From No4 Mk I (T) to L42 AI
By Graeme Barber
(photographs taken by Mike Harris)
This two-part article describes how two No4 MkI Rifles manufactured at Birmingham Small Arms factory in 1944 were selected then converted into sniper rifles. Part 1 described the journey for .303 rifle No4 Mk1 (T) # R33857 while Part 2 describes the journey for 7.62 x 51 rifle L42 A1 #K34325.
Part 2 – The 7.62 x 51 L42 A1
Rifle #K34325 – General Description
Caliber: ………………………. 7.62 x 51mm NATO (.308 Winchester)
Rifling & Twist: …………. 6 Groove, Chordal, 1 twist in 305 mm (12 in), Right Hand
Barrel Length: ……………. 27.5 in. (698.5mm)
Overall Length: ………….. 46.5 in. (1185mm)
Weight: ……………………… 10 lb. (4.53kg) (without scope)
Weight: ……………………… 12 lb. 5oz. (5.72kg) (with scope)
Magazine Capacity: ……. 10 rounds
Converted: …………………. By R.S.A.F. Enfield from original .303 caliber No.4 Mk1 (T) sniper rifle – Dated 1974
Approval date: ……………. August 24th, 1970
Scope: ………………………… TEL. STRT. STG. L1A1 O.S. 2429 G.A. (converted No.32 Mk.3 Scope Mfd by Taylor-Hobson and Co # 25229)
Qty Mfg: ……………………. Approximately 1,100-1,200 converted from 1970-1992 (as
calculated by Daniel Cotterill)
(1) L42 A1 Rifle #K34325 with LIA1 telescope scope #25229 sitting on the lid of its numbered C43 stenciled chest.
First Some Background Information
The No4 (T) continued providing reliable, and deadly service until the early 1970’s even though .303 inch ammunition had been declared obsolete in 1960. The new FAL self-loading rifles in 7.62 x 51mm NATO caliber being manufactured at BSA Guns in Birmingham and the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield entered British service from the late 1950’s proved outstanding in battle conditions but at longer distances inadequate for sniping. The plan was to convert existing stocks of No4 Rifles that were in war reserve or in service with Territorial or Cadet Forces from .303inch to 7.62mm caliber. A conversion kit comprising a barrel, magazine, charger guide insert and a longer clawed extractor was designed and manufactured at Enfield. With many allied countries using the No4 rifle the potential market was viewed as being quite large. Sterling also manufactured a kit but legal wrangles over breach of patent delayed wide-spread utilization of these kits.
Peter Laidler asserts that one company claimed that their converted test rifles when fired from an Enfield rest produced 1.5inch by 1.5inch 10 shot groups at 100 yards. Compare this to the expected standard that a No4 rifle could land 5 hand-held shots in a 6 x 4 inch group at 100 yards and a rifle selected for conversion to No4 (T) 5 shots in a 3 x 3 inch group. All writers challenge this claim suggesting that to get consistent results anywhere near this would require refitting the fore wood on all converted rifles.
It seems logical if several thousand No4 service rifles were being converted to 7.62 by RSAF Enfield then this option would also extend to sniper rifles. In June and July 1964 accuracy tests were conducted with 6 No4 (T) rifles (mostly produced at BSA Shirley in 1942, 1944 and 1945) taken from stores and then again after they had been converted to 7.62 L8 (T) configuration. Each rifle fired 7 shots from an Enfield rest at 200 yards. As my Nana often stated “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. As demonstrated in the table below this ‘pudding did not make good eating’ as the No4 T using iron sights out shot the L8 (T).
|200 Metres||Best 6 shot gp||Best 7 shot gp||Worst 6 shot gp||Worst 7 shot gp|
|No4 (T)-open sights||2.4 x 3.5 in||2.4 x 3.5 in||7.4 x 3.2 in||7.4 x 8 in|
|Converted to L8 (T)||2.2 x 1.4 in||2.5 x 4.5 in||5 x 3.5 in||5 x 4.5 in|
|Converted to L8 (T)||4.5 x 8.7 in||7.1 x 8.7 in||16.5 x 14.6 in||16.5 x 21.2 in|
Captain Cartwright who had been a major player in the intensive war-time tests of the No4 (T) was also heavily involved in this new round of accuracy testing and, by all accounts he was a proficient operator. Concurrent accuracy testing using 6 FAL self -loading rifles fitted with No74 MkI sights also found that these rifles could not compete for accuracy with the No4 (T).
