Cutting Edge Technology? The Swords of WW2

The Swords of World War 2

Swords during World War 2 played a small but significant role in the conflict that shaped the modern world. Firearms were the primary weapons used by the various armies, navies, and air forces that fought in the war. Swords were however still carried by some soldiers and officers as symbols of rank and status, and in some cases, for use in combat.

In this article, we will explore the different types of swords that were used during World War 2 and their various roles in the conflict. We will also examine the cultural and historical significance of swords in warfare, and how their use changed as the war progressed and technology advanced.

So, let’s take a journey through the history of the swords of World War II and discover the important role they played in this defining moment in human history.

The Chinese Dadao

The Chinese war sword, also known as the Chinese military sword or the dadao, is a type of sword that was used by the Chinese military during the 20th century. It is a large, single-edged sword with a curved blade and a long handle. The dadao was used as a standard issue weapon, and it was also carried by some Chinese civilians for self-defence.

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The dadao has a distinctive appearance, with a wide, curved blade that tapers to a sharp point. It is typically made of high-carbon steel and is designed for both cutting and thrusting. The handle is long and typically made of wood or bone. The sword is designed to be held with two hands.

The dadao was used primarily by Chinese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War 2.

Chinese swords.
Chinese soldiers with swords just before the outbreak of WW2

The dadao was used by the Chinese military during several other notable battles in the 20th century. Some examples include:

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945): The dadao was used by Chinese soldiers during the war against Japan. It was a standard issue weapon for the Chinese military, and it was carried by many soldiers and officers.

The Chinese Civil War (1945-1949): The dadao was used by both the Nationalist and Communist forces during the civil war.

The Korean War (1950-1953): The dadao was used by Chinese troops who fought on the side of North Korea against South Korea and the United Nations.

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The Vietnam War (1959-1975): The dadao was used by Chinese advisors and soldiers who fought on the side of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and the United States.

Lower Ranking Soldiers

The Chinese military issued swords to its soldiers and officers as standard equipment for several reasons. One reason was that swords were seen as a symbol of rank and status within the military. Carrying a sword conveyed a sense of authority and respect, and it was a way for higher-ranking officers to distinguish themselves from lower-ranking soldiers.

Another reason was that swords were seen as a useful weapon in certain situations. While firearms were the preferred weapons of the Chinese military, swords had certain advantages in close combat. These could be useful in hand-to-hand fighting or in situations where firearms were not practical.

Finally, the Chinese military issued swords as a means of preserving tradition and cultural identity. The sword has a long history in Chinese culture, and it was seen as a symbol of national pride and heritage. Issuing swords to soldiers and officers was a way for the Chinese military to honour and celebrate its cultural traditions.

Japanese Swords
A long line of Japanese officers wait to surrender their swords to the 25th Indian Division in Kuala Lumpur, 1945.

The Japanese Katana

The Imperial Japanese Army stopped issuing swords as standard equipment to its soldiers and officers during the Meiji period, which lasted from 1868 to 1912. During this time, the Japanese military modernized and began to adopt Western weapons and tactics. As a result, swords were no longer seen as essential battlefield weapons and were phased out in favour of firearms such as rifles and machine guns.

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However, swords were still used in the Japanese military for ceremonial purposes, such as during sword ceremonies and parades. Some Japanese officers also continued to carry swords as a symbol of rank and status, although these swords were not intended for use in combat but were used for public executions especially in China.

During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) used a variety of these armaments including the shin gunto (officer’s sword) and the kai gunto (officer’s sword with an anchor design on the tsuba, or sword guard).

Shin Gunto

The shin gunto was the most common type of sword used by the IJA and IJN during World War II. It was based on the traditional Japanese katana, with a long, curved blade and a circular guard. The hilt was typically wrapped in sharkskin or rayskin, and the scabbard was made of lacquered wood. The shin gunto was worn with a dress uniform and was used primarily for ceremonial purposes.

The kai gunto was a variation of the shin gunto that was used by naval officers. It was similar in design but had a distinctive anchor design on the tsuba. It was also worn with a dress uniform and was also used primarily for ceremonial purposes.

Japanese sword
A WW2 Japanese sword. Machine steel, industrial fabrication, with embossed and painted handle to look like a traditional tsuka. The scabbard is of Western style.

In addition to these swords, the IJA and IJN also used a variety of other swords for combat and training, including the shinai (bamboo sword), the iaito (unsharpened training sword), and the bokken (wooden sword). These swords were used to practice traditional Japanese sword styles such as kendo, iaido, and kenjutsu.

One of the reasons we have two different sword styles being taught is that the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy hated each other even at the highest echelons so they had separate academies and teachers.

What is Toyama Ryu

Toyama-ryu is a school of traditional Japanese martial arts that focuses on the use of the sword. It was developed by the Imperial Japanese Army in the early 20th century as a method of training soldiers in sword fighting and bayonet techniques.

The founder of Toyama-ryu was General Homma Masaharu, who served as the commander of the IJA’s Toyama Military Academy in the 1930s. General Homma was a highly skilled swordsman, and he used his expertise to develop a new sword fighting style that combined elements of traditional Japanese sword styles with modern military tactics.

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Toyama-ryu emphasizes practical, efficient sword techniques that are suitable for use in combat situations. It includes both solo training drills and partner drills. Students of Toyama-ryu are taught to use a variety of weapons, including the sword, bayonet, and spear.

Today, Toyama-ryu is practiced by a small number of dedicated practitioners in Japan and around the world. It is considered to be a relatively modern martial art, but it is still rooted in traditional Japanese sword arts and the samurai warrior culture.

Lieutenant General Honma Masaharu
Lieutenant General Honma Masaharu (1888 – 1946). Honma was the Governor-General of the Philippines from 3 January 1942 – 23 January 1942.

What is Eishin Ryu Battoho

Eishin ryu battoho is a style of sword fighting based on the Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu school of traditional Japanese martial arts. It was created in the 1930’s after it was discovered that while Japanese soldiers and officers fighting in Manchuria and China were given swords, they no longer knew how to use them. The IJA were taught Toyama Ryu (see above), while the IJN and Rikusentai (Japanese Naval Landing Forces) were taught Eishin Ryu Battoho so they would be able to use their swords in combat.

The Rikusentai, also known as the “Special Naval Landing Forces,” were the marine corps of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) during World War 2. They were responsible for amphibious operations, including landings, raids, and the defence of occupied territories. The Rikusentai were highly trained and well-equipped, and they were considered some of the best soldiers in the Japanese military.

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The Rikusentai were formed in the early 1930s and played a significant role in the Japanese military’s expansion in Asia and the Pacific during World War II. They participated in several notable battles, including the invasion of Hong Kong, the Battle of Midway, and the Battle of Guadalcanal.

The 20th Headmaster of the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu line, Kōno Hyakuren, constructed a small syllabus to so that officers and NCOs could learn the art of swordsmanship fast. The system consisted of 11 forms for single practice, and 6 sets of paired practice. There were also a set of cutting drills and stances.

The Eishin Ryu battoho is still practiced and taught today but as a small subset of a large set of practices.


Within a time where the technology of war was growing at an ever-increasing rate, it is strange to see that there are still sword systems being taught to combat troops. In Japan, the use of the sword being outlawed after the Meiji Restoration meant that by the 1930s, there weren’t many people that actually knew how to use a sword in combat.

In fact, the last mass sword fight in combat happened during World War 2 between the Chinese and Japanese during the battles of the Lower Yangtze river. A bloodthirsty thought indeed.