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Pre-Murata Japanese Military Cartridge Rifles
In this webpage we highlight the Conversions of the Japanese Enfield Pattern muzzle-loading rifles to metallic cartridge breech-loaders, including the Japanese Enfield-Albini-Braendlins, Enfield-Sniders and Enfield-Terssens.
Conversions of the Japanese stores of their imported French mle1866 Chassepot rifles to Murata-bolt, metallic cartridge Meiji 13 Chassepot-Muratas (our nomenclature) are explored here: Japanese Meiji 13 Chassepot-Murata.
Other Imported rifles which were not modified to be uniquely Japanese, such as the Japanese imports of American Remington rolling blocks, Remington-Lee bolt action repeaters, Winchester-Hotchkiss and Peabody-Martinis, and European imports such as the M1871 Mausers, M1867 Werndls, M1874 Gras and the like are (or will be) covered, or at least mentioned, in their respective pages on this website, under the sections in their dedicated pages titled “UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES.”
Japan’s Acquisition & Development of Modern Rifles
Japan’s furious acquisition and pace of development of its modern firearms up to 1945 can really only be appreciated by having at least a minimal appreciation of Japan’s history leading up to the modern period, which really began in the years around 1880.
While Japanese emperors can be traced as far back as 660 BC, little actual detail is known of Japan’s early history. The title of Shogun (meaning “great general”) first came into use only in 1192.
In 1467 the Ashikaga shogunate, the feudal military government that had ruled Japan for the previous 130 years, was overthrown during the Ōnin War, a Japanese civil war that saw the collapse of what had been a relatively stable feudal system. This began what in Japanese history is referred to as the “Warring States Period.” No unifying force emerged for the next roughly 135 years, during which Japan was in a near state of constant civil war. But unlike Europe, resource poor and isolated Japan experienced neither a scientific and cultural Renaissance, nor any notable war making technological development over this time.
European contact with Japan began in 1542, when Portuguese sailors first reached the islands. It is theorized that the Portuguese first introduced the matchlock shoulder fired gun to Japan in 1543. According to this view, these became the Japanese tanegashima, (from the name of the small island off the southern tip of Kyushu and the prefecture where the Portuguese first introduced matchlocks to Japan). The Portuguese also brought the first Jesuit missionaries, eager to save souls but highly disruptive of Japanese society.
The tanegashima were quickly adopted by many of the feudal warlords. A Christian missionary of the period reported that by only 1553 there were more than 100,000 guns in Japan. By 1600, the year of the battle of Sekigahara which ended the Warring Period, that number was estimated to be in the range of 300,000. Constantly warring Japan was at that time in possession of the greatest total number of guns of any country in the world.
A samurai reloading his tanegashima (matchlock rifle) while holding the karuka (ramrod) in his mouth as he reloads.
The matchlock tanegashima did indeed change Japanese warfare, but just as in Europe, their limitations, including desperately slow rate of fire and unreliability in the rain, did not displace the bow. The bow and the Japanese sword (katana) remained the primary weapons of the Japanese warrior class (samurai). Only in 1600 did the war lord Tokugawa Ieyasu seize control as Shogun and succeed in re-unifying Japan, just as the first Dutch ship arrived to further complicate matters.
Ieyasu re-established the Japanese feudal system which brought long sought stability to Japan, but in 1614 he ordered all Christian priests to leave Japan and ordered the Japanese to renounce Christianity. He also completely closed off Japan from contact with the rest of the world, expelling the Portuguese and allowing only a single Dutch ship per year to dock at a Japanese port. After this time, foreign sailors shipwrecked on Japan’s shores were usually killed. This would eventually have significant repercussions for the Japanese.
[James Clavell’s bestselling novel Shogun (1975) is the fictional account of the adventures of the crew of the Dutch ship “De Liefde,” made into a blockbuster television series starring Richard Chamberlain. Although taking some liberties with Japanese history, it serves as a fascinating introduction to this period and the clash of European and Japanese cultures.]
Ieyasu’s actions stabilized Japanese society and culture and resulted in a long period of peace for Japan. His family, the Tokugawa, ruled Japan for the next two and a half centuries. This led to the supremely proud but inward-looking warrior Japanese continuing to maintain their thousand year feudal system as-is. It also halted Japanese development and cut Japan off from the remarkable technological developments taking place in the West over the next 250 years. Japan experienced neither civil war nor external conflicts for almost two and a half centuries but, as there was no need for firearms in Japan, no Japanese firearms development took place. The year 1853 however, would begin the near-complete overhaul of Japanese culture, society and its view of itself in the world.
In 1853, United States Commodore Matthew C. Perry was sent to Japan with 4 warships in response to the mistreatment of shipwrecked American sailors. He had been directed to open diplomatic relationships with Japan and to secure fair treatment of American traders and sailors, but these overtures were resisted by the Japanese government.
Commodore Matthew C. Perry
The following year, Perry returned with more ships and anchored them in Tokyo bay. The by now decadent and weak Japanese government of the Tokugawas was unable to mount an effective response and, unwillingly, signed a treaty opening a number of ports to American trade in 1857. The major European powers, not about to be left out of potentially lucrative markets, followed with similar shows of force resulting in similar agreements shortly thereafter.
All of this did not go over well with many proud Japanese.
The Boshin War and the Meiji Period
During this period, having no modern weapons of her own and no weapons industry, Japan underwent significant rearming with imported weapons. Traditional tanegashima guns were used side-by-side with modern Western breech-loading rifles imported from all over Europe and the United States. In 1867, orders were placed for 40,000 state-of-the-art French M1866 Chassepot rifles, a part of which reached Edo by year's end.
The Boshin War (1868-69), developed from dissatisfaction among segments of the nobility and samurai classes with how the shogunate weakly responded to foreigners during the decade after Japan was opened to trade. This alliance of nobles and samurai sought to assert political power in the name of the Imperial Court and the young Emperor Mutsuhito Meiji (1852 – 1912) and to make Japan militarily competitive with the Western nations seen as exploiting Japan. The alliance succeeded in defeating the Shogun’s forces, securing control of the Imperial Court and forcing the last Tokugawa Shogun to resign. The Emperor then declared that he was reasserting his “traditional” powers, thus beginning what is commonly referred to as the Meiji Restoration.
