The Baby Nambu and its importance to Ruger

  1. Editor
    The company that we know and love today as Sturm, Ruger got its start in a way from a certain Kijiro Nambu, who, in a twist of fate, was a Lieutenant General in the Imperial Japanese Army. Would you like to know more?

    Who was Nambu?

    kijironambu-401.jpg
    (Seems real fun at parties)

    Kijiro Nambu, born September 22, 1869 in Saga prefecture to a former samurai retainer of the Nabeshima clan, went off to the Imperial Army Academy at a young age. By 1897 Nambu was an Artillery Lieutenant assigned to the Tokyo Arsenal where he worked under a cat by the name of Nariakira Arisaka on a rifle that later became the standard for the Imperial Army.

    In 1902 the 33-year old Nambu's first solo project, his Type 4 (aka Type A) pistol, was finished and in the prototype stage. This recoil-spring single-action pistol with a thin fixed, low bore axis 4.61-inch barrel was very simple. It did however incorporate an automated grip safety under the very snug trigger guard and a range adjustable rear sight to maximize its accuracy. In grip angle, it mimicked the Swiss-German Luger pistol although its caliber, the downright anemic 8x22mm Nambu round (yes, he invented that too) with its 102-grain lead bullet, was underpowered. Still, the cartridge and the Type A pistol was adopted by 1903 and remained in service with the Japanese military through World War II.

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    Type A via Max R. Popenker


    By 1906 the design had been changed to use a newer, more modern magazine (the original 8-shot magazine incorporated a wooded floor plate!), a widened trigger guard and other minor differences to include deleting the Also adjustable sights and grip safety.

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    A final version in 1925, the Type 14 went into mass production and more than 400,000 were made, becoming the most common Japanese semi-auto pistol of all time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts2FHD8OAuM
    A Type 14 up close

    This led to American collectors in later years to dub the original Type 4/Type A as the "Grandpa Nambu" while the modified improved Type 14 version was the "Papa Nambu." This of course leads one to wonder, what about the Baby?

    Enter the Type B

    Designed by Nambu in 1909 as more compact version of his military pistol, the Type 14/Type B was generally a much smaller pistol. Gone was the 4.61-inch barrel, replaced by one nearly an inch and a half shorter. Even the caller, replaced by the downright pipsqueak 7x20mm Nambu with its 52-grain bullet. Even the action was different-- this new gun being a locked breech blowback design.

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    Via Rock Island. These guns are amazingly collectable

    Just some 5,900 were made by the Koishikawa arsenal before 1923 for the Japanese Army's Kaikosha store program (similar to the U.S. military's base exchange program) these guns were never officially adopted by the Imperial military although many staff officers bought them for their own personal use.

    After all, would you rather carry a 23-ounce gun or a full-sized 32-ounce one when, as an officer not usually on the front line, you were more likely to wear your handgun as a badge of office rather than for combat.

    Post-World War II collectors, presented with GI bring back Type B's, promptly dubbed these guns "Baby Nambus"

    And one made it into the hands of a young firearms engineer by the name of Bill Ruger in the late 1940s...

    Ruger's take on the Baby Nambu

    Tinkering in his garage, William Batterman Ruger had a Nambu that he borrowed from his neighbor, a WWII Marine Corps vet who brought it back from some forgotten island fortress in the Pacific. Disassembling the gun and tinkering with it, the self-taught engineer duplicated two of his own before tweaking the design to give it a more pleasing Luger-ish external aesthetic. Instead of 7x20mm Nambu (just try to get that in the 1948 Montgomery Ward's catalog), Ruger went with the cheap and readily available .22LR.

    New methods of manufacture, to include using piano wire coiled springs over flat springs and a two-piece sheet metal receiver meant the gun could be made inexpensively yet still have quality behind it. In 1949 the Ruger Standard was born-- with a decidedly Japanese backstory.

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    As noted in the October 1996 issue of Guns magazine: One of the interesting sidelights to the "Baby" Nambu story is that Bill Ruger had two in his personal collection. He copied the "Baby" concept, making two more, although both were in .22 rather than 7mm. Ruger considered his "Baby" Nambus too concealable and, before getting into the casting business, too expensive to produce by conventional methods. Nevertheless, a picture of Ruger's prototype "Baby" appears on page 48 of Wilson's Ruger & His Guns.

    Comparison of the two guns side by side tells the story better than I can as you can see with this Namby Type 14 and a Ruger Standard:

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    Via ScoutRifle.org

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    Via ScoutRifle.org

    Here is the standard with the Baby Nambu

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    The Standard, Ruger's first offering, helped launch the company and is still in (much modified form) constant production today.

    As for Lt. Gen Nambu himself? Well he died in 1949, just as the Ruger Standard was being sold. It was unknown if he knew how full the circle had come on his old design. His company, formed in the 1920s, folded into the Minebea concern in Japan and they still make submachine gun, for the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).

    Funny how the world works, isn't it?

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