|Type Bolt-action rifle|
Used by See Users
|Place of origin United Kingdom|
|In service MLE: 1895–1926
Wars Second Boer War World War I Easter Rising Various Colonial conflicts Irish War of Independence Irish Civil War World War II Indonesian National Revolution Indo-Pakistani Wars Greek Civil War Malayan Emergency French Indochina War Korean War Arab-Israeli War Suez Crisis Border Campaign (Irish Republican Army) Mau Mau Uprising Vietnam War The Troubles Sino-Indian War Bangladesh Liberation War Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Nepalese Civil War Afghanistan conflict
Designer James Paris Lee, RSAF Enfield
The Lee–Enfield bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle 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.
- Design and history
- Magazine LeeEnfield
- Short Magazine LeeEnfield Mk I
- Short Magazine LeeEnfield Mk III
- Pattern 1913 Enfield
- Pattern 1914US M1917
- Inter war period
- LeeEnfield No 1 Mk V
- Rifle No 4
- Rifle No 5 Mk Ithe Jungle Carbine
- Sniper rifles
- 22 Training Rifles
- Muskets and Shotguns
- Civilian conversions and variants
- L59A1 Drill Rifle
- Charlton Automatic Rifles
- De Lisle Commando carbine
- Ekins Automatic Rifle
- Howard Francis machine carbine
- Howell Automatic Rifle
- Rieder Automatic Rifle
- Conversion to 76251mm NATO
- Ishapore 2A2A1
- Production and manufacturers
- List of manufacturers
- Australian International Arms No 4 Mk IV
- Khyber Pass Copies
- The LeeEnfield in militarypolice use today
- The LeeEnfield in civilian use
A redesign of the Lee–Metford (adopted by the British Army in 1888), the Lee–Enfield superseded the earlier Martini–Henry, Martini–Enfield, and Lee–Metford rifles. It featured a ten-round box magazine which was loaded with the .303 British cartridge manually from the top, either one round at a time or by means of five-round chargers. The Lee–Enfield was the standard issue weapon to rifle companies of the British Army and other Commonwealth nations in both the First and Second World Wars (these Commonwealth nations included Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa, among others). Although officially replaced in the UK with the L1A1 SLR in 1957, it remained in widespread British service until the early/mid-1960s and the 7.62 mm L42 sniper variant remained in service until the 1990s. As a standard-issue infantry rifle, it is still found in service in the armed forces of some Commonwealth nations, notably with the Bangladesh Police, which makes it the second longest-serving military bolt-action rifle still in official service, after the Mosin–Nagant. The Canadian Forces' Rangers Arctic reserve unit still used Enfield No.4 rifles as of 2012, with plans announced to replace the weapons sometime in 2014 or 2015. Total production of all Lee–Enfields is estimated at over 17 million rifles.
The Lee–Enfield takes its name from the designer of the rifle's bolt system—James Paris Lee—and the factory in which it was designed—the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Southern Africa and India the rifle became known simply as the "three-oh-three" or the "three-naught-three".
Design and history
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" (i.e., the firing pin cocks upon opening the bolt) of the Mauser Gewehr 98 design. The rear-mounted lugs place the bolt 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. Originally, the concept of a detachable magazine was opposed in some British Army circles, as some feared that the private soldier might be likely to lose the magazine during field campaigns. Early models of the Lee–Metford and Lee–Enfield even used a short length of chain to secure the magazine to the rifle.
The fast-operating Lee bolt-action and 10-round magazine capacity enabled a well-trained rifleman to perform the "mad minute" firing 20 to 30 aimed rounds in 60 seconds, 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 (300 mm) 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. Several 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 well-trained riflemen armed with SMLE Mk III rifles.
The Lee–Enfield was adapted to fire the .303 British service cartridge, a rimmed, high-powered rifle round. Experiments with smokeless powder in the existing Lee–Metford cartridge seemed at first to be a simple upgrade, but the greater heat and pressure generated by the new smokeless powder wore away the shallow, rounded, Metford rifling after approximately 6000 rounds. Replacing this with a new square-shaped rifling system designed at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) Enfield solved the problem, and the Lee–Enfield was born.
The Lee–Enfield rifle was introduced in November 1895 as the .303 calibre, Rifle, Magazine, Lee–Enfield, or more commonly Magazine Lee–Enfield, or MLE (sometimes spoken as "emily" instead of M, L, E). The next year, a shorter version was introduced as the Lee–Enfield Cavalry Carbine Mk I, or LEC, with a 21.2-inch (540 mm) barrel as opposed to the 30.2-inch (770 mm) one in the "long" version. Both underwent a minor upgrade series in 1899 (the omission of the cleaning / clearing rod), becoming the Mk I*. Many LECs (and LMCs in smaller numbers) were converted to special patterns, namely the New Zealand Carbine and the Royal Irish Constabulary Carbine, or NZ and RIC carbines, respectively. Some of the MLEs (and MLMs) were converted to load from chargers, and designated Charger Loading Lee–Enfields, or CLLEs.
Short Magazine Lee–Enfield Mk I
A shorter and lighter version of the original MLE—the famous Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee–Enfield, or SMLE (sometimes spoken as "Smelly", rather than S, M, L, E)—was introduced on 1 January 1904. The barrel was now halfway in length between the original long rifle and the carbine, at 25.2 inches (640 mm).
