Lee Enfield NoIII (SMLE) Rifle

It seems odd that it has taken so long for me to finally cover one of the most iconic rifles of the British Army, the Short Magazine Lee Enfield. With its snub nose, the SMLE is one of the most recognisable fire arms of the two World Wars. It had first been introduced in 1903 as an update to the older long Lee Metford Rifle. It then went through a number of upgrades, such as equipping it with a charger bridge, before settling into its final form in 1907:

The rifle works on the bolt action principle, having a turn down bolt that is used to cycle the action. The bolt handle is raised:

Then pulled sharply rearward:

This extracts the spent casing from the rifle’s breach and ejects it to the side. When the bolt is puched forward, a new cartridge is picked up from the magazine and chambered and the weapon cocked ready for firing. The bolt can be extracted by rotating the bolt head into the vertical position:

It then just slides out the back of the rifle:

The safety is positioned at the rear of the receiver, on the opposite side to the bolt handle:

The SMLE had a number of advantages over the far more popular Mausers that were contemporaneous with it. The turn down bolt handle positioned the firer’s hand back next to the trigger making it easy for a follow up shot. This was combined with a ten round magazine that gave the rifle double the capacity of a Mauser:

A catch is fitted inside the trigger guard, just in front of the trigger:

Depressing the catch allows the magazine to be withdrawn so it can be disassembled for cleaning:

The follower is shaped to allow the cartridges to be arranged in a double stack so that ten rounds can be carried without the magazine protruding too far below the rifle:

The magazine was not normally removed from the rifle to reload, instead five round chargers were used that fitted into the charger guide above the bolt:

The butt has a brass butt plate to protect it when the rifle was rested on the ground, with a small trap door to allow an oil bottle and rifle pull through to be stored there:

The rear sight is fitted in front of the receiver and adjusts out to 2000 yards:

The front sight is part of the nose cap assembly that gives the SMLE its distinctive look. The nose cap fits over the muzzle of the rifle and as well as the front sight and its protective wings, there is a stud and bar that allows the bayonet to be securely attached:

On an SMLE the markings are on the wrist socket which in this case indicate it was made in 1942 (making it a very late example) and is an FTR weapon meaning it is a ‘factory thorough repair’ this means the weapon has been stripped down and thoroughly repaired before reassembly, which might explain the late date:

Further markings can be found on the receiver:

Here the serial number can be seen, together with proof marks. The SMLE was in service with the British Army for nearly forty years and was used in both World Wars. It would continue to be manufacturered in India, in 7.62mm NATO calibre into the 1960s and was in use with the Indian Police until a couple of years ago.


  1. For what it’s worth, the Indian Rifle Factory Ishapore rifle 2A1 (7.62 SMLE) continued in production into the mid seventies and a civil version remains in production today by RFI, in 8x50R Mannlicher (historically, civil use of .303 was prohibited) with a five round magazine and sporterised furniture. I can’t say whether the 2A1 is still in use today, but as late as 2018, both it and SMLE No. 4 were still in widespread use by Indian Police.

  2. The B on the butt-socket shows that it was assembled by BSA as part of the ‘dispersal programme’.

    Dispersal Rifles

    Up until 1940, BSA made normal high-quality No1 MkIII* on limited military contracts, marked with the usual Crown and BSA&Co, as well as identical rifles just marked “BSA&Co” for commercial sale and export.
    With the invasion scare, the Ministry of Supply ordered BSA to make rifles out of whatever parts it could get together. Hence the rifles were made of mixtures of commercial and military parts, mixed walnut and beech wood (or all-beech), later on No4 butts and firing pin/cocking pieces. A second wave of production in 1945 even used recycled and re-dated receivers.
    About the same time the emergency rifle production was started, BSA was ordered to disperse its many Birmingham factories away from the bomb-target central area, and also to increase war production by diluting experienced staff with war staff. BSA was a huge engineering group, and this “Dispersal” programme led to 70 seperate factories being set up, moved and/or expanded. Rifle production involved several of these factories (both No1s and No4s), and this type of “all available parts” No1 has become known as a “Dispersal rifle”. Technically, even the No4s were Dispersals, as well as motorbikes, bicycles, aircraft parts, machine guns and heavy weaponry…
    BSA marked these rifles with just the first “B” of BSA&Co. Presumably this was to dissociate the company from these slightly less-than top quality peacetime rifles!

    The 303 SMLE was still in full production in India (at the Ishapore factory) until the very late 1980’s.

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