Weapons of the Boshin War [Snider, Starr, Japanese copy of Dutch Gewehr
Samurai in full armor, with daishō & enfield
Samurai w. rifle & sword by Ueno Hikoma late 1860s (Katchushi Koubou UK)
The Early Meiji Period (1868 to ~1880)
Portrait of a Young Emperor Meiji
On February 3rd, 1868 (the Japanese year 1Meiji), the Emperor Meiji was declared the sole divine ruler of Japan, initiating the Meiji Restoration. Over the following years, Meiji and the Imperial Court remade Japanese society, adopting many Western ideas, and practically abolished the samurai and the feudal system. For our purposes, the Meiji court also established a modern army and navy along European lines. Western experts were brought in from Europe and America to both teach Western methods and to establish Western industry. Very large quantities of various European and American rifles had been imported during the period 1855 to 1868 and the new government was going to have to figure out how to make sense of them all, both logistically and practically. Total numbers of imported arms, mostly rifles, reached about seven hundred thousand by the end of the decade.
During the early Meiji period the Japanese continued to import a very wide variety of firearms from the Europeans trying to establish the best system for themselves and attempting to learn all that they could in order to catch up with the West. The Japanese also became keen experimenters, trying out a huge variety of different systems for converting their earlier muzzleloaders to breechloaders.
One final note regarding this transitional period: Not all Japanese accepted the dramatic societal changes brought about by the Meiji Restoration. A revolt took place in 1877 by rebellious traditional samurai, referred to as the Satsuma Rebellion, in which the Imperial Japanese Army utilized its more modern firearms against the more traditionally armed Samurai, whom they subdued comparatively quickly.
[The Satsuma Rebellion is the centerpiece of the Tom Cruise 2003 period epic movie “The Last Samurai,” in which the various arms of the opposing forces are presented with only a minimal of Hollywood "liberty."]
Various firearms used by samurai during the Edo period
Until the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan’s focus was to catch up with the West, eagerly seeking out and adopting every new military and industrial technology that showed promise. After her victory over the Russians (primarily the Russian navy, the land expeditions were not so successful), Japan’s focus turned to self-organized development and manufacture of weapons directed to imperial expansion.
In the 1890s, Japan began adopting an aggressive foreign policy along with a Japanese militarism leading to recurring wars with China (First Sino-Japanese war), Russia (Russo-Japanese War), struggles over Korea, participation in World War I, and ultimately participation in World War II, resulting in Japan’s devastatingly utter and complete defeat, and territorial reduction to its four main islands and surrounding small ones.
Development of Japanese Rifles: 1860-1880
A rather dirty, long in storage Dutch percussion musket imported into Japan during the 1860s. Referred to in Japanese as a “Gewehr” the Dutch word for “rifle.”
Photo Credit: J-T @ Nihonto Message Board.com
Until 1859 ownership of firearms by private individuals had been forbidden. This substantially hampered the development of local firearms improvements, firearms industry in Japan consisting of a large number of individual gunsmiths and some pre-industrial small shops
Domestically produced firearms were poor in comparison to European Arms and therefore the Shogun and various feudal Lords purchased most of their arms from Europe via the Dutch. Large numbers of firearms were imported with the largest number of imports taking place in the Bunkyu era 1861 to 1863. These were largely obsolete Dutch smoothbore muskets that would have been manufactured in the 1830 to1845 timeframe. Although these smooth bore guns would have been equipped with a bayonet stud, these were considered useless as all samurai, the primary Japanese warriors at the time, carried a katana but no bayonet.
These Dutch gewehr were relatively simple such that individual, small shop Japanese gunmakers were able to successfully copy the imported muskets, thus reducing the need for substantial additional imports until the arrival of more effective percussion rifles.
During the period 1865 to 1867 the shogun hired French army officers to instruct the Japanese soldiers and these French brought with them the advantages of the Minié rifle, that is, muskets which had their barrels rifled, and which were loaded with conical bullets rather than round balls. Some examples would have included the M1853 French rifled musket (of the types later converted by the French to M1853/67 French Tabatiere)and the M1848 Dutch rifled muskets of the types later converted to M1848/67 Dutch Sniders.
The Minié rifles’ advantages in range and accuracy were readily apparent and the feudal clans quickly adopted rifles in lieu of their earlier smoothbore muskets.
Japanese made Percussion Musket.chicagoregimentals
Note: The Japanese referred to all rifled muskets (mostly 1850s-1860s production) which were made to fire Minié bullets as Minié rifles, regardless of country or model.
Photo Credit: US Army Museum
After 1868 and during the “Restoration Period” Japan became very focused on developing her own weapons and industry. Although wholly dependent on European and American imports for its arms, one of the first national policies pursued by the Meiji government was to encourage Japanese development of their own weapons rather than to purchase weapons from foreign countries. Seeking Fukoku (a wealthy country) by Kyohei (a strong army) became a national obsession.
One of the first acts of the newly established Meiji government was the consolidating of arms manufacturing and the bringing of existing arms under its control. It bought up the Sekiguci factory in Koishikawa, Tokyo, which had been operated by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and directed it to manufacture small arms on behalf of the new Imperial government. This was the first substantial national arms manufacturing undertaken after “Restoration” and the origin of the Tokyo Arms Factory (arsenal). This occurred in 3 Meiji (1870). Concurrently with the Tokyo Imperial Arsenal’s establishment was the adoption of the British developed Enfield as the army’s standard infantry rifle.
After April, 1871, the production of arms in Japan was placed solely under the direction of the Tokyo Arsenal. The next year, construction of a new, dedicated small arms factory was commenced at the site.
In 1875 attention turned to ignition and a powder mill was established in Itabashi. Facilities for manufacturing primers for self-contained metallic cartridges were built and an additional ammunition factory was constructed at the Tokyo Arsenal in 1876. Notwithstanding the earlier 1870 designation of the Enfield (a muzzleloader) as the army’s standard rifle, in 1875 the government also designated the Chassepot, Dreyse and Enfield-Snider rifles as the Japanese Imperial Army “standard” infantry arms.
