Does anyone have any horror stories which might help prevent any of our readers doing something similar when attempting to fire a blackpowder gun for the first time? I will add to this thread as I remember various incidents from the last ten years.
For example, one former gunner forgot to replace the Bisen breechplug screw back in after finishing swabbing and cleaning the barrel. He put the barrel back into the stock, wiped everything off and placed the gun in its carrying case. Easily done.
When the order to fire a broadside was given, he pulled the trigger and a volley of burning blackpowder cinders buried itself in and around his right eye. His eye was bloodshot for many months but luckily his eyesight was saved. He still carries some deep blue freckles in his cheek under his right eye, "some kind of tattoo?" people ask.
One of the teppotai troops near Nagoya used to have the custom of blowing the soot out of the barrel after every shot. They would all reverse the gun and place their mouth over the muzzle and blow back, making sure that with the little puff the touch hole vent was free of debris. It looked splendid. Well, that was the thinking behind it.
About eight years ago, yes, you guessed it, one of the gunners placed the muzzle to his mouth, and suddenly it went off. Why? Often when you are new to this, you are so nervous subconsciously that your mind can go blank, and you think you have fired your gun, when it was only a flash in the pan. Misfires are actually quite common and happen in various ways, but newbies often do not allow for such occurrences.
Examples of misfire can be categorized as a) "FUHATSU!" (Misfire, literally 'no bang' ie it didn't go off. We are encouraged to shout this out loud in order to let everyone around know what has happened.)
Others are Chihatsu (hang fire, literally 'slow bang' ie it is still fizzling inside. This is probably the most dangerous type, so you need to keep the muzzle pointed somewhere safe after every misfire, just in case. The Nagoya example above was a chihatsu. Chi comes from the word Osoi, ie late as in Chikoku when someone is late for school or work.
c) Guhatsu (unintended fire, literally coincidental/accidental discharge). This can happen for a number of reasons. You may have the gun raised and after you open the pan you can hit the trigger as you are feeling your way back to find the trigger finger position. Sometimes the serpentine lock is dodgy and it falls when you are not expecting it. Sometimes you may be repriming the pan after a misfire and your burning match may fall onto the powder before you are ready to aim and fire. Usually there is an almighty bang and you look pretty stupid at the best of times. Just pray you don't hit someone. Other words with Gu...? a coincidence in Japanese is Gu-zen.
To summarize, the gun can go off too early = Gu-hatsu, too late = Chi-hatsu, or not at all (although it might be a hang-fire) = Fuhatsu.
Incidentally there are many rude jokes about Fuhatsu, e.g. when you do not manage to service your partner in the way that she might have been expecting. A dud round, a non-event.
Many or most of these misfires are caused by a faulty serpentine mechanism, poor match placement or poor loading technique. Sometimes the powder itself may be at fault.
It is quite an art to pack the barrel with coarse-grained powder correctly, and then get the right amount and consistency of primer into the vent and pan. It was a surprise to me to discover how the gunners can spend hours debating the finer points of match placement and powder insertion. To cause a misfire seems to be a huge embarrassment, even today. Serious egg on your face. Why?
I suppose that in a real battle a misfire can be the difference between life and death.
Piers, Although not really an accident, I did have one delicious incident whilst entertaining the guests at the Armouries. We decided to put on a bit of a show contrasting Japanese musket fire with the English civil war. I togged up in an armour, sashimono a-flutter, shoulders almost paralysed by the watagami and feet hurting like hell in waraji. The other guy was a new interpreter, suitably rigged up in 17th C. drag with a great big matchlock, musket rest and so forth. I did my bit explaining the use of cartridges etc then fired off a modest bang from my gun (a real one by the way). The interpreter meanwhile loaded his musket, aimed it high and pulled the trigger. The shockwave nearly blew my maedate off, pigeons lifted off within a mile radius and the crowd ducked under their seats thinking the end of the world was nigh. Silly sod had never fired a gun before and nobody thought to tell him how much powder so he poured out a hand-full on the basis of giving the good folks a treat! Thank goodness he was using a well made replica. Another real accident happened to a guy I knew involving a Victorian air gun which had the reservoir in the stock. Being sensible, he had the reservoir tested under a much higher pressure than normal, checked everything for cracks and weaknesses and replaced seals and the like. He used the thing for rough shooting for about a year without problems. One morning out a-rabbiting, he had pumped it up (by hand)to a modest pressure, enough for about 10 shots. During the first hour he had fired off 2 or 3 shots when a bunny appeared and he took a shot. It was then the reservoir gave way, taking off three fingers of his right hand, cracking ribs and removing a goodly bit of his face. Another pal bought a very fine cased Victorian shotgun by Holland & Holland and sent it back to them for refurbishing. They replied with details of the original purchaser, an officer in the Indian army, and even estimated how much it had been used. It arrived back looking pristine, with gold inlay and the lot. Being sensible he sent it off to the Proof House just to be sure. It was returned with the action body in a small box as a mass of crystallised metal. Happy days but the moral is take great care with old guns, the metal can deteriorate with age. Ian B
Lovely story, Ian, about the silly sod. Sobering stories about the other weapons, though.
This is actually something that I should have mentioned as the amount of powder is very important for anyone tempted to try this.
