Object Title

Short, Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifle and Pattern 1907 bayonet

Short, Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifle and Pattern 1907 bayonet


The key word in the SMLE's designation is 'Short', which refers to the length of the rifle relative to the old 'Long' Magazine Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield rifles that it replaced. It was discovered at the end of the 19th century that more powerful smokeless propellant would allow long, cumbersome infantry rifles to be reduced in length without any loss in capability. This would make the weapon lighter and easier to manipulate, and also simplify production and logistics. At the same time, the British Army was facing skilled Boer marksmen in the South African War (1899-1902), with their accurate, long-ranged Mauser rifles. This led to complaints against both British standards of marksmanship training and the Lee rifle. Some advocated that long range accuracy was the key, but the Indian Army, also experiencing real combat in the North West Frontier region (now Afghanistan), showed that an overhaul of traditional tactics was needed. Soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the open, and firing simultaneously on direct orders from their officers, were an easy target for any enemy that chose not to fight in this way. Officers with the Indian Army were instrumental in changes to doctrine and training that would allow soldiers to fire independently and as rapidly as necessary, as targets became available. These changes are reflected in the Mark III* version of the SMLE, which did away with antiquated 'dial' sights for massed rifle fire at extreme range, and a cut-off plate, intended to keep the magazine in reserve, which reflected strict fire orders already out of use by 1914.

Use and effect

One standard short rifle for all troops meant that the traditional short carbines used by the cavalry and artillery could be abandoned. Further reflecting changes in fighting style, sighting arrangements were also changed on the SMLE. Front and rear sights were closer together, allowing the shooter to quickly align them for a 'snap' shot. This new rifle and these new tactics, both geared toward the reality of close to medium-range combat, were vital in helping to halt the German advance in 1914. The shorter, handier rifle with its distinctive stubby appearance also went on to provide an edge in trench warfare, the extent of which its designers could not have predicted. The high rates of fire achieved in training also resulted in claims that the British 'Tommy' was able to deliver a greater volume of fire than his enemies or allies.

"Our men have come to believe that every one of you carries a portable Maxim with him."
A German officer's comments on the high rate of British rifle fire at the Battle of Mons.


Loading the player...
Short, Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifle being loaded and fired into ballistic soap target.


Action / Operating system Bolt-action
Barrel length 64 cm (25.2 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.7x56mmR (.303 in)
Capacity (rounds) 10
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1903
Effective range 503 m (550 yd)
Feed Box magazine
Manufacturer Birmingham Small Arms Company
Manufacturer London Small Arms Company
Manufacturer National Rifle Factory
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory Sparkbrook
Manufacturer Standard Small Arms
Maximum range 2743 m (3000 yd)
Muzzle velocity 744 m/s (2441 fps)
Other operators Australia
Other operators Canada
Other operators India
Other operators New Zealand
Other operators Portugal
Overall length 1.118 m (44 in)
Primary operator Britain
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) 25
Weight 3.96 kg (8 lb 11 oz)


Jonathan Ferguson