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Template:Weapon-firearm Template:Weapon-firearm The Lee-Enfield was the British army's standard bolt action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle from 1895 until 1956. In various marks it was standard army issue for the first half of the 20th century, a momentous period which saw two world wars and the loss of Britain's empire; it was also used by many of Britain's commonwealth allies, including India, Australia, and Canada. It fired the .303 British cartridge from a ten-round detachable box magazine, loaded from the top of the rifle by five-round chargers (a.k.a. stripper clips), and had a final production total (all types) estimated at over 17 million.



The Lee-Enfield rifle was derived from the earlier Lee-Metford, a mechanically similar (most would say identical) black powder rifle which combined James Paris Lee's rear-locking bolt system with a barrel featuring rifling designed by William Ellis Metford. Lee's action was a major improvement on existing bolt-action designs. The 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 much quicker to operate than "traditional" designs like the Mauser, which forced the operator to move his hand forward to operate the bolt; also, the bolt's distance of travel was identical with the length of the cartridge, and its rotation was only 60 degrees (compared to the conventional 90 degree rotation of Mauser-style actions). The disadvantage was that the rear lugs placed a greater load on the rigidity of the bolt up to the receiver. Because of the faster bolt locking mechanism, introduction of semi-automatic rifles was delayed considerably, relative to those nations using rifles derived from the Mauser's mechanism.

The speedy bolt and large magazine capacity (ten rounds, compared to the five of most Mauser derivatives) enabled a trained rifleman to fire between 15 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 sergeant in the British Army, named Snoxall, who placed 38 rounds into a 12" target at 300 yards in one minute. Some straight-pull bolt-action rifles were thought faster, but lacked the simplicity and reliability of the Lee design. There is evidence that the Lee-Enfield's rate of fire was on par with the American M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle during World War II with well-trained riflemen capable of firing off between 16 to 24 aimed rounds a minute from a Garand.


Experiments with smokeless powder in the existing Lee-Metford cartridge seemed at first to be a simple upgrade, but the greater heat and pressures generated by the new cartridges proved to wear out the shallow, rounded, Metford rifling. 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. In order to avoid throwing away massive stocks of existing cartridges, the government demanded that the new design use the existing rimmed design, a decision which ensured that the .303 British survived well into the age of rimless cartridges.

The rifle was introduced in November 1895 as the .303 calibre, Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, or more commonly simply Magazine Lee-Enfield, or MLE. The next year a shorter version was introduced as the Lee-Enfield Cavalry Carbine Mk I, or LEC, with a 21.2 inch (538 mm) barrel as opposed to the 30.2 inch (767 mm) one in the "long" version. Both underwent a minor upgrade series in 1899, 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.


On 1 January 1904 a shorter and lighter version of the original MLE was introduced, the famous Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, or SMLE (usually spoken as "smelly", rather than S, M, L, E). The barrel length was now half-way between the original and the carbine, at 25.2 inches (640 mm). The SMLE's visual trademark was its blunt nose, the end of the barrel protruding a small fraction of an inch beyond the nosecap. The new rifle also incorporated a charger loading system, another innovation borrowed from the Boer's Mausers. The shorter length was controversial at the time, many influential thinkers believing that it was neither short enough for horseback use nor long enough for accurate long-range fire. A replacement was sought. When the US introduced its new M1903 Springfield, it used a single one-size-fits-all intermediate rifle design (23 inch barrel). This was in contrast to most earlier rifles and the just adopted (by the U.S.) Krag-Jørgensen, where both carbine and full-length versions were fielded. (It would not be until 1935, for example, that Germany finally adopted a universal size with the K98k, who had earlier been fielding both full length G98 and shorter G98 carbines (e.g. K98a).)

1907 through WWI

The iconic Lee-Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk III, was introduced in 1907, 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.

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 II (mainly MLM or MLE upgrades to SMLE Mk I design) or Mk IV Cond., with various asterisks denoting subtypes.

During WWI, the standard SMLE Mk III was found to be complicated to manufacture and simplifications were sought. In 1916, the Mk III* was introduced, which incorporated several changes, the most prominent of which were the deletion of the magazine cutoff and the long range "volley" sights. The windage adjustment capability 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 preexisting parts were used.