So, the fate of converting No4 rifles to L8 or L8 (T) was sealed with remaining stocks of magazines and extractors being placed in stores. It was 5 years before these spares were put to use with the next British sniper rifle. Interestingly the 6 test L8 (T) rifles were returned to Ordnance Stores at Donnington and never issued. Peter Laidler lists their serial numbers as X32437, Q31560, U32340, X32072, V37975, T32908.
The next stage in the evolution of British sniper rifles (believe it or not) was strongly influenced by civilian target shooters and the National Rifle Association who fitted to the tried and tested No4 action heavy commercial 7.62mm barrel shortened the fore-end and hand-guards as the muzzle no longer needed to be supported. Compared to the disappointing L8 (T) accuracy tests, target shooters were achieving outstanding results at Bisley. Designers at Enfield took notice of these conversions when producing approximately 30 of the next sniper prototype called the XL42E1.
Following extensive testing in competition against a range of rifle and scope combinations the XL42E1 was found to be accurate and reliable which speaks volumes for an action designed almost 30 years earlier. When production of the new 7.62 British sniper rifle began in 1970 it was christened the L42 A1 with a small number of the almost identical XL42E1 rifles also finding their way in to snipers hands.
The Latin saying, Caveat Emptor, continues to have validity when looking at converted sniper rifles. Ian Skennerton advises, “Buy the rifle not the story”. Luckily for collectors and historians the British arms manufacturers and those involved in official conversions were prolific with their use of stamps that now help define the life history of a firearm.
So lets take a closer look at # K34325 L42 A1 Sniper Rifle
This No4 rifle is one of 665,000 manufactured at Birmingham Small Arms’ plant in Shirley. A few 1944 dated rifles have been noted with the 1943 style serial number using two letter prefixes such as AU and AV followed by four digits. Most observed 1944 serial numbers are in the 30xxx range. Most observed 1944 serial numbers are in the 30xxx range. The first group produced early in the year had no letter prefix. The following prefix letters have been noted –A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R – with others likely to be discovered in the future. This rifle with its K prefix was likely manufactured and date stamped just after the middle of the year.
BSA Shirley stamped their ‘M47C’ code, the year of manufacture, 1944, and the rifles serial number K34325 on the butt socket. Prior to dispatching to Holland and Holland a ‘TR’ was also applied by inspectors to the bottom of the butt socket to indicate it had passed the selection criteria. These markings remain visible and un-altered on this rifle.
(2) Left hand side of L42 A1 action showing original markings on wrist, No32 Mk3 scope and OS numbers struck out, M for metric calibration stamp on sight drum and back side and rifle number on mount.
(3) Left side of receiver showing L42, original No4 and remaining No4 T markings. The scope pads with only one stake per screw indicating they have not been removed.
On arrival at Holland and Holland rifle #K34325 was converted in to a No4 Mk1 (T) as described in Part 1 of this article.
The call came in 1970 from the British Army’s Operational Requirements Branch to convert at Enfield 840 of the No4 (T) into L42 A1 sniper rifles. According to documents at the UK MOD Pattern Room this requirement was later increased to 892 rifles. As there were insufficient No4 (T) rifles in stores and in order to ensure that front line units retained serviceable sniper rifles prior to the issue of L42 A1’s the decision was made to undertake the conversion on a rotational basis. I have no knowledge where Rifle #K34325 served as a No4 (T) sniper or whether it was in service or stores prior to being sent to Enfield for conversion. But, if this rifle could talk I’m sure it would have varied and at times shocking service stories to tell.
On arrival at Enfield the No4 (T)’s including #K34325 were stripped. As the No32 scopes (in all marks) were collimated and mated to the mount and No4 action for life scope #25229 along with the bolt #K34325, rear sight, fore sight protector, bolt and butt stock and bottom wood (depending on condition) were retained for re-use. If the No 32 scope removed was damaged it would only have been replaced with an Mk3 (and occasionally Mk1/2) scope.
Markings still visible on #K34325 following bead blasting are the T stamped on the left side of the action above the soon to be defunct ejector screw hole to signify that a No32 telescope had been fitted and that the combination had met all inspections. The final 3/16inch on site Enfield Examiners stamp applied to the right rear of the action is also visible along with the 1/8inch ‘S’ stamped on the small flat on the right side of the body indicating after conversion that the iron sights did not need to be re-zeroed. Barely visible following the linishing process are the numbers 34325 on the left side of the action.
