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The Lee-Enfield was a series of British bolt-action rifles that served as the standard British rifle over the 20th cetury. The Lee-Enfield was born in 1895 as a marriage between the James Paris Lee designed magazine and bolt action, and Enfield pattern rifling. Lee-Enfields and its variants served Britain and the British Commonwealth for more than 60 years in front line service, and much longer as a specialized sniping weapon.

History[edit | edit source]

The Lee-Enfield rifle is derived from the Lee-Metford rifle.

The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield is developed in the pre-WWI years at Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, outside of London, as well as the pattern of rifling inside of the barrel. James Paris Lee is the owner of the Lee in the name, as he was instrumental in its design, having developed a number of bolt action innovations, like box magazines.

World War I[edit | edit source]

The SMLE Mk.III is the standard rifle for the United Kingdom in World War I. During World War I, the SMLE was also simplified for ease of production, with the removal of the volley sights, among other features. This created the No. 1 Mk. III* variant.

Interwar Era[edit | edit source]

After World War I, the SMLE Mk. III was further improved over time through two new trial models, the Mk.5 (1922) and the Mk.6 (1926), culminating in the creation of the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk. I, the standard British infantry rifle from 1939. It was not issued en masse until around 1941.

The "Rifle No.2" (No.1 Mk.4) was a training version of the SMLE No.1 but chambered to .22LR ammunition, the "No.3" was assigned to the Pattern-14 rifle, which was used in limited numbers, and provided the basis for the No.4's improvements.

World War II[edit | edit source]

The Mk.6 was also issued in the aftermath of Operation Dynamo (Dunkirk Evacuation), and was so similar to the No.4 that post 1931 models were simply designated as No.4 Enfields, and by this time, No.4 Enfields had been issued to the vast majority of the British armed forces, while Commonwealth nations used licensed copies of the SMLE Mk.III.

Later in World War II, a carbine iteration of the Enfield was created, designated the No.5 Mk.1, used in the jungle climates of Southeast Asia. It had limited success and mixed user opinions.

Post-WWII[edit | edit source]

After World War II, the No. 5 rifle was used in the Malayan Emergency, where it saw combat in Southeast Asian jungles, giving it the nickname "Jungle Carbine". It was outlived by the No.4 Mk.2 Enfield, which was argued to be a much more successful weapon.

Older model Enfields that hadn't been converted into No.5 rifles were adapted into more specialized roles, such as sniper (L42), drill (L59) and target practice (L39) rifles. The L42A1 sniper variant, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO, served in the British Army into 1992, before they were replaced by the Accuracy International L96.

Other commonwealth countries, particularly India, Canada, and Australia, also produced the Lee-Enfield, particularly the MKIII SMLE and No.4 Mk.1 variants under various names. The most well known of the licensed copies is the Ishapore 2A1, the Indian variant of the Mk.III, and it is the most common of the non-British produced Enfields. Likewise, through the Lend-Lease Act, drafted by the United States to assist Britain prior to its entry in World War II, many existing Enfields were produced at American firearms manufacturer Savage Arms Co, and are marked as such on their receivers with an "S". This is most common in the simplified Mk.1* Enfields.

Throughout all of the Enfield bolt action models, over 17,000,000 have been made.

Design[edit | edit source]

The Lee-Enfield rifle is a bolt-action magazine-fed rifle.

The barrel rifling of the Lee-Metford 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 had a short service life, so it was soon replaced with Enfield rifling, with 5 traditional land and grooves and left hand pitch.

Magazine[edit | edit source]

The magazine designed by James Paris Lee is a distinctive feature of the Lee-Enfield. It holds 10 rounds of ammunition in a double stacked magazine.

The magazine is detachable, but the rifle is not intended to be reloaded by replacing the magazine, but by two charger clips each holding five rounds of .303 ammunition. Early Lee-Enfields (Long Lee-Enfields and SMLEs prior to MkIII) 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 1907-1910.

Prior to the 1916, all SMLEs (and earlier Long Lee-Enfields) were issued with so called "magazine cut-off" - a device located at the right side of the receiver, which would cut off the cartridge supply from magazine to the action when engaged, effectively turning the rifle into a single-shot rifle. 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 trigger guard.

Action[edit | edit source]

The bolt action, also invented by James Paris Lee, is another distinctive feature of the Lee-Enfield. 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, not to mention the above average ten rounds in a magazine.

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 turned rearward 160 by the thumb on the shooter's firing hand, which would not only lock the trigger, but the bolt as well.

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 be 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 by manual sandpapering the respective bolt-head, and since the introduction of the No.4 rifle, there were 4 standard sizes of bolt heads, from which armorer could select one, most suitable for the particular action.

Stock[edit | edit source]

The Lee-Enfield stock features a semi-pistol grip, steel buttplate with a trap door (for maintenance/cleaning tools) and a nose cap over the fore-end of the stock near the muzzle, which often featured a bayonet lug under it, until the No.4 rifle, where it was moved onto the barrel itself. Sling mounting swivels were most often placed underneath the forward handguard's barrel band and in the traditional location of underneath the buttstock.

