Lee Enfield Rifle

Lee Enfield Rifle

In the 1890s all the major European armies began to use small-bore, bolt-action rifles that fired multiple rounds from a spring-loaded clip inserted into the magazine. The Lee-Enfield was first introduced in 1907 and by the outbreak of the First World War, was the British Army's main infantry weapon. It was estimated that the highly trained British Expeditionary Force that arrived in France in September 1914, were able to fire 15 rounds per minute. The Lee-Enfield could be aimed accurately over about 600 metres but could still kill someone over 1,400 metres away.


Lee-Enfield Rifle: Shootable History

The Lee-Enfield rifle served the British Empire in its last days from the fields of Europe to the jungles on Asia and all point in between. The classic rifle chambered .303 British came in many shapes and sizes from the SMLE pattern which was used designed before World War One to the Ishapore Model 2A that was produced in 1962 in 7.62×51 mm NATO. In total more than 16 million Lee-Enfield pattern rifles have been produced in over seven decades. It’s a simple design that set the standard for bolt-action military rifles for most of the 20 th century. Its longevity, durability and the fact it’s a favorite of military surplus collectors is why we chose to feature it. This installment will showcase a variant of the model most commonly used by British and Canadian troops in World War Two, The Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk II bolt-action service rifle. It’s been in service for over 100 years and still serves in combat today around the globe.

The Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk II was essentially a designed that evolved from the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I. The new improved design feature some changes over that enhanced its stability while shaving productions times and saving resources. These improvements allowed England to produce large quantities of rifles to arm its colonies and allies. Just because the war with Germany and Japan was over didn’t mean the end to conflict around the globe. In the years after World War Two the Lee-Enfield No.4 MkII would see action in the Suez Canal Crisis, the Israeli War for Independence as well as civil wars in several of the former British Empire Colonies and recently liberated countries on all continents.

Image:Rick Dembroski You can see the short-range rear sight in this picture

Now that we have a little history on the rifle and its beginnings let’s take a look at the specifications, and the build quality of these historic rifles. Handling this rifle is like holding a piece of history, a piece of history that played an important part in the founding and defending of many nations since the late 1940’s.

Name: Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk II

Caliber: .303 British

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  • Average load: 174 Grain Full Metal Jacket
  • 2500 Feet per second
  • 2408 Ft lbs of energy at muzzle

Length: 44.45 “

Barrel Length: 25.2”

Weight: 9.06 lbs

Effective Range: 550 Yards

Feed System: Bolt Action

Capacity: 10 Rounds

Total Units Produced: 16 Million +

Country of manufacture:

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  • England (several manufacturers, our model was produced at ROF Fazarkerley in 1953)
  • Pakistan (marked POF)
  • Canada (marked “Longbranch”
  • Australia
  • United States (Under Savage Arms name)
  • India (Ishapore Rifle Factory)

We have previously covered the earlier World War One Lee-Enfield SMLE rifles and although they take the same type of ammunition, the rifles are almost entirely different. The barrels, sights and bolts of the two rifles are not compatible which is important to note for anyone looking into owning or collecting them. In our opinion and the opinion of many collectors of military surplus firearms the fact they are different rifles does not negatively affect their collectivity or status.

First Impressions

When I first received my Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk II there are several things about it that made an instant impression on me. The first thing that jumped out at me was the weight, at just over 9 lbs you get an instant reminder that guns use to be made to last. The combination of wood and steel was the backbone of all rifles for well over 100 years and it felt great to hold something so heavy and sturdy. While getting a feel for the rifle I took time to look over the wood on the stock and top cover of the rifle. With the creation of the Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk I and later the Mk II the British had gone away from the tradition of using oak for rifle stocks and replaced it with birch in most production models. The wood on our example features an amazing finish largely free of fading, scratches or discolorations. It’s really a gorgeous sight in our minds.

Image:Rick Dembroski
Volley sight in down position

Disassembly and Inspection

Having owned several bolt-action rifles over the years and an earlier Lee-Enfield SMLE of World War One vintage I thought I was familiar with how the rifle should break down, I was wrong. Unlike the earlier SMLE pattern Lee-Enfield the N0. 4 Mk II features a small and rather annoying lever that needs to be depressed to remove the bolt from the receiver. In our model this is rather stiff and slightly cumbersome, I can only image with dirt, grit and carbon fouling this might be problematic. Once you figure this part out disassembly is rather straight forward. Pressing down the lever releases the bolt from its guide rail and allows the user to rotating the bolt head to the 12 O Clock position and remove the bolt from the receiver. We have provided a picture of the lever in order to make sense of the description

Once we figured out how to remove the bolt and check it over we reinserted it into the receiver and began to work the rifles action. The hallmark of the Lee-Enfield rifles is their smooth and fast action, and I can tell you that it only takes to a few times working the bolt to realize how nice it is. This isn’t like a Browning A-Bolt or Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle, this is a different type of smooth all together. The bolt takes a small amount to move from the locked position and cycle through its normal operation. While looking at the rifle from the shooters position, if you image a clock, the bolt in the closed position rests at around 4 O’clock, and in open position it is at 2 O’Clock. It’s a small compact movement to move the bolt and it flies effortlessly along its rails. It’s really a hard feeling to describe how smooth and effortless this is. It’s far better than other bolt actions military rifles of its era.

As we continued our inspection of our sample rifle, we came to notice the markings on the receiver of the rifle that read 9/53. After a little more research we found out that our particular rifle was made in September 1953 by the Royal Ordnance Factory at Fazakerley, a suburb of Liverpool England. Based on our rifles serial number we concluded that it was originally produced to be exported to the country of Burma (Now Myanmar) for military service. At this time Burma was in the middle of civil a civil war between Communist Party of Burma and the Karen Nationalist Party. The conflict went on from 1948-1962 and stretched into a full overthrow of the government by the nations military leadership.

The final part of the rifle that we looked at from the outside was the barrel and bayonet system. The No. 4 Mk I and Mk II rifles feature a locking lug on the barrel for a spike or blade bayonet. This is different from earlier Lee-Enfield rifles which featured a flat nose where the end of the barrel was even with the stock. On earlier rifles the bayonet fit onto a large lug under the barrel as opposed to a lug formed into the barrel. The other distinction in bayonet mounting between the SMLE and the No.4 Mk II is that on the No. 4 Mk II rifles the bayonet twists to lock into position. On earlier rifles it featured a locking tab on the rear of the bayonets handle

Image: Rick Dembroski Image:Rick Dembroski

Final Impressions

The Lee-Enfield N0.4 Mk II is an amazing piece of working shooting military history. These rifles which were once ridiculously cheap are getting more expensive as each day passes. Unmolested examples of most World War II era rifles are becoming harder to find. While the .303 British cartridge may not be the cheapest ammunition to find, its more than up to the task for harvesting game animals if you would want to. Most people I know that own Lee-Enfield rifles take them out a few times a year and put them back in the gun cabinet. To many of us, taking our classic military collectible rifles out to the range and shooting them is a way to reconnect with a long gone era. I enjoy taking it the Lee-Enfield and other rifles out and letting kids shoot them and realize that once not everything was made of plastic and aluminum.

If you are interested in collecting or shooting vintage military weaponry the Lee-Enfield series of rifles is a great place to start. They offer a combination of speed, reliability and amazing build qualities that make them instant favorites of many gun collectors. These types of rifles have been involved in many of the worlds armed conflicts for over a century, that says more that I can. If you are a collector of military rifles, we want to hear from you. What are your favorites ? and Why ? How did you get into collecting ? The firearms community is made up of many types of collectors and shooters, but all with one common cause and that is to safely enjoy our firearms.

Image:Rick Dembroski
Volley Sights, something we won’t see much of in 2017


Contents

Civilian rifles had on rare occasions been used by marksmen during the English Civil War (1642–51). In the 1750s, a few German rifles were used by British light infantry regiments in the Seven Years' War. [1]

Pattern 1776 Infantry Rifle Edit

In January 1776, 1,000 rifles were ordered to be built for the British Army. A pattern by gunsmith William Grice, based on German rifles in use by the British Army, was approved for official issue as the Pattern 1776 Infantry Rifle. This weapon was issued to the light company of each regiment in the British Army during the American Revolution these were probably present at most battles in the conflict in the American Revolution.

