Thursday, January 5, 2012

The 11 MM Murata

Shooting the 11 mm Murata

The 11 mm Murata
The Japanese have made various guns for a few hundred years mostly wheelocks and similar guns but never made one type in quantity. Prior to 1880 they bought their military weapons from such countries as France and Germany once trade was opened up. In fact the Gras and model 71 Mauser as well as the Beaumont influenced the design of the Murata. One thing they had to do was set up the manufacturing facilities in order to produce their own military rifles. Until 1853 when Commander Mathew Perry arrived in Japan no western nation was allowed on Japanese soil. He was sent by President Millard Fillmore with letters that contained some threats and requests for open trading. Prior to 1853 sailors and merchants could be imprisoned or even killed if they were unlucky enough to be shipwrecked on the islands of Japan. Since western countries traded with China that possibility existed as they passed fairly close to Japan. The shoguns, who pretty much ran the country, were afraid of losing their power if trade to the west was expanded. They were totally isolated from all western nations with the exception of Holland which put them on a technological disadvantage in regards to weapons. The Japanese eventfully signed a trade treaty with the US.

The 11 X 60 Murata, the first cartridge rifle use by the Japanese, was brought out in 1880 having been designed by Tsuneyoshi Murata 1838-1921. He fought in the Boshin war of 1868-69 where the Meiji forces defeated the last of the Pro-Tokugawa forces creating the Meiji dynasty. He toured various European countries including France, Germany and Sweden in 1875 which gave him some ideas on making his rifle which resulted in the model 13. He went back to Europe in the 1880’s and picked up other ideas to improve the Murata. It would be a Johnny come lately as most other countries adopted similar weapons 8 to 10 years prior to that. The rifle is called a Meiji 13 because it was brought out in the 13’Th year of the Meiji Emperor’s, Hirohito's grandfather, reign. It is a bolt action single shot rifle that bears a resemblance to the Dutch Beaumont rifle. That includes a leaf spring in the bolt handle that works as the firing pin spring. That could be a weakness as they weren’t as strong as a coil spring and you can’t bend the bolt handle which desirable for carbines used by a cavalry. There were somewhere between 60 and 70,000 type 13s produced

Writing on stock

The cartridge is similar to a French Gras or an 11 mm Mauser but they are not interchangeable. The 420 grain bullet is listed at 1487 FPS producing about 2060 FT LBS of energy so it was a potent cartridge for its day. The info I found on the original bullets are that they weigh 420 grains and are about .434 diameter without the paper patch on them Most were however given paper patching which was common for the day. Much of the ammo was manufactured in the US and Great Britain according to some references. France also produced it to a small extent. I have a bore cast that indicates that you can use a bullet as large as .445 in diameter. That is a good reason to slug your bore prior to loading ammo for it. They were loaded with black powder and some even had a boxer primer which was unusual for the day. Both the rifles and original cartridges are not common and are collectors’ items.

In 1885 they came out with the model 18 which had a few minor changes over the 13 but still shot the 11 X 60 cartridge. One of the changes was the 13 has a screw on top of the bolt to take it out much the same as the 71 Mauser while the 18 has it on the side. It was called the 18 because it came out during the 18’Th year of the emperor’s reign. There were about 80,000 rifles and 10,000 carbines produced before they went to the 8 mm which was also designed by Lt. Murata. Neither the 13 nor 18 saw any significant combat in any theater and was replaced by the model 22 in 1889 which is an 8 mm round loaded with smokeless powder. They may have saw service as a second line weapon in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894 and 5 though probably not too much an extent. Like many obsolete weapons they hung around for awhile after they were discontinued. The Murata rifles and rounds were replaced in 1897 by the 6.5 Arisaka rifle.

