Musing on Japanese HMG in Crossfire

I’ve been musing about Japanese HMG under Crossfire. The official rules make them expensive rifle squads. Personally I challenge both the reduced firepower and increased close combat ability of these heavy machine guns.


Japanese machine guns

According to the Japanese Army Handbook 1939-1945 (Forty, 1999) the Japanese infantry used five machine guns during WW2. Two were light machine guns (LMG) and three were heavy machine guns (HMG). Some were quite elderly. Some, but not all, could fit a bayonet.

Weapon Service Date RPM Weight (kg) Based on Ammunition Oil Dispenser Bayonet
6.5mm LMG Type 11 “Nambu” 1922 500 10.1 6.5mm rifle ammo in 30 round hopper taking five round clips Yes No
6.5mm LMG Type 96 1936 550 9.07 similar to Bren 6.5mm round in 30 round box magazine No Yes
6.5mm HMG Type 3 1914 400-500 28.1 Hotchkiss Model 1900 6.5 round in 30 round metal strip feed Yes No
7.7mm HMG Type 92 “Woodpecker” 1932 450-500 28.1 basically a Type 3 with bigger ammo 7.7mm round in 30 round metal strip feed Yes No
7.7mm HMG Type 99 1939 850 10.4 based on 6.5mm LMG Type 96 new 7.7mm rimless round in 30 round box magazine No Yes

Note: The 6.5mm LMG Type 96 is credited with more Allied casualties in the Pacific and Far East theatres than any other weapon

Japanese Type 92 Heavy Machine Gun In use during Battle of Changsha 1941

Japanese Type 92 Heavy Machine Gun In use during Battle of Changsha 1941


Japanese HMG in standard Crossfire

Here is what Crossfire has to say about Japanese HMG:

All Japanese HMG in all their organisations count as Crew-Served weapons except that they use only 3 firing dice; they do not apply the -2 Crew modifier in Close Combat and may initiate close combat. They do however, cost the same as HMGs of other nationalities. (p.24)

My paraphrase of that is:

  • 3d6 like a Rifle Squad
  • Can initiate close combat like a Rifle Squad
  • And then fights like a Rifle Squad
  • But costs 6 points rather than 3 points i.e. twice that of a Rifle Squad.

So a Japanese HMG is a really just an expensive Rifle Squad. Hmm. Rather unattractive, I’d say.

An, as Nikolas Lloyd pointed out on the Crossfire forum, the Japanese would probably have noticed any such problem:

I think that there is a significant problem with the rules here. The Japanese were not all idiots. They kept on using machine guns.. They bothered to make them, issue them, train up the crews, carry them, supply them. They would not have done this were there no advantage in doing so. If they were just expensive rifles with a restricted arc of fire, I think that after extensive use of them in the field, someone would have spotted this.

So lets unpick the official rules for Japanese HMG.


Close Combat ability of Japanese HMG

In standard Crossfire Japanese HMG can initiate close combat and fight as a Rifle Squad not a Heavy Weapon Stand (-2). The LMG are inside Rifle Squads so are ignored for CF purposes. It is the Japanese HMGs that get the close combat ability in CF (unlike other nations).

Arguments for Japanese machine guns charging to close combat appear to be:

  • The machine guns have bayonets
  • The machine gun crew have rifles with bayonets
  • When the infantry charged the machine guns went too

I’m not convinced by any of these arguments.

Japanese machine guns with bayonets

Two of the Japanese machine guns could fit a bayonet: the relatively modern LMG Type 96 and its HMG cousin Type 99.

We are only concerned with the HMG. Neither the Type 3 or Type 92 (“Woodpecker”) had bayonets. And were also 28.1kg so probably too heavy to wield like a spear even if they had one.

The Type 99 was much lighter (10.1kg) and was the HMG model that could attach a bayonet. But even as a relatively light weight HMG it was still more than twice the weight of the infantry rifle (the 6.5mm Model 38 (1905) length 50.2in was 4.3kg)

So the ability

HMG crew with rifles and bayonets

Each HMG had a crew of an NCO and 10 men. Apparently the HMG crew were issued rifles.

As far as a I can tell it was fairly common practice to give the crew of heavy weapons rifles or sub-machine gun, regardless of nation. And having such a weapon did not mean they used them in preference to the main weapon or an inclination to get up and charge to close combat with a 28kg weapon in hand.

When the infantry charged the machine guns went too

The doctrine in most armies was to use machine guns, both LMG and HMG, to support infantry advances by fire. The Japanese were no different.

In a general advance the machine guns would advance but that is not to suggest they intended to close assault.