Ferguson rifle Edit

Also in 1776, Major Patrick Ferguson patented his breech-loading Ferguson rifle, based on old French and Dutch designs of the 1720s and 1730s. One hundred of these, of the two hundred or so made, were issued to a special rifle corps in 1777, but the cost, production difficulties and fragility of the guns, coupled with the death of Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain meant the experiment was short-lived.

The Baker rifle was a muzzle-loading flintlock weapon used by the British Army in the Napoleonic Wars, notably by the 95th Rifles and the 5th Battalion, 60th Regiment of Foot. This rifle was an accurate weapon for its day, with reported kills being made at 100 to 300 yards (90 to 270 m) away. At Cacabelos, in 1809, Rifleman Tom Plunkett, of the 95th, shot the French General Colbert at a range allegedly of 400 yards (370 m). The rifle was in service in the British Army until the 1840s. The Mexican Army, under Santa Anna, used British Baker Rifles during the 1836 Texas-Mexican War.

The Brunswick rifle was a .704 calibre muzzle-loading percussion rifle manufactured for the British Army at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield in the early 19th century. The weapon was introduced to replace the Baker rifle and weighed from over 9 and 10 pounds (4.1 and 4.5 kg) without its bayonet attached, depending on the pattern. The weapon was difficult to load but remained in production for about 50 years (1836 to 1885) and was used in both the United Kingdom and assorted colonies and outposts throughout the world.

The Brunswick had a two-groove barrel designed to accept a "belted" round ball. There are four basic variants of the British Brunswick Rifle (produced in .654 and .704 calibre, both oval bore rifled and smoothbore). They are the Pattern 1836, the Pattern 1841, the Pattern 1848 and the Pattern 1840 Variant.

Throughout the evolution of the British rifle the name Enfield is prevalent this refers to the Royal Small Arms Factory in the town (now suburb) of Enfield north of London, where the British Government produced various patterns of muskets from components manufactured elsewhere beginning in 1804. The first rifle produced in whole to a set pattern at Enfield was the Baker rifle. Brunswick rifles were also produced there, but, prior to 1851, rifles were considered speciality weapons and served alongside the muskets, which were issued to regular troops.

Pattern 1851 Edit

In 1851, the Enfield factory embarked upon production of the .702-inch [17.8 mm] Pattern 1851 Minié rifle using the conical Minie bullet, which replaced the Pattern 1842 .753 calibre smoothbore musket as the primary weapon issued to regular troops. The Pattern 1851 was referred to as a rifled musket and was longer than previous production rifles, conforming to the length of prior muskets, which allowed for consistency in standards for firing in ranks and bayonet combat. Relatively few of these were produced, since a new design was adopted within two years. The rifle used the lock and bayonet mount from the Pattern 1842, with a 39-inch (990 mm) barrel.

The new Minie ammunition allowed much faster loading, so that rifles were no longer slower to load than smoothbore muskets. Previous rifles, such as the Baker and the Brunswick, were designated for special troops, such as skirmishers or snipers, while the majority of shoulder-arms remained smoothbore muskets.

Pattern 1853 Edit

The Pattern 1853 Enfield used a smaller .577 calibre Minie bullet. Several variations were made, including infantry, navy and artillery versions, along with shorter carbines for cavalry use. The Pattern 1851 and Pattern 1853 were both used in the Crimean War, with some logistical confusion caused by the need for different ammunition. The Pattern 1853 was popular with both sides of the American Civil War the Confederacy and the Union imported these through agents who contracted with private companies in Britain for production.

Pattern 1858 Edit

The Pattern 1858 naval rifle was developed for the British Admiralty in the late 1850s with a heavier 5-grooved barrel. The heavier barrel was designed to withstand the leverage from the naval cutlass bayonet, but may have contributed to accuracy.

Pattern 1858 Indian Service Edit

There is also the very short-lived Pattern 1858 developed from the Pattern 1853 for Indian service. A consequence of the rebellion, based on British fears, was to modify the native infantry long arms by reaming out the rifling of the Pattern 1853 which greatly reduced the effectiveness, as was replacing the variable distance rear sight with a fixed sight. This became the Pattern 1858, with an increased bore of 0.656" from 0.577" and a thinner barrel wall. Bulging and bursting of the barrel became an issue, as well as excessive flexing when the bayonet was fitted. To remedy this, new barrels were made with a thicker wall and became the Pattern 1859.

Pattern 1859 Indian Service (modified) Edit

The Indian Service variant became the new standard issue and, when comparing the P1859 with the P1853, side-by-side, the difference would only become apparent if one was to feel just inside the muzzle for the presence of rifling or not. The British retained the superior earlier pattern for their own use.

Pattern 1860 Edit

The Enfield "Short Rifle" was a percussion rifle used extensively by the North and South in the US Civil War. It was generally well regarded for its accuracy, even with its short barrel. It was also used by the British Army.

Pattern 1861 Enfield Musketoon Edit

The Pattern 1861 Enfield Musketoon was an alteration to the Pattern 1853 Enfield Musketoon. The alteration gave the Pattern 1861 a faster twist, which gave it more accuracy than the longer Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle. In England, it was issued to artillery units, who required a weapon for personal defence. It was imported by the Confederacy and issued to artillery and cavalry units.

In 1866, the Snider–Enfield was produced as a conversion of Enfield Pattern 1853 with a hinged breechblock and barrel designed for a .577 cartridge. Later Sniders were newly manufactured on the same design.

The action was invented by an American, Jacob Snider, and adopted by Britain as a conversion system for the 1853 Enfield. The conversions proved both more accurate than original muzzle-loading Enfields and much faster firing as well. Converted rifles retained the original iron barrel, furniture, locks and cap-style hammers. The rifles were converted in large numbers, or assembled new with surplus pattern 53 iron barrels and hardware. The Mark III rifles were made from all new parts with steel barrels, flat-nosed hammers and are the version equipped with a latch-locking breech block. The Snider was the subject of substantial imitation, approved and otherwise, including: Nepalese Sniders, the Dutch Sniders, Danish Naval Sniders, and the "unauthorized" adaptations resulting in the French Tabatiere and Russian Krnka rifles.

The Snider–Enfield Infantry rifle was particularly long at over 54 inches (1,400 mm). The breech block housed a diagonally downward-sloping firing pin which was struck with a front-action side-mounted hammer. The firer cocked the hammer, flipped the block out of the receiver with a breech block lever, and then pulled the block back to extract the spent case. There was no ejector, the case had to be pulled out, or more usually, the rifle rolled onto its back to allow the case to fall out. The Snider saw service throughout the British Empire, until it was gradually phased out of front line service in favour of the Martini–Henry, in the mid-1870s. The design continued in use with colonial troops into the 20th century. [2]

The Martini–Henry rifle was adopted in 1871, featuring a tilting-block single-shot breech-loading action, actuated by a lever beneath the wrist of the buttstock. The Martini–Henry evolved as the standard service rifle for almost 20 years, with variants including carbines.

Unlike the Snider it replaced, the Martini–Henry was designed from the ground up as a breech-loading metallic cartridge firearm. This robust weapon uses a tilting-block, with a self-cocking, lever operated, single-shot action designed by a Swiss, Friedrich von Martini, as modified from the Peabody design. The rifling system was designed by Scotsman, Alexander Henry.

The Mark I was adopted for service in 1871. There were three further main variations of the Martini–Henry rifle, the Marks II, III and IV, with sub variations of these called patterns. In 1877, a carbine version entered service with five main variations including cavalry and artillery versions. Initially, Martinis used the short chamber Boxer-Henry .45 calibre black powder cartridge made of a thin sheet of brass rolled around a mandrel, which was then soldered to an iron base. Later, the rolled brass case was replaced by a solid brass version which remedied a myriad of problems. [3]

Martini–Metford and Martini–Enfield Edit

Martini–Enfield rifles were mostly conversions of the Zulu War era .450/577 Martini–Henry, rechambered to the .303 British calibre, although a number were newly manufactured. Early Martini–Henry conversions, began in 1889, using Metford rifled barrels (Martini–Metford rifles), which were more than suitable for the first black powder .303 cartridges, but they wore out very quickly when fired with the more powerful smokeless ammunition introduced in 1895, so that year the Enfield rifled barrel was introduced, which was suitable for smokeless ammunition. The Martini–Enfield was in service from 1895 to 1918 (Lawrence of Arabia's Arab Irregulars were known to have used them during the Arab Revolt of 1916–1918), and it remained a reserve arm in places like India and New Zealand well into World War II.

