11 Jul 2016

Arguing the Lee-Enfield’s Superiority

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When I was younger, you could find barrels of them in gun stores selling for $35. Nobody wanted them. Their ungainly full-length stocks seemed to have been fashioned from old telephone poles and there is this great big hunk of crude iron dividing the stock into two parts just above the trigger. They have a huge, ugly monstrosity of a magazine hanging out the bottom, and though it is removable, it is not actually intended to be changed or removed, which makes the whole thing a kind of material self-contradiction.

All in all, they look to have been made by subterranean morlocks, a species with no previous acquaintance with firearms, to be as cheap, crude, and inexpensive as possible. The US Springfield is in comparison beautiful. To the American eye, these things simply do not look like a rifle is supposed to look. You cannot make a fine-looking sporter out of one of them whatever you do. And, finally, they fire a rimmed cartridge which has nothing especially positive going for it and which is decidedly inferior to the .30-06. There was just plain never any reason you’d want to own one.

Time, though, has a way of changing things.

Back then, most American shooters turned up their noses at Model 1911 .45 Automatics. Americans liked revolvers. The military .45 was considered loose, sloppy, and intrinsically inaccurate compared to a Smith & Wesson sixgun that functioned like a fine watch. Time went by, Jeff Cooper evangelized, custom gunsmiths accurized them, and target shooters started winning matches with them. As WWII receded into history, the handgun that the marines used to break Banzai charges at Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal began suddenly to seem bathed in glory. Everybody wanted one.

The same sort of thing has been happening more recently to the old SMLE. It used to be part of the untouchable category, along with Mosins, Arisakas, and Mannlicher Carcanos, of surplus clunkers useless for making into sporters that nobody particularly wanted to own. Now, it is becoming widely regarded as “the best fighting rifle” (the Springfield being described as “the best target rifle” and the Mauser 98 as “the best hunting rifle”) of the Great War.

Bloke-in-the-Range’s video is amateurishly produced, to say the least. (It breaks in the middle because his camera suddenly runs out of battery power.) But I think it is actually, nonetheless, well worth watching, because he makes the best case for the SMLE that I have yet heard.

I picked one up recently at a local farm auction. Now I’m equipped for the Apocalypse. I’ve got myself a modern rapid-fire assault rifle, 1917-style.

10 Feedbacks on "Arguing the Lee-Enfield’s Superiority"


For that era, I’ll take an M1 Garand, thank you. How the M1 doesn’t come up as the ‘best fighting rifle’ blows my mind.

I’ve done a lot of competitive high power rifle shooting. Many guys use bolt guns. I’ve seen many guys clean sitting rapids and prone rapids with a bolt, but never saw:
1. an SMLE;
2. anyone continuously gripping the bolt while plucking the trigger with the middle finger.

He self-contradicts at least once, as well. The whole thing seems a bit silly. Funny that he refers to other rifle fans as “fan boys;” the pot calling the kettle black.

That said, I have an Australian arsenal, never issued, very fine example of one that’s never been fired save proofing. One day I shall take it to the range.


Ian at Forgotten Weapons would say that the strongest bolt action rifle of WWII was the Arisaka. Banzai charges were ‘broken up’ with .30 and .50 caliber Browning machine guns. Yes, the SMLE was smooth and fast, but I’d agree with John about the Garand.

Hammond Aikes

“For that era, I’ll take an M1 Garand, thank you.”

Not really contemporaries, the Lee Enfield entered British service in 1888, about fifty years prior to the Garand’s debut.
Back then, nobody knew what a rifle was supposed to look like or what capabilities it should have.
All shots in the dark, so to speak.

John, make sure your Lithgow has the copper reinforcing plates on the draws before you fire it. I would suggest a trip to the Lee Enfield Forum at http://www.milsurps.com/index.php
to clarify and explain, if necessary.


Picked up a Mark IV for $79.00 in about 1990 and fired it as long as I could find surplus ammo. Now it sits in the “historical” area of my cabinet, beside the Martini-Henry and a pair of 19th century flintlocks from India. Pity.


Thanks Hammond, I’ll look into the copper plates.

As for ‘contemporaries,’ as I was thinking of the biggest conflict involving the SMLE and Garand, but I get your point; the SMLE is the longest serving service rifle, as far as I know, and the .303 round originally a black powder cartridge. But for WWII rifles, the Garand is king, in my opinion.


At the crucial moment at Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal, marines broke up Banzai charges at night using Model 1911s and lots of extra magazines. They did not have enough machine guns and their Springfields were too slow to reload.

Old Salt

I want a Swiss K31 straight-pull rifle. Need to save my nickels.


Looks like all he said was the SMLE was the best fighting rifle of the Great War (WW 1). Garand wasn’t in the mix then. I doubt anyone would seriously argue that the Mk 4 Enfield was the best rifle of WW2.


It was still picking off Russkis in the Afghanistan of the eighties!


Thanks for the tip about Enfields.
I have an unfired one I bought more than 20 years ago, and now I want to fire it!
That thing is heavy, by the way.


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