370 grain ammo for Murata

I was able to obtain an 18 for testing and shooting through the generosity of a friend. It’s all original and in pretty good shape considering it is over 120 years old. The rifle has a few of the usual dings in the stock but nothing major. In fact that gives it some character. The metal has a nice patina finish with no pitting. There is some Japanese writing on the stock though I can’t read it. I had some loaded ammo on hand so we tried it out for function and chronographing. The single shot rifle functioned fine with the action being fairly smooth. The trigger is a little heavy but I have encountered much worse. Like most rifles of the period there is no safety. One interesting thing is that they gave some attention to the gas venting system. There is a groove in the bottom of the receiver, much like the Gras plus there are some holes on top of the receiver and bolt. Since brass wasn’t as good as it is now those features probably saved more then one eye. To remove the bolt there is a screw on the left side that needs to be removed and when removing the bolt the trigger needs to be depressed. It not much of a problem removing the bolt this way. The extractor seems sturdy and works well however there is no ejector, requiring that you bring back the bolt with some authority in order to knock the case loose from the extractor. Then you can either remove the case with your fingers or tip the rifle to drop the case. The rear sight is a ladder type and for its day isn’t too bad. The twist rate in 1 in 20”. Although the rifle is over 120 years old it is evident to me that the Japanese used good quality materials and workmanship in making this rifle. I used 348 cases that were formed to fit the Murata chamber. They functioned fine but are short by about 7 mm. The bullet can be seated out to help compensate for that shortness. Loading for the Murata isn’t any harder then any of it contemporaries provided you have the right supplies and equipment. As far as I know no one makes a case to the exact dimensions of the Murata round. CH Tool & Die does make reloading dies for it as well as many other obscure rounds. I have a number of their sets for some of the various obsolete calibers I load for. If you want to contact them you can go to for a complete listing of their products. There is a verity of cast bullets available from various commercial bullet makers. Due to time constraints I didn’t shoot a lot of various types of bullets which are available. If you want lighter bullets there are some 300 and 340 grain slugs available. There is no reason to use jacketed bullets even if they are available. I used Winchester large rifle magnum primers in all loads. They may be a minor aid in burning black powder cleaner.

. * Bullets seated out.

68 X Graff FFG 370 grain cast 1192 super consistent
55 X CTG Pyrodex 370 grain cast * 1128 ok
67 X Cleanshot FFG 370 grain cast * 1529 ok
69 X Cleanshot FFG 370 grain cast * 1607 nice
84 X FFG Graff 370 grain cast * 1289 ok

Bolt face for Murata

I ran into a problem with misfires when I took it out the second time. The primers were being hit but not hard enough to fire the cartridges. The bolt was taken out and uncocked so we could examine the firing pin but it seems to protrude far enough. Everything was clean so that wasn’t the problem though I did notice that you could move the bolt back and forth a little when it was in the gun. From that I concluded that it has excess headspace which would account for the misfires part cured the misfiring problem. Since I can’t fix the rifle I adjusted the ammo to compensate for it. Fixing the headspace in such a gun would be extremely difficult if not impossible. The gun isn’t mine so modifying it isn’t an option.

. I took some new 348 brass and sharpened the shoulder plus necked it up in stages which is time consuming Since I intend on keeping the pressure low it is a perfectly safe thing to do. I have done that on a couple of other occasions with good results. I wanted to shoot this gun so I took the time to figure it out and fix the problem. That for the most part fixed the problem. I don’t know if anyone is making the proper case for the Murata. I checked Bertram Brass out but didn’t see it listed which is a bit of a surprise since they make so many odd calibers. Maybe I missed it.

Since I had a bunch of test ammo that wouldn’t go off I put on my thinking cap to see if I could make it fire. I didn’t really want to pull it as I have a lot of time invested in loading it. I thought about a thin washer in front of the rim but I couldn’t get one to work. Finally I found some single strands of copper wire and wrapped it once in front of the rim and tightened it. While not the scientific or the book approach it works. I was able to shoot up the test loads and more then 90% went off with the first try. The wire compensated for the excess headspace and with the low pressures involved there is no danger. I just slip it off when I reload the case. Another way to fix that is using rubber washers that can be bought at most hardware stores. I found some that slip over the case perfectly and it is easy to use. I have done this in the past with good results however I would not recommend it for modern high pressure rifles. If the wire or rubber washer doesn’t work then perhaps the gun is not safe to shoot. As always when shooting these old guns eye protection is mandatory at all times. I have never had a black powder gun blow up but I have had a couple of case separations at the rear which spewed gas into my face. The cases were defective and if I wasn’t wearing eye protection an eye injury would have been a probability which I can do without. For some reason I and the owner found that it is a hard rifle to clean. I scrubbed the bore at length but had a difficult time removing the black powder residue. I don’t know if it is a peculiarity in the rifling or something else but we both experienced it. That may be something you want to keep in mind when you clean a Murata.

The Murata rifles are somewhat hard to get due to low production but if you find one that you can afford by all means get it. Since they were only around for a few years no other country adopted it as in the case of the model 71 Mauser which was much more widespread which enhances the value of a Murata.