Variations[edit | edit source]

Magazine Lee-Enfield[edit | edit source]

The first Lee-Enfield variants introduced. Officially designated ".303 caliber, Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield". Longer than later Enfields and an improvment on the Lee-Metford, with the shift from Metford rifling to Enfield rifling.

No.1 Mk.III SMLE[edit | edit source]

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. Later the front sight was changed to post type, and the rear - to the U-notch type. The Indians and Australians continued to produce the No.1, even after the No.4 was introduced.

Pre-1916 Lee-Enfields were also equipped with interesting device called "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 up to an astonishing 3 900 yards (1800 – 3550 meters).

While individual marksmanship at such ranges with rifle was impossible, the salvo fired by large squads at the distant and large targets (such as massed infantry or cavalry formations), theoretically, would cause massive amounts of damage. In reality, this tactic only put the advancing enemy formation under intense pressure with little actual damage to speak of, and the tactic was dropped entirely with the introduction of the MKIII*.

No.1 Mk.III*[edit | edit source]

Simplified version of the MkIII, featured a different magazine cutoff, the removal of the volley sight, a windage adjustable rear sight and a modified cocking piece profile. [1]

No.1 Mk.IV (No.2 Rifle)[edit | edit source]

A .22 Long Rifle training rifle for target practice, virtually identical to the Mk.III except for the caliber.

No.1 Mk.V[edit | edit source]

An improvement over the Mk.III featuring a heavier barrel, lighter bayonet and aperture sights, better suited for long range accurate fire. 20,000 trial models were made, and however popular they were, they were never issued for frontline use.

No.1 Mk.VI[edit | edit source]

1929 models featuring an improved spike bayonet, an even further improved aperture sight and positive grip checkering. These were essentially the same as No.4 Mk.1 rifles, minus the checkering, so much so that models made post-1931 were simply designated as No.4 Mk.1s. Most of the Mk.6 designated models were issued in the aftermath of Dunkirk, so the vast majority of them didn't survive through the end of World War II. [2]

No.4 Mk.I[edit | edit source]

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 and did away with the distinctive nose cap. It was replaced by a protruding muzzle, to accept the new No.4 pattern "Pig Sticker" bayonet. The barrel-mounted open rear sights were replaced with a combination rear sight, with a round battle sight when folded down and a rectangular peep sight when folded up, for accuracy at long range, the receiver being flat sided. The Mk.I 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 No. 4 rifle was produced in England and North America (Canada and by Savage Arms, U.S.A.) only. Total length was 44.4 inches and weight was 8 pounds, 11 ounces.

No.4 Mk.I* (Star)[edit | edit source]

The Mk.I* 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 rotated up 90 degrees and the bolt was then removed. The charging bridge was made higher to allow the upright bolthead to pass. Also added was magazine catch pin instead of a screw and a longer sear pin. They also most often had several stamped parts instead of milled ones (such as the barrel bands, backsights, foresight protectors and trigger guards), as well as a simplified two position flip sight. While these features are typical, many of the No.4 rifles went through a Factory Thorough Repair, and the stamped parts that needed replacing were often replaced with spare milled parts.

No.7 Mk.I[edit | edit source]

Long Branch developed .22 Long Rifle caliber version of the No.4, not unlike how the No.1 Mk.IV was a .22 caliber SMLE.

No.8 Mk.I[edit | edit source]

Similar to the No.7, but with a pistol grip stock and shortened fore-end.

No.4 Mk.I Telescopic (Rifle)[edit | edit source]

Made during the WW2, these 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, and to account for the scope, the battle sight was ground off of the weapon. Additionally, a wooden cheek rest was screwed into the buttstock, to make aiming through the scope more comfortable, but of course like most sniper variants of infantry rifles of the era, it lost the ability to use stripper clips. The selection process was such that these rifles were chosen due to a higher natural accuracy, which was not an uncommon selection process for sniper variants of standard rifles (Such as the Mosin-Nagant PU sniper, K98k sniper and Arisaka sniper), but is very different from the modern method of designing the weapon to be used as a sniper rifle from its inception. [3]

No.4 Mk.2[edit | edit source]

It was made by higher peacetime standards of fit and finish than wartime No.1 Mk.IIIs and No.4 Mk.Is and served with British army until 1954, 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 No.4 Mk.2 entered service and production in 1949, its most noticeable difference being the trigger, which was hung from the action body and not the trigger guard, to increase consistency between trigger pulls. These rifles often featured blonde or beech wooden furniture. Production ended in 1955, and it was only produced at ROF Fazakerley.

This was when the Roman numerals in the "Mk" part of the designation changed to the more traditional Arabic numerals.

