Educational Zone #17 – Great Firearms – The British SMLE

One of the truly great military firearms has to be the British SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) .303 Rifle.

This rifle was the mainstay of the British army for more years than most other rifles ever approach.

It served from the First World War through the Second, and did so with honor.

I bought mine at a gun show many years ago.

This is it.

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Mine was produced at Lithgow Arsenal in Australia.

It appears to be used, but not abused. The bore is excellent and it is a fine shooter.

I reload for mine, but there are some problems with reloading for the .303 SMLE.

The British made the chambers extra large to allow the chambering of dirty, muddy, even corroded rounds.

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This means that when you fire the brass, it swells a lot.

When you then resize it, it really “works” the brass and can lead to incipient head seperations.

In fact, today as we were shooting, I had a brass head seperation.

You pay a price for “reliability” in chamber size.

We noticed that the “kick” of the SMLE is very easy and is more of a “shove” than a kick. A very nice rifle to shoot.

The SMLE has a 10 shot magazine that is removable, but not actually designed to be removed in combat. Instead, stripper clips are used to fill the magazine.

Being a 10 shot rifle was a big improvement in the days of 5 shot rifles.

The British troops in WWI developed a neat way of using this rifle. They called it “volley fire” and it was a way of shooting a bolt gun really fast.

To do this trick, you hold the bolt knob with your right thumb and first finger and work it that way.

Here I am opening the bolt.

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The bolt opens easy on a SMLE because it is designed to cock on closing.

This was done to allow the easiest opening as possible, in case of dirty rounds.

Next is the rear of the cycle, the ejection.

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Next, closing the action and chambering a new round.

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Lastly, the middle finger is used to pull the trigger.

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Not as clear as I’d like, but here it is.

Notice that the thumb and first finger stay on the bolt and the middle finger pulls the trigger.

This was so fast, that I was able to fire about 1 round per second with little practice.

This was the rate of fire that the British wanted to get.

The first time they used this tactic against charging German troops in WWI, the Germans reported to their Officers that the British had automatic weapons.

As we walked to another range for some more pics, I was carrying the rifle as many, many Brits had carried them across the plains of Africa, on the shoulder, muzzle forward.

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Here I am working the rifle, volley fire.

On the shoulder, brass in the air.

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And finger on the trigger, ready to fire.

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Conclusion:
It is amazing how quickly the rifle can be fired in this manner.

SMLEs are great pieces of history.

You can often find them for very reasonable prices at gun shows, don’t miss a chance to get one and enjoy it.