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MURATA 18 YEAR RIFLE (1885)

明治十八年  村田銃

(Meiji  18  Year  Murata  Gun)

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 Left and right views of the Murata 18 Year Rifle adopted in the year Meiji 18 (1885)

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

  The Murata 18 was an improved, direct evolution of the Japanese Murata 13 Year rifle (1880) developed almost as soon as the 13 Year Rifles were being fielded, and thus, other than increased Western contact and importation of Western technology, the historical context relevant to the development and adoption of the Murata 18 is substantially identical to that relating to the Murata 13, and reference is made to the section Historical Context at Murata Meiji 13 (1880) on this site for a discussion of this information.

A word about nomenclature:  There was no official designation for the first Murata rifle of 1880, it being referred to simply as the “Murata Gun” (rifle).  When the follow-on rifle was adopted in the year Meiji 18, there needed to be a way to distinguish between the two so they became 13 Year Gun (rifle) and 18 Year Gun (rifle) respectively.   Because the rifles are specifically marked 明治 十三 年  村田 銃 ((Meiji  13  Year  Murata  Gun) and likewise for this 18 Year (see title above), this is how we have chosen to refer to these firearms.  They are also commonly referred to in American collector circles as “Type 13” and “Type 18” which seems like equally good and acceptable nomenclature.  We have simply chosen 13 Year and 18 Year as that is how the rifles are Imperial Japanese arsenal marked.

DEVELOPMENT

  Similarly to this rifle’s Historical Context, its early development is fully tied up with that of its parent, the Murata 13 Year rifle.   Reference is made to the section DEVELOPMENT in that webpage for an expansion of this section.   (There is a lot of good information there, and you should read it.)

  The contribution by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to the development, production and evolution of the Muratas is substantial and did not end with Winchester supplying manufacturing machinery and ammunition for the Meiji 13 rifle.  While the Meiji 13 was functional, it suffered several design weaknesses which Winchester was contracted to address.  The Meiji Year 13 rifle stock was inherently weak at the wrist due to the thinness of the wood in that area, compounded by the mounting of the upper tang screw and the rear trigger guard screw both into the wrist.  Winchester revised the design by lengthening the receiver body’s rear tang in order to add a second tang screw further down the wrist.  As the tang screws of the Murata also act as a recoil lug, this greatly broadened the distribution of recoil shock across noticeably more of the stock wrist.  Also, the bolt retainer stop block mounted ahead of the bolt handle was redesigned.  This rifle became the Murata 17.  Winchester provided Japan with appropriate tooling and the Murata 17 went into limited production.  In that same year, however, the Murata was further refined by removing the bolt stop block completely and securing the bolt with a new transverse locking bolt beneath the receiver just above the trigger guard.  The rifle was also slightly shortened.  The Murata Meiji18 is thus an improved Murata 13 Year (M1880) which it closely resembles.  These rifles saw considerable service in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894 and to a limited extent even into the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.

GENERALLY

  A discussion of the relationships of this rifle and its close predecessor the Murata 13 Year rifle to similar European rifles giving rise to the Murata’s design can be found under GENERALLY at Murata 13 Year Rifle of 1880 on this site.

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DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS

   The single-shot, bolt action, Murata 18 Year rifle is, like its immediate predecessor the also single-shot, bolt action Murata 13 Year rifle, a quintessentially 1870s military rifle, looking not dissimilar to the French Mle 1874 Gras and Dutch M1871 Beaumont both of which it heavily borrowed from, as well as the German M1871 Mauser, and Russian M1870 Berdan II.

 

    The stock is a single piece of (usually) walnut, again entirely conventional for its time.  The barrel is retained by two spring retained, clamping bands with the rifle’s upper sling swivel fixed beneath the lower band  and the lower sling swivel being wood-screw mounted low along the lower edge of the buttstock.  An entirely conventional threaded-retained slotted-head cleaning rod with recessed tip is stowed conventionally beneath the barrel.

 

   The Murata 18 Year rifle is most readily distinguished from other countries’ rifles by its profuse Japanese Kanji markings (See MARKINGS, below).  More challenging is distinguishing between the 13 Year Model and the 18 Year Model:

 

   This Murata 18 Year rifle is most readily distinguished from the 13 Year by the lack of a bolt stop block on the top of the bolt body because bolt retention is now accomplished by means of a transverse cross bolt which is quite noticeably mounted and screwed in through an escutcheon, from the left side of the stock, below the receiver.

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  In order to strengthen the wrist of the rifle, the upper tang was lengthened to allow placement of the primary tang screw lower on the wrist, and a second tang screw was added even further down the stock.

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Note the substantial differences between the upper tang of the (Left) 13 Year rifle and the (Right) 18 Year rifle.