The inability of the principal manufacturers (RSAF Enfield, Birmingham Small Arms, and London Small Arms) 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, leading to a minor political scandal. These rifles are somewhat rare today, possibly because they were considered inferior to the standard production pieces.

During the Second Boer War the British were faced with accurate long-range fire from the famous Mauser rifles, model 1895, in 7x57 mm caliber. This smaller, high-velocity round prompted the War Department to develop their own "magnum" round in 1910, using a .276 caliber round patterned from that of the Canadian Ross rifle. A modified Mauser-pattern rifle was built to fire it, the Pattern 1913 Enfield (P13), although the outbreak of war and the attendant manufacturing and logistic constraints meant that nothing came of this. Adapting the same mechanism to fire the standard .303 round led to the Pattern 1914 Rifle (P14), a competent design fed from a five-round internal magazine. Britain's complete lack of spare industrial capacity (the P14's initial contractor (Vickers) never produced more than a handful of rifles) and the reasonable aversion to changing infantry weapons in the middle of a war meant that the P14 was never a serious contender for replacing the SMLE. The rifle was instead used as a sniper rifle and as a reserve weapon. When the US entered the war, the P14 was standardized and modified by the US Ordnance Department and went into production in America as the M1917 Enfield, having been chambered for the standard US 30-06 cartridge; it enjoyed some success as a complement for the Springfield M1903 rifles which were formally America's standard issue, ultimately far surpassing the Springfield in total production and breadth of issue. Prior to and during World War II, the P14 was used in Britain as a rearguard rifle, latterly to equip the WW2 Home Guard (the soldiers of Dad's Army carried P14s). The US also sent some M1917 rifles to the UK under Lend-Lease, though the different ammunition requirements limited use and necessitated clearly marking the rifles as being non-standard.


In 1926 the British Army changed their nomenclature and 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 subcaliber (.22 rimfire) trainers, and designated Rifle No. 2, of varying marks. (The Pattern 1914 became the Rifle No. 3.)

The SMLE design was fairly expensive to manufacture because of the many forging and machining operations required. In the 1920s several experiments were carried out to help with these problems, reducing the number of complex parts. The SMLE Mk V, later Rifle No. 1 Mk V, used 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 (making it also known as a "battle sight"). The magazine cutoff was also reintroduced, and an additional band was added near the muzzle for additional strength during bayonet use. Unfortunately, this design was found to be even more complicated to manufacture than the Mk III. Production of this rifle numbered approximately 20000 units, produced between 1922 and 1924 at RSAF Enfield. The No. 1 Mk VI also introduced a "floating barrel" which was not connected strongly to the stock, allowing the barrel to move with the expansion and contraction of heating without changing the bedding forces, and thus accuracy. The receiver mounted rear sights and magazine cutoff were also present. Production numbered 1025 units, produced between 1930 and 1933.

Small numbers of Lee-Enfield rifles were also built with or converted to an experimental semi-automatic loading system, the best-known of which was the Charlton Automatic Rifle, designed by a New Zealander.

1930s through WWII and Korea

By the late 1930s the need for new rifles grew, and the Rifle, No. 4 Mk I was adopted in 1939, although widespread production did not start until 1941. The No. 4 was similar to the Mk VI, but lighter, stronger, and with a new adjustment system for setting the "headspace", the spacing between the boltface and chamber. Unlike the SMLE, the No. 4 did not have a blunt nose, the barrel protruding some way from the stock. This permitted the use of a socket spike bayonet (the wartime expedient is known as the "pigsticker", essentially a steel rod with a sharp point). The new floating barrel improved accuracy, and the No. 4 became the most common sniper rifle in the British forces, fitted with a 3.5x No. 32 scope. Known as the No. 4 Mk I (T), many were re-barreled after the war to the new 7.62 mm NATO round and continued in service until the early 1990s as the L42A1 sniper rifle.

During the course of World War II, the No. 4 rifle was simplified more for mass-production with the creation of the No. 4 Mk I* which saw the removal of the bolt release catch and replaced with a more simplified notch on the track of the rifle's action. It was produced only in North America.

