Fighting in the Boer War allowed the British to field test their newly-adopted bolt action Lee-Enfield rifles. Like any new piece of military equipment, active combat revealed the Lee-Enfield's strengths and also uncovered a few shortcomings. Among the gun's apparent issues was the need to add a provision for the use of stripper clips, as well as a few other needed tweaks including redesigning the safety and sights. Apart from these minor changes, it also became apparent to the Board of Ordnance that the need for multiple rifle variants built to serve in multiple combat roles was outdated. The British fought the Boer War with three different variants of the Lee-Enfield: an infantry rifle, a cavalry carbine, and an intermediary "carbine" used by Yeomanry units. Lessons learned in South Africa demonstrated that multiple variants of the same rifle was redundant and added pressure to both arms manufacturers and supply lines to build and issue that right types of weapons to the right types of troops: infantry units can't fight as effectively if the only available rifles are cavalry carbines; and transversely mounted troops can't be issued full length infantry weapons.
It was quickly decided that a "happy medium" would need to be adopted between the long infantry rifle and short carbine; and that the new arm would need to be adopted for use across all branches of the armed services. In 1901, some “Shortened Enfield Modified Rifles” were produced at the Enfield Royal Small Arms Factory. These developmental arms, employed a number of modifications to the Lee-Enfield, but most notably had a barrel some 5 inches shorter than that of the long rifle, and 4½ inches longer than the carbine. This new piece weighed around a pound less than the rifle and 8 ounces more than the carbine. Experimentation and trials continued. Further changes were tested, jettisoned or retained. After a relatively short gestation period, just before Christmas in 1902, the approval of the “Mark I Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield” (abbreviated “Sht LE” or “SMLE”) was sealed.
The SMLE would eventually become one of the longest serving battle rifles of the British Empire. It would continue to be "tweaked" and refined throughout its years of service, as new battle tactics rendered some of its features obsolete (like volley sights) or new manufacturing techniques allowed the gun's components to be made stronger, faster, or cheaper. It served faithfully throughout the entirety of WWI; as well as the beginning of WW2, and was only replaced after the disastrous British withdrawal from Dunkirk required to the country to re-arm itself as quickly and cheaply as possible.
This particular SMLE was produced by the BSA in 1917 - the height of the Great War. Despite years of service, it remains in great shape.
The stocks are very nice and all matching. There are no cracks of damage; and the butt stock remains very solid in its "socket" without any wiggle or slop typically seen in a lot of Enfields. The handguards match the stock and are in good shape with some arsenal repair strip reinforcing the rear hand guard behind the sight - a feature found on basically all SMLE' handguards that were notoriously thin in this area. The "wings" of the handguards that envelope either side of the rear sight are both intact and unmodified - a nice feature as these fragile wood pieces are very often found broken.
The action is very smooth and the bolt locks up nice and tight when closed.
The bore is quite nice with strong rifle and no rust or pitting.
This quintessential battle rifle is perfect for any British military enthusiast or WW1 buff. These SMLE rifles have become quite collectible in recent years and prices are rising - so don't miss out on this one while prices are still reasonable!
*This weapon was made after 1899 and MUST be shipped to Federal Firearms License holder for transfer. Never bought a gun through an FFL before? Give us a call at (262) 473-5444 and we'd be glad to walk you through this simple process.