Photo Credits:   User OyabunRyo@Reddit & Imgur (left) &  JackTheDog @gunauction.com (right)

  Likewise, the trigger guard attachment is newly re-designed, simplified, and mounted on considerably shorter lower tangs.

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There are substantial differences between the 13 Year rifle's lower tang and trigger mounting method and that of the 18 Year rifle.

Photo Credit:     JackTheDog @gunauction.com(left)

  New with the 18 Year, although long established with the French rifles from which it is copied, the modified rifle retained the barrel band mounted bayonet lug of the 13 Year, but newly added a small auxiliary bayonet tenon on the left side of the barrel muzzle.  As well, because the barrel is an inch shorter than the 13 Year rifle while utilizing much the same stock, this results in the 18 Year rifle being stocked an inch closer to the muzzle than the 13 Year.  The stock of the 18 Year was also refined slightly from that of the 13 Year, by having a bit lower comb, although this feature is not readily apparent.

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Muzzle of the Meiji 18; the small auxiliary bayonet bar is new with this model, absent from the Meiji 13.

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The left side of a M1874 French Gras rifle showing the auxiliary bayonet mounting tenon copied directly by the Japanese in the Murata 18 Year rifle.

Distinguishing Between the Year 13 Murata and the year 18 Murata:

  These two rifles are closely related and at first blush may not seem easy to differentiate.  Still, even if you are unable to read the slightly different kanji markings of these two Murata rifle versions, there are  distinguishing features between the two.  While overall length is not easy to distinguish, being only an inch different (the 13 Year Murata is longer at 1,308 mm (51.5 in) overall compared to the 1283mm (50.5 in) of the 18 Year Murata, and the 13 Year’s barrel length of  ~ 822 mm (32 3/8 in) is almost identical to the 18 Year’s barrel of 818 mm (32 5/16 in)), there are five notable differences.

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Two bolts:  The bolt-stop-retention system has been completely redesigned.  The block on top of the bolt of the 13 Year has been removed and a transverse cross-bolt through stock and receiver has replaced it.  

  An interesting feature of the 18 Year rifle carried over from the 13 Year rifle is the gas deflector plate mounted at the rear of these two Murata models’ bolts.

 

     Because of how long the Murata extractor is, the groove cut into the left sidewall of the receiver must extend right out the back of the receiver bridge.  Should a cartridge case rupture, this groove provides a channel for escaping gasses to be release out the back of the receiver, but directly into the shooter.  To protect the shooter against such gasses the bolt is fitted with a gas deflector shield that guides hot gasses outward to the sides in the event of a burst case. 

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OPERATING MECHANISM

   The Murata 18 was improved over the Murata 13 Year in its sturdiness and reliability but is otherwise unchanged.  As such, the Murata 18 Year functions identically to that of the Murata 13 Year, except with regard to the bolt removal.  The 18 Year bolt is removed by withdrawing the transverse stop bolt from the left side of the stock, below the rear of the receiver.  (see DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS, above.)

 

   A major shortcoming of the 13 Year Murata's action was that the separate extractor piece, which fits into a dedicated groove machined into the inner left receiver wall, and is held in place by a small curved tab on the back end of the extractor that wraps partially around the bolt body would fall out if the bolt stop failed and the bolt were inadvertently pulled all the way out.  This shortcoming was addressed by the modified 18 Year rifle’s transverse stop bolt mentioned above.

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This photo presents a nice view of the extractor channel cut into the Murata 13 Year & 18 Year rifles’ left receiver wall.  See the photos in this section at:  Japanese Murata 13 Year Rifle on this website.

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MARKINGS

  Other than the new bolt lock system, other minor but useful improvements including an additional auxiliary bayonet lug, and minor configuration changes led in 1885 to the re-designation of the 13 Year rifle to the 18 Year rifle.  These new rifles were marked 十 八 (juu-hachi  or 1 8) on the receiver instead of the previous Year 13 markings.

 

   The 18 Year is marked similarly to the 13 Year, with Kanji on the left and right sides of the receiver and both Western serial numbers and Western rear sight ladder numerals, the serial number being repeated on most metal parts wherever space would allow.

 

     A 19 Century translation of the Kanji characters down the left side of the receiver would read "Great Nippon Empire Murata Rifle”   although the same characters today would likely be translated as “Imperial Japanese Murata Rifle” and then below that   “Tokyo Artillery Arsenal Small Arms Factory."   The right side of the receiver is slightly modified from the 13 Year rifle to read “Meiji 1 8 Year”. 

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  The buttstock roundel cartouche reads “Tokyo Artillery Arsenal Small Arms Factory” around the outside, and the inside circle indicates “Meiji 18 Year". Note that being Japanese, the kanji are read counter-clockwise, opposite of how Western roundel cartouches would usually be read.

