There are three Lee Enfield rifles coming up for sale by Bonhams at their Modern Sporting Guns auction to be held on 12th May 2016. The Lee Enfield is a rifle sometimes overlooked by collectors simply because there are so many of them so they tend to be taken for granted. However, the Lee Enfield has been described as “the best bolt action military rifle ever designed” with good reason. The action was originally created by American James Paris Lee but it was adopted by the American’s “cousins across the pond”, the British. Initially adopted as the Lee Metford firing a black powder version of the .303 British cartridge in 1888 the rifle was re-designed for smokeless powder, which was the British tried and true Cordite, with new square profile Enfield rifling replacing the black powder Metford rifling in 1895. Thus the Lee Enfield entered service in 1895 and has continued in service up to the present day. Something of the order of seventeen million Lee Enfield rifles have been produced and James Paris Lee’s rear locking, cock on closing bolt action has seen service in some of the most exotic conflicts of modern history including not only World Wars I and II but also the second Boer War, the Indonesian Revolution, the Malayan Emergency, the Vietnam War, the Arab Israeli War and the Suez Crisis, and the Mau Mau uprising to name a few.
The Lee Enfield rifle went through a number of numbers and marks in its development but its most iconic is the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mk III. These are by far the most common and to be found manufactured in various places of the British Commonwealth. The rifle pictured above which is one of the three rifles for sale by Bonhams is a SMLE Mk III (in Australia referred to as the “smelly”) sniper version made by the Lithgow Arms Factory in the town of Lithgow, New South Wales, Australia. The sniper’s rifles are a highly collectible variant of the more common SMLE Mk III.
You will find the sale page for this rifle if you click here.
The second rifle for sale is a SMLE No. 4 Mk 2 rifle newer and more modern than the rifle above these had the conventional rear sight of the SMLE Mk III removed and replaced with an interesting aperture sight that can be elevated to provide for aimed fire at very long ranges where accurately hitting a target would be impossible, but if a large enough group of rifle men are able to keep bullets raining down on an enemy’s heads they can make them keep their heads down. Used at normal combat ranges the aperture sights proved to be very effective, as soldiers armed with the M1 Garand would testify.
You will find the sale page for the No. 4 rifle if you click here.
The third and last rifle for sale is a fabled “Jungle Carbine” otherwise known as the .303 No. 5 rifle.
As can be seen from the picture above the Jungle Carbine has the same sort of aperture sight as the No. 4 rifle. The big difference in the Jungle carbine is the shortened stock with a conical flash supressor. The lightened and shortened carbine increased felt recoil from about 10 lb ft for the No. 4 rifle to 14 lb ft for the Jungle Carbine. Some soldiers complained about this but the Jungle Carbine is actually pleasant and fun to shoot.
You will find the Jungle Carbine’s sale page if you click here.
The Lee Enfield was one of the best combat bolt action rifles ever created and even when the British Army moved to self loading rifles the Lee Enfield was pressed back into service as a sniper’s rifle. A role it served in up until the 1990’s. These rifles are frequently found all over the old British Commonwealth in sporterized form serving as deer rifles, and in Australia for kangaroo culling. In fact in Australia’s north they were by far the most common rifle for professional crocodile shooters prior to crocodile shooting being banned.
Below is a video from Mike Belivue showing his sporterized Lee Enfield.
(All pictures courtesy Bonhams except where otherwise marked).
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.