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On Your Knees: Collecting Unusual Weapons

After nearly four years of actively collecting militaria, I am only scratching the surface of what can be located and added to one’s collection. One could say that I am only just getting started, especially when I line up what I’ve acquired with just about any other enthusiast’s collection. Though I have been preaching to you, my readers, about focusing your efforts and interests on specific aspects or types of militaria, I have, at times, strayed away from my objectives.

You know the drill: you’re at a show, scouring online auction listings or reading through the “for sale” sections of your favorite collector discussion boards and you happen upon an intriguing piece. The piece, while so far removed from your area of interest or expertise, is so compelling that you have to dig deeper into the details. You launch into overdrive as you begin the rapid research into the item’s nuances and details while trying to determine if the asking price, though doable (for your bank account), you have no idea as to the true value. After all, you don’t want to be beaten to the purchase or scooped by the competition and you certainly do not want to overpay.

This scenario is all-too-familiar to collectors in all genres and only serves to underscore the need for consuming sound information from renowned experts. This always plays out for me when I start to look at military weapons and begin to ponder how a piece might fit in with what I collect. Besides the predominantly non-weapon pieces I have purposely sought out and purchased, I also inherited or have been gifted with a number of armament items ranging from artillery shells to blades (see: U.S. Military Bolos and The Blades That Got Away).

As of yet, I have managed to limit my distractions away from small arms and other weapons – quite frankly, the prices for even the most common pieces (such as a garden-variety M1 Garand rifle) are well outside of my budget. However, I don’t let that sway my interest in educating and familiarizing myself with the tools of soldiers. But my specific interest now and for the foreseeable future has been with weapons carried by U.S. troops. Even though my blade collection contains Third Reich and pre-WWI French examples, I still lean toward those used by American GIs.

Knee Mortar Tube

The top section of the knee mortar includes the main chamber where the weapon is aimed and the rounds are dropped in for firing (source: Pawn Stars screen grab).

When a World War II-vintage Japanese Type 89 grenade discharger made an appearance on the History Channel’s hit TV show, Pawn Stars, my attention was immediately captivated and I watched intently to see if the weapon was authentic and what sort of value would be attached as the stars of the show evaluated their potential purchase. Such a unique item, at least from my vantage point, should garner considerable interest while fetching a decent price for the would-be seller. Thinking back to the smattering of WWII Japanese items in my own collection, I wondered if such a piece would make for a good augmentation.

Knee mortar - Aiming and range adjustment

Below the bottom of the chamber (tube) are the adjusting knobs. These are used to configure the weapon for precise targeting (source: Pawn Stars screen grab).

Commonly referred to as a Japanese Knee Mortar (though they were never placed against or propped up with a soldier’s knee), these weapons are essentially a highly portable grenade launcher that can propel a mortar-like grenade several hundred yards onto the enemy. Similar to the American counterparts, these mortar rounds could inflict heavy casualties on troops and equipment while providing covering fire support for their own ground troops as they attack or withdraw. Five different types of ammunition rounds were made and deployed with the knee mortar, consisting of the following:

  • Type 89 50mm HE (high explosive) mortar shell (fitted with impact detonator)
  • Type 91 Fragmentation Grenade (fitted with 7 second delay time fuse, ignited in flight).
  • Smoke shell weight: 0.9 kg containing 0.11 kg of HC type smoke mixture.
  • Incendiary shell weight: 0.57 kg containing 0.32 of incendiary material.
  • Type 94 50mm practice shell – (used for training purposes)

These launchers were effectively used against Allied forces, inflicting considerable damage to personnel and equipment

Knee mortar base

The small base plate is attached to the mortar unlike the American counterpart. Due to the smaller diameter ammunition, this weapon was far easier to maneuver for quick strikes than the U.S. mortars (source: Pawn Stars screen grab).

The Pawn Stars example was alleged by the owner to have been brought back from the Pacific Theater (PTO) by his veteran father. The Pawn Stars crew, unfamiliar with this particular type of militaria, opted to have it evaluated by a local expert who subsequently assessed it as an early example, based upon the four-digit serial number, and valued it accordingly.

What struck me with this particular example was not simply that it had been “demilled” or deactivated, but the manner in which it was altered. The mortar had been altered with 2” diameter circle cut away at the bottom of the tube as well having piece of steel welded directly into the muzzle. Clearly, this weapon was permanently altered and could no longer be used. But the alterations, in my opinion significantly detracted from any remaining aesthetic value.

Based upon the unnecessary demilling, I would steer clear of making such a purchase (that is if I could have afforded it in the first place) and looked for a better example for my collection.

Other militaria weapon collecting posts of interest:

[Pawn Stars, HISTORY and the History “H” logo are the trademarks of AEN. Collectors Quest is a partner of AEN.]


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