The first British repeating rifle incorporated a bolt-action and a box-magazine this was developed through trials beginning in 1879, and adopted as the Magazine Rifle Mark I in 1888. This rifle is commonly referred to as the Lee–Metford or MLM (Magazine Lee–Metford).

The "Lee" comes from James Paris Lee (1831–1904), a Scottish-born Canadian-American inventor who designed an easy-to-operate turnbolt and a high-capacity box magazine to work with it. The box magazine, either Lee or Mannlicher designed, proved superior in combat to the Kropatschek-style tube magazine used by the French in their Lebel rifle, or the Krag–Jørgensen rotary magazine used in the first US bolt-action rifle (M1892). The initial Lee magazine was a straight stack, eight-round box, which was superseded by the staggered, ten-round box in later versions, in each case more than were accommodated by Mannlicher box magazine designs. The "Metford" comes from William Ellis Metford (1824–1899), an English engineer who was instrumental in perfecting the .303 calibre jacketed bullet and rifling to accommodate the smaller diameter.

During the development of the Lee–Metford, smokeless powder was invented. The French and Germans were already implementing their second-generation bolt-action rifles, the 8 mm Lebel in 1886 and 7.92 mm Gewehr 88 in 1888 respectively, using smokeless powder to propel smaller diameter bullets. The British followed the trend of using smaller diameter bullets, but the Lee–Metford design process overlapped the invention of smokeless powder, and was not adapted for its use. However, in 1895, the design was modified to work with smokeless powder resulting in the Lee–Enfield.

A contrast between this design and other successful bolt actions of the time, such as the Mausers and US Springfield, is the rear locking lug. This puts the lug close to the bolt handle, where the pressure is applied by the operator in essence the force is close to the fulcrum point. Without great explanation, this results in an easier and swifter operation versus the Mauser design, resulting in a greater rate of fire. However, the sacrifice is strength as the fulcrum point has moved away from the force of the explosion, thus making the length of the bolt a lever working against the holding power of the rear lug. This was a limiting factor in the ballistics capacity of this design.

Another difference between the Lee and the Mauser designs was the use of "cock-on-closing", which also helped to speed cycling by making the initial opening of the breech very easy. The closing stroke, which is generally more forceful than the opening stroke, cocks the rifle, adding to the ease of use. The Lee design also featured a shorter bolt travel and a 60-degree rotation of the bolt these attributes also led to faster cycle times.

Over the service life of the design, proponents and opponents would stress rate-of-fire versus ballistics respectively. The basic Lee design with some tinkering was the basis for most British front-line rifles until after World War II. [4]

In 1895, the Lee–Metford design was reinforced to accommodate the higher chamber pressures of smokeless powder more critically, the barrel rifling was changed to one developed by the Enfield factory owing to the incompatibility of the Metford barrel design with smokeless powder (the barrels becoming unusable after less than 5,000 rounds). The designation was changed to Rifle, Magazine, Lee–Enfield Mark I or MLE (magazine Lee–Enfield). The sights also had to be changed to reflect the flatter trajectory and longer ranges of the improved cartridge.

The Martini–Henry, Lee–Metford, and Lee–Enfield rifles have an overall length just under 50 inches (1,300 mm). In each case, several variants of carbines were offered in the under 40-inch (1,000 mm) range for uses by cavalry, artillery, constabularies and special troops.

Starting in 1909, MLE and MLM rifles were converted to use charger loading, which was accomplished by modifying the bolt, modifying the front and rear sights, and adding a charger guide bridge to the action body, thereby allowing the use of chargers to more rapidly load the magazines. Upgraded to a more modern standard, these rifles served in combat in the First World War.

The Short Magazine Lee–Enfield (SMLE) – also known as Rifle, Number 1 Edit

Before World War I, the Rifle, Short, Magazine Lee–Enfield, or SMLE, was developed to provide a single rifle to offer a compromise length between rifles and carbines, and to incorporate improvements deemed necessary from experience in the Boer War. With a length of 44.5 inches (1,130 mm), the new weapon was referred to as a "short rifle" the word "short" refers to the length of the rifle, not the length of the magazine. From 1903 to 1909, many Metford and Enfield rifles were converted to the SMLE configuration with shorter barrels and modified furniture. Production of the improved SMLE Mk III began in 1907. Earlier Mk I and Mk II rifles were upgraded to include several of the improvements of the Mk III. The compromise length was consistent with military trends as the US Springfield M1903 was only produced in the compromise length and the Germans adopted the kurz (short) rifle concept between the world wars for the Mauser 98k (model 1898 short).

Training Rifle – Rifle, Number 2 Edit

To conserve resources in training, the British Army converted many .303 rifles to .22 calibre for target practice and training purposes after the First World War. In 1926, the British government changed the nomenclature of its rifles, designating the .303 calibre SMLE as No. 1 Rifles and the .22 calibre training rifles as No. 2 Rifles. For practical purposes "SMLE" and "No. 1 Rifle" are alternate names for the same weapon, but a purist would define a No. 1 as post-1926 production only.

The Pattern 1913 Enfield (P13) was an experimental rifle developed by the British Army ordnance department to serve as a replacement for the Short Magazine Lee–Enfield (SMLE). Although a completely different design from the Lee–Enfield, the Pattern 1913 rifle was designed by the Enfield engineers. In 1910, the British War Office considered replacing the SMLE based on its inferior performance compared to the Mauser rifles used by the enemy in the Boer War. The major shortcoming was long range performance and accuracy due to the ballistics of the .303 round, but the bolt system of the SMLE was not believed to have the strength to chamber more potent ammunition. A rimless .276 cartridge, which was comparable to the 7 mm Mauser, was developed.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the change to the ammunition for the Pattern 1913 was abandoned however, to supplement SMLE production the new design was to be produced chambered for .303. In 1914, the Pattern 1914 rifle (Pattern 13 chambered for .303) was approved for production by British companies, but production was superseded by other war priorities, and three US firms Winchester, Eddystone, and Remington began production in 1916.

The Pattern 14 rifle did not gain widespread acceptance with the British since it was larger and heavier, held fewer rounds and was slower to cycle than the SMLE. The P14 was well regarded as a sniper rifle (with telescopic and fine adjustment iron sights), but largely disregarded outside of emergency use.

US M1917 "Enfield" Edit

To minimise retooling, the US Army contracted with Winchester and Remington to continue producing a simplified Pattern 14 rifle chambered for US .30-06 ammunition. This weapon was known as the US .30 cal. Model of 1917 (M1917 Enfield rifle). More of these were produced and used by the US Army during the First World War than the official US battle rifle, the Springfield M1903. The M1917 continued in use during World War II as second line and training rifles as the semi-automatic M1 Garands and carbines were phased-in. Many M1917s were sent to Britain under Lend-Lease, where they equipped Home Guard units these .30-06 rifles had a prominent red stripe painted on the stock to distinguish them from .303 P-14s. Model 1917 rifles were also acquired by Canada and issued in Canada for training, guard duty and home defence.

The Ross rifle was a straight-pull bolt-action .303 calibre rifle produced in Canada from 1903 until the middle of the First World War, when it was withdrawn from service in Europe due to its unreliability under wartime conditions, and its widespread unpopularity among the soldiers. Since the Ross .303 was a superior marksman's rifle, its components were machined to extremely fine tolerances which resulted in the weapon clogging too easily in the adverse environment imposed by trench warfare in the First World War. Additionally, British ammunition was too variable in its manufacturing tolerances to be used without careful selection, which was not possible in trench conditions. It was also possible for a careless user to disassemble the bolt for cleaning and then reassemble it with the bolt-head on back to front, resulting in a highly dangerous and sometimes fatal failure of the bolt to lock in the forward position on firing. Snipers, who were able to maintain their weapons carefully, and hand select and measure every round with which they were equipped, were able to use them to maximum effect and retained a considerable fondness for the weapon.

Ross rifles were also used by Training units, 2nd and 3rd line units and Home Guard units in the Second World War and many weapons were shipped to Britain after Dunkirk in the face of serious shortages of small arms.