As mentioned above, during the 1868-1876 period, the major government focus was on consolidating the small arms of Japan by collecting under its control the arms making establishments of the feudal Japanese clans and concentrating arms and manufacturing machines to its arsenals. Government consolidation and collection of weapons from the clans ignored the old technology tanegashimas and flint lock muskets and focused on the newer percussion weapons that had been imported into the country such as the Dutch gewehrs, the French Miniés and the British Enfields.
A 2-band British Enfield Short Rifle
Photo Credit: AntiqueAssociates.com
The Mysterious “Allumette:
In Ushisaburo Kobayashi’s much quoted study Military Industries of Japan, Oxford University Press, published in 1922, on five separate occasions he mentions a rifle which he calls “Allumette.”
"In April, 1873 a set of machines needed for remodeling Enfield rifles into Allumettes was purchased for $20,000." (Kobayashi, pg 40).
“In September, a riot arose in the Yamaguchi and Kumamoto prefectures and the repairing of Snyders (sic) and Allumettes was hastily made.” (Kobayashi, pg 41)
“In February 10 Meiji 1877 the Satsuma Rebellion broke out and the Tokyo head Arsenal made an extraordinary increase in Workman for making and repairing arms, and pushed the work day and night. As to the small arms, it was so arranged that the Enfields that were hitherto remodeled into Allumettes were made into Snyders (sic) during the war.” (Kobayashi, pg 41)
“During this disturbance the Hagi Small Arms Factory was put under the jurisdiction of the Osaka Branch Arsenal and the Allumettes were made there.” (Kobayashi, pg 41)
“In September, [9 Meiji (1876)] on account of the riots in the prefectures Yamaguchi and Kumamoto every powder mill was hastily put to the making of ammunition for the Snyder (sic) and Allumette, and in a few days' time a large amount was manufactured.” (Kobayashi, pg 47)
Researchers into Japanese firearms have long speculated as to what, exactly, Kobayashi’s “Allumettes” might. In his study, Kobayashi freely uses the terms: match-locks, tanegashima, Gewehr, Minié, Enfield, Chassepot, and Snyder (Snider). However, not once in 266 pages are the terms Albini or Braendlin or Terssen mentioned, either directly or in reference to Enfields being converted to such. And yet “Allumette” is most often mentioned directly in conjunction with “Enfield.” Thus, it might then perhaps be acceptable to speculate that Kobayashi’s “Allumettes” are indeed either Enfield-Albini-Braendlins or Enfield-Terssens, or even both.
In July of 1876 the Tokyo Arsenal manufactured rifles for the first time.
In February 1877 the Satsuma Rebellion (above) broke out, and the Tokyo Arsenal was tasked with substantially increasing its ability to manufacture small arms. As mentioned in the above special note, during the war, those Enfield rifles that had previously been converted to “Allumettes” were converted a second time into Sniders. For reasons as yet unclear, during the rebellion the Japanese small arms factory at the castle town of Hagi on the southwestern coast of Japan, was still manufacturing “Allumettes.”
During 1878 additional muzzle-loading Enfields where converted into Sniders and the wood for stocks was set as beech, although walnut was also used.
The Year 1880 was a watershed year for Japanese small arms manufacturing as the domestically designed and manufactured Meiji 13 Murata rifle was adopted. But with the adoption of the Meiji 13 Murata, work was also started on converting the government's stock of previously imported Japanese Chassepot rifles into Meiji 13 Chassepot-Muratas.
These conversions were accomplished by the substitution of the same Murata bolt design as used in the Meiji 13 rifle into the Chassepots, this conversion closely matching that utilized by the French themselves in their Mle1866-74 Gras conversion rifles.
A Meiji 13 Murata rifle and a view of its bolt
A Tanegashima , presumably converted to breechloader via fitment of a Meiji 13 Murata bolt. However Zielinski argues that these firearms were most likely not converted at all, but made directly and originally in the style of the tanegashima using Murata barreled actions, as these style weapons were most familiar to the Japanese.
Photo Credit: AncestryArms.com
A Chassepot needle-fire rifle converted to metallic cartridge breech-loader via fitment of a Meiji 13 Murata bolt
Photo Credits: Chip Goddard
By 1883 the skill and organization of the Tokyo Arsenal had progressed so that in that year 8,000 Chassepot rifles were converted and 7,000 new Meiji 13 Murata rifles were produced. Production ramped up so quickly that only a year later the arsenal was able to manufacture 30,000 new Murata rifles. And in 1885, despite adopting the improved and thus altered Meiji 18 Murata rifle, with all the necessary changeovers to new parts production and assembly, the Tokyo Arsenal was still able to produce 28,700 additional new rifles overall.
A Meiji 18 Murata rifle
Cartridges Matter, A LOT:
When the Tokyo Arsenal was established in 1870, Japan had no facilities for producing metallic cartridges, as such were just entering the country and all such stocks were imported. Ammunition, principally bullets, was being produced for a variety of rifles, but then only as needed. When the Enfield was adopted as the standard military rifle that year, production shifted away from varieties such as the French Miniéto almost exclusively Enfield bullets.
When conversion of the Enfield to various metallic cartridge breech-loading patterns was undertaken, ammunition was sourced from abroad, principally England. However, in 1875, machinery for manufacturing .577 Snider ammunition arrived at the Tokyo Arsenal from England. Local production was initiated and the Arsenal was thereafter able to produce as many as 50,000 rounds per day. These cartridges would also be used in the various other Enfield conversions in addition to the Sniders, such as the Albini-Braendlin and the Terssen conversions.
In February 1877, the eruption of the Satsuma Rebellion and the concurrent greatly increased demand for Snider ammunition forced the Tokyo Arsenal to yet again increase its machinery and productive capacity. Almost certainly these cartridges were of the British coiled brass variety because Kobayashi again notes that in October 1878 "… the method was fixed by which paper was to be pasted over with gum-lac within and without the small arms cartridge case..." This is a method of waterproofing the cardboard outer case of the delicate .577 Snider coiled brass cases and is not used at all with drawn brass cases.
A British Snider cartridge. The coiled sheet-brass cartridge case is paper wrapped to protect the delicate brass.
