American Rifleman | The Marlin Model 39: An Unlikely Participant in WWII
by Martin KA Morgan –
Thursday March 4th 2021
The retaking of the Philippines began on Friday, October 20, 1944, when two US Army Corps made amphibious landings on the east coast of Leyte Island. The day General Douglas MacArthur returned after the evacuation of Corregidor 31 months earlier is best remembered. The photos he took ashore that afternoon are among the most memorable from WWII. They mark the beginning of the end of more than two years of Japanese occupation – an occupation known for its brutality.
Even so, the Filipinos resisted the Japanese by fighting whenever and wherever they could. That included the one on Leyte, and it was a surprising firearm that we don’t associate with WWII. When we think of the weapons the Japanese fought with on this island, we think more of the M1 rifle, the M1 carbine and the M3 grease gun. There are even photos showing the M1903A4 in combat on Leyte, but in one notable example, the Marlin Model 39 lever rim fire rifle entered combat.
In early 1945 the Marlin Firearms Company received a letter from a soldier who had been a prisoner of war in the Philippines from 1942 to 1945. After his liberation from a camp on Luzon, he received an assignment in Leyte, where the first battle in the reconquest of the archipelago had taken place in the last weeks of the previous year. In this letter, the soldier described how one day he was invited by a Filipino boy to visit a “bamboo hut”.
On the wall inside the cabin was a rusty Model 39 Marlin that had been left behind by two mining engineers who had visited the area prior to the Japanese invasion in late 1941. This Model 39 had emerged from the first lever rifle that was designed for a .22-cal chamber. Rimfire ammunition: the 1891 Marlin model. By 1921 the model had become a 6.5 pound model. Take-down repeater with an octagonal 24-inch barrel. The tubular, front-loading magazine holds 26.22 short cartridges, 21.22 long cartridges or 19.22 long rifle cartridges.
The magazine capacity and impressive accuracy made the Model 39 one of the most popular sport arms of its time. After retrieving the rifle from the wall of the hut, the Filipino boy explained to the ex-prisoner of war how he buried the rifle at the beginning of the occupation to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands and how he ultimately used it Point to kill four Japanese soldiers in the mountains.
Although the rifle was rusty from exposure to the elements, it was still “working perfectly” when the letter’s author inspected it. The story impressed him so much that he felt compelled to write and share the maker. Marlin headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut were quite impressed with the story and quickly began using it as an advertisement in print publications such as Popular Mechanics. While it is the most unlikely firearm to be used in combat during World War II, the Model 39 has fought quite a bit in this one instance, at least.