The SMLE's visual trademark was its blunt nose, with only the bayonet boss protruding a small fraction of an inch beyond the nosecap, being modeled on the Swedish Model 1894 Cavalry Carbine. The new rifle also incorporated a charger loading system, another innovation borrowed from the Mauser rifle' and is notably different from the fixed "bridge" that later became the standard, being a charger clip (stripper clip) guide on the face of the bolt head. The shorter length was controversial at the time: many Rifle Association members and gunsmiths were concerned that the shorter barrel would not be as accurate as the longer MLE barrels, that the recoil would be much greater, and the sighting radius would be too short.
Short Magazine Lee–Enfield Mk III
The iconic Lee–Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk III, was introduced on 26 January 1907, along with a Pattern 1907 (P'07) sword bayonet and featured a simplified rear sight arrangement and a fixed, rather than a bolt-head-mounted sliding, charger guide. The design of the handguards and the magazine were also improved, and the chamber was adapted to fire the new Mk VII High Velocity spitzer .303 ammunition. Many early model rifles, of Magazine Lee–Enfield (MLE), Magazine Lee–Metford (MLM), and SMLE type, were upgraded to the Mk III standard. These are designated Mk IV Cond., with various asterisks denoting subtypes.
During the First World War, the SMLE Mk III was found to be too complicated to manufacture (an SMLE Mk III rifle cost the British Government £3/15/-) and demand was outstripping supply, so in late 1915 the Mk III* was introduced, which incorporated several changes, the most prominent of which were the deletion of the magazine cut-off mechanism, which when engaged permits the feeding and extraction of single cartridges only while keeping the cartridges in the magazine in reserve, and the long-range volley sights. The windage adjustment of the rear sight was also dispensed with, and the cocking piece was changed from a round knob to a serrated slab. Rifles with some or all of these features present are found, as the changes were implemented at different times in different factories and as stocks of existing parts were used. The magazine cut-off was reinstated after the First World War ended and not entirely dispensed with until 1942.
The inability of the principal manufacturers (RSAF Enfield, The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited and London Small Arms Co. Ltd) to meet military production demands, led to the development of the "peddled scheme", which contracted out the production of whole rifles and rifle components to several shell companies.
The SMLE Mk III* (renamed Rifle No.1 Mk III* in 1926) saw extensive service throughout the Second World War as well, especially in the North African, Italian, Pacific and Burmese theatres in the hands of British and Commonwealth forces. Australia and India retained and manufactured the SMLE Mk III* as their standard-issue rifle during the conflict and the rifle remained in Australian military service through the Korean War, until it was replaced by the L1A1 SLR in the late 1950s. The Lithgow Small Arms Factory finally ceased production of the SMLE Mk III* in 1953.
The Rifle Factory at Ishapore, West Bengal, India produced the MkIII* in .303 British and then upgraded the manufactured strength by heat treatment of the receiver and bolt to fire 7.62×51mm NATO ammunition, the model 2A, which retained the 2000 yard rear sight as the metric conversion of distance was very close to the flatter trajectory of the new ammunition nature, then changed the rear sight to 800m with a re-designation to model 2A1. Manufactured until at least the 1980s and continues to produce a sporting rifle based on the MkIII* action.
Pattern 1913 Enfield
Due to the poor performance of the .303 British cartridge during the Second Boer War from 1899–1902, the British attempted to replace the round and the Lee–Enfield rifle that fired it. The main deficiency of the rounds at the time was that they used heavy, round-nosed bullets that had low muzzle velocities and poor ballistic performance. The 7mm Mauser rounds fired from the Mauser Model 1895 rifle had a higher velocity, flatter trajectory and longer range, making them superior on the open country of the South African plains. Work on a long-range replacement cartridge began in 1910 and resulted in the .276 Enfield in 1912. A new rifle based on the Mauser design was created to fire the round, called the Pattern 1913 Enfield. Although the .276 Enfield had better ballistics, troop trials in 1913 revealed problems including excessive recoil, muzzle flash, barrel wear and overheating. Attempts were made to find a cooler-burning propellant but further trials were halted in 1914 by the onset of World War I. This proved fortunate for the Lee–Enfield, as wartime demand and the improved Mk VII loading of the .303 round, caused it to be retained for service.
Pattern 1914/US M1917
The Pattern 1914 Enfield and M1917 Enfield rifles are based on the Enfield-designed P1913, itself a Mauser 98 derivative and not based on the Lee action, and are not part of the Lee–Enfield family of rifles, although they are frequently assumed to be.
In 1926, the British Army changed their nomenclature; the SMLE became known as the Rifle No. 1 Mk III or III*, with the original MLE and LEC becoming obsolete along with the earlier SMLE models. Many Mk III and III* rifles were converted to .22 rimfire calibre training rifles, and designated Rifle No. 2, of varying marks. (The Pattern 1914 became the Rifle No. 3.)