During World War I, the Royal Navy purchased 4,500 Remington Rolling Block rifles in 7mm Mauser from Remington's leftover stock after production had ended, issuing them to the crews of minesweepers and Q-ships.

Beginning shortly after the First World War, the SMLE went through a series of experimental changes that resulted in the Rifle, No. 4 Mk I, which was adopted in 1939 just after the beginning of the Second World War. The changes included receiver-mounted aperture rear sights, similar to that of the Pattern 1914 rifle and changed screw threads, making nearly all threaded components incompatible with those of the SMLE (No. 1) rifle. The No. 4 rifle had a heavier barrel, stronger steel in the action body and bolt body and a short "grip-less" (or "spike") bayonet that mounted directly to the barrel, rather than to a separate nose cap. The latter was the most prominent visual change. Later several models of bladed bayonets were created.

During the Second World War, the British government also contracted with Canadian and US manufacturers (notably Long Branch and Savage) to produce the No. 4 Mk I* rifle. US-manufactured rifles supplied under the Lend Lease program were marked US PROPERTY on the left side of the receiver. Canada's Small Arms Limited at Long Branch made over 900,000. Many of these equipped the Canadian Army and many were supplied to the UK and New Zealand. Over a million No. 4 rifles were built by Stevens-Savage in the United States for the UK between 1941 and 1944 and all were originally marked "U.S. PROPERTY". Canada and the United States manufactured both the No. 4 MK. I and the simplified No. 4 MK. I*. The UK and Canada converted about 26,000 No. 4 rifles to sniper equipment.

The No. 4 rifle has remained on issue until at least 2016 with the Canadian Rangers, still in .303. Some rifles were converted to the NATO 7.62mm calibre for sniping (L42A1) and several versions for target use. L42A1 sniper rifles were used in the Falklands War.

In 1943, trials began on a shortened and lightened No. 4 rifle, leading to the adoption in 1944 of the No. 5 Mk I Rifle, or "Jungle Carbine", as it is commonly known. The No. 5 rifle was manufactured from 1944 until 1947.

The end of the Second World War saw the production of the Rifle, No. 6, an experimental Australian version of the No. 5, and later the Rifle, No. 7, Rifle, No. 8, and Rifle, No. 9, all of which were .22 rimfire trainers.

Production of SMLE variants continued until circa 1956 and in small quantities for speciality use until circa 1974. In the mid-1960s, a version was produced for the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge by installing new barrels and new extractors, enlarging the magazine wells slightly, and installing new magazines. This was also done by the Indian rifle factory at Ishapore, which produced a strengthened SMLE in 7.62 mm NATO, as well as .303 SMLEs into the 1980s.

Although Mausers and Springfields were being replaced by semi-automatic rifles during the Second World War, the British did not feel the need to replace the faster firing SMLE weapons with the new technology.

The no.5 rifle was a favorite among troops serving in the jungles of Malaysia during the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960) due to its handy size, short length and powerful cartridge that was well suited for penetrating barriers and foliage in jungle warfare. The no.5's extensive use in the Malayan Emergency is where the rifle gained its "jungle carbine" title.

A .22 subcalibred No. 8 used for cadet training and match shooting. It used a Parker Hale sight, which is no longer in use with the UK cadet forces, replaced with the L144A1.

The EM-2 Bullpup Rifle, or "Janson rifle", was an experimental British assault rifle. It was designed to fire the experimental .280 British round that was being considered to replace the venerable .303 British, re-arming the British and allied forces with their first assault rifles and new machine guns. The EM-2 never entered production due to the United States refusing to standardise on the .280 as "lacking power", but the bullpup layout was used later in the SA80.

A somewhat similar Australian concept was the KAL1 General Purpose Infantry Rifle.

The L1A1 SLR (Self Loading Rifle) is the British version of the FN FAL (Fusil Automatique Leger) – Light Automatic Rifle, one of the most famous and widespread military rifle designs of the late 20th century. Developed by the Belgian Fabrique Nationale Company (FN), it was used by some 70 or more countries, and was manufactured in at least 10 countries. The FAL type rifle is no longer in front line service in the developed world, but is still in use in poorer parts of the world.

The history of the FAL began circa 1946, when FN began to develop a new assault rifle, chambered for German 7.92×33mm Kurz intermediate cartridge. In the late 1940s, the Belgians joined with Britain and selected a British .280 (7×43mm) intermediate cartridge for further development. In 1950, both the Belgian FAL prototype and the British EM-2 bullpup assault rifles were tested by the US Army against other rifle designs. The EM-2 performed well and the FAL prototype greatly impressed the Americans, but the idea of the intermediate cartridge was at that moment incomprehensible to them, and the United States insisted on a "reduced full-size" cartridge, the 7.62 NATO, as a standard in 1953–1954. Despite the British Defence minister announcing the intention to adopt the EM-2 and the intermediate cartridge, Winston Churchill personally opposed the EM-2 and .280 cartridge in the belief that a split in NATO should be avoided, and that the US would adopt the FAL in 7.62 as the T48. The first 7.62 mm FALs were ready in 1953. Britain adopted the FAL in 1957 designating it the L1A1 SLR, and produced their own rifles at the RSAF Enfield and BSA factories.

Canada also used the FN, designated the FNC1 and FNC1A1, and like Britain, retained the semi-automatic-only battle rifle well after other countries forces turned to full automatic assault rifles such as the M16 and AK-47. Australia still uses the L1A1 for ceremonial use.

During the 1970s, Enfield engineers designed an assault rifle to replace the L1A1 in the Bullpup configuration but chambered in the .190 calibre (4.85 mm). This rifle had better range and ballistics than the 5.56×45mm NATO although it retained the same cartridge, necked-down for the new calibre. Like the previous EM-2, It was a bullpup and also cancelled due to NATO standardisation. However, the L64 was later chambered in 5.56×45mm NATO as the XL70 and is the main rifle that formed the basis of the SA80.

Bullpup design creatively decreases total weapon length compared with standard assault rifles. It is easy to use not only on the battlefield, but also in areas with limited space, such as armoured personnel carriers. In 1951, the British officially adopted the EM-2 bullpup design as the "Rifle, Automatic, No.9 Mk.1". However, American insistence on the use of 7.62×51 NATO cartridges as the NATO standard meant that the rifle, which used 7 mm rounds, was shelved and the Belgian FN FAL rifle adopted. It was expected that the US would also adopt the FAL then under trial as the T48 but they selected the M14. Another Enfield attempt in the 1970s was the L64/65.

Britain started a programme to find a family of related weapons to replace the L1A1 battle rifle and the Bren gun titled "Small Arms for the 1980s" or SA80. The L85 is designed for the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge. The gas operated action has a short stroke gas piston, located above the barrel with its own return spring. The gas system has a three position gas regulator, one position for a normal firing, second for a firing in adverse conditions, and the third for launching rifle grenades (gas port is shut off).

The L85A1 was improved in 1997 after constant complaints from the troops. The main problems were difficult maintenance and low reliability. These problems led British troops to nickname the weapon the "civil servant", as, in their estimation, you could not make it work and could not fire it. Improvements were made during 2000–2002 when 200,000 of the existing 320,000 L85A1 Automatic Rifles were upgraded. Improvements were made to the working parts (cocking handle, firing pin etc.), gas parts and magazines.

The improved rifle is named L85A2. During active service, the A2 can be fitted with a 40 mm grenade launcher, a light attachment and a laser sighting device. Sighting systems include the SUSAT (pictured) with 4× magnification and a trilux gas-filled conical reticule or iron sight consisting of a foresight and rear sight with adjustable rear sight for low light conditions.