Photo credit: militarycartridges.com
When the Meiji 13 Murata rifle was adopted, the Winchester Company of the United States was contracted to provide the machinery and tooling necessary for Japan to manufacture the rifle as well as its ammunition. The government also contracted with a German manager to provide the Japanese with technical expertise in the production of Murata ammunition, while Winchester also supplied some 10 million rounds of 11mm Murata cartridges to supply Japan until its production was fully ramped up.
Work on learning the art of drawn cartridge case manufacturing continued over the next two years when, in January, 1882, Murata ammunition specifications were finally set and full production of ammunition began at the Tokyo Arsenal in April.
11mm Murata cartridge
Photo Credit: User 'William lorg' @ shootersforum.com
By 1885, both experience and improvements in production allowed the Arsenal to manufacture in excess of 4,400,000 cartridge cases for the Murata rifle and slightly over 4 million fully assembled cartridges.
THE ENFIELD CONVERSIONS
By far the most common of the Japanese Pre-Murata metallic cartridge rifles found in the West, primarily the US, are the conversions of the Japanese imported Enfield rifles. Of these, the two-band model is the version almost always seen.
The earliest information which we have regarding Japanese acquisition of British Enfield rifles is that in late 1862 the Chōshū clan purchased 3,000 British Enfield rifles, which order became 4,000 rifles, later supplemented by yet an additional 7,000 Enfield rifles. The Chōshū, in cooperation with the Satsuma clan standardized on the Enfield, eventually ordering perhaps as many as 10,000 additional Enfield rifles between 1864 through 1867.
Photo credit: GunsInternational.com
They are of the same general specifications, although there is variation to a greater or lesser degree even among these. They are all patterned on the British army Pattern 1860 (P60) Enfield two-band versions which were intended for issue primarily to sergeants of line regiments, so these are sometimes also called Sergeants’ rifles. Note that the British Pattern 1860 is the army’s version of the British navy’s Pattern 1858 with its 5-groove barrel improvement over the army’s earlier P1856 3-groove two-band short rifles!
In order to understand the Japanese conversions, one must appreciate the original Enfield muzzle loading percussion rifle.
The British Enfield percussion short rifle was first approved in early1856, being derived from the successful Pattern 1853, 39 inch barrel, infantry rifle. The new P56 was fitted with a shorter 33 inch barrel rifled with the same 3-groove 1:78 inch rifling and chambered in the same .577 caliber bore as the infantry rifle but with a correspondingly shorter forestock. Other features of the new rifle included case hardened iron furniture and two iron clamping barrel bands whereas the longer infantry rifle was fitted with brass furniture and three bands. A sword bayonet lug was brazed to the short rifle’s barrel, 4¼ inches (108mm) back from the muzzle with the nosecap 5¾ inches (146mm) back, all to accommodate the newly introduced Pattern 1856 sabre bayonet. The lower tang of the trigger guard was extended and fitted with the lower sling swivel at its bottom point. Early (P1856) short rifles had 3-groove rifling like the long rifle, but these were not considered adequately accurate, despite the highly optimistic rear sight calibrated out to 1,100 yards. The lighter weight and shortened barrels were far more easily adapted to the lighter and shorter Japanese. Birmingham contractors began production of the new rifles by late 1856.
As the army’s P56 rifles were considered to be inaccurate, the Royal Navy conducted its own tests. In 1858, while the navy substantially adopted the army’s P56 short rifle with the same barrel length, calibre and overall configuration, the navy’s Pattern 1858 introduced substantially improved five groove, 1:48 inch fast twist, progressive rifling coupled with a larger, stiffer, outside barrel diameter. This dramatically improved the short rifle’s accuracy even over that of the infantry rifle. For better resistance to the elements at sea, the navy version utilized the brass furniture of the infantry rifle rather than the case hardened iron of the Army's Sergeants rifles.
The navy version’s barrel and rifling proved so successful that it was subsequently utilized for the Army's almost immediately revised 2-band rifle now designated the Pattern 1860 short rifle (P60). Manufacture of the P60 Enfield short rifle commenced in 1861 and thus the mature versions of the Enfield short rifles were well established by the time the Japanese seriously began importing them.
Japanese Enfield conversions were applied to both the British army P1860 models (by far the most common) as well as some Navy P58 (brass furniture) models, although from where these were imported is unknown.
A Stylized period photo portrait of a Japanese samurai sitting w daishō (a samurai’s two traditional matching swords), his fan (an important samurai accessory) and a two-band Enfield percussion rifle. This photo is also featured on the cover of the Banzai Project’s excellent book: Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era
Photo credit: Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era, Joseph P. Koss, Jr., Ed.
The Enfield was widely viewed as the very best European military rifle of the time. When reliable metallic cartridge ignition was perfected and fielded in quantity, the Japanese exactly followed the European model: They worked on converting their large stocks of muzzle-loading rifles, now primarily Enfields, to breech-loaders. And also like the Europeans, they experimented with many different conversion systems.
Dimensions of the British Enfield two-band percussion rifle
Overall length: 49 inches
Barrel length: 33 inch, fully round
Sights: Ramp and leaf ranged from 100 to 1100 yards
The leaf is secured at the rear and pivots up and back. The base is marked 100, to 400 yards on its right side. The leaf’s range marks are on its upper side from 500 to 1100 yards along the leaf’s right leg.
Conversions from 3-band P1853 infantry Rifles
The Japanese had also imported some numbers of P53 full-length 3-band rifled muskets and some of those also were eventually converted to metallic cartridge breechloaders. These will be unlikely to have bayonet lugs, although they might have such brazed on if the conversion was arsenal done. One sure way to know would be to check the rifling itself: If 3-groove rifling, then it was once a P53 infantry rifle, if 5-groove, then it was originally a P58 or P60 or 61.
A pair of Japanese Enfield-Albini conversions. While the bottom rifle of the pair appears to have been a P58 Navy Enfield by all of the brass furniture (and despite the placement of the lower sling swivel), but the upper rifle is clearly a cut-down P53 Infantry Rifle by the strange placement of the upper band, the awkward rear sight and the lack of bayonet lug.