The SMLE design was a relatively expensive long arm to manufacture, because of the many forging and machining operations required. In the 1920s, a series of experiments resulting in design changes were carried out to help with these problems, reducing the number of complex parts and refining manufacturing processes. The SMLE Mk V (later Rifle No. 1 Mk V), adopted a new receiver-mounted aperture sighting system, which moved the rear sight from its former position on the barrel. The increased gap resulted in an improved sighting radius, improving sighting accuracy and the aperture improved speed of sighting over various distances. In the stowed position, a fixed distance aperture battle sight calibrated for 300 yd (274 m) protruded saving further precious seconds when laying the sight to a target. An alternative developed during this period was to be used on the No. 4 variant, a "battle sight" was developed that allowed for two set distances of 300 yards and 600 yards to be quickly deployed and was cheaper to produce than the "ladder sight". The magazine cutoff was also reintroduced and an additional band was added near the muzzle for additional strength during bayonet use. The design was found to be even more complicated and expensive to manufacture than the Mk III and was not developed or issued, beyond a trial production of about 20,000 rifles between 1922 and 1924 at RSAF Enfield. The No. 1 Mk VI also introduced a heavier "floating barrel" that was independent of the forearm, allowing the barrel to expand and contract without contacting the forearm and interfering with the 'zero', the correlation between the alignment of the barrel and the sights. The floating barrel increased the accuracy of the rifle by allowing it to vibrate freely and consistently, whereas wooden forends in contact with barrels, if not properly fitted, affected the harmonic vibrations of the barrel. The receiver-mounted rear sights and magazine cutoff were also present and 1,025 units were produced between 1930 and 1933.
Lee–Enfield No. 1 Mk V
Long before the No. 4 Mk I, Britain had obviously settled on the rear aperture sight prior to WWI, with modifications to the SMLE being tested as early as 1911, as well as later on the No. 1 Mk III pattern rifle. These unusual rifles have something of a mysterious service history, but represent a missing link in SMLE development. The primary distinguishing feature of the No. 1 Mk V is the rear aperture sight. Like the No. 1 Mk III* it lacked a volley sight and had the wire loop in place of the sling swivel at the front of magazine well along with the simplified cocking piece. The Mk V did retain a magazine cut-off, but without a spotting hole, the piling swivel was kept attached to a forward barrel band, which was wrapped over and attached to the rear of the nose cap to reinforce the rifle for use with the standard Pattern 1907 bayonet. Other distinctive features include a nose cap screw was slotted for the width of a coin for easy removal, a safety lever on the left side of the receiver was slightly modified with a unique angular groove pattern, and the two-piece hand guard being extended from the nose cap to the receiver, omitting the barrel mounted leaf sight. No. 1 Mk V rifles were manufactured solely by R.S.A.F. Enfield from 1922-1924, with a total production of roughly 20,000 rifles, all of which marked with a “V”.
Rifle No. 4
By the late 1930s, the need for new rifles grew and the Rifle, No. 4 Mk I was officially adopted in 1941. The No. 4 action was similar to the Mk VI, but stronger and most importantly, easier to mass-produce. Unlike the SMLE, that had a nose cap, the No 4 Lee–Enfield barrel protruded from the end of the forestock. The charger bridge was no longer rounded for easier machining. The iron sight line was redesigned and featured a rear receiver aperture battle sight calibrated for 300 yd (274 m) with an additional ladder aperture sight that could be flipped up and was calibrated for 200–1,300 yd (183–1,189 m) in 100 yd (91 m) increments. This sight line like other aperture sight lines proved to be faster and more accurate than the typical mid-barrel rear sight elements sight lines offered by Mauser, previous Lee–Enfields or the Buffington battle sight of the 1903 Springfield.
The No. 4 rifle was 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. However, in McAuslan in the Rough, George MacDonald Fraser alleges that the Pattern 1907 bladed bayonet used with the SMLE was also compatible with the No. 4 rifle.
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, with the bolt release catch replaced by a simpler notch on the bolt track of the rifle's receiver. It was produced only in North America, by Long Branch Arsenal in Canada and Savage-Stevens Firearms in the USA. The No.4 Mk I rifle was primarily produced for 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, a refined and improved No. 4 rifle with the trigger hung forward from the butt collar and not from the trigger guard, beech wood stocks (with the original reinforcing strap and centre piece of wood in the rear of the forestock on the No.4 Mk I/Mk I* being removed in favour of a tie screw and nut) and brass buttplates (during World War II, the British replaced the brass buttplates on the No.4 rifles with zinc alloy (Zamak) ones to reduce costs and to speed up rifle production). With the introduction of the No. 4 Mk 2 rifle, the British refurbished many of their existing stocks of No. 4 rifles and brought them up to the same standard as the No. 4 Mk 2. No. 4 Mk 1 rifles so upgraded were re-designated No. 4 Mk I/2, whilst No. 4 Mk I* rifles that were brought up to Mk 2 standard were re-designated No. 4 Mk I/3.
Rifle No. 5 Mk I—the "Jungle Carbine"
Later in the war, the need for a shorter, lighter rifle forced the development of the Rifle, No. 5 Mk I (the "Jungle Carbine"). With a cut-down stock, a prominent flash hider, and a "lightening-cut" receiver machined to remove all unnecessary metal, reduced barrel length of 18.8 in (478 mm) the No. 5 was shorter and 2 lb (0.9 kg) lighter. Despite a rubber butt-pad, the .303 round produced excessive recoil due to the shorter barrel. It was unsuitable for general issue and production ceased in 1947, due to an "inherent fault in the design", often claimed to be a "wandering zero" and accuracy problems. The No. 5 iron sight line was similar to the No. 4 marks and featured a rear receiver aperture battle sight calibrated for 300 yd (274 m) with an additional ladder aperture sight that could be flipped up and was calibrated for 200–800 yd (183–732 m) in 100 yd (91 m) increments. The No. 5 Mk I was popular with soldiers owing to its light weight, portability and shorter length than a standard Lee–Enfield rifle. The No. 5 was first issued to the British 1st Airborne Division and used during their liberation of Denmark and Norway in 1945. BSA-Shirley, Birmingham produced 81329 rifles and ROF Fazakerley, Liverpool 169807 rifles.