In light of operational experience gained during Operation Herrick in Afghanistan and Operation Telic in Iraq, a number of additions to the L85A2 have entered service as Urgent Operational Requirements but have become standard. The most noticeable addition has been that of a Picatinny Rail Interface System designed and manufactured by US company Daniel Defense, which replaces the original green plastic front furniture. The RIS system often sports rubber rail covers in coyote brown colour and a GripPod vertical down grip/bipod unit. The Oerlikon Contraves LLM-01 laser and sight combo has been standard for some time but a new laser/light unit by Rheinmetall has been recently cleared for service. Two ×4 optical infantry sights have seen service in addition to the SUSAT. The Trijicon TA-31 ACoG with a red dot CQB sight was purchased as a UOR and latterly a replacement for the SUSAT has entered service namely the Elcan Specter OS4X also with a red dot CQB sight mounted on it. An alternative flash eliminator can be fitted, an open ended four pronged design by Surefire. The Surefire flash eliminator gives improved flash elimination, can accept the standard bayonet and also accommodate a Surefire sound suppressor. The Surefire flash eliminator is only for operational use it being incompatible with the standard L85A2 Blank Firing Attachment. Polymer magazines manufactured by Magpul called the EMAG have also been purchased to replace steel magazines in operational environments slightly easing the infantryman's weight burden. It is anticipated that the SA80 will remain in front-line service well into the 2020s.

The Colt Canada (formerly Diemaco) manufactured C8SFW, a variant of the Canadian Forces C8 carbine, is used by UK Special Forces, elements of the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Military Police. [5] In 2019, it was announced that the carbine would completely replace the L85 in service with the Royal Marines. [6]

Lewis Machine & Tool's LM308MWS, was chosen by the MoD in 2010 to meet a £1.5 million urgent operational requirement in the Afghanistan conflict for a semi-automatic 7.62mm rifle with excellent accuracy, whose rate of fire and robustness made them usable within infantry squads, not just by specialised sniper teams. It had to demonstrate lethality in the 500–800-metre range, which was not uncommon in Afghanistan. [7] More than 400 of the semi-automatic Sharpshooter rifles have been bought. It is the first new Infantry combat rifle to be issued to troops for more than 20 years. [8]

The L96 is a sniper rifle produced by Accuracy International derived from their PM rifle which was designed by Olympic marksman Malcolm Cooper. This weapon was adopted into British Service in the early 1980s as a replacement for the Lee–Enfield L42. The L96 in turn was replaced by the Accuracy International .338 Lapua Magnum L115A3 rifle.


Lee-Enfield Rifle: Shootable History

The Lee-Enfield rifle served the British Empire in its last days from the fields of Europe to the jungles on Asia and all point in between. The classic rifle chambered .303 British came in many shapes and sizes from the SMLE pattern which was used designed before World War One to the Ishapore Model 2A that was produced in 1962 in 7.62×51 mm NATO. In total more than 16 million Lee-Enfield pattern rifles have been produced in over seven decades. It’s a simple design that set the standard for bolt-action military rifles for most of the 20 th century. Its longevity, durability and the fact it’s a favorite of military surplus collectors is why we chose to feature it. This installment will showcase a variant of the model most commonly used by British and Canadian troops in World War Two, The Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk II bolt-action service rifle. It’s been in service for over 100 years and still serves in combat today around the globe.

The Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk II was essentially a designed that evolved from the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I. The new improved design feature some changes over that enhanced its stability while shaving productions times and saving resources. These improvements allowed England to produce large quantities of rifles to arm its colonies and allies. Just because the war with Germany and Japan was over didn’t mean the end to conflict around the globe. In the years after World War Two the Lee-Enfield No.4 MkII would see action in the Suez Canal Crisis, the Israeli War for Independence as well as civil wars in several of the former British Empire Colonies and recently liberated countries on all continents.

Image:Rick Dembroski You can see the short-range rear sight in this picture

Now that we have a little history on the rifle and its beginnings let’s take a look at the specifications, and the build quality of these historic rifles. Handling this rifle is like holding a piece of history, a piece of history that played an important part in the founding and defending of many nations since the late 1940’s.

Name: Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk II

Caliber: .303 British

  • Average load: 174 Grain Full Metal Jacket
  • 2500 Feet per second
  • 2408 Ft lbs of energy at muzzle

Length: 44.45 “

Barrel Length: 25.2”

Weight: 9.06 lbs

Effective Range: 550 Yards

Feed System: Bolt Action

Capacity: 10 Rounds

Total Units Produced: 16 Million +

Country of manufacture:

  • England (several manufacturers, our model was produced at ROF Fazarkerley in 1953)
  • Pakistan (marked POF)
  • Canada (marked “Longbranch”
  • Australia
  • United States (Under Savage Arms name)
  • India (Ishapore Rifle Factory)

We have previously covered the earlier World War One Lee-Enfield SMLE rifles and although they take the same type of ammunition, the rifles are almost entirely different. The barrels, sights and bolts of the two rifles are not compatible which is important to note for anyone looking into owning or collecting them. In our opinion and the opinion of many collectors of military surplus firearms the fact they are different rifles does not negatively affect their collectivity or status.

First Impressions

When I first received my Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk II there are several things about it that made an instant impression on me. The first thing that jumped out at me was the weight, at just over 9 lbs you get an instant reminder that guns use to be made to last. The combination of wood and steel was the backbone of all rifles for well over 100 years and it felt great to hold something so heavy and sturdy. While getting a feel for the rifle I took time to look over the wood on the stock and top cover of the rifle. With the creation of the Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk I and later the Mk II the British had gone away from the tradition of using oak for rifle stocks and replaced it with birch in most production models. The wood on our example features an amazing finish largely free of fading, scratches or discolorations. It’s really a gorgeous sight in our minds.

Image:Rick Dembroski
Volley sight in down position

Disassembly and Inspection

Having owned several bolt-action rifles over the years and an earlier Lee-Enfield SMLE of World War One vintage I thought I was familiar with how the rifle should break down, I was wrong. Unlike the earlier SMLE pattern Lee-Enfield the N0. 4 Mk II features a small and rather annoying lever that needs to be depressed to remove the bolt from the receiver. In our model this is rather stiff and slightly cumbersome, I can only image with dirt, grit and carbon fouling this might be problematic. Once you figure this part out disassembly is rather straight forward. Pressing down the lever releases the bolt from its guide rail and allows the user to rotating the bolt head to the 12 O Clock position and remove the bolt from the receiver. We have provided a picture of the lever in order to make sense of the description

Once we figured out how to remove the bolt and check it over we reinserted it into the receiver and began to work the rifles action. The hallmark of the Lee-Enfield rifles is their smooth and fast action, and I can tell you that it only takes to a few times working the bolt to realize how nice it is. This isn’t like a Browning A-Bolt or Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle, this is a different type of smooth all together. The bolt takes a small amount to move from the locked position and cycle through its normal operation. While looking at the rifle from the shooters position, if you image a clock, the bolt in the closed position rests at around 4 O’clock, and in open position it is at 2 O’Clock. It’s a small compact movement to move the bolt and it flies effortlessly along its rails. It’s really a hard feeling to describe how smooth and effortless this is. It’s far better than other bolt actions military rifles of its era.

As we continued our inspection of our sample rifle, we came to notice the markings on the receiver of the rifle that read 9/53. After a little more research we found out that our particular rifle was made in September 1953 by the Royal Ordnance Factory at Fazakerley, a suburb of Liverpool England. Based on our rifles serial number we concluded that it was originally produced to be exported to the country of Burma (Now Myanmar) for military service. At this time Burma was in the middle of civil a civil war between Communist Party of Burma and the Karen Nationalist Party. The conflict went on from 1948-1962 and stretched into a full overthrow of the government by the nations military leadership.

The final part of the rifle that we looked at from the outside was the barrel and bayonet system. The No. 4 Mk I and Mk II rifles feature a locking lug on the barrel for a spike or blade bayonet. This is different from earlier Lee-Enfield rifles which featured a flat nose where the end of the barrel was even with the stock. On earlier rifles the bayonet fit onto a large lug under the barrel as opposed to a lug formed into the barrel. The other distinction in bayonet mounting between the SMLE and the No.4 Mk II is that on the No. 4 Mk II rifles the bayonet twists to lock into position. On earlier rifles it featured a locking tab on the rear of the bayonets handle

Image: Rick Dembroski Image:Rick Dembroski

Final Impressions

The Lee-Enfield N0.4 Mk II is an amazing piece of working shooting military history. These rifles which were once ridiculously cheap are getting more expensive as each day passes. Unmolested examples of most World War II era rifles are becoming harder to find. While the .303 British cartridge may not be the cheapest ammunition to find, its more than up to the task for harvesting game animals if you would want to. Most people I know that own Lee-Enfield rifles take them out a few times a year and put them back in the gun cabinet. To many of us, taking our classic military collectible rifles out to the range and shooting them is a way to reconnect with a long gone era. I enjoy taking it the Lee-Enfield and other rifles out and letting kids shoot them and realize that once not everything was made of plastic and aluminum.

