The British Army Rifle

Short Magazine Lee Enfield Mk III/III*, ( Rifle No1 Mk III/III* post 1926)

Rate of Fire:  20-30 rounds/minute (aimed shots)

Effective Range: 550 yds

Maximum Range: 3000 yds

Feed System: 10 round magazine fed by 5 round stripper clips

Action: Bolt action 

The Lee Enfield rifle was the personal weapon of the British Army, with most Infantrymen and Corps troops using them.  Although the infantry section was built around the Bren LMG, all soldiers would be equally proficient with either weapon, spending only marginally less time training on the Bren than the rifle and much of this difference is accounted for in the prevention of duplication of training.

It was this rifle that, in 1914, convinced the German Army that all British Soldiers were issued with machine guns, such was the speed of their fire.  This was facilitated in part by training, but also due to some design features.  It was possible for a trained soldier to cock and fire his rifle from the shoulder, with the bolt travel not interfering with the aimer's face.  This was at odds with contemporary German rifles (WW1 & WW2) where the user had to drop the rifle from his shoulder to cycle rounds.  The British Army nicknamed this high rate of fire the 'Mad Minute'.  It stems from a training serial in which soldiers were required to fire 15 aimed shots at a target, completing the exercise within one minute.  In reality, their rate of fire could be in excess of this, with the disputed record 36 or 38. 

Shown here is an example of the SMLE Mk III, the staple rifle of the British Army since its introduction in 1907.  The example shown here is an earlier variant, featuring magazine cut off and volley sights, although the bolt is that of a later Mk III*.  In 1915, the British Government realised that the Mk III was too expensive and time-consuming to produce, leading to the simplified version described above.  It is interesting to note that magazine cut-off was re-introduced after the Great War and that rifles with various combinations of the aforementioned features abound due to differences in production and maintenance.

The SMLE Mk III/III* served with the British Army 1939-1941 when it was largely replaced by the No4 Mk 1 (below).  In the Empire and Commonwealth Armies, the Mk III remained in use for the remainder of hostilities and beyond, with some remaining in service today.

Rifle, No4 Mk 1/Mk1*

The No4 Mk1 entered service officially in 1941, although development began in the 1930s prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  These were  simplified version of the earlier SMLE Mk III, most notably boasting a simplified bolt and breech arrangement, ladder sights, a protruding and heavier barrel.  It also boasted a modified bayonet, the 'pig sticker', much reduced in length compared to its predecessor.  Towards the end of the war, a bladed version was introduced based on the same attachment as the 'pig sticker'.

The rifle shown here is a No4 Mk 1*, the star denoting that it has a modified bolt.  The original No4 Mk1 featured a catch on the bolt to facilitate its removal from cleaning.  This was simplified in the No4 Mk* with a simple flip-up catch, that allows easy and speedy removement/replacement and, more importantly, is cheaper and easier to produce.

Click 'Next Page' to look at our piece on Platoon Weapons