Photo Credits: RockIslandAuction.com
FEATURES COMMON TO ALL JAPANESE ENFIELD
CARTRIDGE CONVERSION SHORT RIFLES
While the Japanese experimented with and also fielded several varieties of conversion systems applied to their Enfield rifles, nevertheless the basic underlying rifles all share most all of their features other than actions in common.
All are two-band short rifles with a single piece beech or walnut stock mounting their barreled actions with two screw-retained barrel bands and a simple nosecap. The screw-retained cleaning rod with ringed and slotted flat head lies conventionally in a channel under the forestock. Unlike contemporary French and Dutch rifles the cleaning rod does not pass through the nosecap.
The lock is a conventional forward lock secured by a pair of escutcheon-supported transverse screws entering from the left side of the stock. The buttstock may be Japanese cartouched, although often not. The buttplate is secured by three wood screws, one in the tang, one at the corner of the heel and a third low in the base.
In all examples examined, personally or via photographs, sling swivels are mounted below the upper band. The lower sling swivels are mounted in the same location along the lower edge of the buttstock, however, while the non-Albini-Braendlin conversion seem have their lower sling swivel through the tail end of their extended lower tang, most of the Albini conversions examined are fitted with a shorter “conventional-length” tang. Their lower sling swivel is screwed directly into the stock, although, again, in the same location as those rifles with extended lower tangs.
While most Japanese two-band conversions are mounted with iron furniture, some are occasionally seen with brass furniture (nosecap, trigger guard, buttplate), which suggests that these were converted from either Japanese shortened P53 infantry rifles or later imported navy Pattern 1858 short rifles. As most Japanese imported infantry rifles were later shortened to two-band versions it is most likely that such brass-fitted rifles are converted from shortened 3-band rifles, but we have not personally examined them to be sure. If shortened infantry rifles, they will have 3-groove rifled barrels. However if navy versions, they will have the 5-groove rifling and the brazed-on bayonet lug of the navy Enfields. If iron furniture and a brazed-on bayonet lug, then they originally were Pattern 1860 army rifles.
While we have not in person examined these two rifles posted for sale at auction, the upper rifle, as distinct from the lower rifle, is likely to have been shortened from a 3-band infantry rifle as it is fitted with brass nosecap, trigger guard, probably buttplate, upper band is mis-mounted and it has no bayonet lug. The lower rifle was likely converted from a British P1858 Navy rifle.
Photo Credit: Rock Island Auction company, listed as: “Two Japanese Albinis”
Japanese Enfield cartridge conversions will usually be fitted with a brazed-on bayonet lug and shorter forestock to accept the British Pattern 1856 sabre bayonet. This bayonet was adopted with the first version army 2-band short rifle also fielded in 1858 but shortly thereafter supplemented by the army Pattern 1860 with better rifling. The Pattern 1858 bayonets are discussed below under BAYONET.
All Japanese Enfield cartridge conversion rifles are chambered for the identical British .577 cartridge, discussed below under CARTRIDGE.
It seems that there were a significant number of slightly different groups of rifles acquired by the Japanese and subsequently converted by them; as of the roughly dozen or so rifles examined no two are built exactly the same nor marked quite the same. But there are nevertheless common elements.
Pre-Import British Markings:
Most Japanese Albini conversions were made from British Enfield rifles which had originally been manufactured by Enfield (so marked), BSA (so marked) and by Birmingham and London based contract gunmakers (marked “TOWER” or left unmarked).
Very characteristically, the lockplates of most (there are always exceptions) Japanese Enfields are marked with an elaborate crown on the lockplate tail. But while some examples carry the V.R. Royal Cypher [Victoria Regina, i.e., Queen Victoria] suggesting that they were produced for British military use, many are without such a V.R., indicating that these were rifles built for commercial and not British army issue. The forward part of the lockplate often (again, not always) includes the designation “TOWER” above a date, most always late 1860s or early 1870s.
The meaning of the stamp “TOWER” often found on early to mid-19th century British long arms changed over time and depending on who was applying it.
For example, if the mark “TOWER” is seen on a Brown Bess it is likely a government made/issued arm and will be accompanied by a crown above the Royal cypher and appropriate British proofs. If found on a later percussion musket or Snider or similar arm from that era, it is likely a commercial piece, produced for civilian use or for another country or faction’s military use.
In Britain by the end of the 1830s with the introduction of percussion muskets quickly replacing flintlocks large orders for long arms were being placed with the British gun trade. Arms assembled from parts provided from government stores and produced at Enfield were marked ENFIELD, and those arms similarly produced by London & Birmingham contractors were marked TOWER.
The use of the word TOWER, indeed even the application of a crown (without any regent's initials), was apparently unrestricted. Commercial arms manufacturers would use such markings for marketing purposes. This was especially prolific on commercially made arms which were based on the British Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle design bought from Birmingham gunmakers for use in the American Civil War. Such locks lack both the “V.R.” Royal Cypher as well as the small crown/arrow govt acceptance stamp.
By the mid 1860s the system of contracting gun-makers to set-up arms from parts distributed from store wound down and arms manufacture became much more highly mechanized. Arms now were stamped with the name of the factory where they were made, ENFIELD, L.S.A. Co, B.S.A. etc. Thereafter the stamp TOWER was seldom applicable. ('The British Soldier's Firearm 1850-1864' by Christopher Roads).
These are Birmingham Provisional and Definitive Proof Marks. The numerals “25” denote bore (gauge) size, in this case indicator marks referencing a caliber of .577 inches. British practice with rifled barrels was that measurements were taken from land to land, i.e, as though measured before the barrel was rifled with grooves.
Photo Credit: CollectorsFirearms.com
This unit marking appears on the tang of a Japanese converted Enfield-Albini-Braendlin
Post-Import Japanese Markings:
The Japanese character 本 (HON) is perhaps the most commonly found character on cartridge conversion Enfields. On Albini-Braendlin conversion receivers and the Terssens it is found on the rear of the receiver, but we have not yet seen these on the Snider conversions.
Photo credit: CollectorsFirearms.com
This circled character, HON, translates to “main” or “first” and is an early name for the Tokyo Imperial Arsenal.
Photo Credit: iCollector.com
The bayonet stud is almost always numbered, and may or may not also contain Japanese characters:
Note that the cleaning rod is an incorrect Martini rod
Photo Credit: Gunbroker
It is difficult to say very much regarding the likelihood of encountering buttstock cartouches as these could relatively easily be lost to time and use, however several examples have been seen with elaborate roundels
While this roundel is nearly lost, it is still evident if you look closely.