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First Photo: The faint outlines of the original factory cartouche are still visible on this 18 Year Murata.  For some reason it is rare to find a readable cartouche on an 18 Year rifle.  Second Photo: is a sketch of what the factory cartouche should have read.  Third Photo: Sketch of Cartouche

Sketch Credit:   Zeilinski, Stanley, Japanese Murata rifles 1880-1897

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Photo Credit:  Stan Zeilinski – Japanese Murata Rifles 1880-1897

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Rear sight ladder showing it denomination in Western numerals.  The dots on the right leaf of the ladder are ½ marks, denoting 50 meter ranges between the full 100 meter increment number marks.  On the left side of the rear sight a Western numeral serial number is marked.

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SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA

Overall Length:  1,283 mm (50.5 in) 

Barrel Length:  820 mm (32.25 in)

Rifling:  5-groove; left hand, concentric

Sight:  Identical to that of the Murata 13 Year rifle:

            Ramp-and-leaf with slider, graduated from 200 to 1,500 m (220 to 1,640 yds)

Weight:  4.3 Kg (9.1 lbs)

Muzzle velocity:  400.2m/sec  (1,312 ft/sec)

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SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS

Murata 18 Year Model Dragoon Rifle

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   This firearm has been referred to by some authors as the 18 Year “Cavalry Carbine” but we note that this rifle is not in any American sense a carbine, but rather more properly a short rifle.

As such, it is far more suitable to filling a role as a dragoon rifle than as a cavalry carbine.

 

   A dragoon is a soldier who serves a role more like today’s mobile infantry, one that arrives to battle by horse but fights dismounted.  Cavalry serves as scouts and fight fully on horseback, dragoons fight on foot and do not fill a scouting role.

   We refer to this rifle as a Dragoon Rifle because our view is that it is more properly denominated by the Japanese receiver markings as dragoon which is an equally valid translation to the commonly supposed translation of cavalry.

 

   Firstly, this rifle is an 18 Year rifle, just a slight bit shorter, with the only notable differences between this 18 Year Short Rifle and the Infantry Rifle, other than length, barrel bands and absence of bayonet lug, includes the rear sling swivel being fixed to the front of the barrel band, the bolt being equipped with a safety somewhat akin to the M1871 German Mauser and M71/84 German Mauser.

 

   The action and bolt configuration, upper and lower tangs, stock (except length) etc are Murata 18 Year rifle.  The short rifle is only 4 inches shorter than the 18 Year rifle and is stocked similarly, but with a barrel mounted with three retaining bands that are spring retained in lieu of being screw retained, with an 18 Year nosecap and similar 18 Year cleaning rod.  It has no separate provision for a bayonet although if there existed a socket bayonet then such might be mounted, but there is no evidence that any such Japanese socket bayonet was ever produced.

Murata 18 Dragoon Rifle Markings:

   The markings on this rifle are identical to those of the 18 Year infantry rifle except for the addition of four kanji characters at the end of the first column designation along the left side of the receiver:  本騎兵銃 which Google (and everyone else) seems to translate as “Model Cavalry Gun”   (本(Model)   騎兵(Cavalry)  銃 (Gun).  But what is probably a more meaningful translation for these kanji characters is “Model Mounted Soldier (Dragoon) Gun (Rifle)”.  Indeed, if Google is asked to translate Mounted Soldier, which is a dragoon, back to Japanese, it responds:  騎馬兵 (Mounted Horse Soldier), which is decidedly not cavalry but the same kanji characters as would denote dragoon.

 

   We also note that just as the 13 Year and 18 Year rifles are substantial copies of the French Chassepot-Gras series of rifles, this ‘carbine” (short rifle) is substantially a French M1874 Gras Carabine de Gendarmerie à Cheval (Horse Mounted National Police Short Rifle).  The French word “carabine” translates to short rifle, whereas “mousqueton” is actually the French for what Americans think of as carbine.  In support of the dragoon view, we note that the barrel bands, spring attachment as well as the placement of the sling swivels are identical to that of the French carabine short rifle.  This rifle is, however, executed in a distinctly Murata 18 Year rifle form.

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To the right of the serial number, the first group of characters has four additional characters at the end, denoting literally “Model  Mounted Soldier  Gun”, that is, Dragoon Rifle.

Photo Credit:  Seller JacktheDog@Gunauction.com

   Production was very small compared to the 18 year rifle.  Serial numbers are not a continuation of the 13 Year – 18 Year series numbers but are a new series.  The serial number series of examined examples so far appear to be all 4 digits with the highest number noted in the West being in the high 9,000s.  This implies a production of fewer than 10,000 and (if numbers started with 1000) as few as 9,000.  

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 Low 4 digit serial number on the barrel and receiver.  This number appears all over this rifle, seemingly wherever space would allow.