If you are interested in collecting or shooting vintage military weaponry the Lee-Enfield series of rifles is a great place to start. They offer a combination of speed, reliability and amazing build qualities that make them instant favorites of many gun collectors. These types of rifles have been involved in many of the worlds armed conflicts for over a century, that says more that I can. If you are a collector of military rifles, we want to hear from you. What are your favorites ? and Why ? How did you get into collecting ? The firearms community is made up of many types of collectors and shooters, but all with one common cause and that is to safely enjoy our firearms.

Image:Rick Dembroski
Volley Sights, something we won’t see much of in 2017


The SMLE rifle in the twentieth century

The Enfield Mark I appeared in 1902/03. The weapon is still used today as a hunting weapon.

In some Commonwealth countries, especially Canada and India , the weapon is still used by police or reserve units.

The Canadian Rangers were armed with the weapon until a few years ago. From 2015 it was replaced by C-19 rifles manufactured by Colt Canada , a licensed product based on the Finnish Tikka T3 rifle .

Many older Lee-Enfields were also still in use in the Afghanistan war . The USA had taken over 200,000 pieces from British stocks and passed them on to the Mujahideen as weapons aid .

An overview of the different versions can be found under Royal Small Arms Factory .

The .303 caliber, Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark I & III called SMLE for short , is a robust rifle that is insensitive to dirt.

Thanks to the soft and fast action of the lock, this repeater can fire up to 20 rounds per minute. The training of the British soldiers placed high value on a quick sequence of fire and accurate shooting, as the British initially used few machine guns . This was evident in the first days of the First World War in the high losses on the German side. The high ammunition capacity of ten cartridges for a bolt-action rifle at the time favored a quick firing sequence. In the beginning, however, there were also versions in which the magazine slot could be locked so that each shot could be loaded individually through the ejection opening.

Lee Enfields were also used as sniper rifles. Since the first versions were loaded with loading strips from above, the telescopic sights were attached to the side. But this was not an optimal solution. Later versions (in 7.62 mm NATO) received their telescopic sight over the barrel.

There were also versions in .22 lr (lfb,) which were used as training weapons for the British Army. This version, which is extremely rare today, was shot as a single shot, the empty cases fell into the still existing but empty magazine when the bolt was opened.


Lee-Enfield Rifle

The Lee-Enfield (also known as the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield or SMLE) is a bolt-action, detachable magazine-fed, repeating battle rifle that was the main firearm used by the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century. It was the British Army's standard rifle from its official adoption in 1895 until 1957.

The Lee-Enfield was designed before World War I and originally was to be replaced, but then the great war broke out and there was no time to design a new rifle. The Lee-Enfield proved extremely popular and effective in combat, with the spring-loaded bolt design allowing for a trained soldier to fire the bolt-action rifle extremely rapidly, with the average soldier being able to fire upwards of 20-30 aimed shots per minute. The bolt design of the Lee-Enfield was designed to pop back after opening the bolt, to allow for faster loading. The magazine also allowed for an imposing ten-rounds of .303 British ammunition, rapidly fed by two five-round stripper clips. As many as 17 million SMLEs have been built since they were designed and some are still produced and used today all over the world.

Brandon Beckett used a sporterized Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle as his main weapon in Sniper: Reloaded.


A small party of about 40 German soldiers had infiltrated the Australian lines around the besieged town of Tobruk, Libya, during the night of April 13, 1941. They began setting up a half dozen machine guns, several mortars, and even a pair of small infantry guns laboriously dragged through the desert sands. It was a foothold the Germans could use to expand into the perimeter and capture the town. They began firing at the nearest Australian unit, B Company of the 2-17 Infantry Battalion. The Aussies replied with rifles and machine guns, but it was tough going. A party consisting of Lieu- tenant Austin Mackell and five pri- vates, along with Corporal John Hurst Edmondson, decided to mount a counterattack to drive the Germans back.

The men clutched their bayoneted Lee-Enfield Rifles tightly and moved into the darkness, attacking the enemy fiercely despite the machinegun fire thrown at them. Edmondson was hit twice but continued on, killing one enemy with his bayonet. Nearby, Mackell fought as well, but soon he was in dire need of help. His bayonet broke and the stock of his Lee-Enfield was shattered while fighting the Germans, at least three of whom were now attacking the young officer. Edmondson waded into the fray without hesitation, shooting or bayoneting all of them with his rifle. During the action he was mortally wounded. His comrades, saved by his actions, carried him back to their own lines, where he died four hours later. The Germans were defeated and the line was restored. Edmondson’s feat of bravery was the talk of Tobruk afterward and he would be the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War II.

The Lee-Enfield rifle is one of the most widely used bolt-action military rifles in the world, surpassed only by the Model 1898 Mauser and its derivatives in sheer numbers. Entering service at the dawn of the 20th century, it is still seeing active use well into the present century. It is the iconic rifle of the British Empire and it is still seen everywhere the Empire went, from Europe to remote regions in Africa and Asia. Soldiers in Afghanistan today are still being fired upon with the same Lee- Enfields British troops carried over the top in World War I.

The Lee-Enfield had its origins in the late 19th century, when repeating rifles firing full-powered cartridges were coming to the fore. Its direct predecessor was the Lee-Metford, a similar bolt-action design that brought the British military a state-of-the-art weapon comparable to the latest Mausers. The rifle used a magazine and bolt system developed by American inventor James Lee. Approximately 13,000 were built in 1889 and distributed to the army for field testing. A gradual series of product improvements led to an upgraded model being standardized in 1892, but the rifle still suffered from a few weaknesses such as barrel wear and

poor sights. After testing, further refinements were made to the weapon, resulting in the Lee-Enfield Mark I in 1895. The name combined James Lee’s design with the Royal Small Arms Factory’s location at Enfield Lock, Middlesex. Thus the name of the famous rifle was established, even though further refinement continued over the following decade.

The standardization of the Lee-Enfield into its most long-serving form took a number of years and is a reflection of the state of rifle development in the early 20th century. At the time there was considerable discussion about the use of rifles versus carbines, the rifle being a full-length weapon with a barrel length of 30 inches or more for use by infantry. Carbines were intended for cavalry use and had shorter barrels for more convenient use on horseback, with lengths of 16 inches to 22 inches being common. Full-length rifles had the advantage of greater accuracy at long ranges. Most designs of the period had sights graduated for distances of 2,000 yards or more, but some critics felt that was too far for any sort of accurate fire and recommended a shorter rifle, which would save production mate- rial and lighten the soldier’s burden. Opponents of this view felt the rifle could be effective at long distances using volley fire and loathed any decrease in accuracy.

OP British soldiers train with the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield during the early days of World War I. Conditions in the trenches were hard on rifles, but soldiers used their ingenuity to keep the dirt and mud out of their weapons.

Eventually the argument for a shorter rifle prevailed, particularly as even a shorter rifle’s barrel was still capable of greater accuracy than the average conscript could achieve. In this era many armies were slowly transitioning to large forces of conscripts who would transition into the reserves for long periods after a few years of active service. Although Great Britain’s army was still a relatively small professional force optimized for securing a far-flung empire, it still took the new lessons to heart and set about perfecting its rifle design.

The result was the Short Magazine Lee- Enfield No. 1 Mk. III, standardized in 1907 and often abbreviated as the SMLE. The soldiers who carried it soon modified this acronym into the nickname “Smelly,” which bore no relation to their opinion of the weapon. As adopted, the rifle weighed just under 8 3⁄4 pounds with a barrel length of 25.2 inches. It had a detachable magazine that held 10 cartridges of .303-caliber ammunition, though in practice the magazine was most often reloaded using stripper clips rather than swapped out for a new one. A magazine cut-off device could be used to block the firer from loading fresh rounds from the magazine. This was thought to allow a more controlled rate of fire by making the shooter load a single cartridge at a time. The contents of the magazine could then be saved for heavy combat requiring a higher rate of fire or when ordered by a superior.

The iconic bolt-action, magazine-fed Lee–Enfield was used widely around the globe in the first half of the 20th century.

