Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mark III/III*


The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) Mark III entered service with British Army in January 1907 and was its standard-issue rifle during the First World War. Featuring a reliable bolt action and charger system that enabled the loading of five rounds into its 10-round magazine at once, the rifle was adapted to fire the Mk VII High Velocity .303 ammunition (also used in the Vickers and Lewis Guns) in 1910 and was an effective weapon in the hands of a well-trained infantryman, who was expected to fire around 15 aimed rounds per minute.

At the outbreak of war, Britain’s stock of Mk III’s stood at less than 800,000 and production levels at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield (RSA) soon proved inadequate to meet the demands of the country’s rapidly-expanding volunteer army. In an effort to address the issue, further contracts were agreed with the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) Company and the London Small Arms (LSA) Company, while orders were also placed with manufacturers in the United States. In addition, Canadian Ross and Japanese Arisaka riles were also imported for training and drill purposes, however, these numbers also proved insufficient and recruits were forced to share a myriad of live weapons, wooden replicas and obsolete muskets. By the end of 1914, less than 250,000 new SMLE Mk III rifles had been delivered.

Despite having finally equipped the majority of soldiers with the Mk III by mid-1915, a decision was taken to produce a simplified version of the rifle that would cut mass production time and reduce costs. Introduced in January 1916, the SMLE Mk III* dispensed with the long-range volley sight that had been rendered all-but obsolete by the onset of trench warfare and removed its magazine cut-off. The rifle could be fitted with the 1907 pattern sword bayonet and was also used as a sniper rifle when a scoped sight was attached. By the end of the war, almost four million SMLE Mk III and Mk III* rifles had been issued and variants would remain in service in the British Army until 1957.

Both the SMLE Mk III and Mk III* had sliding butt plates that revealed a storage compartment for the rifle’s cleaning kit. Consisting of a brass machine oil bottle, a brass-weighted pull-through cord, and flannelette cleaning cloth and gauze to drag through the barrel, soldiers were expected to use the kit regularly to minimise wear and damage to their rifle, especially after firing and in adverse conditions. With care and regular cleaning, the SMLE Mk III/III* was expected to fire at least 5,000 rounds before becoming unserviceable. Regular inspections were carried out by officers and senior NCOs, both in the trenches and out of the line, and soldiers could be disciplined for failing to keep their weapons in good working order.
 

Official NameRifle, Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield, .303 inch, Mk III/III*Muzzle velocity2,440 feet per second
Weight of rifle with magazine empty8 lb 10 ozRate of Fire20-30 aimed rounds per minute
Length of barrel2 feet 1 inchEffective Range500 metres
Length of rifle3 feet 8 inchesMaximum Range2,743 metres
Length of rifle with bayonet5 feet 2 inchesSighting systemAdjustable blade fore-sight and radial back-sight
Calibre.303 inchesMethod of loadingCharger, holding five cartridges
Rifling systemEnfield