The Lee-Enfield SMLE Mk. III (1914), the first gun that Canadians were issued was the Ross rifle.
The Lee-Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk III, was introduced on 26 January 1907, along with a Pattern 1907 (P’07) Sword bayonet and featured a simplified rear sight arrangement and a fixed, rather than a bolt-head-mounted sliding, charger guide. The design of the magazine and handguards were improved, and the chamber was adapted to fire the new Mk VII High Velocity spitzer .303 ammunition. Many early model rifles, of Magazine Lee Enfield (MLE), Magazine Lee Metford (MLM), and SMLE type, were upgraded to the Mk III standard. These are designated Mk IV Cond., with various asterisks denoting subtypes.
During the First World War, the standard SMLE Mk III was found to be too complicated to manufacture (an SMLE Mk III rifle cost the British Government £3/15/-), and demand was outstripping supply, so in late 1915 the Mk III* was introduced, which incorporated several changes, the most prominent of which were the deletion of the magazine cut-off, and the long range volley sights. The windage adjustment capability of the rear sight was also dispensed with, and the cocking piece was changed from a round knob to a serrated slab. Rifles with some or all of these features present are found, as the changes were implemented at different times in different factories and as stocks of existing parts were used. The magazine cut-off was reinstated after the First World War ended,
1. Wilson (2007)
2. Skennerton (1994, 1), p.9
3. Skennerton (2001), p.7
4. Skennerton (2007), p.132
5. Skennerton (2007), p.161
6. Skennerton (2001), p.7
The standard British infantry weapon of the FWW, the SMLE Mk. III soon proved too complicated for industry to produce in sufficient numbers to meet wartime needs. To deal with this problem, a stripped down version was designed in 1915. Dubbed the SMLE Mk. III, it did away with the Mk. III’s magazine cut-off, volley sights, and rear-sight windage adjustment.
During the conflict, the SMLE proved a superior rifle on the battlefield and one capable of keeping up high rates of accurate fire. Many stories recount German troops reporting encountering machine fire, when in fact they had met trained British troops equipped with SMLEs. In the years after the war, Enfield attempted to permanently address the Mk. III’s production issues. This experiment resulted in the SMLE Mk. V which possessed a new receiver-mounted aperture sighting system and a magazine cut-off. Despite their efforts, the Mk. V proved to be more difficult and costly to build than the Mk. III.
Lee Enfield Mk. III Specifications:
•Cartridge: .303 British
•Capacity: 10 rounds
•Muzzle Velocity: 2,441 ft./sec.
•Effective Range: 550 yds.
•Weight: approx. 8.8 lbs.
•Length: 44.5 in.
•Barrel Length: 25 in.
•Sights: Sliding ramp rear sights, fixed-post front sights, dial long-range volley sights
•Number Built: approx. 17 million
Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mark III and Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mark III* 1916-1943. Large numbers of SMLEs entered Canadian service “unofficially” when troops in France and Flanders salvaged weapons from British casualties. The Number III Mark I became the official rifle of the CEF in 1916; these rifles were made in England.
The MkIII* rifles lacked the volley sights, magazine cutoffs, and windage adjustable rear sights that the earlier Mk III rifle had. Some may have been equipped with barbed wire cutters.
In 1928, the additional designation “Number 1” was added to the weapon, now becoming known as the Number 1 Mark III. The weapon remained in use until 1943, being used in action in Hong Kong and at Dieppe. Troops landing in Sicily in July 1943 were equipped with the newer No. 4 Mk. I.
Canadian troops in Canada and England also trained with the P14 Enfield, with some P17 Enfields also being used in Canada.
The SMLE MkI from its adoption through to 1914 underwent a series of upgrades and modifications. What started as the SMLE MkI finally evolved by 1914 to the SMLE MkIII. The MkIII being the most plentiful as it is the rifle that Great Britain fielded during World War I. Through the course of the war, further modifications were made to the SMLE which resulted in the MkIII*, these changes were made in an effort to simplify and speed up production. Also with increased production in mind Standard Small Arms (SSA) and the National Rifle Factory (NRF) were contracted to produce SMLE’s. These rifles became known as “peddled scheme” rifles as neither SSA nor NRF actually produced rifles from start to finish but rather assembled them from delivered parts. Joining England in the production of SMLE’s were the rifle factories in Ishapore India and Lithgow Australia.
The SMLE MkIII and MkIII* provided Great Britain with an extremely battle hardy rifle. The Lee action design with, rear locking lugs and cock-on-closing bolt operation made the rifle very fast and relatively effortless to cycle. So quick in fact that German soldiers would think the British were armed with machine guns. Another benefit to the SMLE was its chamber dimensions that helped in preventing jams caused by the conditions of the battlefield. So successful was the SMLE design, Canadian troops armed with the infamous Ross rifle would conveniently loose them during battle and claim a discarded SMLE in order to carry on their fight. The SMLE, which became known as the Rifle No1 MkIII, this due to a government nomenclature change in 1926, carried on to equip the British and Commonwealth countries right up to and including World War II.