In general, the SMLE was one of the best bolt action military rifles to see service. It was rapid firing, accurate and reliable. While being less suitable for "sporterizing" than Mausers, they are still popular among civilians as a hunting and plinking weapons, and also as a part of the history. The key deficiencies of the SMLE were probably the rimmed ammunition and non-interchangeability of bolts, but the advantages of this design were much bigger and Lee-Enfields in all its guises served Britain and the British Commonwealth for more than 60 years in front line service and much longer as a specialized sniping weapon.
Early Lee-Enfield rifles, officially known as a ".303 caliber, Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield", were carried by the British army through the Boer war (South Africa) of 1899-1902, and Boers, armed with their Mausers, taught to the Brits some hard lessons. And, unlike some other Empires, Brits were quick lo learn. In 1903, they introduced a new design, which improved over the older Lee-Metfords and Lee-Enfields in some important respects. The main improvements was the introduction of the "universal" rifle idea. The common thinking of the period was to issue the long rifle for infantry and the carbine for cavalry, artillery and other such troops. The Brits decided to replace this variety of sizes with one, "intermediate" size, that will fit all niches. This "one size fits all" rifle was called ".303 caliber, Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark 1", or, in short SMLE Mk.I, where "short" referred to the length of the rifle. This rifle passed some improvements during the following pre-WW1 years, finalizing in the 1907 as a SMLE Mk.III.
Development and introduction into service of this rifle was accompanied with constant complaints of some "theorists", which stated that this rifle would be no good neither for infantry, nor for cavalry, so RSAF was set do design another rifle, patterned after the German Mauser, which also should be more suitable for mass production, than the SMLE. This rifle finally appeared in 1914 as an ".303 caliber Enfield Pattern 1914 rifle", or simply a P-14. With the outbreak of the WWI, British troops were still armed with the "poor" SMLE Mk.III rifles, which soon turned far from any "poor", giving some hard time to the Germans. In fact, the SMLE Mk.III was a really good rifle, quite accurate, reliable and suitable for rapid and accurate firing. British soldiers were rigorously trained for both individual and volley fire marksmanship, and were routinely capable of firing 30 aimed shots per minute, which was quite a rate of fire for any non-automatic rifle. There were times when advancing Germans were impressed that they were under the machine gun fire, when Tommie used their salvo-firing techniques. During the war time the basic Mk.III design was slightly simplified to better suit the mass production needs, with omission of "volley" sights and magazine cutoffs, and with some production shortcuts. When the World War One was over, there were no questions of quality of basic SMLE design, but some improvements were suggested and introduced in later patterns, such as peep-hole, receiver mounted sights. These "interwar" patterns were not issued in any significant quantities until the 1941.
In 1926, Brits were quite confused with numerous 'Marks' and 'Marks with stars' of their weaponry, decided to adopt a new numbering system, so the SMLE Mark III became the "Rifle, No. 1 Mark 3". The "Rifle No.2" was a training version of the SMLE No.1 but chambered to .22LR ammunition. The "No.3" was assigned to the P-14 rifle, which was used in limited numbers. And the "Rifle No.4 Mark 1", widely known as a No.4 Rifle, appeared in 1941. Only the No.1 MkIII and MkIII*'s are the SMLE.
By the end of the World War 2, when British and Commonwealth troops (also armed with No.1, MKIII SMLEs & the No.4 Rifle) started to fight in jungles of the South-East was still not short enough for the jungle combat, so a carbine version of the No.4 Rifle was adopted late in the 1944 in the form of the No.5 "jungle carbine". The last, and by some opinions the finest "general issue" version of the Lee-Enfields was the No.4 Mk.2 rifle, which appeared in 1949. But some Lee-Enfields were left in military service, as a training, target and, especially, sniper rifles, known as Enfield L39 and L41, rechambered to the new standard 7.62 mm NATO ammunition, and served well until the late 1980s, when there were replaced by the Accuracy International L96 sniper rifle. It should be noted, that SMLE rifles were produced and used not only in the UK. Australian, Canadian and Indian factories turned out more than million of the No.1 rifles with various improvements, which were used during both World wars and thereafter. During the WW2, Britain also acquired quantities of SMLE No.4 (marked No.4 Mk.1*) made under contract at the Savage Arms company in USA. In the 1950s, Indian Isaphore arsenal turned out some SMLEs rechambered to the 7.62mm NATO (.308 win) ammunition. These are distinguishable from .303 caliber rifles by the more squared outline of the magazine. Total numbers of all 'Marks' and 'Numbers' of the SMLE made during the 60 years in various countries is not less than 5,000,000 (yes, five millions) rifles.
