Lee Enfield .303

Discussion in 'History' started by seafarer1939, Apr 27, 2008.

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  1. Got to put a few noses out here but:
    As a former GA2 seamn gunner with a markmans badge I never saw the reason for our need to keep with this weapon.
    WW1/2 and Korea and we still kept it.
    I know all about it as do most but why did we not try a semi auto as was the USA Garand.
    I have fired this a lot and although a pound heavier it was just as accurate as the .303 with the advantage of more firepower.
    A good soldier can get off 20 rounds a minute with the .303 but a lot were not,at Dunkirk my father fought with cooks.batmen etc and they would never get off that amount of rounds under fire,he told me.
    I've never been in combat but if four enemy jumped out of a trench I'd want to squeeze the trigger 4 times not work the bolt four times.
    The Germans produced the first excellent assault rifle later in the war but we never bothered until we tried with the Bullpup design which sort of failed.
    Later in the war we had to get the USA to produce Lee Enfields for us and the work was poor causing problems with them.
    I just don't understand why we made do with a pre WW1 rifle when we had the expertise to make first rate arty weapons like the desert tank killer which was superb.
    Any one know why we hade so much faith?been niggling me for years ever since I spent time on the Garand.
    By the way it was reliable not many stoppages in sand or jungle so I don't get it
  2. Not invented here???? :dwarf:
  3. To be honest mate it probably had more to do with Politics and cost than anything else.
    Some things just do not change :)
  4. This jogs my memory a bit. I'm trying to remember what rifle US Marines were using in WW 1. May have been the Enfield...I know that US Marines were picking Germans off at distances of up to 800 yards. Bolt action rifles are what's used in the sniper realm. Then the M-1 Garand came along but there was an M-1 Springfield also that I believe was a more long range rifle that was bolt action. The Garand was loaded with pre-loaded clips and loaded from the top with the bolt locked back, in loading the rifle you had to be quick as the bolt was notorious for closing with your thumb in the chamber and had no mercy. The clips were ejected automatically once the last round had been fired. The Germans in WW 2 got the hang of this action and often waited for the "cling" of the clip being ejected. Unfortunately for the Germans, it wasn't enough, the British and American drive across Europe was too much for the Germans.

    Right, I don't think that Springfield armory would have had a problem with selling their rifles to you British. I think it has to do with politics and the budget that politicians give the military to work with. Nothing different over here.

    BTW: The M-1 Garand is available for individual purchase through Springfield Armory Illinois. Ironically the Garand's design carried over for decades. With slight modifications the rifle became the M-14, which was later replaced during Vietnam because the Jungle terrain was too much for the wooden stock. Right, I could go on for ages. :thumright:
  5. This is what I was told no doubt a expert will enlighten us all later??

    At first in WW1 it was regulars up the front line and the rate of fire was good. Later the conscripts rate of fire was less but still very effective.

    Because of it's reliability and probably more likely cost it was produced again for WW2

    Korea and wave after wave of drum bashing and bugle blowing "VOLUNTEERS" made the British and later Nato forces realise they needed a weapon with a increased fire rate.

    When I was first shown the SLR I was told the reason British forces never went for the FN was to conserve ammunition. It is ok having auto and semi auto but somebody[you] has to carry all that ammo.

    When the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield was first introduced into British service, it met with a storm of criticism -- though little from the troops whom it served well during two World Wars, Korea, and beyond.

    British Commonwealth forces used the Lee Enfield Mark 4 as their main rifle. Although bolt action, its locking mechanism made it the fastest bolt action rifle in the world. Its long service also permitted its design to be optimized over time to make it very rugged and reliable.

    The trained soldier could fire 30 aimed rounds at a target 200 meters in one minute (known as "the mad minute").

    In British military rifle qualification with the SMLE the minimum passing score was 15 hits on a silouette target at 200 yards in 1 minute. This was required of any cook or clerk. Combat soldiers averaged 20 to 30 hits in 1 minute.

    The all time aimed fire record with a bolt action rifle was by Sgt. Snoxall of the British army, 38 hits on a 12" bull at 300 yards in 1 minute.

    As one vet, Vince Gilligan, 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Army said:

    "... on the Lee Enfield .303 rifle our mob(Australians) used in Korea. The brits used a later version with the pig sticker bayonet. We had the 18" bayonet (blued). One of the rifles I had was made in 1917-1918. It was a very effective weapon. At least if you hit something, it stayed Hit."