The roundel cartouche pattern seen in the above photos was applied to the stocks of rifles manufactured by the Imperial Tokyo Arsenal beginning around 1870 and continuing to about 1890. The center image is believed to be a sunburst (“Rising Sun?). Around the outside of these buttstock roundel cartouches reads “Tokyo Artillery Arsenal Small Arms Manufacturing Plant” (or Factory). Starting from the top, the kanji are read counter-clockwise, opposite of how Western roundel cartouches would usually be read.
We believe that the five kanji characters around the inner circle of the more prominent cartouche will be “Mei” “Ji” “Year” (and two symbols for the Meiji year of manufacture, but we can’t quite make them out. Any help would be appreciated).
For additional discussion of Japanese rifle buttstock cartouches see the discussion in Meiji 18 Murata under MARKINGS.
Soon after the Meiji restoration the armories required the stamping of the 16 petal Imperial Chrysanthemum on all government firearms. Less commonly encountered is the Japanese Imperial ownership mark, the Emperor’s Chrysanthemum, but it does occasionally appear on Enfield conversions. This symbol indicates that such weapon is the property of the Imperial family.
The 16-petal Japanese Imperial Chrysanthemum stamped on the hinge mount of an Enfield-Albini-Braendlin denoting Imperial property.
We believe this kanji character appearing on the underside of a Japanese converted Enfield-Albini-Braendlin to be “KAI” which in this context would be translate to “modification” or “modified.”
We have not yet been able to identify these two Japanese characters. If you know, please advise us.
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
Generally speaking, all Japanese Enfield conversions that we have encountered, be they Albini, Snider or Terssen, share the following specifications:
Overall length: 48¾ inches (1,238mm) Minor fractional differences occur depending on action and apparently what facility converted it.
Barrel length: 30 5/8 in (778mm)
Rifling: Enfield designed progressive 5-groove, Right Hand 1:48 inch twist
Sights: 100 to 1100 yards (These ranges are believed to designate yards, as that is how the imported British rifles were denominated, but this is unconfirmed.
Ramp and leaf, the leaf secured at the rear and pivoting up and back. The base is marked from 100 to 400 yards on its right side. The leaf’s range marks are on the upper side of the leaf from 500 to 1100 yards along the right leg.
Japanese Enfield-Albini-Braendlin Conversions
(Albini Generation Long Infantry Gun)
(アルビニ 代 長 歩兵 銃)
A typical Japanese Enfield 2-band rifle converted to fire the British .577 metallic cartridge by the Albini-Branedlin system
The Albini-Branedlin system saw somewhat wide, if limited success during the period that many armies were trying to field cartridge breechloaders converted from their vast stocks of capping muzzleloaders. The Albini-Braendlin was selected for conversion of early large bore (.70 caliber) rifled, percussion muzzleloading muskets in Europe by Belgium (see the M/67 Series of Belgian Albinii Braendlins), by the Russian navy as the Albini-Baranov (M1856/69 Albini-Baranov), in limited numbers by the Italian navy (M1858/68 Italian naval Albini-Braendlin) and also in very limited numbers by South Australia, although significantly not as a conversion, but as a purpose-built rifle on the planform of the British P53 three-band rifled musket (see: M1867 South Australian Braendlin-Albini).
Shortly after the Meiji restoration all firearms in Japan were ordered to be registered or transferred to government control. In late 1872 a directive was issued that Enfield rifles be immediately sent to various arranged plants to be converted into Albini-type rifles which would subsequently be redistributed to replace the Enfields. Kobayashi notes that "In April, 6 Meiji (1873) a set of machines to remodel Enfield rifles to Allumettes was purchased for $20,000." Koss, Ed., states that the conversions were to have been conducted in the summer of 1873 in Chōshū, Hagi, Hizen, Saga, Tokyo and Osaka. If it is not unreasonable that perhaps Kobayashi’s “Allumettes” are in fact Albini-Braendlins, then perhaps because the conversions were carried out at no fewer than five facilities that there is so much minor variety among the Japanese Albini-Braendlins.
The conversion actions themselves are very often serially numbered distinctly from the rifle’s serial number, if any. Some, but by no means all, were marked "ALBINI-BRAENDLIN” above “PATENT” on top of the breech block with the rifle held pointing to the right. During this period Japan was able to make some smaller parts and was able to assemble her own rifles, but barrels especially would need to be imported at least until Japanese steel was sufficient for her to manufacture her own, which did not happen until the turn of the century.
Other conversion actions carry a serial number that matches a serial number on the edge of the lockplate as well as below the barrel. While it is entirely possible that such rifles were later imports, ordered and acquired originally by the Japanese as Albini-Branedlin rifles, it seems more likely that these parts were serially numbered as part of the conversion process itself.
A Japanese Enfield-Albini-Braendlin conversion with matching barrel, lock, and breech block.
There are a great many slight variations among Japanese Enfield-Albinis suggesting as Kobayashi does that the conversion work was undertaken at several factories or arsenals in addition to the Tokyo Imperial Arsenal.
Distinguishing Characteristics of the Japanese Enfield-Albini-Braendlin Conversions
The Japanese Albini conversions involve the removal of the barrel tang, reaming out a chamber to accept the British .577 Snider cartridge, threading the barrel to accept the installation of a thoroughly typical M1867 Belgian Albini-Braendlin-type receiver and breech-block, inletting the stock to accept the new receiver and altering the original hammer to accept the longitudinal striker or replacing the hammer with a new one so fitted. All else remains untouched and unconverted. Rear sight ranges remain denominated in Western numerals (see below).
Note that the forearm checkering is not Japanese standard but rather, judging by its low quality, civilian applied long after Japanese army service.
The mechanisms of the Japanese Albini-Braendlin conversions operate exactly as does the M1867 Belgian Albini-Braendlin.
Opening the Japanese Enfield-Albini-Braendlin breech
Markings - Enfield-Albini-Braendlin
Markings were typically those noted previously, above.