Image:Jungle Carbine.jpg Later in the war the need for a shorter, less heavy rifle for use in the jungles of the Far East led to the development of the Rifle, No. 5 Mk I (a.k.a. the "Jungle Carbine"). With a severely cut-down stock and a prominent flash hider, the design was somewhat shorter and 2 lb (907 g) lighter. Despite (or possibly because of) a rubber butt-pad, the .303 round produced too much recoil for the lightweight rifle to be a complete success, and it was never popular with the troops - partly because of the allegedly fierce recoil, and partly because of an alleged "wandering zero".

(NB: The term "Jungle Carbine" was a marketing term conceived in the 1950s by a U.S. importer of surplus rifles, used in the hopes of increasing sales of a rifle that had had little U.S. market penetration. It is in no way an official designation.)

In the years after World War II, the British produced the No. 4 Mk II rifle which saw the No. 4 rifle being refined and improved with the trigger being hung from the receiver of the rifle and not from the trigger guard, the No. 4 Mk II rifle being fitted with beech wood stocks and the return of brass buttplates to the rifle. With the introduction of the No. 4 Mk II rifle, the British refurbished all their existing stocks of No. 4 rifles and brought them up to the same standards as the No. 4 Mk II rifle. Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I rifles that were brought up to Mk II standards were re-designated as the No. 4 Mk I/2 rifle while Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I* rifles that were brought up to Mk II standards were re-designated as the No. 4 Mk I/3 rifle.

Both the No. 4 and No. 5 rifles served in Korea (as did the No. 1, mostly with Australian troops).

The end of WWII saw the production of the Rifle, No. 6, an experimental Australian version of the No. 5, and later the Rifle, No. 7 and Rifle, No. 8, both of which were .22 rimfire trainers.

The Lee-Enfield was replaced in front-line service with the FN FAL-derived L1A1 SLR in 1955, although the Enfield continued for a few years as a training and drill weapon; those who undertook National Service trained with the Lee-Enfield.


During the 1960's, the British Government and the Ministry of Defence converted a number of Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifles to 7.62 mm NATO as part of a program to retain the Lee-Enfield as a rear-echelon weapon and as an emergency issue rifle for British military and civil defence forces if the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact invaded Western Europe and the British military were short of L1A1 SLRs to arm her troops at home and abroad to fight the Soviet Union.

The Lee-Enfield No. 4 series rifles that were converted to 7.62 mm NATO were re-designated as the L8 series rifles with the rifles being refitted with 7.62 mm NATO rifle barrels, new bolt faces and extractor claws, new rear sights and new 10-round 7.62 mm NATO rifle magazines that were produced by RSAF Enfield and Sterling Armaments to replace the old 10-round .303 British rifle magazines that the No. 4 series rifles employed.

The outward appearance of the L8 series rifles were no different to the original No. 4 rifles, except for the new 7.62 mm NATO rifle magazine to replace the old .303 British magazine and the new 7.62 mm rifle barrel.

The results of the trials that were conducted on the L8 series rifles produced 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 mm 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 mm NATO and hence the creation of the L42A1 series sniper rifles.

The L42A1 sniper rifle continued as the British Army's standard sniper weapon until the early 1990s, being replaced by Accuracy International's AW/L96.

During the 1970's, RSAF Enfield produced the Enfield Enforcer series sniper rifles for use by police marksmen in Great Britain. The Enfield Enforcer was made in small numbers and the rifles are highly sought after by many gun collectors due to the small numbers of rifles that were produced by RSAF Enfield and due to the policy of various Metropolitan Police services in Great Britain to destroy old police firearms instead of selling them to the general public which has made the Enforcer rifle a collector's item.

At some point after the Korean War (probably 1963), the Ishapore Rifle Factory in India began producing a new type of rifle known as the 2A1, which is a SMLE reworked to use the 7.62 mm NATO round. Externally the rifle is very similar to the classic Mk III*, with the exception of the magazine, which is more angular and carries twelve rounds instead of ten. The steel is stronger and the extractor is redesigned to cope with the rimless round.


In total over 14 million Lee-Enfields had been produced in several factories on different continents when production in Britain shut down in 1956, at (Royal Ordnance Factory) ROF Fazakerley. Contributing to the total was the arsenal at Ishapore in India, which continued to produce the Enfield in both .303 and 7.62 mm (NATO) (the 2A1) until the 1980s, and the BSA factory at Shirley in Birmingham.