The Lee-Enfield’s sights were graduated to more than 1,000 yards. Originally, an unusual long-range sight was also added to the left side of the rifle’s stock for use in extended-distance volley firing. During World War I this volley sight, along with the magazine cut-off, would be deleted to simplify production. The bolt action was simple in practice the user would chamber a fresh round by rotating the bolt handle upward and then drawing the bolt backward. This would eject a fired cartridge case. Pushing the bolt forward strips a new cartridge out of the magazine and pushes it into the chamber. Pushing the bolt handle down locks the bolt into place so the rifle can be fired. Critics state that the bolt design of the Lee-Enfield is weaker than the German Mauser’s. Although there is some truth in the assertion, it only comes into play with extremely high-powered cartridges such as those used to hunt large game. In practice, using standard military ammunition, the SMLE’s bolt is strong enough to handle the load.

Upon entering service, the Lee-Enfield went through a round of criticism, not unusual for a new weapon in any age. Shooting was a serious sport in England at the time and pundits criticized the Lee-Enfield for problems with accuracy, recoil, and weight. As expected, some took issue with the shorter barrel, claiming it was responsible for the accuracy issues. Most of the complaints came from expert riflemen, armorers, and similar experts. The average soldier seemed to have few such qualms, however, and the weapon soon gained an increasingly good reputation among them. For service use, it was robust, reliable, and effective. Its bolt action was quick and smooth, allowing a soldier to make fast followup shots. Its 10-shot magazine had twice the capacity of its contemporaries, enabling small units to lay down an impressive rate of fire and keep it up longer.

The first major test for the design came with World War I in August 1914. The British Army was small at the time, about 247,000 strong and fully half that number went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Shooting skills had been emphasized after marksmanship problems were noted during the Boer War over a decade earlier, so the average English soldier was highly skilled with a rifle. It was not unusual for a soldier to achieve 25 aimed shots or more per minute. This came in handy during the first months of the war, when armies on the Western Front still maneuvered into battle, before the stalemate of the trenches trapped men below ground for four long years.

Private Frank Richards of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers used the Lee-Enfield in the First Battle of Ypres in the autumn of 1914. His unit was advancing by platoons across open fields when they took rifle fire from a wooded area 600 yards ahead. The platoon went into a prone firing position and opened fire with their Lee- Enfields. Soon a group of Germans began advancing toward the British, who poured fire into them. Richards recalled “We had our rifles resting on the bank … and it was impossible to miss at that distance. We had downed half a dozen men before they realized what was happening then they commenced to jump back into the trench … but we bowled them over like rabbits…. We had expended our magazines, which held ten rounds—there wasn’t a live enemy to be seen and the whole affair had lasted half a minute.”

In the German Army the First Ypres became known as the “Massacre of the Innocents” due to the 25,000 student volunteers who fell to British musketry during the fighting. The amount of fire British units could produce was so heavy German General Alexander von Kluck reportedly believed his opponents were armed completely with machine guns. In fact, British battalions had only two apiece and were often short even that paltry number. Casualties were made worse by the close order troops often used when advancing early in the war.

British soldiers riding on a Sherman tank clutch their Lee-Enfield rifles as they advance into Holland during Operation Market Garden. A scarcity of funds and an abun- dance of rifles and leftover ammunition from World War I compelled the British to distribute the improved SMLE No. 4 Mark I to their soldiers in World War II.

By 1915 the days of mobile columns were over and the armies settled into trench systems that extended hundreds of miles. British casualties were heavy, which diluted the army’s overall skill level as quickly trained replacements took over for the now lost regulars. Still, a few skilled marksmen remained, appearing from their trenches to take snap-shots at the enemy before ducking back down. A Canadian, Private Henry Norwest, was famed for his quick-shooting skills. He was a Metis Indian who was noted for his ability to rise, aim, fire, and reload before aiming and firing again in less than two seconds. Over time he is known to have killed at least 115 enemy troops before a sniper felled him in August 1918. Such shoot- ing became harder as more German snipers were equipped with telescopic sights for their weapons. The SMLE saw its own sniper version as well, known as the No. 1 W (T).

Conditions in the trenches were hard on rifles and the SMLE was no exception. Mud could clog the action or the barrel. As a countermeasure, soldiers would plug the barrel with a cork or place a sock over the muzzle. A canvas breech cover was produced that could be clipped over the bolt and receiver to protect it from dirt and the elements. Keeping a weapon clean was a true challenge in the filthy conditions of trench warfare soldiers could be charged with an offense for having a rusty or dirty rifle so maintenance took an even larger part of an infantryman’s time. The Lee-Enfield was a quality weapon with close tolerances in manufacturing, so extra care had to be taken, but if care was given the rifle stayed in action. Rifles with worn-out barrels were used to launch rifle grenades.

The disadvantage of having such a well-made weapon came on the production end. Only 108,000 rifles were made annually before the war began, not enough to equip the British Empire’s forces once the war was underway. Great increases were made once the conflict started for example, from August to December 1914 approximately 120,000 SMLEs left the production line. This still was not enough so older Lee-Metfords were used for training and other designs were adopted as substitute standard weapons, in particular the P-14 Enfield made in the United States and called the No.3 Mark I in British service. Rifles were even ordered from as far away as Japan. SMLE production continued to increase. In 1917 more than 1.2 million rifles left the factory and more than 1 million in 1918.

A British 6th Airborne Division soldier uses a SMLE No. 4 (T) sniper model with a scope during the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war the SMLE again became the standard for the army with the substitute designs being placed in storage. While development between the wars did occur in semi-automatic weapons and new cartridges, scarcity of funds and abundance of rifles and leftover ammunition meant the Lee-Enfield served on in the hands of Imperial troops around the world. The biggest advancement was in redesigning the rifle to simplify production in the event of another war. The barrel was made slightly heavier to improve accuracy, and the sights were reconfigured and the muzzle was changed so that the barrel protruded slightly and was fitted with a new spike bayonet instead of the long blade-type from the previous conflict.

The improved SMLE was designated the No. 4 Mark I. It was approved for service just as World War II began. Initially, many soldiers did not take to the new rifle, preferring their old No.1 Mark IIIs. Despite this, more than 4.2 million No.4s were made by the end of World War II. Only about 10 percent of them were made at Enfield while the rest were made at the various factories set up around the Empire to increase production. The Australians continued to make the older Mark at their Lithgow Arsenal, having never adopted the No. 4. The Ishapore Rifle Factory in India also turned out the No. 1. The newer Mark was made in Canada at the Long Branch Factory near Toronto and in the United States by the Savage Arms Company. The American-produced rifles were stamped “U.S. Property” to help justify their distribution through the Lend-Lease program. The SMLE had truly become a worldwide rifle.

Most of the combatants started World War II using rifles very similar to those they used to fight the previous conflict, and often they were the same designs. A few semiautomatic rifles made their appearance early in the fighting, such as the American M1 and Soviet SVT-40. As the war continued, other nations, such as Germany, put forth their own new designs, including the first true assault rifle, the STG- 44. Nevertheless, most of the war’s riflemen still carried bolt-action weapons and the SMLE still outshone them all. The days of volley fire and rows of men in trenches were gone, but the Lee- Enfield’s smooth action and 10-round magazine still allowed Commonwealth soldiers to put out effective fire.

The SMLE No. 4 was also used to create variants, including a sniper model, the No.4 (T). It was a respectable long-range shooter, with good accuracy well past 600 yards. More than 24,000 were made and the design survived in British service into the 1970s and beyond. Two soldiers of the Cambridge Regiment, named Arthur and Packham, used their sniper SMLEs while hunting for a German sniper who had shot a British officer. For three days they stalked their opponent with no luck. But near the end of the third day Arthur spotted a wisp of smoke rising from some cover. The enemy marksman was having a cigarette. While Arthur spotted, Packham slowly slipped his rifle through their camouflage net. He took careful aim but could not get a good shot at the German. Now they knew the sniper’s hiding place, so they returned before dawn the next day and got ready. Shortly after 6 AM a German appeared. Just his head and shoulders were silhouetted in an opening in the vegetation. It was enough. Packham fired and was rewarded with a view of the enemy sniper’s rifle flying into the air as he collapsed.