An Australian experimental version of the No. 5 Mk I, designated Rifle, No. 6, Mk I was also developed, using an SMLE MK III* as a starting point (as opposed to the No. 4 Mk I used to develop the No. 5 Mk I). The Australian military were not permitted to manufacture the No. 4 Mk I, because the Lithgow Small Arms factory was producing the SMLE Mk III. The No. 6 Mk I never entered full production and examples are rare and valuable to collectors. A "Shortened and Lightened" version of the SMLE Mk III* rifle was also tested by the Australian military and a very small number were manufactured at SAF Lithgow during the course of the Second World War.
The term "Jungle Carbine" was popularised in the 1950s by the Santa Fe Arms Corporation, a U.S. importer who refurbished many surplus rifles, converting many of the No. 4 marks, in the hope of increasing sales of a rifle that had little U.S. market penetration. It was never an official military designation but British and Commonwealth troops serving in the Burmese and Pacific theatres during World War II had been known to unofficially refer to the No. 5 Mk I as a "Jungle Carbine". The No. 4 and No. 5 rifles served in Korea (as did the No.1 Mk III* SMLE and sniper 'T' variants, mostly with Australian troops).
During both World Wars and the Korean War, a number of Lee–Enfield rifles were modified for use as sniper rifles. The Australian Army modified 1,612 Lithgow SMLE No. 1 Mk. III* rifles by adding a heavy target barrel, cheek-piece, and a World War I era Pattern 1918 telescope, creating the SMLE No. 1 Mk. III* (HT). (HT standing for "Heavy Barrel, Telescopic Sight), which saw service in the Second World War, Korea, and Malaya and was used for Sniper Training through to the late 1970s. There is evidence that some SMLE No. 1 Mk. III* (HT) sniper rifles were used by Australian forces during the later stages of the Vietnam War.
During the Second World War, standard No. 4 rifles, selected for their accuracy during factory tests, were modified by the addition of a wooden cheek-piece, and telescopic sight mounts designed to accept a No. 32 3.5× telescopic sight. The accuracy requirement was ability to place 7 of 7 shots in a 5 inches (12.7 cm) circle at 200 yards (183 m). The wooden cheek-piece was attached with brass screws. The milled rear "battle sight" was ground off to make room to attach the No. 32 telescope sight to the left side of the receiver. Each No. 32 was matched and serial numbered to a specific rifle. This particular sight progressed through three marks with the Mk. 1 introduced in 1942, the Mk. 2 in 1943 and finally the Mk. 3 in 1944. Many Mk. 3s and Mk. 2/1s (Mk. 2s Modified to Mk. 3 standard) were later modified for use with the 7.62×51mm NATO L42A1 Sniper Rifle. They were known by the designation Telescope Straight, Sighting L1A1.
Initial production was 1,403 conversions of 1931-1933 troop trials No. 4 Mk. I rifles at RSAF Enfield and a few others including Stevens-Savage No. 4s. These were converted in late 1941 and into the latter part of 1942. Then, the work was assigned to Holland & Holland, the famous British sporting gun manufacturers, which converted about 26,000 (this is an incorrect number as this includes the Enfield conversions) No. 4 Mk. I (T) and No. 4 Mk. I* (T) sniper rifles. The H&H conversions usually have the contractor code "S51" on the buttstock. BSA Shirley undertook 100 conversions to .22". James Purdey and Sons fitted special buttstocks later in the war. About 3,000 rifles, mostly Stevens-Savage, appear to have been partially converted by Holland & Holland but never received brackets, scopes of the final "T" mark. Canada converted about 1,500 rifles at the Long Branch arsenal. These rifles were extensively employed in various conflicts until the late 1960s. The British military switched over to the 7.62×51mm NATO round in the 1950s; starting in 1970, many of the No. 4 Mk I (T) sniper rifles were converted to this new calibre and designated L42A1. The L42A1 sniper rifle continued as the British Army's standard sniper weapon being phased out by 1993, and replaced by Accuracy International's L96.
.22 Training Rifles
Numbers of Lee–Enfield rifles were converted to .22 calibre training rifles, in order to teach cadets and new recruits the various aspects of shooting, firearms safety, and marksmanship at a markedly reduced cost per round. Initially, rifles were converted from obsolete Magazine Lee–Metford and Magazine Lee–Enfield rifles but from the First World War onwards SMLE rifles were used instead. These were known as .22 Pattern 1914 Short Rifles during The First World War and Rifle, No. 2 Mk. IV from 1921 onwards. They were generally single-shot affairs, originally using Morris tubes chambered for cheap .22L cartridge and some larger types, circa 1907. Some were later modified with special adaptors to enable magazine loading. In 1914, Enfield produced complete .22 barrels and bolts specifically for converting .303 units, and these soon became the most common conversion. A five-round .22 cal 'Parker-Hiscock' magazine was also developed and in service for a relatively short period during the later period of the First World War, but was subsequently withdrawn from issue due to reliability problems with its quite complicated loading and feeding mechanism. No. 2 Mk. IV rifles are externally identical to a .303 calibre SMLE Mk III* rifle, the only difference being the .22 calibre barrel, empty magazine case, bolthead and extractor which have been modified to fire .22 calibre rimfire cartridges.
