The legendary bolt action rifle produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory, perhaps better known as RSAF-Enfield, and a large number of other operations around the allied world, including the Ishapore factory in India, (both British Colonial and post-independence India) has fairly earned itself a place in history. As popular as ever, the Lee-Enfield SMLE has a large coterie of fans and enthusiasts around the world, and is still a prized sporting rifle. In fact, countless numbers of SMLE rifles were “sporterized” in the 1950s and 1960s, and later. The British term “sporterize or sporterise” refers to military models that were fitted with telescopic sights, reworked calibers and bores, and even rebuilt receivers and other customizations, to be used for hunting and sport shooting, or in some cases, just to meet legal requirements in certain areas.
In 1907, the SMLE first entered military service and proved itself in the coming Great War, (aka. World War I) and went on to prove itself in the second World War as well. Officially, the SMLE was used by the British military until around 1957, being replaced by the more modern L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, but continues to be used even today in other places, especially by police forces in India.
The bolt action rifle came at a time when rifles were generally used by infantry, and carbines were used by cavalry or some special forces. The SMLE was a sort of happy medium between the two. Of course there was criticism, as with all other new things, but the rifle soon proved itself in combat, and toned down a lot of that criticism. Although there were many ammunition variances, the one that prevails is the original military selection of .303 caliber. Ask any military rifle enthusiast about the “303” and the conversation will find its way to the SMLE. The rifle’s fast, easy loading, lighter weight and short length were not its only advantages. These things gave it a further tactical advantage by allowing the troops to coordinate their fire and surround and take the enemy’s stationary machine guns positions. Some German militants were even known to claim that they thought they were under attack by a force using machine guns. This parallels experiences by American troops fighting the Germans and Japanese with their M1 Garand bolt action rifles in World War II. Though not related to the SMLE, it is clearly its American counterpart. In fairness, I should also say that the Germans’ Mauser bolt action rifle would be a counterpart too, but on that point, the SMLE seems to be the most wildly popular, and for good reasons. I would consider none of them to be bad weapons. Three Cheers to the SMLE for earning its rightful place in history beside other great and legendary firearms that will never die.
Non-firing replicas of the SMLE for fans, collectors or re-enactors are available, as well as other famous firearms, made of steel and / or wood, with working mechanical parts, both blank-firing and non-firing replicas, framed replicas and box sets, re-enactor gear and more, Please Visit GunsOfOld.com.
There is also a source of information on history’s most famous and legendary firearms at GunClassics.Com, where you’ll find info, facts, photos, links and more. Also great links to historical re-enactment sites. There is also a more detailed, expanded page on the Lee-Enfield SMLE there. You are invited to drop by and check it out. Hope to see you soon!