History & background of the Lee Enfield

Early on in the Enfield story we are confronted with a raft of acronyms such as MLM, MLE and CLLM and then there are“1* through to“1***, as if it were some secret code especially designed to baffle the new or budding collector. No wonder there is confusion, especially when you consider that the Enfield rifle has the longest service history of any modern rifle! As such, the resulting variations within the Enfield family is rather large, to say the least. No wonder people new to the subject get a little confused.

I will briefly go over some of the early history,  with any luck this will give you a basic understanding of some of the terms.  We will also look at who the main players were early on in the Enfield story, their influences and what all these designations and acronyms mean. My aim is to make the whole Enfield experience a lot easier to understand  and  hopefully enjoyable. As time permits, I will update  the following terms and add to this section.

Rifling – Ok lets start with the basics, rifling is the term given to the type of grooves and lands that are inside a barrel. These  impart spin on the projectile as the projectile goes down the barrel. It is this spin that helps stabilizes the round in flight. The grooves are the “low” channels and lands are The “high” ridges in the barrel. “Metford” rifling refers to a type of rifling that was used and was the last of the Polygonal rifling used with black powder rifles. However with the advent of more modern powder in the early 1890′s the Metford barrels were found to be lacking. The newer nitro cellulose powders were causing major issues with the older styled barrels and therefore a new type of rifling was needed. The irony was that Mr Metford helped to design the next generation of barrels to replace his namesake. The new rifling was designed at The Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield and subsequently named, Enfield rifling. Metford rifling was what I would describe as softer or undulating rifling, where as by comparison, the newer Enfield rifling was what you see today a sharper squared rifling.

Action – This is the method by which the bolt or breach is opened and operates in order to feed a round from a magazine into the chamber. On the rifles we are looking at on this page it is the “bolt-action”. (following pages will look at other types of actions). More to follow

William Ellis METFORD, (October 4th 1824 to 14 October 1899)  was an engineer by trade and had a very keen interest in firearms. Besides his clever designs in projectiles, it was his rifling designs that saw him being mostly associated in the development of the rifle. At this stage, Mr Metford was designing his rifling, black powder was the only propellant being used in the manufacturing of ammunition. Metford barrels are synonyms and named after the rifling he designed.  Metford is the last “M” in the MLM, (the first M being “magazine”).

James Paris LEE, ( August 9th 1831 to February 24th 1904). Now this is my kind of guy, who at the age of 12 was making his own firearms! Not all that successfully however, but still, he sounds as if he was a bit of a character. He designed variations of magazines and was also very interested in increasing the speed of the rifle. This was achieved through his improvements in bolt and magazine design, the ability to smoothly cycle rounds and have an effective storage and delivery system of those rounds. Lee is the “L” in the MLM.

Joseph SPEED. Mr Speed was attributed with several patents whist the manager at RSAF. One such design that can be seen on following pages is the War Office Pattern .22., other such are dust covers and magazine cut offs.

Enfield, RSAF. Well, that was the factory, The Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield. In fact Enfield is a small town just outside of London. It was originally set up to manufacture the “Brown Bess” musket.

Now here is where I am going to skip a whole lot of stuff (for now, because this in itself is a big topic) but in summary, there were extensive trials on the variations of the rifle. These variations included mix’s of different barrels with different actions or even from competing factories (Remington, Sharpe, etc) . These trials took part in various stages of history that saw the advent and use of smokeless powders and their resulting improvements against others who were still using black powder rounds. This alone was a dramatic change and saw great changes in barrels, rifling and ammunition. There were also improvements on magazines and placements of magazines on the rifle be it in the stock, below the breach area or to the side of the breach. One also needs to look at the issues surrounding the day and the beliefs held at those times, such as, magazine cut offs and detachable magazines. (again, when times permits I will add to these).

Discussion on Patents and commercial factories verse Royal Ordinance Factory.  Birmingham Small Arms and Metal Co., The London Small arms Co., Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield and at Sparkbrook, Birmingham. More to follow

So to go over some of these abbreviations: The MLM got its name because it was a magazine feed Lee action on a Metford barrel and as such, was described as a Magazine Lee Metford. There were other rifles such as the CLLE or, the Charger Loading Lee-Enfield. The SMLE got its name as it was Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, not because the magazine was short, but the length of the rifle was short compared to the older variations like the MLE or the Magazine Lee-Enfield, these had been known as Long Lee’s due to their length.

In basic layman’s terms, the early naming of the rifle and the lettering abbreviations came from the type or combination of the action / barrel and maker. Then, any improvements were denoted by a ” * ” or extra “I”. If it was a major alteration or style the No. changed.