Mad minute was a pre-World War I term used by British riflemen during training to describe firing 15 aimed bullets into a target at 300yd 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 beat this feat by an excessive amount. Many riflemen could average 25 shots, while others yet could make 40 shots. It was rumored that a company of assaulting German soldiers were repelled by machine gun fire, while in actuality, it was a rifle squad of ten riflemen firing at an excessive rate. Annually, a group of British owners meet for a mad minute competition.
SMLE No.1 MkIIIEdit
The sights of the Mark III / No.1 Mk.III SMLEs were a combination of the barleycorn front (an inverted V-shape) and V-notch adjustable rear sights, mounted on the barrel, graduated to 2000 yards. The front sights were protected by the two "ears" on the stock nose-cap. Latter the front sight were changed to post type, and the rear - to the U-notch type, and since the introduction of the No.4 rifle the barrel-mounted open rear sight was replaced with peep-hole one, mounted on the receiver, which made the sighting line much longer and improved the long-range accuracy.
This was an improved and strengthened SMLE design, with heavier and stronger receiver, which also was faster and easier to machine, and with a heavier freefloating barrel to increase accuracy. The stock shape was shortened at the front part and did away with the distinctive nose cap. It was replaced by a protruding muzzle, to accept the new No4 pattern bayonet. The barrel-mounted open rear sights were replaced with the receiver-mounted peep-hole sights, which were micrometer-adjustable. However, No4 MkI* rifles were equipt with a flip-style non-adjustable rear sight, the first being set for ranges up to 300 yards, the other for up to 600 yards.
Sniper No.4 Mk.1(T) rifles, made during the WW2, were equipped with detachable optical scope mounts at the left side of the receiver. The scope, often a No.32 scope, was carried in the separate box when not in use.
The No. 4 rifle was produced in England and North America (Canada and by Savage Arms, U.S.A.) only. The Indians and Aussies continued to produce the No. 1 rifle.
The No.4 rifle was produced in three "MK"'s (Marks) and reworked into two more.
The MK1 had a sliding bolt catch on the right side of of the receiver, just behind the charger bridge, that had to be held down against spring tension with the middle finger of the left hand while the right hand fingers lifted the bolthead up for bolt removal.
The MK1*, developed at the Long Branch Arsenal, Toranto, Canada, had a small section of boltway removed, about a half inch rear of the forward end. The bolt was unlocked and moved to the rear until the head was over this area. The bolthead was then "popped" up 90 degrees and the bolt was then removed. The charging bridge was made higher to allow the upright bolthead to pass.
It was made by higher peacetime standards of fit and finish, than a wartime No.1 Mk.IIIs and No4 Mk.Is, and served with British army until the mid-1950s, when the self-loading L1 SLR (semi-auto copy of the Belgian FN FAL) rifle in 7.62 mm NATO was introduced into general service. The No4 MkII entered service in 1949, its most noticeable difference was the trigger, which was hung from the mechanism itself and not the trigger guard, to increase accuracy.
Many war production Mk1's and MK1*'s were Factory Through Repair (F.T.R.) at R.O.F. Fazakerley, Liverpool, and brought up to MK2 configuration, The MK1's were overstamped MK1/2 and the MK1* was overstamped MK1/3.
I had reworked rifles from England , Canada, and American production in my collection, that were F.T.R'd to MKII configuration. (Aeroplnut 11/18/13)
No.5 Mk. 1Edit
This carbine is a substantially shorter and lighter (approximately 2lbs and 4.5") version of the No.4 rifle, and was primarily developed for use in the Pacific Island campaigns in dense tropical canopy; hence the colloquial name "Jungle Carbine."
It was reported to have suffered "wandering zero" problems," which meant that the point of impact changed during either climate changes or long strings of fire. Many theories have been postualated, including blaming this on the lightening cuts on the receiver causing springiness or stretch, the thinner free-floating barrel, or tropical humidity swelling the wooden furniture.
The muzzle flash and recoil were also increased due to the 5.3" shorter barrel, lighter weight, and decreased surface area of the butt, despite the latter's (non-recoil attenuating) rubber composition.
Production ceased in 1947, and its approximately three-year official service record make it the shortest-serving rifle in British history.
This carbine had limited production in Australia, approximatley 100 each of both Marks.
Basically, it was a "Jungle Carbine" version of the No.1, Mk III.
The Aussies took a Lithgow No.1 MKIII, shortened the barrel, added a flash reducer to the muzzle and a recoil pad to the butt .
The rear sights were still fixed on the barrel.