Rifle #K34325’s scope mount pads were sound as they have not been removed or re-staked. The No32 Mk3 designation markings on this Taylor-Hobson manufactured scope #25229 have been barred out and the scope engraved Telescope Straight Sighting L1A1. So that the scope could cope with the 7.62mm bullet trajectory the range drums were replaced – the letter M indicating they could be read in meters.
(4) LIA1 scope markings (engraved upside down to show replaced the No 32 markings) and matched mounts. The small S underneath the bolt head is a remnant of the original No4 T sighting process.
The clicks between each range and correction per click are detailed in the following table.
|Correctionper click –millimeters||0||25||50||75||120||150||180||210||240||270||300|
The back sight was removed from rifle to #K34325 to have the datum line machined off the slide then replaced with a new line .070 of an inch lower and a M stamped on its side which shows the ranges can be read as meters instead of yards.
The action body of #K34325 has been modified with semi-circular recesses machined in the left, right, front and rear of the magazine well in order to accommodate a 7.62mm magazine which just happened to be the CR 12 ’65 stamped Enfield magazine manufactured for the failed L8 rifles and placed in stores. Luckily someone must have had a premonition. The magazines squarer shape designed to accommodate the rimless 7.62mm round and the hardened steel ejector incorporated onto the rear left hand lip immediately distinguishes it from the No4 (T).
(5) Magazine showing a the hardened steel ejector fitted on the rear left hand lip. The follower stamped with a L8 Enfield CR 12 part number.
The body of this rifles magazine is CR14 stamped and fitted with a CR 12 stamped follower indicating that the body was likely produced for the L39 rifle.
All writers state that a 27.4inch hammer forged 5grooved Enfield rifled barrel with a “snakeskin” appearance and manufactured from EN19AT steel was used on all but an undetermined number of the 1979/80 dated rifles. Some of these later rifles were fitted with polygonal Chordal (similar to Metford rifling) rifled barrels manufactured on a horizontal ‘Fritz Werner’ machine that could only hammer forge a parallel blank. Rifle #K34325’s barrel was then turned full length leaving a machined rather than the snake skin finish as found on barrels produced on the old vertical GFM cold swaging machine that hammered a tapered blank. This rifles barrel also has a machined lathe ‘steady’ step visible just in front of the fore-end and hand-guard reputably one of the identification features of Chordal rifles.
(6) Lathe ‘steady’ step found on Chordal barrels visible just in front of the fore-end and hand-guard.
Rifle #K34325’s barrel is fitted with the same foresight block and sight protector as used on the No4 T’. In order to fit on to the heavy barrel the inside of the block was bored out then seated on. Interestingly, a small groove needed to be cut on top of the barrel to allow for the sight protector screw which helps in the absence of bayonet lugs and a tapered cross pin (as found on the No4) to keep the block upright.
(7) Mark1 foresight block bored out to fit over the heavy barrel. The 6 polygonal Chordal lands are also visible.
Indications are that barrels for the L42, L39 and Envoy were at first produced on an as needed basis with a final production number estimated to be 10000.
There is however is some mystery around #K34325 and how it came to have a Chordal barrel. It could be that production of these barrels commenced earlier than previously thought as the 3 Chordal barreled rifles referred to are all stamped 6 74 beside the Enfield part number CR 1470 on the breeching up flat. Interestingly one of these rifles is dated 1975 and fitted with a Chordal barrel stamped with identical markings to the 1974 dated rifles.
(8) With hand guard removed showing CR 1470 and 6 74 stamped on the barrel flat. The 19T and scimitar London Proof mark are visible on the bolt head.
So is the 6 74 stamp on the barrel flat a manufacture date or does it stand for something else? Was the new ‘Fritz Warner’ machine actually installed at RSAF Enfield in 1974 or later as other writers suggest? If the latter is the case then this group of 1974/75 dated rifles including #K34325 may have been refurbished later in service and re-fitted with Chordal barrel’s as they were what was probably available in store at the time.
All writers refer to L42 A1 barrels as being 5 grooved but it now seems that at least some if not all of the Chordal barrels were 6 grooved. This is interesting as it is well stated that less grooves cheapens the manufacturing process. Peter Laidler claims he could not detect any accuracy variations between the Enfield and Chordal barreled rifles.