After the Second World War, the Rifle, No. 7, Rifle, No. 8 and Rifle, No. 9, all .22 rimfire trainers and/or target rifles based on the Lee action, were adopted or in use with Cadet units and target shooters throughout the Commonwealth.
In Britain, a .22RF version of the No.5 Rifle was prototyped by BSA and trialled with a view to it becoming the British Service training rifle when the .303"CF No.5 was initially mooted as being a potential replacement for the No.4 Rifle.
The C No.7 Rifle is a .22 single shot manually fed training version of the No.4 Mk I* rifle manufactured at Long Branch.
Muskets and Shotguns
Conversion of rifles to smoothbored guns was carried out in several locations, at various times, for varying reasons.
SAF Lithgow, in Australia, produced shotguns based on the MkIII action under the "Slazenger" name, chambering the common commercial .410 shotgun shell. Commercial gunsmiths in Australia and Britain converted both MkIII and No4 rifles to .410 shotguns. These conversions were prompted by firearms legislation that made possession of a rifle chambered in a military cartridge both difficult and expensive. Smoothbored shotguns could be legally held with far less trouble.
RFI, in India, converted a large number of MkIII rifles to single shot muskets, chambered for the .410 Indian Musket cartridge. These conversions were for issue to police and prison guards, to provide a firearm with a much-reduced power and range in comparison to the .303 cartridge. A further likely consideration was the difficulty of obtaining replacement ammunition in the event of the rifle's theft or the carrier's desertion.
While British and Australian conversions were to the standard commercially available .410 shotgun cartridge (though of varying chamber lengths) the Indian conversions have been the source of considerable confusion. The Indian conversions were originally chambered for the .410 Indian Musket cartridge, which is based on the .303 British cartridge, and will not chamber the common .410 shotgun cartridge. Many of these muskets were rechambered, after being sold as surplus, and can now be used with commercially available ammunition. Unmodified muskets require handloading of ammunition, as the .410 Indian Musket cartridge was not commercially distributed and does not appear to have been manufactured since the 1950s.
Numerous attempts have been made to convert the various single-shot .410 shotgun models to a bolt-action repeating model by removing the wooden magazine plug and replacing it with a standard 10-round SMLE magazine. None of these is known to have been successful, though some owners have adapted 3-round magazines for Savage and Stevens shotguns to function in a converted SMLE shotgun, or even placing such a magazine inside a gutted SMLE magazine.
Civilian conversions and variants
From the late 1940s, legislation in New South Wales, Australia, heavily restricted .303 British calibre (and other "military calibre") rifles, so large numbers of SMLEs were converted to "wildcat" calibres such as .303/25, .303/22, .303/270 and the popular 7.7×54mm round. 303/25 calibre sporterised SMLEs are very common in Australia today, although ammunition for them has been very scarce since the 1980s. The restrictions placed on "military calibre" rifles in New South Wales were lifted in 1975, and many people who had converted their Lee–Enfields to the "wildcat" rounds converted their rifles back to .303 British. Post-Second World War, SAF Lithgow converted a number of SMLE rifles to commercial sporting rifles- notably the .22 Hornet model- under the "Slazenger" brand.
In the early 1950s Essential Agencies Ltd. (E.A.L.), of Toronto, Ontario, produced a run of several thousand survival rifles based on the No. 4 action, but lightened and shortened, chambered in .303 British. Serial numbers below 6000 were for civilian sale, serial numbers 6000 and higher were built under contract to the Canadian government. The Royal Canadian Air Force also used these as a survival rifle in the remote parts of Canada.
L59A1 Drill Rifle
The L59A1 was a conversion of the No4 Rifle (all Marks) to a Drill Purpose Rifle that was incapable of being restored to a firing configuration. It was introduced in service in the 1970s. A conversion specification of No.1 rifles to L59A2 Drill Purpose was also prepared but was abandoned due to the greater difficulty of machining involved and the negligible numbers still in the hands of cadet units.
The L59A1 arose from British government concerns over the vulnerability of Army Cadet Force and school Combined Cadet Forces' (CCF) stocks of small arms to theft by terrorists, in particular the Irish Republican Army following raids on CCF armouries in the 1950s and 1960s. Previous conversions to Drill Purpose (DP) of otherwise serviceable rifles were not considered to be sufficiently incapable of restoration to fireable state and were a potential source of reconversion spares.
L59A1 Drill Rifles were rendered incapable of being fired, and of being restored to a fireable form, by extensive modifications that included the welding of the barrel to the receiver, modifications to the receiver that removed the supporting structures for the bolt's locking lugs and blocking the installation of an unaltered bolt, the removal of the striker's tip, the blocking of the striker's hole in the bolt head and the removal of most of the bolt body's locking lugs. Most bolts were copper plated for identification. A plug was welded in place forward of the chamber, and a window was cut in the side of the barrel. The stock and fore end was marked with broad white painted bands and the letters "DP" for easy identification.