    And after all, that's the idea.
  6. Reminds me of a quote from the fiml Gandhi:
    "General, how does a child, shot with a 303 Lee-Enfield, "apply" for help?"

    And another one from Zulu, taken from IMDB

    "Colour Sergeant Bourne: It's a miracle.
    Lieutenant John Chard: If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle.
    Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind. "

    The horrors and the honour of war. Human nature I guess
  7. Leathers, the main bolt action rifle in use with the US Forces up to 1936 was the Springfield M1903.
  8. At school we use the bayonets of our Lee-Enfield's on Second Year Camp to cook our supper over an open fire. Of course it was rather important to remember to remove it from the beneath the flames with a towel, or your hands got a little burned! :biggrin: One bayonet allowed you to thread/skewer six fat sausages and beefburgers on with a one inch gap between each item to allow the juces to ooze out and help the fire burn! :) The bayonet was as long as my right arm at that time! Also good for fencing (rather dangerous looking back on it) and hacking at beds of nettles.....

    I have this odd feeling that today's students would not be allowed to do what was regarded as quite normal when I was 12/13 in 1975!
  9. I carried a .303 No.4 (T) well into the 1970's before it was replaced by the 7.62mm L-42 and it was a great rifle especially if used with 8Z [Vickers] ammunition which gave the round legs. The bolt action was not as accurate as a Mauser action because of the bolt locking length but it was a lot sweeter to use having only a 60deg rotation.

    You have to look at it vis-a-vis the Garand in historical context because both were exceptional weapons.

    The Garand wasn't operationally available until well into WW2 and the British Army rejected it for some very good reasons. The Lee-Enfield was tried and field tested and there were vast stocks of .303 ammunition in place everywhere in the Empire.

    1. It would have been a logistical nightmare to replace these stocks with a new ammunition [ .30]. It would have been even more difficult to convert the ammunition factories that were scattered around the world to produce the billion rounds needed.

    2. Combat trials with the Garand showed some real problems and this reinforced a good decision to stick with the SMLE. The Garand was re-worked and tweaked and was in mass-production and issue to the US Army by 41-42. General Patton was it's biggest fan.

    3. The British didn't have the industrial capacity to tool-up and produce a brand new rifle and would have always been second in-line for deliveries behind the US Army. Not good in the middle of a war.

    4. Someone mentioned the greater firepower of the Garand and I didn't understand what that meant. The Garand has no magazine and relies on an 8-round clip. The weapon cannot be fired during reload and to fire 8-rounds on semi-auto resulted in a lot of re-loading. The rapid rate of fire was not substantially different between the two rifles. The SMLE had the edge in stopping power and accuracy; the Garand had the advantage of being semi-automatic

    5. The SMLE had a 10-round magazine and could be re-charged either with individual rounds / 5-round clips or by magazine change.


    One strange variant of the SMLE used by Commando Forces and SOE was the de Lisle Silenced Carbine. This was a shortened rifle with folding stock that had been re-chambered to .45 ACP and silencer. It's a museum piece now but it was totally almost totally silent because of the locked bolt and sub-sonic round.

  10. Err! that would be me saying the greater firepower.Sort of figured that a platoon pumping out on semi-auto gives more firepower[even to keep heads down] than a bolt action.
    Sort of jogged a point in me watching the excellent Band of Brothers[based on real events] when taking the guns D-Day+1 four Germans came around a corner a one USA soldier squeezed four times,job done.
    Now I'm not saying this was stictly true but I knew then I could never have worked the bolt 4 times before getting some stick and I was very familiar with this rifle.
    Just thought the Garand was better and we should have updated before WW2 and definatly before Korea,Just my take but as said my only action in 10 years service was punch ups with the Canutes and Aussies ashore and that was a score draw.Regards
  11. Bergs, are you saying the Forces do longer use .303s??!! o_O ;)
  12. Hi Seafarer - I loved Band of Brothers. It was in color so I know that it was totally accurate and written by Hollywood so I also know that it was totally unbiased. Just wish that the Brits could have been more involved in WW2, maybe we could have declared war on Hitler instead of letting Hitler declare war on us or maybe we could have supported the Americans more on their solo D-Day landings in Normandy and the eventual single-handed American end-run on the Third Reich. Good job really that the USA managed to board the U-505 and recover an Enigma machine or I don't know how we would have coped. Hollywood.... doncherluvit :thumright:

    The SMLE was probably the best general service rifle in the world at the beginning of WW2. We couldn't replace it during the war because of reasons that I outlined in my previous post. During the war it was obvious that a replacement was needed and the British did a spectacular job in taking the combat lessons learned and developing a radically new infantry weapon.

