Superbly accurate, with high power, and unquestionable reliability, and a high rate of fire make this one of the finest military arms to ever see combat.
First introduced in 1902 as the SMLE MkI , it was still in production in Ishapore, India until 1974.
Obviously, this makes it one of the longest serving modern military firearms. It was the main British arm throughout WWI, WWII, and has been used in countless conflicts in former British colonies and around the world since WWII. It was developed from the older MLE and MLM rifles and was intended to be a short (for the time) length rifle that would be suitable for all types of troops rather than issuing different weapons to the artillerymen, cavalry, and support troops.
The Lee bolt action design, with its rear locking lugs and with a bolt that cocked on closing, was extremely fast and easy to use. Another design feature that helped to make the SMLE a hardy and reliable weapon was the chamber, which had a slightly greater than needed dimension to help in preventing jams caused by fouling or expanded cartridge cases. The receiver was also fitted with a stripper clip guide to facilitate fast reloads. The magazine itself was rarely removed except for maintenance, freeing the soldier from the weight of multiple steel magazines.
The classic SMLE, chambered in .303 British, is operated with a short bolt action, and has a 10 round detachable magazine, allowing the trained user a very high rate of fire, higher than any other bolt action weapon of its time. The Mauser 98, the SMLE's main adversary, held only 5 rounds. The .303 cartridge itself was a rimmed design, and it was capable of hitting targets beyond 1000 yards. The average bullet weight is 174 grains and the average muzzle velocity was around 2440 fps, combined with a copper-nickel jacketed spitzer bullet made a round that was just as effective as the German 8mm or American .30-06.
The original SMLE MkI featured a magazine cut off, which officers felt would force their troops to conserve ammunition by firing and loading single shots. It also was fitted with "volley sights". These were intended to be used in the following manner. A group of British soldiers would get into a tight formation, aim their rifles at another tight formation of enemies that were between 1500-3000 yards away and a squad of soldiers would act like a giant shotgun, raining fire down on those sausage-eaters. As you might guess, this was wishful thinking at its worst.
Both these features were removed from later versions, because they were stupid.
In WWII, with British and Commonwealth troops in action in India, Burma, and the Pacific theater, military planners felt that a lighter and shorter weapon was needed for jungle operations. The result was the No. 5 " jungle carbine" which featured a shorter barrel, a much reduced stock and a flash hider.
The No.5 was not very well received and troops usually preferred a weapon like the Thompson submachine gun. The No. 5s are also dogged by the accusation that they have a "wandering zero" meaning that the point of bullet impact is not always were you think it should be and might not be the same from shot to shot. I have no firsthand experience firing the No.5, so can only pass on what I have read and been told, but were it true, it would certainly be a reason to stay away from the No. 5.
Very few other modern firearms have seen as much action as the SMLE. From Britain's many Colonial conflicts, to the trenches of WWI, to the worldwide conflagration of WWII and beyond, the Enfield did its job. I have seen recent pics (2003) of Indian Territorial Guard troops armed with the Ishapore 2A in 7.62 NATO, guarding temples and mosques, fighting the War on Terror. Pretty impressive for a weapon older than real cars or powered flight.
As with any weapon with such a long service length, the Enfield has been modified to fit many different niches. In addition to all the variants above, the SMLE was re purposed to serve as a cadet's .22 rimfire, single shot training rifle. It was also modified to be a single shot .410 British shotgun. A target model with an optical sight was produced for snipers and following WWII, a dedicated 7.62NATO sniper rifle was built on SMLE actions.
They have remained popular in private hands, many being cut-down or "sporterized". If you have an SMLE, DO NOT DO THIS. You might lose some accuracy and all historical value. And people will think you are an asshole. And they will be right.
OK. Sorry 'bout that. But I am serious.
The .303 ammo is still available, although usually only from specialty companies. Surplus .303 is pretty hard to find, and might be of the age were performance and even reliability could be questionable. Enfields are fairly common and are quite inexpensive, well used specimens going for as little as $130 at gun shows. For a piece of military history that might have been to more continents than you have, that can still hit targets at 800m, whether they be a white-tailed deer or Nazi infantryman, that is one hell of a good deal.
No. 4 Mk 1*(T) -- Sniper's Rifle