Charlton Automatic Rifles
Small numbers of Lee–Enfield rifles were built as, or converted to, experimental automatic loading systems, such as the British Howell and South African Rieder and the best-known of which was the Charlton Automatic Rifle, designed by a 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. During the Second World War, the majority of New Zealand's land forces were deployed in North Africa. When Japan entered the war in 1941, New Zealand found itself lacking the light machine guns that would be required for local defence should Japan choose to invade, and so the New Zealand Government funded the development of self-loading conversions for the Lee–Enfield rifle. The end result was the Charlton Automatic Rifle (based on the obsolete MLE), which was issued to Home Guard units in NZ from 1942. Over 1,500 conversions were made, including a handful by Electrolux using Lithgow SMLE Mk III* rifles.
The two Charlton designs differed markedly in external appearance (amongst other things, the New Zealand Charlton had a forward pistol grip and bipod, whilst the Australian one did not), but shared the same operating mechanism. Most of the Charlton Automatic Rifles were destroyed in a fire after the Second World War, but a few examples survive in museums and private collections.
De Lisle Commando carbine
The Commando units of the British military requested a suppressed rifle for killing sentries, guard dogs and other clandestine operational uses during the Second World War. The resulting weapon, designed by W.G. De Lisle, was effectively an SMLE Mk III* receiver redesigned to take a .45 ACP cartridge and associated magazine, with a barrel from a Thompson submachine gun and an integral suppressor. It was produced in very limited numbers and an experimental folding stock version was made.
Ekins Automatic Rifle
The Ekins Automatic Rifle was one of the numerous attempts to convert a Lee–Enfield SMLE to an automatic rifle. Similar developments were the South African Rieder and Charlton of Australian/New Zealand origin.
Howard Francis machine carbine
The Howard Francis Self-Loading Carbine was a conversion from a No. 1 Mk III SMLE to the 7.63×25mm 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.
Howell Automatic Rifle
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 with handling. The Howell Automatic Rifle was used by the British Home Guard as an anti-aircraft weapon.
Rieder Automatic Rifle
The Rieder Automatic Rifle was an automatic (full automatic only) Lee–Enfield SMLE rifle of South African origin. The Rieder device could be installed straight away without the use of tools.
Conversion to 7.62×51mm NATO
During the 1960s, the British Government and the Ministry of Defence converted a number of Lee–Enfield No. 4 rifles to 7.62×51mm NATO as part of a programme to retain the Lee–Enfield as a reserve weapon. The Lee–Enfield No. 4 series rifles that were converted to 7.62×51mm NATO were re-designated as the L8 series of rifles with the rifles being refitted with 7.62×51mm NATO barrels, new bolt faces and extractor claws, new rear sights and new 10-round 7.62×51mm NATO magazines that were produced by RSAF Enfield to replace the old 10-round .303 British magazines. The appearance of the L8 series rifles were no different from the original No. 4 rifles, except for the new barrel (which still retained the original No.4 rifle bayonet lugs) and magazine. The L8 series of rifles consisted of L8A1 rifles (converted No.4 Mk2 rifles), L8A2 rifles (converted No.4 Mk1/2 rifles), L8A3 rifles (converted No.4 Mk1/3 rifles), L8A4 rifles (converted No.4 Mk1 rifles), and L8A5 rifles (converted No.4 Mk1* rifles).
Sterling Armaments of Dagenham, Essex produced a conversion kit comprising a new 7.62mm barrel, magazine, extractor and ejector for commercial sale. The main difference between the two conversions was in the cartridge ejection arrangement; the Enfield magazine carried a hardened steel projection that struck the rim of the extracted case to eject it, the Sterling system employed a spring-loaded plunger inserted into the receiver wall.
The results of the trials that were conducted on the L8 series rifles were mixed and the British Government and the Ministry of Defence decided not to convert their existing stocks of Lee–Enfield No. 4 rifles to 7.62×51mm NATO. Despite this, the British learned from the results of the L8 test program and used them in successfully converting their stocks of No. 4 (T) sniper rifles to 7.62×51mm NATO, which led to the creation of the L42A1 series sniper rifles.
In the late 1960s, RSAF Enfield entered the commercial market by producing No.4-based 7.62×51mm rifles for sale. The products were marketed under alliterative names e.g. Enfield Envoy, a rifle intended for civilian competition target shooting and Enfield Enforcer, a rifle fitted with a Pecar telescopic sight to suit the requirements of police firearms teams.
At some point just after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Ishapore Rifle Factory in India began producing a new type of rifle known as the Rifle 7.62 mm 2A, which was based on the SMLE Mk III* and was slightly redesigned to use the 7.62×51mm NATO round. Externally the new rifle is very similar to the classic Mk III*, with the exception of the front sight protectors, buttplate (the buttplate from the 1A SLR is fitted) and magazine, which is more "square" than the SMLE magazine, and usually carries twelve rounds instead of ten, although a number of 2A1s have been noted with 10-round magazines.
