As one of the oldest infantry rifles to still be in active service (the Bangladeshian Army famously continues to use it), the Lee-Enfield has certainly seen its share of combat. Over the years, it has played a part in about 30 wars and significant conflicts around the globe, including both World Wars. It was the British Army’s standard issue infantry rifle from 1895 to 1957.

The Lee-Enfield is a bolt action rifle, fed by magazines of 10-round capacity. The magazine is detachable, but it is not meant to be loaded outside of the rifle. Loading is done by inserting two 5-round clips into the mag. Chambered in .303 British – 7.7mm – it produced dozens of variants over the years, which include the SMLE (Short magazine Lee Enfield), No. 1 MK 3, No. 4 MK 1, No. 5 MK 2, No. 6 MK 1, No. 6 MK 2, and the No. 4 MK 2 which will be discussed more at length in this post.
There were also commando, sniper, and automatic (gas operated) variants. The original designation of the rifle was MLE (Magazine, Lee-Enfield), and in 1904 a short version was introduced, designated SMLE (“Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield”, colloquially and fondly referred to as ‘smelly’)

The rifle was designed by James Paris Lee and manufactured in Enfield (which is where it gets its name). Originally it was known as Lee-Metford, and it was first put into British Service in 1888. The .303 British cartridge was designed specifically for that rifle, and later on, when the Lee-Metford was replaced with the Lee-Enfield, the Powers That Be kept the existing caliber. The main difference between the two was in the rifling, which was a new type of rifling done exclusively at the factory in Enfield. The .303 British cartridge remained a standard of the British Empire, until it was replaced with the 7.62X51mm NATO cartridge in the 1950s.

Specs (SMLE)

Action: Bolt-action, magazine-fed (10 rounds)
Caliber: .303 British
Length: 44.4”
Barrel length: 25.2”
Weight: 9.1 lb
Price: Varies significantly from $500 to $12,000

The Lee-Enfield has proven itself in countless battles. It fires quickly and accurately (relatively speaking), and overall it is a rifle you can rely on. These days, they are mainly bought by hunters, plinkers, and collectors, or by those who simply wish to own a real piece of firearm history. So … where do you get one?

Lee-Enfield
Lee-Enfield No. 1 MKIII

Lee-Enfield for Sale

First of all, you will have to know whether or not you want an operational Lee-Enfield. Some folks are selling deactivated weapons from WWI and WWII as decor pieces, meant for collectors who are not interested in shooting the rifle. If that is what you are going for, online shops and auction websites are probably your best bet. Prepare to shell out some $$$, because these do not come cheap.

Prices of activated rifles range from about $300 or $400 and up to $13,000, depending on the rareness of the rifle and its condition. About 17 million Lee-Enfield rifles were produced, and there were many of them which were sold (after WWII) to different countries. Nowadays, a great number of those surplus rifles are circulating, and are being used primarily for sports and hunting.

In 1998, the Lee Enfield Rifle Association was founded by those who appreciate the weapon and its significance. The association aims to preserve the operational use of Lee-Enfields. It even holds special events and competitions in order to keep the rifle in operation and circulation. They don’t want to see these classic Lee Enfield rifles deactivated and used as a conversation pieces above some desk or mantel. These rifles were manufactured in order to be used, after all, and the Association promotes their use in games and hunting.

Lee-Enfield No. 4 MK 2

The rifle went through many changes over the years, always improving and advancing its original form. After WWII, the Brits went to work producing a successor to their then “Rifle, No. 4”, which was the incarnation of the Lee-Enfield at the time. There was the No. 4 MK 1 infantry rifle, the No. 4 MK 1 (T) sniper rifle, and other variants.

The rifle which the British came up with was the No. 4 MK 2. When this version was introduced, many of the MK 1 rifles were converted and upgraded to fit the MK 2 standard, subsequently designated MK 1/2 and MK 1/3. The MK 2 was officially adopted in 1949, and it continued to be manufactured until 1955.

Specs (SMLE No. 4 MK 2)
Action: Bolt-action, magazine-fed (10 rounds)
Caliber: .303 British
Length: 44.4”
Barrel length: 25.2”
Weight: 8 lb 11 oz
Price: varies, depending on if it is an original, or a refurbished/upgraded MK 1

Lee-Enfield Replica
Lee-Enfield Replica Rifle

Conclusion

Since its inception, the Lee-Enfield series of rifles has been used by 50 nations or more, and has seen lots of military action. Each version sought to improve and enhance the rifle’s positive features and attributes, and this also spawned various imitations and copies.

As previously stated, the Lee-Enfield continues to see use with different military forces and law-enforcement departments. Another example – other than the Bangladeshian Army – is the Canadian Rangers, who have been using the weapon since 1941. That said, the Rangers are indeed planning to replace the old-timer with the Colt Canada C19, but nothing has been put into effect yet.

War is a terrible thing. But, it does give some people (and certainly some industries) a chance to shine and grow. With technological advancements presenting themselves, newer and better tools had to be developed to contend with the various threats. The Lee-Enfield series is one of the more memorable infantry rifles of both World Wars, right up there with the American Garand M1, the Nazi Karabiner 98k, and the different Mauser rifles that were used.

Whether used as a hunting rifle, a plinker, or a collector’s item, the Lee-Enfield has earned the respect of many firearm enthusiasts. It is not by mere coincidence or lack of options that there are forces which continue to use rifles from the series. It is dependable and battle-proven. There are many stories and maybe even myths surrounding the Lee-Enfield weaponry. But regardless of the legends and lore, it is still a force to be reckoned with, even today.

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Sam M

Sam is an avid firearms enthusiast who loves sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow gunivores.

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