The other major variant was the No. 5 Mk. 1, popularly known as the Jungle Carbine. It had a shorter barrel with a flash hider and cut down stock. It was lighter and handier but its recoil was harsh, which made it unpopular with the troops. Most were issued to troops in the Far East though the British 6th Airborne used them in Europe at the war’s end.

After the war ended the British Army retired the remaining No. 1s and retained the No.4 as its primary rifle. While the service experimented with a replacement, its soldiers took the SMLE into action again in Korea. In April 1951 the Gloucestershire Regiment’s 1st Battalion had to defend Hill 235 against several days of determined attacks by Chinese troops. Their Vickers machine guns ripped apart the enemy formations while the riflemen fired their SMLEs until the rifles were too hot to hold any longer. When that happened they picked up cool weapons from the dead and wounded. Sometimes a single bullet would fell two of three Chinese, so tightly packed together were the attacking regiments. The British eventually had to withdraw but they left behind some 10,000 enemy casualties.

Outside of England, at least 46 nations adopted the SMLE in its various guises, accord- ing to one estimate. India and Pakistan continue to use thousands of SMLEs, though they are no longer frontline weapons. Some Afghan fighters prefer the Lee-Enfield for its superior range compared to the AK-47. They still show up across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Even the Canadians still give them to rural northern mili- tiamen known as the Canadian Rangers.

The British Empire created a rifle that has endured for more than a century. It is said the sun never set on the British Empire. Unlike the days of empire, the sun still has not set on the life of the SMLE for soldiers still carry it into combat in Asia and Africa. It shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon.


Rifle No 4 [ edit | edit source ]

By the late 1930s the need for new rifles grew, and the Rifle, No. 4 Mk I was first issued in 1939 but not officially adopted until 1941. The No. 4 action was similar to the Mk VI,

Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I*, manufactured by Longbranch.

but lighter, stronger, and most importantly, easier to mass produce. Unlike the SMLE, the No 4 Lee-Enfield barrel protruded from the end of the forestock. The No. 4 rifle was considerably heavier than the No. 1 Mk. III, largely due to its heavier barrel, and a new bayonet was designed to go with the rifle: a spike bayonet, which was essentially a steel rod with a sharp point, and was nicknamed "pigsticker" by soldiers. Towards the end of the Second World War, a bladed bayonet was developed, originally intended for use with the Sten gun—but sharing the same mount as the No. 4's spike bayonet—and subsequently the No. 7 and No. 9 blade bayonets were issued for use with the No. 4 rifle as well.

During the course of the Second World War, the No. 4 rifle was further simplified for mass-production with the creation of the No. 4 Mk I* in 1942, which saw the bolt release catch removed in favour of a more simplified notch on the bolt track of the rifle's receiver. It was produced only in North America, with Long Branch Arsenal in Canada and Savage-Stevens Firearms in the USA producing the No. 4 Mk I* rifle from their respective factories. On the other hand, the No.4 Mk I rifle was primarily produced in the United Kingdom.

In the years after the Second World War, the British produced the No. 4 Mk 2 (Arabic numerals replaced Roman numerals for official designations in 1944) rifle which saw the No. 4 rifle being refined and improved with the trigger being hung from the receiver and not from the trigger guard, the No. 4 Mk 2 rifle being fitted with beech wood stocks and brass buttplates (during World War II, the British dispensed with brass buttplates for their No.4 rifles in favour of steel ones to reduce production costs and to speed up rifle production). With the introduction of the No. 4 Mk 2 rifle, the British refurbished all their existing stocks of No. 4 rifles and brought them up to the same standards as the No. 4 Mk 2. No. 4 Mk 1 rifles so upgraded were re-designated as the No. 4 Mk I/2 rifle, whilst No. 4 Mk I* rifles that were brought up to Mk 2 standards were re-designated as the No. 4 Mk I/3 rifle.


Lee Enfield Rifle - History


British Lee-Enfield Model SHT’22/IV Rifle, courtesy www.iCollector.com.

Our friend Dennis Santiago was a technical advisor for History Channel’s Top SHOT TV show. One of the notable Top Shot episodes involved the “Mad Minute”, a marksmanship drill practiced by the British Army in the decades preceding World War I. Dennis observed that the Top Shot competitors didn’t fare too well in their “Mad Minute” attempts, not scoring many hits in the allotted one-minute time period. That prompted Dennis to give it a try himself — seeing how many hits he could score in one minute with an authentic Lee-Enfield rifle. So, a while back, Dennis ran the drill at a range in California. One of the notable Top Shot episodes involved the “Mad Minute”, a marksman

Dennis Does the Mad Minute:

Dennis, an active high power rifle competitor and instructor, enjoyed his “Mad Minute” exercise, though he assures us that this takes practice to perfect. Dennis tells us: “Here is a ‘Mad Minute’ drill, done using a period correct Lee-Enfield (SMLE) No.1 Mk III rifle and Mk VII ammo. I got to the Queen’s Regulations (15 hits in one minute) on the second run and put a good group on the target at 200 yards. This is ‘jolly good fun’ to do every once in a while. This is ‘living history’ — experiencing a skill from a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.”

Lee-Enfield No. 4 Rifle (1943), courtesy Arundel Militaria.

“Mad Minute” was a pre-World War I term used by British Army riflemen during training at the Hythe School of Musketry to describe scoring a minimum of 15 hits onto a 12″ round target at 300 yards within one minute using a bolt-action rifle (usually a Lee-Enfield or Lee-Metford rifle). It was not uncommon during the First World War for riflemen to greatly exceed this score. The record, set in 1914 by Sergeant Instructor Alfred Snoxall, was 38 hits. (From WikiPedia.)

History of the Mad Minute
Commentary by Laurie Holland
The original military requirement of the “Mad Minute” saw the soldier ready to fire with a round in the chamber, nine in the magazine, safety on. This course of fire is still followed by the GB Historic Breechloading Arms Association and other bodies in their recreated “Mad Minute” competitions.

The first 10 would go quickly, but reloads were critical, this not done by a magazine change as in a modern tactical or semi-auto rifle, but through slick use of ‘chargers’. It is this aspect which fouls so many of my colleagues up as it is very easy to cause a jam and a large part of 60 seconds can go in sorting it out!

Charger clips were selected for those that just held the rounds firmly enough to stop then falling out, were sand-papered and polished with a stove / fireplace polish called ‘Zebrite’ so that the rimmed rounds would slip through the clips like corn through a goose.

If you’re unfamiliar with the cock-on-closing Enfield action, it seems clumsy. With intensive practice it is very smooth and can be operated incredibly quickly. The trick is to whip the bolt back onto its stop and initiate a rebound movement that takes it and the cartridge well into the chamber thereby reducing the effort required to close the bolt and chamber the round.

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Special Variants [ edit | edit source ]

De Lisle carbine [ edit | edit source ]

The De Lisle carbine is a suppressed carbine chambered in .45 ACP based on the Lee-Enfield Mk III*. It was made in very limited numbers, and was used by British special forces during World War II and the Malayan Emergency.

Howell Automatic Rifle [ edit | edit source ]

The Howell Automatic Rifle was the first attempt to convert the Lee-Enfield into a semi-automatic rifle, designed during or after World War I.

Charlton automatic rifle [ edit | edit source ]

The Charlton Automatic Rifle was a fully automatic conversion of the Lee-Enfield rifle, designed by New Zealander Philip Charlton in 1941. The original Charlton Automatic Rifles were converted from obsolete Lee-Metford and Magazine Lee-Enfield rifles dating from as early as the Boer War.

A prototype Australian version with a different external appearance was made by Australian company Electrolux, using the SMLE Mk III* for conversion.

Rieder automatic rifle [ edit | edit source ]

The Rieder Automatic Rifle was a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield conversion of South African origin. The Rieder device could be installed straight away without the use of tools.

Francis carbine [ edit | edit source ]

The Francis carbine is a prototype semi-automatic carbine developed in South Africa by Howard Francis. It was converted from a No. 1 Mk III SMLE, and fired the 7.63×25mm Mauser pistol cartridge.

Ekins automatic rifle [ edit | edit source ]

The Ekins Automatic Rifle was a concept self-loading conversion of the Lee-Enfield rifle. Its schematics were drawn up, but no actual examples were known to have been made.