With the going down of the sun and the morning, we remember them; the countless men and women who laid down their life in service to Australia and New Zealand. Today we also look at one of the most common firearms used in battle by Australians in WWI – the Lee Enfield (sometimes known as the MLE or SMLE or simply a “303”).
The Lee Enfield is a magazine-fed 303 calibre bolt action rifle, originally produced in 1895. It takes its name from James Paris Lee‘s rear-locking bolt system and the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield where it was originally produced.
So what does MLE or SMLE or mean?
The “LE” stands for Lee Enfield” and the other letters refer to different model variations.
“MLE” was the first model and it means Magazine Lee Enfield (included in this category is the “LEC” Lee Enfield Cavalry Carbine which had a slightly shorter barrel).
Next came the “SMLE” which means Short Magazine Lee Enfield (and the variations of how to pronounce it vary from “smiley” to “smelly” and “S.M.L.E.” . Take your pick). It was shorter and lighter again. This is the version that made its way into the hands of the Aussie diggers.
The Lee Enfield was appointed as the standard issue rifle among Commonwealth nations when WW1 was declared i 1914 (Australia was only 13 years old as a newly federated nation!).
Lithgow Arms in NSW began producing the SMLE 1 No 1. Mk III in 1912 with about 13,800 rifles reaching Australian forces in 1913 and 1914 (it took until 1915 for wartime quantities of 20,000 rifles per year to be produced). Each rifle was produced with a bayonet that had a matching serial number. In true Aussie fashion, some diggers ditched the traditional canvas webbing and strap designs for Kangaroo leather.
What is it like to use?
From a gunsmithing perspective, not much has changed in the design since the early models. Although the Lee Enfields remain cock-on-close system while most modern rifles have moved to cock-on-open system. Diggers were made of tougher stuff than some modern day shooters – the rifles have a solid buttplate so recoil can be a factor to consider.
Have you shot the Australian Lee Enfield? Or have some interesting info about the Australian Lee Enfield? Please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
We pay our respects and give thanks to those who served Australia and New Zealand during WW1, WW2 and beyond.