Post World War Two the Lithgow Small Arms Factory in New South Wales, Australia converted some SMLE IIIs and III*s to commercial sporting rifles with Lithgow Slazenger branding. These included centrefire .22 Hornet and .410 shotgun.

Legislation in New South Wales, Australia, outlawed .303 British calibre rifles, so large numbers of SMLEs were converted to "wildcat" calibres such as .303/25, .303/22, and the popular 7.7x54 round. .303/25 calibre sporterised SMLEs are very common in Australia today, although getting ammunition for them is very difficult. The restrictions placed on the .303 British rifle bullet and rifles chambered for .303 British in New South Wales were lifted in the 1970's and many people who converted their Lee-Enfields to the "wildcat" rounds converted their rifles back to .303 British.

Numerous attempts were made to convert the .410 Shotgun model (which was single shot, and generally manufactured by the Ishapore arsenal) to a bolt-action repeating model by removing the wooden magazine plug and replacing it with a standard 10 shot SMLE magazine. None of these is known to have been successful, however.

SMLEs were also made as or converted to .22 rimfire for training purposes.

Ishapore made .303 calibre SMLE Mk III* rifles have appeared with 1980's manufacture dates suggesting that it may still be manufactured in the Indian sub-continent. Attempts to contact the Ishapore Arsenal to confirm this have so far been unsuccessful.

It was at first thought that some of these may be a product of the small manufacturers in the Khyber Pass region of the Indian/Pakistani/Afghani border, but "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, and the "VR" ("Victoria Regina") cypher from years, often decades, after her death. ("Khyber Specials" are predominantly of the Martini-Henry or Martini-Enfield pattern.)

It has been positied that the 1980s dated Ishapore SMLEs were made for the Mujahadeen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The manufacturer's names found on SMLE Mk I and variants, Mk III and Mk III* rifles are:

  • Enfield: Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, UK
  • Sparkbrook: Royal Small Arms Factory Sparkbrook, UK
  • BSA Co: Birmingham Small Arms Company, UK
  • LSA Co: London Small Arms Company Ltd, UK
  • Lithgow: Lithgow Small Arms, Lithgow, New South Wales, Australia
  • GRI: Ishapore Arsenal, India (GRI stands for "Georgius Rex, Imperator")
  • RFI: Rifle Factory, Ishapore (Post-Partition)
  • SSA: Standard Small Arms, UK (not a full manufacturer)
  • NFA: National Firearms Assembly, UK (not a full manufacturer)

For the No. 4 Mk I, No. 4 Mk I* and No. 4 Mk II rifles:

Note: WWII UK production rifles have manufacturer codes for security reasons. For example, BSA Shirley is denoted by M47C.

Usage today

Lee-Enfields are still used by reserve forces and police forces in many Commonwealth countries, particularly India and Canada, where they are the main rifle issued to the Canadian Rangers. Television news footage of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan revealed that many Afghan tribesmen were still armed with Lee-Enfields, the rifle being common in the Middle East. Bolt-action rifles remain effective weapons in a desert environment, where long-range accuracy is more important than volume of fire.

Lee-Enfields are very popular hunting rifles. Many surplus Commonwealth rifles were sold in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and they are also common in Southern Africa with hunters, farmers and sportsmen. A fair number have been 'sporterized', having had the front furniture reduced or removed and a scope fitted so that they resemble a bolt action sporting rifle while many other Lee-Enfields remained in their original military configuration. Top-notch accuracy is difficult to achieve with the Lee-Enfield design due to the loose chamber - designed primarily to work in adverse conditions - thus the Enfield is nowadays overshadowed by derivatives of Paul Mauser's design as a target shooting weapon. They did however continue to be used at Bisley up into the 1970's with some success.

At present in the UK the Lee-Enfield rifle is mainly shot by historic rifle enthusiasts and those who find the 10 shot magazine, loading by stripper clips and the rapid bolt action useful for Practical Rifle events. Since formation in 1998, the 300-plus members of the Lee Enfield Rifle Association (link below) have greatly assisted in not just preserving rifles in shooting condition (many are sadly being deactivated and sold to collectors who do not hold a Firearms Licence) but holding events and competitions wholly accurate in terms of the various courses of fire and targets of the period.