The characters 十 (ten) and 明 (Mei(Ji) above 本the “Hon” in a circle, a possible translation being: “Accepted in 10 Meiji (1877)
Photo Credit: collectorsfirearms.com
Japanese Enfield-Snider Conversions
(Snider Long Infantry Gun)
(スナイダー 長 歩兵 銃)
Pattern 1853 (P53) Enfield rifles, introduced in 1853, had a bore diameter of .577 inches (14.7 mm) with a range of approximately 1,000 yards. It was manufactured in multiple versions many of which were imported into Japan.
It was almost a certainty that the Japanese, with large stores of explicitly British pattern Enfield percussion rifles, would also explore converting them for metallic cartridge using the Snider system. This conversion, offered by the American Col. Jacob Snider to the British to convert their excellent P1853 muzzle-loaders to metallic cartridge, along with an at-the-time excellent and relatively easy to manufacture cartridge, became the widely implemented M1853/66 British Snider.
This conversion system must have also satisfied the Japanese as well because in 1877 the Tokyo Arsenal was instructed to convert previously modified Enfield-“Allumette” rifles into Enfield-Snider rifles. Again, in October of 1878, the year following the Satsuma Rebellion, “. . . selected pieces from among a lot of the old Enfields were remodeled into Snyders (sic). (Kobayashi, pg 42)
Japan converted most all of its Enfields to cartridge breach loaders at the Tokyo Arsenal, but also appears to have purchased some number of previously converted two-band Enfield-Sniders (and perhaps purpose-built Sniders), again likely contributing to the seemingly endless minor varieties of the Enfield-Sniders just as with the Enfield Albini-Braendlins.
As did Britain (and several other countries, notably the Danish and Dutch), the Japanese also converted their own Enfields to the Snider system, but with their own twist.
The Japanese implementation of the Snider system for converting their muzzle-loaders to breech-loaders differed from that of the British in two significant and easily identifiable way, its Poilvache operating mechanism, and it’s lack of a separate dedicated receiver (“shoe” if you don’t speak ‘Merican):
The British Enfield conversions took place beginning in 1866, at the dawn of the era of converting large numbers of muzzle-loaders to metallic cartridge use. The original implementation, the M1866 Snider Mark I, as well as all of the Mark II series, which were all conversions of earlier Enfields, were fitted with a breech block that did not actually “lock” close, but which was merely held closed by a tiny detent pin in the bottom back of the receiver. The breech block has a small cup to guide this pin into a small recess on the back of the breech block holding the block from simply flopping open, but not making a positive, locking closure. The Mark III British Snider corrected that deficiency by a new locking mechanism.
This is the receiver area of two early British Enfield-to-Snider conversions. If you will look closely you will see the pin in the bottom back of the receiver and the slight cupping on the back bottom of the breech block itself. This is all that holds the breech of these early sniders closed.
the locking breech block of the later mark III British Snider
Even though the Japanese utilized the Snider design for many of their Enfield cartridge conversions, their breech-block implemented the not often seen Léonard Poilvache patent locking mechanism. This is mostly unique to the Japanese Snider adoption. (For an excellent exposition of the Poilvache Snider locking system, see: https://www.littlegun.be/arme%20belge/artisans%20identifies%20p/a%20poilvache%20gb.htm)
Operating the Poilvache equipped Japanese Snider is identical to that of the Mark III British Snider except that the hinged-at-the-rear Poilvache lever rolls UP and back to near vertical in order to open the breech. Once opened, all is exactly as with the British rifle.
Examples of the Japanese use of the Poilvache patent lock mechanism on their Snider conversions
The hammer face remains cupped, left as is from the P1860 percussion Enfield it once was.
Direct Conversion to Snider Breechloader Without Dedicated Receiver
Unlike the conversions of the Japanese Enfields into Albini-Braendlins (immediately above) and into Terssens (following below), these conversions did not involve the cutting off of the back of the barrel and the threading of the barrel to accept a separate receiver & breech block.
Rather, the barrel’s original tang was retained, the top of the barrel was cut out exposing the inside of the barrel to be used as the receiver, the barrel reamed to create a chamber to accept the new metallic cartridge, the tang having a hole drilled into it to accept the Snider locking cam and replaced after reaming. After that prep, the breech block and its hinge assembly was brazed to the side of the barrel. Very few precise parts and very little wood inletting were required for this conversion.
Images showing the brazing on of the Snider assembly mechanism at the front and back of the “receiver” section of the Enfield’s barrel. The yellowish-gold color at the edges between the parts is the brazing solder.
Another good view of the braze lines, fore and aft, joining the Snider assembly to the Enfield barrel.
Photo Credit: Stephen Larry Eisel
Markings – Enfield-Snider
Inspection stamp found on the bayonet lug of an Enfield-Snider converted at the Tokyo Imperial Arsenal
Unknown, but might be someone’s kakihan, a signature, perhaps an inspector?
This inspection stamp appears several places on this Japanese Enfield-Snider conversion
Japanese Enfield-Terssen Conversions
(Terssen Long Infantry Gun (presumed))
テルセン 長いです 歩兵 銃
A Japanese Enfield-Terssen cartridge conversion short rifle
The most widely recognized implementation of the Terssen conversion system is that applied in the M1868 Belgian Terssens. This forward-lifting breech-block system is a close cousin to the early Berdan systems (see M1865 US Springfield; M1865 Peabody and cousin M186_ Roberts, M1867 Spanish Berdan and M1868 Russian Berdans) and not so different from the Albini-Braendlin other than the hammer and breech-block locking mechanism.
Very much unlike the Albini-Braendlins, in the Terssen system the original hammer of the original rifle is maintained, given a flat face, and twisted slightly so that it strikes the firing pin diagonally through the breech block, just as the Spanish Berdans, US Springfields and even the M1867 French Tabatiere rifles do.
We have no additional information regarding the numbers of Japanese Terssen conversions implemented, but they are not encountered very often.
Most regrettably, the only example of a Japanese Enfield-Terssen cartridge conversion rifle which we have been able to locate and examine, either directly or via photographs, is missing its breech block operating lever, which has been broken off and is lost. Presumably (but not certainly) such a lever would have looked substantially similar to that of the only other implementation of the Terssen, which was the Belgian M1777/67 Terssen and its short rifle variant. Here is about what such an operating handle should have looked like:
Operating lever of the M1777/68 Belgian Terssen conversion.