Perhaps the original of the Crossfire rule is the Banzai charge where entire infantry formations got up and charged. Perhaps the machine gunners went along too. But I’m not sure anybody knows what the HMG crew did when caught up in a massed charge. Personally I wouldn’t use behaviour in a Banzai to simulate HMG behaviour in general.


Firepower of Japanese HMGs

In standard Crossfire Japanese HMG get 3d6 when firing not the normal 4d6.

The commonly accepted reason for this is the rate of fire. The chart above gives the theoretical rate of fire. 400-500rpm for Type 3, 450-500 for Type 92, and 850 for Type 99. Actual performance might have been considerably lower given given the reliance on 30 round metal strip feed or 30 round box magazine. Steve Phenow, on the Crossfire forum, suggested 200rpm might have been realistic in the field.

There are several ways to simulate low rate of fire in Crossfire:

  1. Don’t bother: Life is too short and Crossfire doesn’t, for example, distinguish a BAR, Bren, or Degtyaryov
  2. Assign less HMG stands: Due to the high rate of fire MG34 / MG42 Crossfire adds an HMG stand at company level for Germans; so for a low rate of fire weapon, like the Japanese, then remove an HMG; effectively this increases the weapon to model ratio in the order of battle
  3. 3d6 + 1d6 hit on 6: Fire 4d6 but one of those is a different colour and can only score on a 6 (idea from Nikolas Lloyd)
  4. Reroll first PIN: if the first roll is a pin, the gun gets a second roll (idea from Nikolas Lloyd)
  5. Reroll any 4: Roll 3d6 but reroll any die that scores a 4; a 5-6 on the reroll is a hit (idea from Alejandro Ojeda)
  6. Reduce firing dice to 3d6: This is the official approach to Japanese HMG

Personally I’d opt for “Don’t Bother” but I’m slightly tempted by “Assign less HMG stands” and then the suggestions from Nikolas Lloyd and Alejandro Ojeda. I don’t accept the official rules at all because it makes Japanese HMG the same as Rifle Squads and the Allied soldiers were considerably more cautious around Woodpeckers than Japanese rifles.


Cost of Japanese HMG

A Regular Rifle Squad costs 3 points in the Crossfire Points System. And a HMG costs 6 points.

Despite the radically different capability of Japanese HMG under standard Crossfire, they are still 6 points. I find this very weird given the capabilities of Japanese HMG are exactly those of a Rifle Squad (Close Combat + 3d6 Direct Fire).


Steven house rule for Japanese HMG

So, after all of that, how do I intend to play Japanese HMGs? Well, I don’t particularly buy the reasons for distinguishing Japanese HMG from other HMG. And I believe in simplicity. So I intend to treat Japanese HMG exactly like HMG from any other nation. Why complicate life.

Please get in touch if you know something about Japanese HMG that affect how they should be played in Crossfire.

3 comments to Musing on Japanese HMG in Crossfire

  • I think the idea behind allowing Japanese HMG the ability to close combat, is to simulate the morale and doctrine effects at play within the Japanese Army – tenacious in defence, fanatical in attack. Remember also that in close combat, almost anyting can be used as a weapon, and it is probable that entrenching tools etc were used as melee weapons, so perhaps the presence of a crew served weapon on a stand is irrelevant in this light.

    Man for man, the Japanese outfought any other nation they encounterd, and so it was necessary to use weight of technology to defeat them – aircraft, flamethrowers and so forth.

    I personally favour the “don’t bother” option, and retain the official Japanese crew served weapon close combat modification.

    • Steven Thomas

      Chris, I believe, in Crossfire, that being Veteran simulates being “tenacious in defence, fanatical in attack”. Japanese also have the Reckless characteristic in Crossfire, like Russians, which also seems appropriate … fanatical.

      And I agree “that in close combat, almost anyting can be used as a weapon”. Although you’d have to be a bit of a hulk to use a 28kg machine gun as a melee weapon.

      I don’t really accept that “the presence of a crew served weapon on a stand is irrelevant in this light”. Crossfire certainly doesn’t with it’s -2 for Crew Served Weapons.

      For the sake of argument I’ll even accept that “Man for man, the Japanese outfought any other nation they encounterd, and so it was necessary to use weight of technology to defeat them – aircraft, flamethrowers and so forth.”

      But that leaves us with the Japanese being tough and fanatical. The rules cover that. Their machine doctrine was to use the machine guns to support the charge with fire. And the rules also cover that.

      What I don’t see above s a reference to Japanese Heavy Machine Gun crews actually charging into close combat. Something that counters the official doctrine for machine guns.

  • Julian Donohoe

    Excellent piece of work Steven. I have always dismissed the special rules for the Japanese HMG and treated them like other nations. I also give the Japs a +1 in melee regardless of rating; in this way there can be gradations of Japanese troop quality while treating all of them as tough up-close fighters.

Leave a Reply