type 14 was adopted as an official sidearm. As World War II progressed, and particularly in the final year of the war, in order to speed production, Type 14s began to be more hastily manufactured with a subsequent decline in quality.
The “Type 14 Nambu” was designed in 1925 with the goal of simplifying manufacturing to reduce cost. It was officially adopted for issue to non-commissioned officers in the Japanese Army in 1927 and was available for purchase by officers. The Type 14 was an improved version of the Type A Modified Nambu. As many as 400,000 Type 14s were possibly produced. Most Type 14s are marked with the month and year of production according to the year of Emperor Hirohito with his reign name abbreviated Sho from Showa left of the stamped date.
Later production models are distinguished by an enlarged, oblong trigger guard (which was introduced after Japanese soldiers reported difficulty in accessing the trigger while wearing gloves in Manchuria) and sometimes have a knurled steel cocking knob instead of the standard “slotted” cocking knob. An auxiliary magazine spring was added from mid-1940 to retain the magazine and aid the magazine follower. The safety is a lever on the left side and locks the barrel and barrel extension as well as stopping the sear from moving. A redesigned cocking knob was implemented in 1944 in order to simplify production. The Type 14 also lacks the grip safety used on the previous models. The Type 14 could be equipped with the Type 90 tear gas grenade with use of a special attachment.
Pre-World War II Type 14s are well made, with quality dropping during wartime. Machining marks, a lack of polishing, and thin bluing became more common as wartime shortages affected quality. The later Type 14s remained quite functional despite the decreased quality. Holster quality for the Type 14 also degraded as the shortages of critical raw materials forced a change from a leather holster to rubberized canvas.
One quality of the Type 14 caught the eye of William B. Ruger who had acquired a captured Nambu from a returning U.S. Marine in 1945. Ruger duplicated two Nambus in his garage, and although he decided against marketing them, the handgun’s rear cocking device and the Nambu’s silhouette were incorporated into the Ruger .22 semi-automatic pistol series, when in 1949 the Ruger Standard (and later Mark I, II, III and Mark IV) pistols were sold to the American public.