The action of the Japanese Enfield-Terssen cartridge conversion rifle
The breech block is locked closed by a detent at the back of the block that fits into a recess in the rear of the receiver. This part of the system matches the Berdan system implemented in the US Springfield and the Spanish Berdans. What differs is the means by which the breech block is unlocked and opened. This is accomplished via a large knob on the right rear of the breech block that is turned counter-clockwise to cam the locking lug back into the breech block allowing the block to be lifted forward by the locking handle.
Operation is identical to that of the M1877/1868 Belgian Terssen, and reference is made to that page of this website here linked for additional description.
Similar to the Snider conversions, the hammer face of this Terssen conversion remains cupped, left as is from the P1860 percussion Enfield it once was.
Markings – Enfield-Terssen
Our singular Japanese Enfield-Terssen is not especially well marked beyond its serial number and assembly numbers.
Breech block serially numbered to the receiver, barrel and stock. The two Japanese inspection symbols appear on numerous parts of this rifle.
Unknown barrel maker, perhaps fabricated this Enfield before conversion. But it is also perfectly possible that Japan imported some of these conversion parts such as barrels and Albini and Terssen actions with which to transform their Enfields
Unfortunately weak “HON”
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
In most all other countries and rifles of this era, the greatest numbers of such arms are infantry muskets and rifles, with much smaller numbers of short rifles and carbines manufactured and fielded. Thus, the infantry version is the one that is almost always featured, and the short rifle and carbine versions are discussed supplementarily under this heading.
In the case of Japanese Enfields, the largest numbers of conversions were of the two-band short rifles, although there certainly were some three-band Enfield muskets imported and utilized. There may well have been Japanese conversions of three-band infantry Enfields undertaken as well, but we have only been able to speculate from photos, as we have not examined such rifles personally.
The Japanese not only imported and adopted, and then converted, large numbers of British manufactured Enfield rifles, mostly the two-band “Sergeant’s” short rifle, but they acquired British Pattern 1856 (P56) Yatagan sabre bayonets to go with them. In the same way that many armies contracted with Liège gunmakers to supply rifles, most countries sought out German bayonet makers to supply bayonets, which is why so many bayonets of this era, such as the one pictured here, were produced in Solingen, Germany.
Japanese Enfield bayonet, carried over to the Enfield cartridge conversion rifles
Photo Credit: This bayonet is available for sale at J&J Military Antiques (https://jjmilitary.com)
Initially, until at least 1875, the Japanese did not have the capacity to domestically produce their own metallic cartridges and large quantities of cartridges were imported from England to supply all of their converted Enfield rifles. The Enfields were all built to fire the .577 Minié bullet and, when converted to metallic cartridge by whatever system, Albini-Braendlin, Snider, Terssen or other, the converted rifles were left in their original .577 caliber and chambered for .577 Snider cartridges. This certainly simplified logistics a great deal.
In 1874 or 1875 the Japanese purchased from the British the machinery necessary to make their own British pattern Snider cartridge. Local production was initiated and the Arsenal was thereafter able to produce as many as 50,000 rounds per day.
These Snider cartridges are British manufacture. On the left is a paper-wrapped coiled brass cartridge in original configuration. The paper would have been waterproofed to protect its powder and primer from the elements. Center shows the cartridge without its protective paper wrapper. On the right is a ‘modern’ drawn brass cartridge. The Japanese could not produce such cartridges until machinery was purchased from the American Winchester Arms Company for the manufacture of cartridges for the Meiji 13 Murata rifle in the early 1880s..
Photo Credit: User chasebh89@ tapatalk.com_groups_britishmilitariaforums.html.jpg
For additional fascinating information on the Japanese iteration of British Snider cartridges you might enjoy:
No fewer than 1,500,000 Pattern 1853 rifles of all versions were produced in Britain by Enfield and other Birmingham and London gunmakers and surely many additional copies by Belgians and others, including the Japanese themselves.
It appears that between 13,000 and roughly 17,000 Enfield rifles of all versions were imported into Japan. As very few such rifles have been seen in their original configuration, it also appears that the great majority of such Enfields were subsequently converted to metallic cartridge breechloaders of the several different conversion systems. But we simply know of no records in English regarding the numbers so converted.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
The British Pattern 1853 percussion rifles themselves were used around the globe, and the subsequent British M1853/66 Snider conversions were used throughout the British empire and even copied by client states such as Nepal (see: M186_ Nepalese Snider).
However, it does not appear that any Japanese Enfields, nor Japanese Enfield conversions were ever exported nor used by any other country, although use by client states, such as Korea, may have occurred.
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES
Predecessor Rifle(s): The British Enfield rifles and Short Rifles
A 2-band British Enfield Short Rifle
Photo Credit: AntiqueAssociates.com
Follow-On Rifle(s): The Meiji 13 Japanese Murata
Dr. Stanley Zeilinski, Chip Goddard & Adrian from gunboards.com forums
Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era, Edited by Joseph P. Koss, Jr, Francis C. Allen Press, 2011
Hacker, Barton C., The Weapons of the West: Military Technology and Modernization in 19th Century China and Japan, Technology and Culture, Volume 18, Number 1, January 1977, Pgs 43 to 55, Published by John Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology.
Kobayashi, Ushisaburo (Masuda Norimoto), Military Industries of Japan, Oxford University Press, New York, 1922.
Purdon, Charles J., The Snider Rifle in the Far East, Arms Collecting, November 1995, Vol 33, NO. 4, Pgs 128 & 129.
Yust, Charles H., Japanese Long Guns 1539-1905, Gun Digest, 1957
Zielinski, Stanley, Japanese Murata rifles 1880-1897, Lodestone, 2010.
Shigeo Sugawa administration management HP "Weapons of Japan"
"History and Technology of Japanese Guns" by Takehisa Udagawa
Taira Sawada "Traditional Guns of Japan"
"The History of Japanese Guns" by Reijiro Shimo
Shinya Suzuki, Guns and Japanese
Shinya Suzuki "The Gun Corps and the Cavalry Corps"
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