    Here is the Lee Enfield EM2; way ahead of it's time.


    Bullpup design and .280" calibre. It could have gone into series production prior to the Korean War BUT the USA objected to it big-time. They wanted to standardise NATO with the 7.62mm round and the decision to replace the SMLE went to committee and it wasn't until the 1960's that the Brit's were forced into accepting a design based on the FN-FAL which became the SLR. Personally I loved this beast which was muy magnifico and was regarded by many as an elephant gun. It's 7.62mm round should never be confused with Warsaw Pact 7.62mm [short] which was a round designed for sailors and WRENS. So... at the time the Brits were swapping their .303 SMLE's for 7.62mm SLR's the Seppos were swapping .30 Garands for 7.62mm M-14's.

    And just for old times sake, here are the clever bits of an SMLS No.4 (T)


    Note the Hawkins sling on the MSS / magazine release just inside the trigger guard / the underpowered x3 T/S and the safety catch [which I never ever used preferring to keep the weapon at half-cock]

    In fact the SMLE No.4 (T) was so good that it was re-chambered for 7.62mm and became the L-42A1.

    Et Voila Sans T/S



    Happy Daze :thumright:

  13. It's so nice to see some REAL guns Bergs, not these modern, new fangled, flashy things that pass for rifles these days.
  14. Thingy - The really good thing about sniper-rifles is that they cannot be fitted with baggonets. This means that Gravel-Bellies like 'Arry Bosch, NZB and Blobby get all the excitement of running at anemones, screaming at the tops of their lungs, getting tired and sweaty and risking being spattered with blood; whilst saner Booties lie several hundred meters back, watching the shennanigans through their 'scopes and cheering them on :bball:

  15. Just to commiserate with others the passing of the old 303 .SMLE

    It lasted in various forms for at least 60 years and was adaptable for most forms of warfare .

    However as we know or should realise is that the US is the major player in the NATO countries and when they gave up the famed 30-06 cartridge for the Winchester 308 [ 7.62mm] the other Nato members had to follow suite.

    The Lee Enfield No 4 rifle in 303 was kept as a reserve weapon and a retro fit kit was made to allow it to be converted to 7.62mm [new barrel ,bolt head and magazine change to suite the rimless 7.62 round]

    The EM 2 bullpup rifle was in a design stage - when the decision to buy the
    SLR was made [SLR based on the FN rifle chambered in 30 cal Nato] with
    UK modifications .

    However the warfare scene was changing with America embroiled in a war in Vietnam --the 7.62 round was expensive and also heavy in the jungles of Vietnam a lighter round could be used -and cheaper . So they decided to change and use a 5.56 mm calibre. Cheap and cheerful . The uk and Nato followed suit.

    However with the changing terrain and long distance fire fights being experienced in the present conflicts the ''poor bloody infantry'' realises it needs something a bit better than a .224 cal[5.56mm] round .

    I think there are moves afoot to upgrade to .270 cal --watch this space !!

    :nemo: :nemo:
  16. Fired the old Lee Enfield 303 in the Army Cadets when I were a lad. My late Dad carried one through WWII as an infantryman from Normandy to Germany, and swore by it, as a weapon of great accuracy and capable of sustained fire when needed. IIRC, the first time it was employed against the Hun in WW I, they were so decimated by rapid rifle fire from the British infantry, they thought they'd run into a machine gun regiment. Not a bad piece of kit ???
  17. Even the SLR had no full auto capability(Unless....), wasn't this due to the British desire for aimed shots rather than point and blat.
  18. janner

    janner War Hero Book Reviewer

    I seem to remember that as an Army Cadet in the late '50's we had a couple of LE Mk4 chambered to fire .22 rounds or is that just memory slippage?
  19. In the early 90s I visited a Navy Cadet unit in Tasmania and they had an indoor range with SMLE chambered for .22, so your memory is still good mate.
  20. In the 60's at the G-Spot we fired and trained on both 303 and re-barrelled 22 Lee Enfields. I must admit that I did spend more time doubling around the parade ground with a Lee Enfield (8.5 lbs.) held with arms outstretched in front of me.


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