Photo Credits:  Seller JacktheDog@Gunauction.com

Specifications, Statistics & Data of the 18 Year Dragoon Rifle

 

Overall Length:  1,164 mm (46 in) 

Barrel Length:  705 mm (27.75 in)

Rifling:  5-groove; left hand, concentric

Sight:  Ramp-and-leaf with slider, graduated from 200m to 1,300 m (220 to 1,422 yds)

B

BAYONET

  The new Japanese 18 Year single-edge t-back bayonet is substantially similar to the previous 13 Year bayonet.  Yet, just as the Murata 18 Year rifle is a modified version of the 13 Year rifle, the 18 Year bayonet is similarly a modified version of the 13 Year bayonet.  And as the 18 year rifle is slightly shorter than the 13 year rifle, so too is the 18 Year bayonet slightly shorter than the 13 Year bayonet.  While shorter than the 13 Year, the new 18 Year is still quite long at 22 7/8" inches, with a tapered 18" single edged blade.  The bayonets are not, however, interchangeable.

 

   Both bayonets are single-edge, straight blades, fullered on both sides of their blades, with pointed tips, steel crossguards and wood and steel handle and pommels, all in the manner of their European counterparts.  The bayonet is secured to the bayonet lug with a very common style screw mounted push-button steel leaf spring, with button through the pommel.  Scabbards are steel at the hilt and tip, with a leather body.

 

   New with the Murata 18 Year Rifle is not only the earlier primary barrel band mounted bayonet lug, but now also a smaller lug on the left side of the barrel to reinforce the bayonet attachment.  Thus the new 18 Year bayonet ring will have a small notch cut out in the inner mounting ring to mate with the auxiliary lug.

 

   Due to these changes in the bayonet lug and mounting system, the 13 Year bayonet will not fit on the revised 18 Year model, and due to differences in both the location of the primary bayonet lug, and the slightly larger diameter 13 Year rifle muzzle, the 18 Year bayonet will not fit the 13 Year rifle.

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Japanese 18 Year Murata Bayonet

Photo Credit:  Bayonetsoftheworld (bayonets.pl)

  The pommel and cross guard are steel while the grips, unlike the composition of the model 13, are of wood.  The left side crossguard is marked with the Imperial chrysanthemum, and the serial number is stamped into the back of the pommel.  The crossguard is secured by 2 flush ground steel pins and the wood handle pieces are retained by several small rivets and the spring screw. while the steel end cap is retained by flush ground rivets.

 

   The blade is fullard on both sides for almost its entire length and the tip is symmetrical.

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The Imperial Japanese Chrysanthemum on the “right” side of the crossguard.  The left side will often be marked with Mutata’s kakihan, his “monogram,” although this marking is light and may not still be present on some bayonets.

Photo Credit:  Bayonetsoftheworld (bayonets.pl)

  Note that just like many 18 Year Model rifles have had their “mums” ground off, so to have some bayonets had their mums defaced or removed.  The lack of a mum is not dispositive.

Bayonet Specifications:

 

Overall length:   582 mm

Blade length:   460 mm

Blade width:   24.9 mm

Muzzle ring dia:   17.3 mm

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The left side of a M1874 French Gras rifle showing the auxiliary bayonet mounting tenon copied directly by the Japanese in their early Murata 13 Year rifles.

CARTRIDGE

13 Year Cartridge, aka:  11mm Murata; 11x60R

 

    The Murata 18 Year rifle utilizes the same cartridge (the M1880 11mm Murata) as the Murata 13 Year rifle, and reference is made to the CARTRIDGE discussion at that page just linked, on this website.

MANUFACTURING DATA

  Rifles continued to be manufactured by the Imperial Ordinance factory in Tokyo utilizing both the original Winchester tooling as well as supplementary machinery provided by Winchester when developing the prototype 17 Year, which was not adopted.  With serial numbers being a continuation of the Meiji 13 series, and ranging from about 70,000 to somewhat over 150,000, it is believed that approximately 80,000 Meiji 18 Year rifles were ultimately produced.

UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES

  No significant utilization by other countries is known.

PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES

Predecessor Rifle: Murata 13 Year Rifle

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Top:  The Murata 13 Year;

Center:  The Immediate Follow-On Murata 18 Year

Bottom:  The later Murata 22 Year

Follow-On Rifle: Murata 22 Year Rifle

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 The Japanese 22 Year Magazine Rifle

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A special thanks to Doss White, Dr. Stanley Zielinski, and Chip Goddard for their information!

REFERENCES

Japanese Murata rifles 1880 -1897, Stanley Zeilinski, Lodestone, 2010

Military rifles of Japan, 5th Ed., Honeycutt & Anthony, Julien books, 2001

Page built:  January 27, 1999
Revised October 6, 1999

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

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