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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
(Non-U.S.) Black Powder, Metallic Cartidge, Military Rifles
1865 to 1890
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Meiji 18 Murata Rifle (1885)
明治 18 年 村田銃
(Meiji 18 Year Murata Gun)
Officially: Meiji 18 Imperial Japanese Murata Gun
Left and right views of the Meiji 18 rifle adopted in the year Meiji 18 (1885)
For an extensive discussion of the Historical Context in which Japan was immersed during the era of converting to and adopting metallic cartridge rifles please see the most interesting section titled HISTORICAL CONTEXT at Pre-Murata Japanese Military Cartridge Rifles.
That section covers Pre-Commodore Perry’s first and second “visits” to Japan, the shock of encountering the militarily overwhelming West, the unrest leading to the Boshin War, the overthrow of the Shogun, the Meiji Restoration and touches on the Satsuma Rebellion, all of which were important developments in setting the stage for Japan’s military ascendancy.
The Meiji 18 was an improved, direct evolution of the Japanese Meiji 13 Murata (1880) developed almost as soon as the Meiji 13 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 Meiji 18 Murata is substantially identical to that relating to the Meiji 13, and reference is made to the section HISTORICAL CONTEXT at Meiji 13 Murata) 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 Meiji 13 gun (rifle) and Meiji 18 gun (rifle) respectively. Because the rifles are specifically marked 明治 13 年 村田銃 (Meiji 13 Year Murata Gun) and likewise for the Meiji 18 (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 works for identifying these rifles, but we’ve simply chosen Meiji 13 and Meiji 18 as that is how the rifles are Japanese Imperial Arsenal marked.
Similarly to this rifle’s HISTORICAL CONTEXT, its early development is fully tied up with that of its parent, the Murata Meiji 13 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 Meiji 18 is thus an improved Meiji 13 (M1880) which it closely resembles. These rifles saw considerable service in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, use by Japanese support troops during Japan’s excursion again into China during the Boxer Rebellion, and even to a limited extent even into the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.
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 Meiji 13 Murata on this site.
The single-shot, bolt action, Meiji 18 Murata rifle is, like its immediate predecessor the also single-shot, bolt action Meiji 13 Murata, a quintessentially 1870s military rifle, looking not dissimilar to the M1871 Dutch Beaumont, M1871 German Mauser and Mle1874 French Gras each of which it heavily borrowed from, as well as the M1870 Russian 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.
This Meiji 18 rifle is most readily distinguished from other countries’ rifles by its profuse Japanese Kanji markings (See MARKINGS, below). More challenging is distinguishing between the Japanese Meiji 13s and Meiji 18s.
The Meiji 18 Murata rifle is most readily distinguished from the Meiji 13 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.
The bolt lock cross-pin bolt, the distinctive characteristic of the Meiji 18. The lower screw merely holds the cross-pin bolt's escutcheon. Note also the top of the bolt, without a bolt retention cross-block.
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.
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.
There are substantial differences between the Meiji 13 rifle's lower tang and trigger mounting method and that of the Meiji 18 rifle.
Photo Credits: JackTheDog@gunauction.com
The new rifle retains the barrel band mounted bayonet lug of the Meiji 13, but has newly added a small auxiliary bayonet tenon on the left side of the barrel muzzle which, while new with the Meiji 18, was long established with the French rifles from which it is copied. As well, because the barrel is an inch shorter than the Meiji 13 rifle while utilizing much the same stock, this results in the Meiji 18 rifle being stocked an inch closer to the muzzle than the Meiji 13. The stock of the Meiji 18 was also refined slightly from that of the Meiji 13, by having a bit lower comb, although this feature is not readily apparent.
Muzzle of the Meiji 18; the small auxiliary bayonet bar is new with this model, absent from the Meiji 13.
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.
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.
The Meiji 18 was improved over the Meiji 13 in its sturdiness and reliability but is otherwise unchanged. As such, the Meiji 18 functions identically to that of the Meiji 13, except with regard to removal of the bolt. The Meiji 18 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 Meiji 13 Murata's action had been 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. A condition which occurred too frequently with the Meiji 13. This shortcoming was addressed by the modified Meiji 18 rifle’s transverse stop bolt mentioned above.
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.
An interesting feature of the Meiji 18 rifle carried over from the Meiji 13 is the gas deflector plate mounted at the rear of these two Murata models’ bolts. Please see OPERATING MECHANISM at Meiji 13 Murata on this website for an in-depth discussion of this feature.
Views of the left receiver wall extractor groove and the bolt's gas deflector plate
For an extensive comparison and review of the Japanese Meiji 13 Murata and Meiji 18 Murata rifles from a different perspective (there referred to as “Type 13” and “Type 18”), and more photos(!) visit: https://www.nambuworld.com/muratat13t18comparisonpix.htm
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 Meiji 13 rifle to “Meiji 18 Murata Rifle.” These new rifles were marked 十 八 (juu-hachi or 1 8) on the receiver instead of the previous Year 13 markings.
Other than model year, the Meiji 18 Murata is marked similarly to the Meiji 13, 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 “Meiji 1 3 Year” to read “Meiji 1 8 Year”.
The buttstock roundel cartouche reads “Tokyo Artillery Arsenal Small Arms Factory” around the outside, and the inside circle indicates “Meiji Meiji 18". Note that being Japanese, the kanji are read counter-clockwise, opposite of how Western roundel cartouches would usually be read.