No. 6, MKII
The difference was that the rear sight is now a 2 positon flip sight, mounted on the reciever.( Aeroplnut 8/7/15)
Pre-1916 Lee-Enfields were also equipped with interesting device, called the "volley" sights. This device was mounted at the left side of the stock, ahead of the magazine, and was used to provide an indirect fire capability at the ranges from 2 000 and up to an astonishing 3 900 yards (1800 – 3550 meters).
While individual marksmanship at such ranges with rifle was impossible, the salvo firing by large squads at the distant and large targets (such as massed infantry or cavalry formations), in theory, can do some damage to the enemy. This was, obviously, an idea of the pre - machine gun and pre - light artillery period, and these sights were dropped during WW1 when the British adopted the simplifed No. 1 Mk III*.
Special Service Lee-Enfields: Commando and Automatic modelsEdit
A series of specially modified Lee-Enfield rifles:
De Lisle carbineEdit
The De Lisle carbine or De Lisle Commando carbine was a British carbine used during World War II. The primary feature of the De Lisle was its very effective suppressor which made it extremely quiet in action. The designer was William De Lisle. It was based on a Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield Mk III* converted to .45 ACP by modifying the receiver, altering the bolt/bolthead, replacing the barrel with a modified Thompson submachine gun barrel, and using modified magazines from the M1911 pistol. The primary feature of the De Lisle was its extremely effective suppressor, which made it very quiet in action. So quiet, in fact, that working the bolt to chamber the next round makes a louder noise than firing a round. The De Lisle carbine was used by the British Commandos and other special forces. It was accurate to 250 metres (820ft).
The De Lisle was made in very limited numbers; 129 were produced during the period of 1942 to 1945 in three variations (Ford Dagenham Prototype, Sterling production and one Airborne prototype). Thompson submachine gun barrels were modified to provide the .45 calibre barrel, which was ported to provide a slow release of high pressure gas.
The suppressor, 2inches (5.1cm) in diameter, went all the way from the back of the barrel to well beyond the muzzle (the suppressor makes up half the overall length of the rifle), providing a very large volume of space to contain the gases produced by firing. This large volume was one of the keys to the effectiveness of the suppressor. The Lee-Enfield bolt was modified to feed the .45 ACP rounds, and the Lee-Enfield's magazine assembly was replaced with a new assembly that held a modified M1911 magazine. Because the cartridge was subsonic, the carbine was extremely quiet, possibly one of the quietest guns ever made.
The De Lisle was used by special military units during World War II and the Malayan Emergency.
Howell automatic rifleEdit
The Howell Automatic Rifle was the first attempt to convert the Lee-Enfield SMLE into a semi-automatic rifle. The weapon was reliable but unergonomic for the user as the force of the recoiling bolt interfered handling. The Howell Automatic Rifle was used by the British Home Guard as an anti aircraft weapon.
Charlton automatic rifle (New Zealand and Australian versions)Edit
The Charlton Automatic Rifle was a fully automatic conversion of the Lee-Enfield rifle, designed by New Zealander Philip Charlton in 1941 to act as a substitute for the Bren and Lewis gun light machine guns which were in chronically short supply at the time.
The original Charlton Automatic Rifles were converted from obsolete Lee-Metford and Magazine Lee-Enfield rifles dating from as early as the Boer War, and were intended for use as a self-loading rifle with the full-automatic capability retained for emergency use. It used the 10-round Lee-Enfield magazines.
There were two versions of the Charlton: the New Zealand version, as designed and manufactured by Charlton Motor Workshops in Hastings, and a version produced in Australia by Electrolux, using the SMLE Mk III* for conversion. The two designs differed markedly in external appearance (amongst other things, the New Zealand Charlton had a forward pistol grip and bipod, whilst the Australian lacked this making it lighter and cleaner in appearance, but shared the same operating mechanism.
Approximately 1,500 Charlton Automatic Rifles were manufactured in New Zealand, and nearly all of them were destroyed in an accidental fire at the Palmerston North service storage facility shortly after World War II.
An example of the New Zealand-manufactured Charlton Automatic Rifle is known to survive in the Imperial War Museum in London, along with a handful elsewhere– one is on display in the Waiouru Army Museum in New Zealand, and another at the Army Museum (Bandiana) in Australia.
Rieder automatic rifleEdit
The Reider Automatic Rifle was a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield SMLE rifle of South African origin. The Reider device could be installed straight away without the use of tools.
