Myths of the Samurai Sword v.s. the M1 rifle in WWII?

Discussion in 'Weapons' started by slipthejab, Jul 24, 2005.

  1. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    One persistent myth that I have heard so many times over the years goes something like this:

    Ok... I am sure there are plenty of people sniggering right about now.... but I'm sure that if you were raised in the US and you have family in the military that at some point you've heard a similar version of this story.

    Does it have any credibility at all?

    A list of questions regarding this story:

    1) Has anyone ever seen any factual data on something like this?

    2) Does anyone have an anecdotal article that is this basic drift?

    3) Have you ever heard anything like this from family members who fought in the war?

    4) Has anyone ever seen the US army manuals that taught this technique of blocking vertical sword strikes with the rifle?

    I am imagining that samurai swords are far too brittle to be able to take full whack at a rifle and cut right through it. Chances are the rifle in question would be either the M1 Garand or the M1 Carbine made by Springfield Armory.
    (Note picture at bottom - essentiall this... perhaps with a Ka-Bar bayonet attatched.)

    Another issue that I have with this story is I'm wondering the quality of samurai swords issued to soldiers during WWII.

    1) Would they have been up to the quality that samurai swords are supposedly renonwned for?

    2) Would they have been somewhat substandard by comparison to the notion most people have of the quality of samurai swords?

    3) Does anyone have any information on the numbers of swords actually issued to soldiers? And if so what units and what ranks?

    I look forward to hearing all of your ideas and input :D
  2. Kwajman

    Kwajman Penguin in paradise....

    3 members of my family fought in the pacific, thats hogwash. My ex-marine uncle has a samurai sword (really nice one) and while it is excellent quality, no way would that cut through a rifle or the wooden stock.
  3. Pinoy_Kendoka

    Pinoy_Kendoka New Member

  4. Sheyja

    Sheyja Valued Member

    personally I believe the stories to be true. When a sword is folded again and again over 20,000 times, it's no longer as brittle as people imagine metal to be, especially if the swords be made with a steel/iron mix.
  5. Prophet

    Prophet ♥ H&F ♥

    20000 times, I highly doubt that.

    Have you any credible sources that state how many times they were folded (on average) during the forging process?
  6. chevelle2291

    chevelle2291 Valued Member

    check out

    I'm guessing that this is a myth but if you want some more info on this subject you'll find it there.
  7. Cudgel

    Cudgel The name says it all

    Hey you should email mythbusters on teh discovery channel. That woudl rock to see them test it. And then se it fail.
    Swords arent meant to cut wood, or metal.
    And katana werent folded 2000 times more like 10-20.
    And steel is a mix of iron and carbon. And mixinf steel with iron would make a lower grade of steel than you started out with.

    And cutting a bullet is not cutting a sword, Lead is a soft metal, one of the reasons its used for bullets. And the sowrds that were shot at eventually did break.
  8. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    I think you're not quite on the money with those numbers there. :D

    The story always sounds very silly. When one thinks about the hardness of a gun barrel that is some what surrounded by wood... I don't think even an axe which would be much much heavier would be able to cut/crash/smash through it... at least not in one go.

    I'd be more likely to think that the following two are more likely.

    1) The samurai sword would snap

    2) The samurai sword may get somewhat through the wood and then stop dead when it hit the gun barrel.

    Does anyone have any info on the quality of the swords issued to Japanese soldiers?

    What about what ranks were issued swords?
    I can't imagine that every single solider in a regiment had to hump a sword and a rifle and everything else.

    How would they compare with much older Swords from say the fuedal era in Japan?
  9. soon

    soon New Member

    WW2 Japanese swords were generally mass produced, single piece stamped steel, for the purposes of stirring national pride rather than actually being used much. Occasionally there may have been a real family Nihonto blade in military fittings. I think the Japanese learned the outcome of guns vs swords quite abruptly during the Satsuma rebellion. As for all the myths, the Japanese sword is impressive in its construction, function and grace. It is, however, still a piece of metal, physical laws still apply, engage skepticism when faced with myth.
  10. Chris Umbs

    Chris Umbs New Member

    Hank Reinhardt, from Atlanta Cutlery, used to go to knife/sword shows with machine gun barrel just for that purpose. Whenever someone would bring the topic up, he'd bring the barrel out and tell them to try their luck. He never had any takers (most folks said things like 'I can only draw this sword for serious combat' or the like).