The faint outlines of the original factory cartouche are still visible on this Meiji 18 Murata. For some reason it is rare to find a readable cartouche on an Meiji 18 rifle. Next to this photo is a sketch of what the factory cartouche should have read.
Sketch Credit: Zeilinski, Stanley, “Japanese Murata rifles 1880-1897”
Photo Credit: Stan Zeilinski – “Japanese Murata rifles 1880-1897”
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.
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 Meiji 13 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)
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
Murata 18 Year Model Dragoon Rifle
(Meiji 18 Year Imperial Japanese Murata “Cavalry” Rifle)
Photo Credit: JacktheDog@gunauction.com
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 a Meiji 18 Year Murata rifle, just a slight bit shorter, with the only notable differences between this Meiji 18 Short Rifle and the Infantry Rifle being: Length, an additional barrel band, the absence of a bayonet lug, the rear sling swivel being fixed to the front of the trigger guard, and the bolt being equipped with a safety derived from the M1871 German Mauser and M71/84 German Mauser. This was the first Japanese rifle to be equipped with a safety and a safety device with the same basic concept is used in the later Arisaka rifle produced in great numbers.
The action and bolt configuration, upper and lower tangs, stock (except length) etc., are Meiji 18 Murata 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 infantry rifler nosecap and similar infantry rifle cleaning rod. It has no separate provision for a bayonet although, if there existed a socket bayonet, then such might be mounted utilizing the front sight, 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 Meiji 18 Murata 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 (騎兵)(which is a Dragoon) Gun (Rifle)”. Indeed, if Google is asked to translate Mounted Soldier (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 Meiji 13 Year and Meiji 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 short rifle is, however, executed in a distinctly Meiji 18 Murata rifle form.
A M1874 French Gras Carabine de Gendarmerie a cheval (i.e., Horse-mounted Gendarmerie short rifle)
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 Meiji 18 infantry rifle. Serial numbers are not a continuation of the Meiji 13 – Meiji 18 Year rifle 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.
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)
Meiji 18th Year Murata Sword Bayonet:
The new Japanese Meiji 18 single-edge t-back bayonet is substantially similar to the previous Meiji 13 bayonet. Yet, just as the Meiji 18 rifle is a modified version of the Meiji 13 rifle, the Meiji 18 bayonet is similarly a modified version of the Meiji 13 bayonet. And as the Meiji 18 rifle is slightly shorter than the Meiji 13 rifle, so too is the Meiji 18 bayonet slightly shorter than the Meiji 13 bayonet. While shorter than the Meiji 13, the new Meiji 18 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 Meiji 18 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 Meiji 18 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 Meiji 13 bayonet will not fit on the revised Meiji 18 model, and due to differences in both the location of the primary bayonet lug, and the slightly larger diameter Meiji 13 rifle muzzle, the Meiji 18 bayonet will not fit the Meiji 13 rifle.
Like the Meiji 13 Murata bayonet though, the Meiji 18 version mounts with the blade horizontal when the rifle is shouldered.
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.
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.
Overall length: 582 mm
Blade length: 460 mm
Blade width: 24.9 mm
Muzzle ring dia: 17.3 mm
11mm Murata (aka: 11x60R)
The Meiji 18 rifle utilizes the same cartridge (the M1880 11mm Murata) as the Meiji 13 Murata rifle, and reference is made to the CARTRIDGE discussion at that page just linked, on this website.
Photo Credits: User 'William lorg' @ shootersforum.com; User 'Historian' @ IAA-forums.com Early made Japanese Military small arms Ammunition, teruaki isomura
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 Meiji 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 rifles were ultimately produced together with under 10,000 Meiji 18 dragoon rifles.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
No significant utilization by other countries is known other than if some Meiji 18 Year Murata rifles were among those small numbers sold to Philippine insurgents at the turn of the century or as might have been sold to Japanese emigrants. See: UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES at Meiji 13 Murata on this website.
The Meiji 18 rifle, along with the Meiji 13 were the primary arms of the Imperial Japanese Army in Japan’s invasion of China during the Sino-Japanese War (1894) and as auxiliary weapons during the Russo-Japanese War (1905).
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES
Predecessor Rifle: Meiji 13 Murata Rifle
Top: The immediate predecessor Meiji 13 Murata;
Center: The Immediate Follow-On Meiji 18 Murata, discussed in this page.
Bottom: The later, immediate follow-on Meiji 22 Murata
Photo Credit: www.nambuworld.com
Follow-On Rifle: Meiji 22 Murata Magazine Rifle
The Japanese 22 Year Magazine Rifle
A special thanks to Doss White, Dr. Stanley Zielinski, and Chip Goddard for their help and information!
Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era, Edited by Joseph P. Koss, Jr, Francis C. Allen Press, 2011
Japanese Murata rifles 1880 -1897, Dr. Stanley Zeilinski, Lodestone, 2010
Military Rifles of Japan, 5th Ed., Honeycutt & Anthony, Julien books, 2001
Early Made Japanese Military Small Arms Ammunition, Teruaki Isomura, Tokyo, 1984; US reprint)
Page built: January 27, 1999
Revised October 6, 1999
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Updated: Feb 10, 2023