From the 1960’s onwards, numbers of surplus Lee-Enfield rifles (SMLEs as well as No. 4s) were converted to fire .410 shotgun cartridges and sold to the general public. This involved smooth-boring/replacing the barrels, making small changes to the extractor claws and magazine lips. Many .410 Enfields are still in use today, mostly for small rodent/pest control, although further altered to comply with stricter UK firearms regulations that do not allow shotguns to hold more than three rounds in the magazine.

Lee-Enfields are also popular with competitors in service rifle competitions in many British Commonwealth countries. For example, both the Wellington Service Rifle Association and The 18th Battalion Memorial Rifle Club hold a popular ANZAC Day competition for Lee Enfields.

These are also used in firing ranges with young cadets under supervision in schools as part of the Combined Cadet Force and Also part of the Air Training corps who use the Rifle in the format of the .22 round.

Photos from the current civil war in Nepal show that the Government troops are being issued SMLE Mk III/III* rifles to fight the Maoist Rebels with. The SMLEs seen thus far are not in especially good condition, but it should also be noted that the Maoists are also armed with SMLEs (and anything else they can acquire), but as to whether the SMLEs in question are of British or Indian manufacture is unknown, as is the year of manufacture.

The Lee-Enfield series rifles were also seen in use by numerous factions on the Solomon Islands back in 2000 when the islands were gripped in civil unrest. News footage from the islands during the conflict showed a number of the fighters from all sides were armed with Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifles (as well as other modern firearms) that were stolen from government and police armouries.

The Lee-Enfield rifle was also the preferred weapon of Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) snipers in South Armagh, Northern Ireland. They liked the Lee-Enfield rifle and .303 British rifle bullet because it offered good penetration of the flak jackets and helmets worn by British military personnel and by the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. One of these rifles, nicknamed "Jude" for the patron saint of lost causes, is credited with at least 10 confirmed kills.

Lee-Enfields in the media

The Lee-Enfield series bolt-action rifles have been seen in many war movies dealing with the Second Anglo-Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War with the rifle being carried by British and British Commonwealth forces. Movies like the 1981 Australian World War 1 film Gallipoli (with the SMLE Mk III being seen and used by the ANZACS and the British troops) and the 1977 British/American World War 2 film A Bridge Too Far (with the No. 4 rifle being seen and used by British soldiers and paratroopers) are good examples of the Lee-Enfield rifle being used on the big screen. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) has the British and Arab troops therein armed almost exclusively with these weapons, though for some reason the Turkish soldiers in the film (who should be carrying German Mausers) also have them.

Another movie where the Lee-Enfield is shown on a large scale is the 2006 Australian World War II film Kokoda in which the Lee-Enfield No.1 Mk.III* rifle is widely used by the Australian characters in the film alongside other World War II firearms the Australian military used on the Kokoda Track during World War II like the Bren light machine gun and the Thompson submachine gun.

The Dieppe miniseries broadcast by the CBC was notable for using No. 4 Mk. I rifles, though one scene of dead men in the water on Blue Beach do show the correct SMLE. There is a long tradition of the incorrect use of Lee Enfields in films; many First World War movies have German soldiers equipped with the No.4 Rifle, such as The Blue Max and Roger Corman's Richtofen and Brown.

The Lee-Enfield rifle was also the center piece in the Avatar Press comic book story 303, written by Garth Ennis and art by Jacen Burrows.

The Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle has also been seen in the Call of Duty video game series and the "Half-Life" Mod "Day of Defeat" with the Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle being used by British troops in the video games. (The rate of fire in Call of Duty, particularly as compared to the German K98k, is very inaccurate: it is much too slow.)

The No.4 rifle is represented in the Axis & Allies Miniatures table-top wargame as the weapon of both Australian and British infantry squads.

External links

See also

Template:WW2 Brit Comm Infantry Gunsde:Lee Enfield es:Lee-Enfield he:לי אנפילד pl:Karabiny Lee-Enfield zh:恩菲尔德步枪