  11. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    Good post. Do you have any references (book name, ISBN# or web link?) on the production quality of Japanese WWII swords. I've often thought as much in regards to both the production values of a soldiers sword and into the lessons learned by the Japanese in regards to swords v.s. guns nicely. Very well put.:D
  12. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter


    Thanks. Very interesting. I was sure that I wasn't the only one who'd run across this myth before. LOL! I can imagine all the sheepish looks and all the shuffling of feet from the people holding the swords. Hilarious!:D
  13. soon

    soon New Member

    Hey, thanks slippy :) All the books that I have read on the subject are safely back in the University library I'm afraid, pity it had nothing to do with the history side of my degree!!! With concerted net hunting I'm sure you will be able to find loads of info regarding these matters.
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2005
  14. gpinkert

    gpinkert Valued Member

    I agree, swords arn't mean to cut through hard woods or other metals in the fashion. (Theres a difference between one katana hitting another against the side flat of the blade and a katana hitting a pipe.) There's a reason tameshigiri is done with woven mats...

    As far as the blade being folded and what not, the blade is typically folder 15+ times, however..... it's done in such a way that you double the amount folded each time so 1, 2, 4, 8 , 16, 32, 64, 128..1024 layers, etc. You can get a large number of layers it just takes time to refold it each time.
  15. akitaka

    akitaka Valued Member

    Hmm. While a true nihonto is sharp, and strong enough to cut a bullet, the physics that drive this is determined by the person wielding it. The videos above I think were from "trivia", a Japanese show involving the "discovery" of numerous fun facts. That was an awesome episode, by the way.

    The nihonto was basically locked in place, and the bullets coming at it at speed of over 200 mph. I'm not sure on how fast a major-league basball player can swing, but my guess is around 40-50ish mph...if not, faster. If we had a robots running around pre-meiji then yes, I'd believe the story, but to cut metal and hardwood would require a lot of both strength and precision (angle, distance, etc).

    When it comes down to it, though, in warfare, range > melee. Unless robots are involved.
  16. SCP_Kensei


    Of course he katana can cut through a rifle, with ease. I have seen it.
    It aloss easily defeated modern ceramic/plastic body armour, slices through cybernetic and robotic liombs with ease, and can be use to open the thick steel doors of bunkers.

    It's an excellent throwing weapon and always returns tot he users hand, even after dispatching several opponents. NOt to mention it's ability to deflect incoming bullets.

    Oh sorry....that's a lightsaber isn't it.?

    Come on guys, wihtout emprical evidence to support this there is no way we csan really say whether or nor the Katana can cut through rifles. It's perfectly possible that a certain sword cut through a certain rifle due to some quirk of fate in WWII, but I seriously doubt that any Nhonto (even less so the mass produced Guntos of WWII) could do this kind of thing consistently. Then again you get the same urban myths about Kukris here in the UK all the time.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2005
  17. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter

    Yeah - this is what I am getting at. I'd be happy to even read one credible report of it happening. It's just so funny as I've heard it from so many people who've served time in the military!
    Yes, there are a large amount of myths about the Kukri as well it seems.
  18. soon

    soon New Member

    So your average gunmetal is anywhere between around 59 - 86 HRC, (about 70 - 80 HB I think). The edge of your sword is up to about 60 HRC, but this is considered a bit to hard and brittle for a good samurai sword. Now, this has to get through a metal cylinder 59 - 86 HRC that is about 1/8 inch thick, through a spring tube (same metal but smaller) and possibly cut through a wooden stock. The wood would probably be about 3-4 HRC (although the rockwell scale isn't really used to measure wood).


    Whilst the edge might bite in, there would be deformation of the edge. Given the Samurai sword technique of slashing means that the blade would be sliding so the point of contact would rise up the blade, it could be argued that deformation would not be a factor, but the blade still has to get through that wooden stock and a good deal of metal about the same hardness as its edge.

    Doesn't look very promising for Mr Samurai!
  19. slipthejab

    slipthejab Hark, a vagrant! Supporter



    A question though - I understand they often use the Rockwell test against knife blades and different kinds of metals... so do they test the metal of samurai blades the same way?

    As well, do they actually use the Rockwell scale to test the hardness of gun barrells (I doubt they would as your not attempting to strike someone with it generally) or is it just that it is a means of measurement that'd be most applicable to the question?
  20. soon

    soon New Member

    You're right there Mr Slip, th gun metal would be measured on the Brinell scale (the conversion to HRC is a nightmare!). HRC is used for Samurai blades, possibly only fairly recently but I have read a fair few bits and bobs that deal with explaining construction in terms of HRC.

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