We are firing blanks, so a little more coarse powder than for real ball will not hurt, but as a rule of thumb we pour by weight: Large guns, 50 grams for 50 Monme 30 grams for 30 Monme 20 grams for 20 Monme (for O-zutsu)
Then for line of fire, regular guns: 10 grams of black powder into long guns of 6-10 Monme. 8 grams into pistols of 3-4 Monme.
***** Again, I would emphasize here that we are only firing blanks, so I would not recommend these amounts with ball.
One senior member was a quite diminutive chap. He used to create all his own clothing and very flashy it was with gold cloth and spangles. People called him 'Hideyoshi'. Anyway he proudly carried his own diminutive matchlock, relatively short and narrow of barrel, which suited him proportionately. During one display, he knelt down to demonstrate a special technique of firing this thing, and we were standing lined up behind him. (This technique was a way of using your sword as a tripod, er... monopod.)
He fired and there was a colossal bang. I assumed it was the angle, never having stood diagonally behind the pan of a kneeler before. The next second I heard a click and a twang and realized something had hit the armour of the guy next to me. Later I found out that Hideyoshi, not satisfied with the 8-gram handout, had quietly added a full 10 grams into his little long gun and wadded it down tight. The discharge had blown off the complete iron pan plus lid which had hit Mr X's breastplate, bounced off onto his Kote, and had then described an arc over the heads of the watching crowd. Lady Luck was with us that day.
Not so on another occasion when a pan lid blew off with a Guhatsu and injured the face of a young lady spectator...
There are different types of 発砲 Happo gunfire, as described above, 偶発 Guhatsu, 遅発 Chihatsu, 不発 Fuhatsu, but there is one more, ie Bakuhatsu.
"Bakuhatsu" 爆発is an explosion. Today one of our members pulled the trigger on his pistol and there was a huge bang with bits flying in all directions. He was left holding a shattered smoking butt, with splintered stock and no barrel. The moment was caught by our photographer, and I later took some shots of the pieces he had managed to retrieve from the grass. These consisted of one chunk of the breech with Bisen still inserted, plus rear sight. Peeled open like a banana beyond that. A second chunk was the muzzle section with foresight, peeled back like a banana. The middle section of the barrel had shattered and disappeared. Luckily no-one was hurt, well, no-one has complained as of this moment.
This gun had a Hokin bronze gun-metal barrel. This is the first time I have seen such a thing in ten years of firing these guns, but of course most of them are iron/steel. Our Teppo Tai-Cho warned me not to show these on the internet, and only when I agreed did he allow me to take some pics. He says that the barrel probably had a split in it already. The cross-section of the ruptured barrel looks crystalline, crumbly even, somewhat like the consistency of a cookie.
"Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred."
Post by 48th ronin (Doss) on Jun 22, 2015 1:40:17 GMT
For the past 30 years we've held a "shoot" in NW Alabama, Confederate State of America. Most of the weapons are Arisakas and Nambu lights. One year I had my modern Tanegashima and a friend wanted to shoot it. Problem was my match cord would not stay lit. Friend was a smoker so I took his cigarette, had him hold the gun to his cheek, and I touched the pan with the cigarette. Not a good idea, it fired, but I was picking power flecks out of my thumb and fingers for several months. "Old too soon, smart too late."
Malcolm has hit the nail on the head with his post above, and I am afraid that if I try to add anything it will merely muddy the waters, mainly because I have been struggling with this myself, to be honest. In this case a loss of face for the group as a whole?
As I mentioned above, one of our members did post photos on his blog in early May, and the rumours started to fly. A jealous or bored troublemaker (possibly from another teppo group) immediately phoned our leader unannounced and asked if it was true that we were lax on safety! There was a definite possibility that someone was going to make trouble, even by an anonymous tip-off to the men in blue, and the photo was quickly withdrawn. We have had this kind of snitching problem in the past; the cops here feel obliged to investigate in great and unnecessarily elaborate detail once an official complaint has been lodged.
Interestingly, I bought a little bronze cannon yesterday from the 1880s, Victorian Britain. Just above the touch-hole are two grimy indentations, which seem to be proof marks. I cannot recall any proof marks on any Japanese pre-Meiji gun that I have seen. Iron/steel Tanegashima barrels were probably built with a good eye and extra strength and the reputation (face) of the gunsmith house at stake. Without regular cleaning, however, they probably blew when the time came round. Possibly bronze barrels blew more quickly, with no proof system in place. Could the lack of extant examples of early guns be partly down to exploding barrel loss?
Post by tanegashimatomurata on Jun 24, 2015 19:17:39 GMT
Piers, the marks appear to be London view and proof marks, (crown over intertwined CP, crown over V) but the crown shape looks odd to me, however the crown shape might be a way to date the marks if they are genuine. Did you pick this up in UK or Japan?
Post by tanegashimatomurata on Jun 25, 2015 16:02:46 GMT
Piers, you would need to ask one of the proof houses about the marks to be certain, my knowledge isn't good enough, but the crown shape seems odd.
The only fake UK proofs I've seen were on a Japanese made Greener pattern shotgun that is in the USA, a pre-war Kawaguchiya Firearms Company Hibiki-Go. We think the marks were added in the USA. The Birmingham proof house confirmed they were fake, a mix of London and Birmingham marks, some with wrong crowns, and mis-spelled words.