We all have interests in different aspects of the First World War, but the firearms used are often imbued with a mystique, which is quite unnecessary. A series of short articles will, hopefully, clarify the mystery and disperse the myths. I claim no special expertise in the subject, but its 45 years since I first fired a Lee-Enfield rifle, and I'm still in love with them!

I'll begin with the British Soldier's best friend - the Short Magazine Le-Enfield Rifle, or S.M.L.E. ("Smellie" to its Users). What does that title mean?

Rifle: A rifled arm is one, which has a series of spiral grooves, or rifling, cut inside the barrel, On firing, the bullet is forced into these grooves and is thus spinning about its axis when it leaves the muzzle. This spin stabilizes the bullet in its flight, giving greater accuracy. The Lee-Enfield bore has five of these grooves with a left hand twist of I turn in 10 inches.

Lee-Enfield The latter half of the 19th Century saw developments in military weapons being directed at increased rates of fire. The demand was for breech loading magazine rifles.

In 1879 an American, James Paris Lee, perfected a box magazine and bolt action, which was accepted by the British Small Arms Committee. After trials and modifications, Lee's invention entered British Service in 1888 as the Lee-Metford Rifle. William Ellis Metford was the designer of the type of rifling used in this new weapon.

rifleThe introduction in 1891 of cordite as a propellant, together with an improved bullet design, was found to shorten the accurate life of the Metford rifling. The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock, Middlesex, developed a deeper, more efficient form of rifling and this was incorporated in a rifle, which appeared in November 1895. It was called the Lee-Enfield Magazine Rifle, Mark 1. The famous Lee-Enfield family of service rifles had been born.

Magazine: The military nomenclature included 'magazine' to avoid confusion with earlier service breech-loading rifles - the Snider of 1866 and the Martini-Henry of 1871 - which were single shot weapons.

The Lee Magazine is a pressed steel detachable box in front of the trigger guard. The first Lee-Metford magazine held eight rounds. Later versions and the Lee-Enfield held ten.

Short: The Mark 1 Lee-Enfield was the same length as the Lee-Metford - 4ft 1½ ins. Various alterations were made, largely based on Boer War experience, and in December 1902 the Short Rifle was introduced. It was physically shorter than the tong' Rifle of 1895 and measured 3ft 8 9/16 ins.

This rifle, with a few modifications, became the Mark 111, that superb weapon with which the British Regular Army entered the Great War. The Old Contemptibles, trained to fire 15 rounds a minute, were the most efficient riflemen of any European army and they proved their prowess with the S.M.L.E. in the early battles of Mons and Le Cateau.

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