The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum has a unique firearm collection from around the world. One of the firearms which caught my eye was a curious looking gun with three barrels! This is a Type 90 Triple Barrel Flare Gun which was made for the Imperial Japanese Navy and used mostly during World War II.
This is not to be confused with the Type 90 Double Barrel Flare Gun, which was the most commonly used flare gun. This gun was made by the Kayaba Kogyo K.K company and called the Type 90 for the year they were introduced, 1930, which was the year 2590 in the traditional Japanese calendar. This pistol weighs in at almost four pounds. Approximately 5,000 of these pistols were manufactured. They are known to be a rare collector’s item due to the limited amount of pistols made and the loss of units issued during battle. For instance, some sunk with Japanese ships and planes that were shot down.
Flare guns were used during WWII in situations where radio silence was important. They were also designed to be used by people to send signals and reveal their position, usually when they were in distress or needed assistance. In rare situations, they would be used as a weapon.
This triple barrel flare gun is the first of three variations made of this gun. It has three metal barrels, is painted black, and is the only variation with a wooden handle. The handle has the emblem of the Imperial Japanese Navy carved into it showing an anchor and sakura (cherry blossom).
The barrels are loaded by pulling forward on the break open lever below the barrels which allows the barrels to swing downwards for loading. This gun uses 28mm flares of various colors. The cocking lever is on the back of the gun and cocks all three barrels when turned counterclockwise. The lower lever selects which barrel to fire from: right, center, or left barrel. This gun is missing that lever.
This flare gun was donated to the museum by Clyde Jay in 1979. He was a Seabee who served with the 8th Naval Construction Battalion. He acquired this gun on Iwo Jima from the Royal Japanese Marines during WWII.
Visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum today to see many of our other small fire arms on exhibit.
Meet the Curator: Robyn King Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.