Howard Francis machine carbineEdit
The Howard Francis Self-Loading Carbine was a conversion from a No. 1 Mk III SMLE to the 7.63x25mm Mauser pistol cartridge. It fired in semi-automatic only and suffered some feeding and extraction problems and, despite meeting accuracy and soundness of design concept, never made it past prototype stage. Very light and very short carbine.
Elkins automatic rifleEdit
The Elkins Automatic Rifle was one of the numerous attempts to convert a Lee-Enfield SMLE to an automatic rifle.
Designed by James Paris Lee, and the new pattern of barrel rifling, designed at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield. Originally known as Lee-Metford, this design was adopted by British army in 1888 and used a Metford pattern polygonal rifling with shallow groves, intended to be used with ammunition loaded with black powder. The polygonal rifling was intended to produce tighter tolerances and easier cleaning, with less fouling. Introduction of the smokeless powders in the form of the Cordite showed that the Metford rifling was very short-living, so it was soon replaced with Enfield rifling, with 5 traditional land and grooves and left hand pitch.
The SMLE is a manually operated, bolt action magazine fed rifle. The Lee-designed SMLE magazine is a first easily distinguishable feature. It holds 10 rounds of ammunition in a double stacked magazine, and while the magazine itself is detachable, it is not intended to be reloaded when detached from rifle, but from two charger clips, each holding five rounds of .303 ammunition. Early Lee-Enfields (Long Lee-Enfields and SMLEs prior to Mark III) were loaded only by single rounds via the top receiver opening. Latter, the clip (charger) loading was introduced, and a rear receiver bridge with charger clip guides was added to the design. Some of the earlier marks were then retrofitted with charger loading ability during the 1907 - 1910. To load the magazine, one must use two standard 5-rounds clips. Loading by loose rounds was still available, but some care must be taken when loading cartridges into clips or in the magazine, due to the rimmed ammunition cases. Prior to the 1916, all SMLEs (and earlier Long Lee-Enfields) were issued with so called "magazine cut-off" - a simple device, located at the right side of the receiver and intended to cut off the cartridge supply from magazine to the action when engaged, so rifle could be used as a single-loader, and ammunition in the magazine could be saved for the hottest moments of combat. This was an outdated idea even when it was first introduced, so it was easily discarded when the need to speed up production arose. The magazine itself should be detached only for cleaning, maintenance and repair, and every rifle was issued with only one magazine. The magazine catch is located inside the triggerguard.
The bolt action, another invention of the James Paris Lee (along with magazine), is the other most famous feature of the SMLE. The rotating bolt has two lugs that lock into the receiver walls at the rear part of the bolt, thus saving some part of the bolt length and bolt pull, when comparing to the forward lugs locking. This shorter bolt pull, along with charging handle, located at the rear part of the bolt and bent down, lent itself to quick reloading. Add a relatively high capacity magazine with fast clip reloading and here you have one of the fastest practical rates of fire along with contemporary designs. The SMLE was a striker fired gun, with cocking on the bolt close action and a dual-stage trigger. The bolt head with the extractor was a separate, non-rotating unit, screwed into the bolt body. The safety was located at the rear left side of the receiver and was easily operated by the firing hands' thumb finger. One notable feature of the Lee bolt action was that the bolts were not interchangeable between different rifles of the same mark Each bolt must have been fitted to its respective action, thus making the production and in-field bolt replacement more complicated. The insufficient headspace problem on the pre-No.4 SMLEs was solved my manual sandpapering the respective bolt-head, and since the No.4 rifle, there were 4 standard sizes of the bolt heads, from which armourer could select one, most suitable for the particular action.
The famous by its distinguishable shape stock of the SMLE featured a semi-pistol grip, a steel buttplate with a trapdoor and a compartment in the butt for tools and cleaning equipment. The "flat-nosed" forend covered the barrel up to the muzzle, and has a small stud, protruding forward under the muzzle for bayonet mounting. Most SMLEs have a small brass disc inset into the right side of the butt, which was used for regimental markings (unlike the German Mausers, where the similar steel disc was used as a bolt unit disassembly tool). The conventional sling swivels were mounted on the frond handguard band and under the butt. Mk.4 No1.(T) sniper rifles also featured an additional wooden cheek rest on the top of the butt for more comfortable sighting while using the scope.
- ↑ http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/wars_conflict/weapons/musket_to_breech_10.shtml
- ↑ http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mad%20minute
- ↑ Special Service Lee Enfields: Commando and Auto Models by Ian Skennerton. Published by Ian D Skennerton, PO Box 80, Labrador 4215, Australia, 2001. ISBN 0-949749-37-0. Paperback, 48 pp, 50 plus b & w drawings and photos, 210 x 274 mm