No.4 Mk.I/2 and Mk.I/3[edit | edit source]

Many war production Mk.1s and Mk.1*s were Factory Through Repair (F.T.R.) at R.O.F. Fazakerley, Liverpool, and brought up to Mk.2 configuration, The Mk.1s were overstamped Mk.1/2 and the Mk.1* was overstamped Mk.1/3. Most conversions were performed at ROF Fazakerley.

No.5 Mk.1[edit | edit source]

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 had a shorter barrel and fore-end, as well as a rubber recoil pad and a conical flash eliminator, with other distinguishing features being lightning cuts in the action body.

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 arisen, however this is most likely due to the thinner barrel having a reduced service life, as well as fault of the shooter.

Another criticism of the Jungle Carbine was that due to the decreased length and weight, it had a much more intense recoil and muzzle flash, as weight most often acts as a natural recoil reducer. To combat the muzzle flash issue, Jungle Carbines were fitted with cone style flash hiders, although the effectiveness is often debated.

Production ceased in 1947, and its approximately three-year official service record make it the shortest-serving rifle in British history.

Canadian E.A.L[edit | edit source]

This Canadian variant of the Lee Enfield has a full pistol grip buttstock, longer than most variants, with a slim fore-end with a "schnobble" tip. These are all new rifles, using no existing parts from other Enfields, and notably, the charger bridge is gone and there is extensive milling on the sides and rear of the weapon. It was known as a "sporter" version of the rifle and it was issued to the Canadian Air Force. It shares many features with both the No.4 and No.5.

No.9 Mk.I .22 Rimfire (RF)[edit | edit source]

Commissioned by the British Royal Navy to Parker-Hale, these were an additional improvement of the No.4, converted to .22 Long Rifle. A good number of No.9 rifles are converted No.4 Mk.2s, but almost all of them have beech wood furniture.

L8A1-L8A5[edit | edit source]

Similar in appearance to No.4 rifles, these have new square-profile magazines, new barrels and stronger bolt heads, as well as modified markings. Each of these were converted from older No.4 rifles, being the Mk.2, Mk.1/2, Mk.1/3, Mk.1 and Mk.1*. They are extremely scarce, and very few A4s and A5s were made (Mk.1 and Mk.1*), as preference was given to models with the newer hung trigger. These were commissioned in the late 1960s as a massive conversion project.

No.6, Mk.I[edit | edit source]

This carbine had limited production in Australia, approximately 100 each of both Marks. Australian manufacturers took a Lithgow No.1 MKIII, shortened the barrel, added a flash hider to the muzzle and a recoil pad to the butt. The rear sights were still fixed on the barrel.

No. 6, Mk.II[edit | edit source]

Same as the Mk.1, with the rear sight now having a two position adjustment.

L39A1[edit | edit source]

A 7.62x51 (.308) single loader version resembling a No.4 Mk.2, characterized by a shortened fore-end and heavy barrel, as well as a new micrometer adjustable rear sights and a hooded front sight. Many of the L39A1 models have full rifle stocks, but the Enfield Envoy (A civilian marketed version) has a pistol grip buttstock as standard, similar to modern hunting rifles. The L39 was a competition target rifle, explaining the competition style sights.

L42A1[edit | edit source]

Converted from Mk.1 Telescopic (Rifle) models, these are distinguishable by a heavy barrel, 7.62x51 NATO (.308) chambering and a shorter and wider fore-end and handguard. Additionally, magazines had more of a squared profile. Other than that, these had Mk.1 style triggers and L1A1 scopes mounted to them in a similar fashion to the Mk.1 T(R). These were in service until 1992, before being replaced with the Accuracy International L96 series and have now gone into civilian markets. The L42 was approved for use by the British government in August of 1970.

L59A1 Drill Rifle[edit | edit source]

These rifles, as the name implied, were for drill use only, and identified by the letters "D.P." painted on the fore-end and buttstock, as well copper colored bolt bodies and cocking pieces and obvious milling and relieving on the left side of the action body and barrel. [4] These were implemented in the mid 1970s, and converted from old Mk.1, Mk.1* and Mk.2 rifles.

Special Variants[edit | edit source]

De Lisle carbine[edit | edit source]

Main article: De Lisle carbine

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]

Main article: Howell Automatic Rifle

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]

Main article: Charlton automatic rifle

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]

Main article: Rieder automatic rifle

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]

Main article: Francis carbine

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]

Main article: Ekins automatic rifle

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.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • The Lee-Enfield rifle is commonly associated with the mad minute, a pre-World War I bolt-action rifle speed shooting exercise from the British Army.
  • Some Lee-Enfield models are marked with "FTR" in their markings; FTR stood for Factory Thorough Repair, which merely constituted taking an Enfield reaching the end of its service life (indicated by a loss of accuracy, among other hindrances) and sending to a factory to be refitted with new parts to renew it. Not every rifle was remarked with a new designation, or refitted with any different parts, but every rifle that went through an FTR was given at minimum 80% new parts, the remaining 20% being parts being less essential or inconsequential to its performance at that time.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

  • 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
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