- 22short-16Except for the missing tangent rear sight and aperture rear sight, the No. 2 Mark III rifle looks identical to the No. 1 Mark II rifle, the classic British SMLE.
- 22short-11Like those of all SMLEs, the No. 2 Mark III’s safety can be applied when the bolt is cocked or uncocked. Note the superfluous stripper-clip guide forward of the rear sight.
- 22short-12The rear sight must be folded up before firing the rifle and required a bit of Kentucky windage and elevation.
- 22short-13Rounds of .22 are manually loaded one at a time. With Federal, Winchester and Remington ammo, groups ranged from 1” to 1.5”.
- 22short-15The No. 2 Mark III’s smaller caliber, the .22 LR, is immediately evident when you view the rifle from the muzzle. The barrel measures 25.2 inches in length.
- 22short-21Canadian military cadets training with C No. 7 Mark I .22 caliber rifles.
- 22short-22Members of the New Zealand Naval Women’s Reserve firing No. 2 Mark IV rifles, 1945.
Whenever I see one of these rifles, I am reminded of that stereotypical British sergeant major portrayed countless times on the silver screen: tough, rugged, maybe just a bit ugly, and very, very good at what he does. What am I talking about? Why, one of the most famous and widely recognized military small arms of all time: the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield No. I Mark III. Often referred to in official documents as the SMLE, and known affectionately to generations of British Tommies as “Old Smelly,” the No. 1 Mark III rifle would go on to become as famous as the red-coated grunts who conquered, pacified and policed the greatest empire this planet has ever seen.
Hard Lessons Of War
The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) was only the second time in history that civilized troops, armed with smokeless-powder repeating rifles faced each other on the battlefield (the first being the Spanish–American War of 1898). During the conflict, their Afrikaner foes taught the British a series of rude but eye-opening lessons during the fighting in the African veldt. British troops armed with the Magazine Lee-Enfield Mark I and I* rifles (aka the “Long” Lee-Enfields), with their manually loaded magazines and ballistically unimpressive .303 Mark VI rounds, found themselves outgunned by Boer commandos armed with Paul Mauser’s charger-loaded Model 1895 rifle chambered for 7x57mm, the high-performance cartridge of its day. In a war where mobility, rapid fire and long-range marksmanship played prominent roles, the Lee-Enfield was found lacking, forcing the English to concede that their weapons, training and tactics all needed improvement.
After the war, a number of proposals for improving the Lee-Enfield were put forth: a charger-loaded magazine, sturdier sights, and a shorter length so one rifle could be used by both infantry and mounted troops. The Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock produced a series of trial rifles that featured shorter barrels, sight guards, charger loading guides machined into the bolt head and receiver wall, and a safety lever on the left rear of the receiver. When the design was finalized, a magazine cutoff very similar to that of the earlier Long Lee-Enfields was fitted. In late 1902, the design was approved as the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mark I…
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