Ishapore 2A and Ishapore 2A1 receivers are made with improved (EN) steel (to handle the increased pressures of the 7.62×51mm round) and the extractor is redesigned to suit the rimless cartridge. From 1965–1975 (when production is believed to have been discontinued), the sight ranging graduations were changed from 2000 to 800, and the rifle re-designated Rifle 7.62 mm 2A1. The original 2,000 yards (1,800 m) rear sight arm was found to be suitable for the ballistics of the 7.62×51mm, which is around 10% more powerful and equates to a flatter trajectory than that of the .303 British MkVII ammunition, so it was a simple matter to think of the '2000' as representing metres rather than yards. It was then decided that the limit of the effective range was a more realistic proposition at 800 m.
The Ishapore 2A and 2A1 rifles are often incorrectly described as ".308 conversions". The 2A/2A1 rifles are not conversions of .303 calibre SMLE Mk III* rifles. Rather, they are newly manufactured firearms and are not technically chambered for commercial .308 Winchester ammunition. However, many 2A/2A1 owners shoot such ammunition in their rifles with no problems, although it should be noted that some factory loaded .308 Winchester cartridges may appear to generate higher pressures than 7.62×51mm NATO, even though the rounds are otherwise interchangeable - this is due to the different systems of pressure measurement used for NATO and commercial cartridges.
Production and manufacturers
In total, over 16 million Lee–Enfields had been produced in several factories on different continents when production in Britain shut down in 1956, at the Royal Ordnance Factory ROF Fazakerley in Liverpool after that factory had been plagued with industrial unrest. The machinery from ROF Fazakerley was sold to Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) in Rawalpindi where production and repair of the No.4 rifle was continued. Also contributing to the total was the Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) at Ishapore in India, which continued to produce the SMLE in both .303 and 7.62×51mm NATO until the 1980s, and is still manufacturing a sporting rifle based on the SMLE Mk III action, chambered for a .315 calibre cartridge the Birmingham Small Arms Company factory at Shirley near Birmingham, and SAF Lithgow in Australia, who finally discontinued production of the SMLE Mk III* with a final 'machinery proving' batch of 1000 rifles in early 1956, using 1953-dated receivers. During the First World War alone, 3.8 million SMLE rifles were produced in the UK by RSAF Enfield, BSA, and LSA.
List of manufacturers
The manufacturer's names found on the MLE, CLLE, and SMLE Mk I—Mk III* rifles and variants are:
Note 1: "SSA" and "NRF" markings are sometimes encountered on First World War-dated SMLE Mk III* rifles. These stand for "Standard Small Arms" and "National Rifle Factory", respectively. Rifles so marked were assembled using parts from various other manufacturers, as part of a scheme during the First World War to boost rifle production in the UK. Only SMLE Mk III* rifles are known to have been assembled under this program.
Note 2: GRI stands for "Georgius Rex, Imperator" (Latin for "King George, Emperor (of India)", denoting a rifle made during the British Raj. RFI stands for "Rifle Factory, Ishapore", denoting a rifle made after the Partition of India in 1947.
For the No. 4 Mk I, No. 4 Mk I* and No. 4 Mk 2 rifles:
Note 1: Second World War UK production rifles had manufacturer codes for security reasons. For example, BSA Shirley is denoted by M47C, ROF(M) is often simply stamped "M", and BSA is simply stamped "B".
Note 2: Savage-made Lee–Enfield No. 4 Mk I and No. 4 Mk I* rifles are all stamped "US PROPERTY". They were supplied to the UK under the Lend-Lease programme during the Second World War. No Savage Lee–Enfields were ever issued to the US military; the markings existed solely to maintain the pretence that American equipment was being lent to the UK rather than permanently sold to them.
Australian International Arms No. 4 Mk IV
The Brisbane-based Australian International Arms also manufactured a modern reproduction of the No. 4 Mk II rifle, which they marketed as the AIA No. 4 Mk IV. The rifles were manufactured by parts outsourcing and were assembled and finished in Australia, chambered in 7.62×51mm NATO and fed from modified M14 magazines. The No. 4 Mk IV was designed with the modern shooter in mind, and has the ability to mount a telescopic sight without drilling and tapping the receiver. AIA also offered the AIA M10-A1 rifle, a Jungle Carbine-styled version chambered in 7.62×39mm Russian, which uses AK-47 magazines . Magazine supply/importation (M14 and AK 10 single stack mag) whilst legal in Australia, it has been spasmodically curtailed by Australian Federal Customs (for more information, see Gun politics in Australia). It is possible to obtain a 10-round (the maximum allowed by law) M14 magazines for the M10-B2 match rifles in particular, provided an import permit from the appropriate Licensing Services Division can be obtained in some States, yet Australian Federal Customs may still refuse importation on no valid grounds.
Khyber Pass Copies
A number of British Service Rifles, predominantly the Martini–Henry and Martini–Enfield, but also the various Lee–Enfield rifles, have been produced by small manufacturers in the Khyber Pass region of the Pakistani/Afghan border.
"Khyber Pass Copies", as they are known, tend to be copied exactly from a "master" rifle, which may itself be a Khyber Pass Copy, markings and all, which is why it's not uncommon to see Khyber Pass rifles with the "N" in "Enfield" reversed, amongst other things.
The quality on such rifles varies from "as good as a factory-produced example" to "dangerously unsafe", tending towards the latter end of the scale. Khyber Pass Copy rifles cannot generally stand up to the pressures generated by modern commercial ammunition, and are generally considered unsafe to fire under any circumstances.
