Lee Enfield No. 4
Contributed by Michael Burnside
The Lee Enfield No. 4 is as much of an icon for World War Two British infantry as the M1 Garand is for American infantry.
The first version of the Lee Enfield, which would become known as the Lee Enfield No. 1, was designed by James Paris Lee in 1895. The rifle was manufactured in Enfield England, hence the rifle's name.
The No. 4 rifle was, obviously, the 4th iteration of the Lee Enfield design. The weapon that armed the British army in World War Two was shorter than its original ancestor, the Mark I, making it lighter and more manageable to carry on the battlefield. The Germans made similar design changes to the Mauser.
The British would eventually take this trend one step farther with the introduction of the Lee Enfield No 5 jungle carbine. This weapon was identical to the No. 4, but had much of its wooden furniture removed making the weapon far less heavy. Unfortunately, this made the rifle's recoil far more vicious. The weapon was widely disliked. The No. 5 is a bit of a collector's item today, but those with easily bruised shoulders avoid firing it.
The Lee Enfield design is often called Short Magazine Lee Enfield or SMLE. SMLE rifles have a detachable magazine which is somewhat unusual for a bolt action design. This represented a potential advantage to soldiers using the SMLE as they could quickly reload the weapon by changing the magazine instead of having to use a charger bullet clip. Unfortunately, the British government either did not consider this advantage or decided that the cost and weight of having each soldier equipped with additional magazines was not tenable. British soldiers had to reload using charger clips, the same as everyone else using bolt action rifle designs.
The No. 4 did offer another advantage over its rivals on the battlefield. The No. 4 held ten rounds, twice as many as the German Mauser, and two more than the American Garand. This advantage, however, was somewhat offset by the fact that British soldiers had to use two five round clip chargers to reload their rifle which meant that it took twice as long to reload an Enfield as it did a Mauser.
The Enfield No 4, was not only produced in Enfield, England. During the war, Savage Arms produced the rifle in the US for the British under the Lend Lease agreement.
After the war, the No. 4 made its way into the civilian market as a hunting rifle.
The rifle pictured is my 1945 Lee-Enfield No. 4. It is a heavy weapon, but all the principal battle rifles of that era suffered from that trait. It is also a very powerful gun. The .303 ammunition it fires compares favorably to the German 8mm and the American .30 caliber. All of these rounds are much more powerful than the rounds fired by modern assault rifles. They are also much heavier, which limited the number of rounds a soldier could carry into battle.
The bolt action on the No. 4 is a more complicated mechanism than the one found on the Mauser. I prefer the Mauser design. My No. 4 has a terrible habit of not feeding the rounds into the chamber. Jams are very common. I considered the possibility that the springs in the magazine I was using were worn. It was over a half century old after all. However, when I replaced the original magazine with a modern made replacement, my feeding problems remained.
Despite my problems with the bolt action, the rifle is highly accurate. I am a better shot with it than I am with my Mauser. This could be because the peep sights of the Enfield work better for me than the more traditional iron sights of the Mauser. I'm sure individual users will have their own preference.