Wednesday Weapons – Lee-Enfield

The Lee-Enfield Rifle is one of the most recognised battle rifles of the 20th century. It was the mainstay of the British Empire and Commonwealth forces until 1957. It’s first issue was in 1895.

From Wikipedia

The Lee-Enfield rifle was derived from the earlier Lee-Metford, a mechanically similar black powder rifle, which combined James Paris Lee‘s rear-locking bolt system with a barrel featuring rifling designed by William Ellis Metford. The Lee action cocked the striker on the closing stroke of the bolt, making the initial opening much faster and easier compared to the “cock on opening” of the Mauser design. The rear-mounted lugs place the operating handle much closer to the operator, over the trigger, making it quicker to operate than traditional designs like the Mauser. The rifle was also equipped with a detachable sheet-steel, 10-round, double-column magazine, a very modern development in its day.

The Lee-Enfield was in actual fact a unique design that enabled it to be fired very quickly.

The fast-operating Lee bolt-action and large magazine capacity enabled a well-trained rifleman to fire 20 to 30 aimed rounds a minute, making the Lee-Enfield the fastest military bolt-action rifle of the day. The current world record for aimed bolt-action fire was set in 1914 by a musketry instructor in the British Army?Sergeant Instructor Snoxall?who placed 38 rounds into a 12?inch wide target at 300?yards (270?m) in one minute. Some straight-pull bolt-action rifles were thought faster, but lacked the simplicity, reliability, and generous magazine capacity of the Lee-Enfield. First World War accounts tell of British troops repelling German attackers who subsequently reported that they had encountered machine guns, when in fact it was simply a group of trained riflemen armed with SMLE Mk III rifles.

The most famous outline is of the Lee-Enfield Rifle No.1 MkIII. Also known by its military designation the SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield). It was fully wooded from Stock to the end of the barrel but during WWI it was found to be to complex to manufacture in large quantities necessary to equip new troops and replace battle damaged rifles.

By 1930 the new design was the simplified and finally began major issue in 1939 as the Rifle No.4 MkI . The older SMLE design was still used extensively as the photo (left) shows with soldiers of the Maori Battalion in the Western Desert using the SMLE and 1907 pattern bayonet.

Later in the war the need for a shorter, lighter rifle led to the development of the Rifle, No. 5 Mk I (the “Jungle Carbine”). With a severely cut-down stock, a prominent flash hider, and a receiver machined to remove all unnecessary metal, the No. 5 was both shorter and 2?lb (0.9?kg) lighter. Despite a rubber butt-pad, the .303 round produced too much recoil for the No. 5 to be suitable for general issue.

Being an owner of a Jungle Carbine I can attest to it being a pig of a rifle to use. The kick is fearsome and dusk shooting is spectacular with a massive flash despite the flash hider.

The Lee-Enfield or .303 as it is more colloquially known has shot more deer in the NZ bush than any other rifle bar none. It is still used today. Barry Crump in his book “A Good Keen Man” said of the .303 that when arguing about hunting and about the only thing that men could agree on was that a No 4. Mk1 with all the extra wood cut off is the best hunting weapon around.