1916 Lee Enfield SMLE No.1 Mk.III

1916 .303 Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) No.1 Mk.III

This SMLE was manufactured by Royal Small Arms at Enfield. The royal crest and date are visible below.

This rifle was standard issue for British soldiers during WW1.

I used 303’s when I was in the cadet force at school during the 1960s. Forty years on, with a young child around the house, this rifle is a deactivated version, and I use it as an accessory for my BSA military bicycles.


Designed by American James Lee and built at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, the SMLE was first produced in 1903. With a ten-bullet magazine and high rate of fire, it had an enviable reputation. At Mons, advancing Germans believed that they were under fire from British machine guns. But it was the well drilled infantry of the BEF using their standard issue Lee Enfields. A good infantryman would expect to shoot off about twelve well-aimed bullets in a minute. The report below from the Lee Enfield Rifle Association* elaborates:

Britain declared war on the 4th Aug 1914. By mid August the Belgians were no more than an irritating hitch to the German advance. Only one intact force stood in the way of the Germans – the BEF. The first shots that the British fired were at Malpaquet, the Germans were pulled up short near Mons as the withering rifle fire of the British caused them heavy casualties.
2 days later on the 25 August 1914 at Le Cateau the storey of Mons was repeated only on a bloodier scale. Once again the Germans attacked in tightly bunched waves and again they were met with rifle fire so intense that they thought the British were equipped with machine guns. At the end of the day 3 British Divisions fell back with the loss 7,812 men and 38 field guns. Some 2000 of which became POW’s.
By September 1st 1914 the forward elements of the German Army were a mere 30 miles from Paris. The BEF had earned the title ‘Contemptible Little Army’ from the Kaiser, and the reputation of the SMLE rifle was born.

An account from Lt R A Macleod 80th Bty XV Bde RFA stated: “Our Infantry were splendid they had only scratchings in the ground made with their entrenching tools, which didn’t give much cover, but they stuck it out and returned a good rate of fire. The German Infantry fired from the hip as they advanced but their fire was very inaccurate.”
What was conclusively proved in 1914 was the awful power of the SMLE in skilled hands. From the Boer War the Army had worked unceasingly to achieve a standard of speed and accuracy of rifle fire never before considered possible in any Army. The battles of Mons, The Marne and First Ypres showed how successful the training had been.
In a sense the first few months of the Great War represented the high¬water mark for the SMLE as an infantry weapon, since time and skilled instructors necessary to achieve such standards were just not available thereafter.

Trench warfare saw the return of many weapons thought to be obsolete; mortars, grenades being amongst them but above all was the rise in importance of the machine gun which was soon to rule the battlefield.

This said, what is not stated is that the main reason for the Army placing such an emphasis on rapid rifle fire between the Boer War and the start of the First World War was that the Treasury would not unduly fund machine guns so the army had to place ever more stress on rapid musketry as a substitute for machine gun fire. Also a lot of the armies hierarchy still believed that cavalry and bayonet charges were still the way wars should be fought.

Whilst it has been often accepted that the Short Magazine Lee Enfield is inferior to the Mauser System, particularly as regards the strength of the action and accuracy, it is most likely one of the most “soldier proof” rifles ever designed. It was also preferred for it’s reliability under the most adverse conditions, as well as it’s speed of operation. In 1912, trials conducted at Hythe against the German Service rifle, it was found that about 14 – 15 rounds a minute could be fired from the Mauser, compared with 28 for the SMLE.

[* With thanks to http://www.leeenfieldrifleassociation.org.uk%5D


This rifle’s serial number is R1636.



Though they were originally arms manufacturers, there was no direct connection between the company Royal Enfield and the Lee Enfield rifle.  What they had in common was the Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield.

The directors Albert Eadie (who died in 1931) and Robert Walker Smith started the business in 1891 and displayed ten machines at the 1892 Stanley Show. Smith was a former designer at Rudge responsible for Perry parts and fittings; Eadie was manufacturer of Perry parts and fittings. The company was registered on 24 February 1893 (No. 170,951). An office with showroom was opened at 166 Edmund Street, Birmingham and, from December 1893, at 94 Snow Hill, Birmingham. The badge was a shield with a smaller shield inset containing a field gun facing left.

It seems that initially the company sold machines made by the Eadie Manufacturing Co and moved into the former works of George Townsend & Co at Givry Works, Hunt End, Redditch, Worcs from 1896. There was a London showroom at 6c Sloane Street and a Dublin showroom at 73 Grafton Street. During this time the company name changed several times: Enfield Manufacturing Co. Ltd (wound up on 8 January 1897), Enfield Cycle Co. Ltd, New Enfield Cycle Co. Ltd and then reverted to Enfield Cycle Co. Ltd.

In 1892 Eadie won a contract to supply rifle parts to the Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield and to celebrate this a new bicycle design was named the ‘Enfield’ from October that year. In 1893 ‘Royal’ was added (from the Royal Small Arms name) making the model name ‘Royal Enfield.’

The Eadie Coaster company merged with BSA in 1907.