From Academic Kids

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 five-round chargers.



The Lee-Enfield rifle was derived from the earlier Lee-Metford, a physically similar 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 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.

The speedy bolt and large magazine capacity (ten rounds, compared to the five of the Mauser and its derivatives like the US M1903 Springfield) ensured that a trained rifleman could fire between 15 to 30 aimed rounds a minute, making the Lee-Enfield the fastest military bolt action rifle of the day.

.303in cartridge for Lee-Enfield rifle
.303in cartridge for Lee-Enfield rifle

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 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*'s.

In 1902 a carbine version of the original was introduced, the famous Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, or SMLE. 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 having shrunk into the stock. 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.

During the Boer War the British were faced with accurate long-range fire from the famous Mauser rifles, model 1895, in 7 x 57 mm caliber. This smaller, high-velocity round prompted the War Department to develop their own "magnum" round in 1910, using a .276 calibre round patterned from that of the Canadian Ross rifle. A modified Mauser-pattern rifle was built to fire it, the Pattern 1913 Enfield, although nothing came of this. Adapting the same mechanism to fire the standard .303 round led to the Pattern 14 Rifle, or P14, a competent design fed from a five-round internal magazine. Effective mass production was still a way off when World War I started, and the P14 was dropped. The SMLE therefore remained the standard British rifle during World War I and beyond. In 1926 the British Army changed the nomenclature and the SMLE became the Rifle No.1 Mk.III, with the original MLE and LEC becoming the Mk.I and Mk.II. The P14 went into production in America as the Enfield M1917, and enjoyed some success as a complement for the Springfield M1903 rifles which were America's standard issue; furthermore, 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 SMLE design was fairly difficult 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 No.1 Mk.V used a new receiver-mounted sighting system, which moved the rear sight from its former position half-way up the barrel. The increased gap improved sighting accuracy. 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. Small numbers of rifles were also built with an experimental semi-automatic loading system.

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 front of the bolt and rear of the receiver. Unlike the SMLE, the No.4 did not have a blunt nose, the barrel protruding some way from the stock. The new floating barrel improved accuracy, and the No.4 became the most common sniper rifle in the British forces, fitted with a 3x scope. Known as the No.4 Mk.1(T), many were re-barreled after the war to the new 7.62 mm NATO round and continued in service until the early 1980s as the L42.

Missing image
Lee-Enfield No 5 Mk1 "Jungle Carbine"

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 "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 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 fierce recoil, and partly because of an alleged "Wandering Zero".

There has been extensive debate over the past 50 years or so as to whether the Jungle Carbine's "Wandering Zero" was a real problem, or a myth exaggerated by soldiers to avoid being armed with a bolt-action rifle when the rest of the planet was equipping themselves with semi-automatic firearms.

Military Tests at the time seemed to confirm the presence of the Wandering Zero, leading to production of the rifle ending in 1947. However, modern collectors and shooters insist that the Jungle Carbine has no accuracy problems. How this alleged inaccuracy problem would have been a problem at the short ranges encountered in the jungle areas for which it was designed, is unclear.

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. The L42 sniper rifle continued as the British Army's standard sniper weapon until the early 1990s, being replaced by Accuracy International's AW/L96.


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 R.O.F. (Royal Ordnance Factory) Fazakerly. Contributing to the total was the arsenal at Ishapore in India, which continued to produce the Enfield in 7.62 mm until the early 1970s, 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. At the same tim .22 rimfire in 1, 5, and 10 round designs were built using the SMLE pattern.

Ishapore-made .303 calibre SMLE Mk III*s have appeared with 1980's manufacture dates suggesting that it may still be manufactured in the Indian sub-continent. Equally these may be a product of the small mnaufacturers in the Afghan borders.

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 US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and they are also prolific in Southern Africa with hunters, farmers and sportsmen. A fair number have been 'sporterized', having had the front furniture removed and a scope fitted so that they resemble a sporting bolt rifle. Top-notch accuracy is very difficult to achieve with the Lee Enfield design due to the loose chamber - designed primarily to work in adverse conditions - the two part stock and the bolt's rear locking lugs, 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.

Lee Enfields are also popular with competitors in service rifle competitions in Commonwealth countries. For example, the Wellington Service Rifle Association holds a popular ANZAC Day competition for Lee Enfields.

External links

See also

Template:WW2 Brit Comm Infantry Gunsde:Enfield (Karabiner) zh:恩菲尔德步枪


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