Khyber Pass Copies can be recognised by a number of factors, notably:
British company Armalon Ltd developed a number of rifles based on the Lee Enfield No 4. The PC Gallery Rifle is a carbine in pistol and revolver calibres, the AL42 a 5.56 mm rifle and the AL30C, a carbine in .30 Carbine.
The Lee–Enfield in military/police use today
The Lee–Enfield family of rifles is the second oldest bolt-action rifle design still in official service, after Mosin–Nagant. Lee–Enfield rifles are used by reserve forces and police forces in many Commonwealth countries, including Malawi. In Canada the .303" and .22" models are being phased out . Indian police officers carrying SMLE Mk III* and Ishapore 2A1 rifles were a familiar sight throughout railway stations in India after Mumbai train bombings of 2006 and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. They are also still seen in the hands of Pakistani and Bangladeshi second-line and police units. However, the Lee–Enfield was mainly replaced in main-line service in the Pakistani Police in the mid-1980s by the AK 47, in response to increasing proliferation of the Kalashnikov in the black market and civilian use. In Jordan, the Lee–Enfield was in use with the Police and Gendarmerie until 1971, and with the Armed Forces until 1965. In Iraq and Egypt, the Lee–Enfield was replaced by the Kalashnikov as the standard issue rifle in the Armed Forces by the late 1950s, and in Police Forces by the late 1970s. In the UK, the single-shot .22 calibre Rifle No. 8 is in regular use with UK Cadet Forces as a light target rifle. Enfields continue to be used as drill weapons by the National Ceremonial Guard of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
Many Afghan participants in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were armed with Lee–Enfields. The CIA's Operation Cyclone provided hundreds of thousands of Enfields to the Mujahideen, funneling them through Pakistan's ISI. CIA officer Gust Avrakotos later arranged for the Egyptian Ministry of Defence to set up production lines of Enfield .303 ammunition specifically for the conflict. Later on when Avrakotos asked Michael Vickers to revamp their strategy, he stopped the Enfield system and, with the large amounts of money available thanks to Charlie Wilson, replaced them with a mix of modern weapons like AK-47s and mortars.
Khyber Pass Copies patterned after the Lee–Enfield are still manufactured in the Khyber Pass region, as bolt-action rifles remain effective weapons in desert and mountain environments where long-range accuracy is more important than rate of fire. Lee–Enfield rifles are still popular in the region, despite the presence and ready availability of more modern weapons such as the SKS-45, the AKM, the Chinese Type 56 assault rifle, and the AK-74. As of 2012, Lee–Enfield rifles (along with Mosin–Nagants) are still being used by the Taliban insurgents against NATO/Allied forces in Afghanistan.
Photos from the recent civil war in Nepal showed that the government troops were being issued SMLE Mk III/III* rifles to fight the Maoist rebels, and that the Maoists were also armed with SMLE rifles, amongst other weapons. Lee–Enfield rifles have also been seen in the hands of both the Naxalites and the Indian police in the ongoing Maoist insurgency in rural India.
Police forces in both the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu continue to operate and maintain stocks of SMLE Mk IVs. The Tongan security forces also retain a substantial number of Mk IVs donated from New Zealand's reserve stocks.
The Lee–Enfield in civilian use
Lee–Enfields are very popular as hunting rifles and target shooting rifles. Many surplus Lee–Enfield rifles were sold in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States after the Second World War, and a fair number have been 'sporterised', having had the front furniture reduced or removed and a scope fitted so that they resemble a bolt-action sporting rifle. Top-notch accuracy is difficult to achieve with the Lee–Enfield design, as it was intended to be a battle rifle rather than a sharpshooter's weapon, and thus the Enfield is nowadays overshadowed by derivatives of Paul Mauser's design as a target shooting arm. They did, however, continue to be used at Bisley up into the 1970s with some success, and continue to perform extremely well at Military Service Rifle Competitions throughout the world.
Many people still hunt with as-issued Lee–Enfield rifles, with commercial .303 British ammunition proving especially effective on medium-sized game. Soft-point .303 ammunition is widely available for hunting purposes, though the Mark 7 military cartridge design often proves adequate because its tail-heavy design makes the bullet yaw violently and deform after hitting the target.
The Lee–Enfield rifle is a popular gun for historic rifle enthusiasts and those who find the 10-round magazine, loading by charger clips, and the rapid bolt-action useful for Practical Rifle events. Since formation in 1998, organisations such as the Lee Enfield Rifle Association have assisted in not just preserving rifles in shooting condition (many Lee–Enfields are being deactivated and sold as "wall-hangers" to collectors who do not hold a Firearms Licence in countries where they are required), but holding events and competitions. Lee–Enfields are also popular with competitors in service rifle competitions in many Commonwealth countries.
The Lee–Enfield series is very popular for service rifle shooting competitions in the UK and Australia due to the prohibitions on the legal ownership of semi-automatic centrefire rifles in Great Britain and restrictions on the legal ownership of semi-automatic centrefire rifles in Australia. (For more information see Gun politics in the United Kingdom and Gun politics in Australia.)
Rhineland Arms produces .45 ACP conversion kits for the Lee–Enfield action using M1911 pistol magazines.
The Lee-Speed Sporter was a higher quality British made version of the Lee–Enfield.