Lee-Enfield Rifle: Shootable History

The Lee-Enfield rifle served the British Empire in its last days from the fields of Europe to the jungles on Asia and all point in between. The classic rifle chambered .303 British came in many shapes and sizes from the SMLE pattern which was used designed before World War One to the Ishapore Model 2A that was produced in 1962 in 7.62×51 mm NATO. In total more than 16 million Lee-Enfield pattern rifles have been produced in over seven decades. It’s a simple design that set the standard for bolt-action military rifles for most of the 20th century. Its longevity, durability and the fact it’s a favorite of military surplus collectors is why we chose to feature it. This installment will showcase a variant of the model most commonly used by British and Canadian troops in World War Two, The Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk II bolt-action service rifle. It’s been in service for over 100 years and still serves in combat today around the globe.

The Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk II was essentially a designed that evolved from the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I. The new improved design feature some changes over that enhanced its stability while shaving productions times and saving resources. These improvements allowed England to produce large quantities of rifles to arm its colonies and allies. Just because the war with Germany and Japan was over didn’t mean the end to conflict around the globe. In the years after World War Two the Lee-Enfield No.4 MkII would see action in the Suez Canal Crisis, the Israeli War for Independence as well as civil wars in several of the former British Empire Colonies and recently liberated countries on all continents.

Image:Rick Dembroski You can see the short-range rear sight in this picture

The Rifle

Now that we have a little history on the rifle and its beginnings let’s take a look at the specifications, and the build quality of these historic rifles. Handling this rifle is like holding a piece of history, a piece of history that played an important part in the founding and defending of many nations since the late 1940’s.

Name: Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk II

Caliber: .303 British

  • Average load: 174 Grain Full Metal Jacket
  • 2500 Feet per second
  • 2408 Ft lbs of energy at muzzle

Length: 44.45 “

Barrel Length: 25.2”

Weight: 9.06 lbs

Effective Range: 550 Yards

Feed System: Bolt Action

Capacity: 10 Rounds

Total Units Produced: 16 Million +

Country of manufacture:

  • England (several manufacturers, our model was produced at ROF Fazarkerley in 1953)
  • Pakistan (marked POF)
  • Canada (marked “Longbranch”
  • Australia
  • United States (Under Savage Arms name)
  • India (Ishapore Rifle Factory)

We have previously covered the earlier World War One Lee-Enfield SMLE rifles and although they take the same type of ammunition, the rifles are almost entirely different. The barrels, sights and bolts of the two rifles are not compatible which is important to note for anyone looking into owning or collecting them. In our opinion and the opinion of many collectors of military surplus firearms the fact they are different rifles does not negatively affect their collectivity or status.

First Impressions

When I first received my Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk II there are several things about it that made an instant impression on me. The first thing that jumped out at me was the weight, at just over 9 lbs you get an instant reminder that guns use to be made to last. The combination of wood and steel was the backbone of all rifles for well over 100 years and it felt great to hold something so heavy and sturdy. While getting a feel for the rifle I took time to look over the wood on the stock and top cover of the rifle. With the creation of the Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk I and later the Mk II the British had gone away from the tradition of using oak for rifle stocks and replaced it with birch in most production models. The wood on our example features an amazing finish largely free of fading, scratches or discolorations. It’s really a gorgeous sight in our minds.

Image:Rick Dembroski
Volley sight in down position

Disassembly and Inspection

Having owned several bolt-action rifles over the years and an earlier Lee-Enfield SMLE of World War One vintage I thought I was familiar with how the rifle should break down, I was wrong. Unlike the earlier SMLE pattern Lee-Enfield the N0. 4 Mk II features a small and rather annoying lever that needs to be depressed to remove the bolt from the receiver. In our model this is rather stiff and slightly cumbersome, I can only image with dirt, grit and carbon fouling this might be problematic. Once you figure this part out disassembly is rather straight forward. Pressing down the lever releases the bolt from its guide rail and allows the user to rotating the bolt head to the 12 O Clock position and remove the bolt from the receiver. We have provided a picture of the lever in order to make sense of the description

Image: Rick Dembroski

Once we figured out how to remove the bolt and check it over we reinserted it into the receiver and began to work the rifles action. The hallmark of the Lee-Enfield rifles is their smooth and fast action, and I can tell you that it only takes to a few times working the bolt to realize how nice it is. This isn’t like a Browning A-Bolt or Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle, this is a different type of smooth all together. The bolt takes a small amount to move from the locked position and cycle through its normal operation. While looking at the rifle from the shooters position, if you image a clock, the bolt in the closed position rests at around 4 O’clock, and in open position it is at 2 O’Clock. It’s a small compact movement to move the bolt and it flies effortlessly along its rails. It’s really a hard feeling to describe how smooth and effortless this is. It’s far better than other bolt actions military rifles of its era.

As we continued our inspection of our sample rifle, we came to notice the markings on the receiver of the rifle that read 9/53. After a little more research we found out that our particular rifle was made in September 1953 by the Royal Ordnance Factory at Fazakerley, a suburb of Liverpool England. Based on our rifles serial number we concluded that it was originally produced to be exported to the country of Burma (Now Myanmar) for military service. At this time Burma was in the middle of  civil a civil war between Communist Party of Burma and the Karen Nationalist Party. The conflict went on from 1948-1962 and stretched into a full overthrow of the government by the nations military leadership.

The final part of the rifle that we looked at from the outside was the barrel and bayonet system. The No. 4 Mk I and Mk II rifles feature a locking lug on the barrel for a spike or blade bayonet. This is different from earlier Lee-Enfield rifles which featured a flat nose where the end of the barrel was even with the stock. On earlier rifles the bayonet fit onto a large lug under the barrel as opposed to a lug formed into the barrel. The other distinction in bayonet mounting between the SMLE and the No.4 Mk II  is that on the No. 4 Mk II rifles the bayonet twists to lock into position. On earlier rifles it featured a locking tab on the rear of the bayonets handle

Image: Rick Dembroski
Image:Rick Dembroski

Final Impressions

The Lee-Enfield N0.4 Mk II is an amazing piece of working shooting military history. These rifles which were once ridiculously cheap are getting more expensive as each day passes. Unmolested examples of most World War II era rifles are becoming harder to find. While the .303 British cartridge may not be the cheapest ammunition to find, its more than up to the task for harvesting game animals if you would want to. Most people I know that own Lee-Enfield rifles take them out a few times a year and put them back in the gun cabinet. To many of us, taking our classic military collectible rifles out to the range and shooting them is a way to reconnect with a long gone era. I enjoy taking it the Lee-Enfield and other rifles out and letting kids shoot them and realize that once not everything was made of plastic and aluminum.

If you are interested in collecting or shooting vintage military weaponry the Lee-Enfield series of rifles is a great place to start. They offer a combination of speed, reliability and amazing build qualities that make them instant favorites of many gun collectors. These types of rifles have been involved in many of the worlds armed conflicts for over a century, that says more that I can. If you are a collector of military rifles, we want to hear from you. What are your favorites ? and Why ? How did you get into collecting ? The firearms community is made up of many types of collectors and shooters, but all with one common cause and that is to safely enjoy our firearms.

Image:Rick Dembroski
Volley Sights, something we won’t see much of in 2017

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