But least known of all might be those of Japan.
The following photos are from Nakata and Nelson’s Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment revised 2nd edition (Hong Kong: Chesa Publishing Ltd, 1987), pages 327-328. Many questions arise beyond what is told in their captions. Maybe some of them cannot be answered and remain open to reasonable speculation.
-- Presumably these guns shown here are museum pieces somewhere in Japan? These published photos do not say.
-- If the guns use black powder, how are they loaded? There is no ramrod for muzzle-loading, and no indication in the photo about how their breeches open and close. The pistol’s breech looks like it was wrapped with wire for reinforcement. Maybe they use paper cartridges?
-- Who might have designed and approved them? Some of the firms that worked on German emergency guns are known, and they submitted them to the Heerswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Office) for approval.
-- Was any rough basis of issue believed to be planned for them? My imaginary example: homeland Army troops carried their issue weapons, while certain groups would be issued the better emergency guns and AT weapons. Less-trained groups might get the black-powder guns, and mass civilian levies the bamboo spears.
The 15mm bullets were said to be made of steel bar stock, but that is square or polygonal in section. They were more likely made of steel rod stock, which is circular-section like the guns’ barrels. The barrels themselves were almost certainly smoothbore.
However desperate, the use of black powder guns has its own problems. Gunners have to be trained, while black powder must be made and distributed So do the percussion caps. Also, musket drill and tactics were long ago evolved up through the mid-19th century to make up for their slow fire and short ranges. Those would not seem to have been useful in the defense of homeland Japan. So, except for guerrilla attack, how might these black powder guns have been used against a modern army?
As I understand it, old Japan effectively went almost directly from disused matchlocks to cartridge guns in a single generation. Japanese percussion arms are therefore rare. With almost no historical experience of them, it seems slightly the more remarkable that they would use that kind of gun lock, even in emergency.
Coincidentally, these emergency black powder guns look remotely like the old matchlocks from medieval Japan. Although of course they are not as well-crafted as the matchlock muskets.
Do these photos' Japanese captions translate differently from their English ones?
This rifle-caliber gun was reportedly a failure due to powerful ammunition –- presumably the standard 7.7mm. But it is not said how it failed. What could that have been? The lock of a single-shot, hand-loaded cartridge arm seems fairly easy to make, especially if they are made only for a limited service life. Could the failure have been that of low-grade steel parts?
Japan was short of small arms at the war's end. But I had the impression that she still had large amounts of their standard ammunition, such as the 7.7mm. Although if so, its transport and distribution would have remained a problem of course.
From today’s viewpoint it seems better to make a submachine gun than this single-shot pistol-caliber weapon. But submachine guns were not widely-issued in the Japanese Army, compared to most of the other armies. From photographs at least, does it seem as if even the Chinese forces carried more SMGs than their Japanese opponents?
These Japanese guns seem mostly to be machined from solid steel, rather than stamped out of sheet steel. My impression is that this was because the small shops for making them had only basic machine tools. The crudest German weapons – automatic ones – were made by sheet-steel stamping and fastening, and used standard box magazines (also stamped), Stamping is cheaper for large-scale production, but it needs tool-and-die work that might not have suited the dispersed Japanese industry of the time.
Here is a distant comparison to another simple weapon -- the well-known American “Liberator” pistol . This single-shot .45-caliber gun was made by General Motors at a cost of about $2 each, though I suppose the name was given it only after the war.
A guerrilla would use it to kill a single enemy soldier, such as a sentry, and then take that soldier’s rifle and ammunition for himself.
from Joseph E. Smith and W.H.B. Smith’s Small Arms of the World 10th revised edition (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1973), page 176... This single-shot [gun] was reported as being very effective against the Japanese in particular. The barrel was not rifled. As a close-quarters weapon it was extremely deadly, not only because of the heavy slug it fired, but also because the user knew that he had only one chance. He stopped his enemy the first time or he was in trouble. There is reason to believe, on the basis of data furnished by intelligence groups, that more killings were done with this simple, crude pistol than with all the the service .45 automatics issued!
Liberator pistols were small enough to conceal and use against garrison troops of an occupying power. They are closer to assassination weapons than military ones. The Japanese emergency weapons were single-shot too, but they seem to have been meant as military arms for open combat against the Allied invasion armies. Yet even in theory as well as hindsight, the Asian guerrilla had more hope with his Liberator than the Japanese levy did with a black-powder musket.
Thus, like the bamboo spears but only slightly more capable, these emergency guns were moral weapons above all.