Also manufactured for the L8 and saved is the Enfield ’65 dated extractor claw fitted to a No4 bolt head that was proofed to 19 Tons the Highest Mean Service Pressure measured by the now obsolete British Base Copper Crusher method. Both the bolt head and metal flat beside the bolt channel on #K34325 are stamped 19T beside the scimitar which is the London Proof Mark and indicates it is proofed for the more powerful 7.62mm round. As well as the previously described 3/16inch on site Enfield Examiners stamp applied to the right rear of the action rifle #K34325 has 2 additional Inspectors stamps in the same location. It is probable that one was to indicate that the conversion to L42 A1 was completed to specification and the other is likely to have been applied when this rifle was possibly refurbished and refitted with its current 6 groove Chordal barrel.
(9) Action rear and wrist of #K34325 showing scope number #25229 and 3 examiners/inspectors stamps.
#K34325 retains its original Mk1 fore-end cut away half an inch in front of the barrel band renumbered on the underside behind the barrel band.
(10) Shortened fore-end numbered to rifle #K34325.
In order to allow the barrel to fully float the channel was relieved using a 1inch bull-nosed cutter. So that the barrel bolt can be screwed up tight with out crushing the fore-end a portion of wood was milled out and replaced with a .104inch steel seating plate. The hand-guard with #K34325 hand written in pencil on its underside is smooth and manufactured by C. Moon & Co.
(11) Hand-guard numbered in pencil to rifle #K34325.
They also produced a hand-guard with grooves behind the barrel band and some L42 A1’s have been observed with converted No 8 hand-guards retaining full-length grooves. The normal length No4 butt shows no evidence of a rifle number on the flat that sits within the butt socket indicating it is a replacement but has the scope #25229 stamped at the wrist.
Questions have been raised over the years as to why the L42 A1 does not have a No8 fore -end. Peter Laidler describes how a Warrant Officer he served with saw the L42 A1 as a hunting rifle where the fore-end is gripped tight and not a target or sporting rifle with a triangular fore-end that sits in the palm and could be lightly gripped just with the tips of fingers and thumb. In his view when you are fighting men who are liable to fight back there is no such thing as a runner up sniper. Well that logic is definitely hard to argue against.
Records show that #K34325 as a new L42 A1 was delivered with a complete CES to Donnington to begin its second service life on 4 October 1974. So how many L42 A1’s were actually produced and when?
Daniel Cotterill claims that an accurate total production figure for the L42 A1 has been an elusive target for a long time. The rifles were still in front-line-issue so accurate figures were classified when many of the previously published texts estimated thousands were built. Thanks to researchers at the Australian War Memorial and staff at the UK MOD Pattern Room more accurate estimates are now possible. By 2 February 1972 documents record that 898 L42 A1 rifles had been produced and by 7 November 1973 delivery documents indicate that 967 rifles had been dispatched.
A further 40 rifles were dispatched (including #K34325) from Enfield in 1974 and 1975. Interestingly there is evidence that a further 24 were dispatched in 1976 and 18 in 1979-a total of 1049 to date. Add to this a small but unknown number produced in 1980 plus the 30 approximate XL42E1 rifles produced and the total production number of L42 A1 sniper rifles is more likely to be between 1100 and 1200.
Testament to the wonderful conversion work done by the staff at Holland and Holland, the compatibility of the heavy 7.62 barrel to the tried and tested No4 action and telescope combination and the conversion work done by armourers at Enfield the L42 A1 out performed all comers within the sniper rifle fraternity shooting them in to what Peter Laidler refers to as a ‘cocked hat’. There is a well told story of sniper Corporal Cox landing successive rounds in to a head sized target at 1000 meters even when instructors and military ‘brass’ suspected a fluke or lucky shots.
In Peter Laidler’s words “reliability, simplicity and accuracy” were the 3 attributes of the L42 A1.
Once again and unfortunately I have no knowledge where Rifle #K34325 served as a L42 A1 sniper. But, if this rifle could talk I’m sure it would have even more varied and at times shocking stories to tell of its second service life.
The L42 A1 was the final Lee service rifle produced at RSAF Enfield. From 1985 to 1994 the L85 bull pup rifle series was produced at the RSAF Enfield factory. In 1988 production and some equipment including the ‘Fritz Werner’ hammer-forging machine was transferred to RSAF Nottingham. All surplus items were either sold to RSAF staff that had bid for them or on-site by auctioneers Henry Butcher Ltd on 16 and 17 November 1988.
With the introduction of the L96 A1 sniper rifle into British service the L42 A1 was declared obsolete in April 1992.
Surplus L42 A1 rifles and scopes were sold from the Disposals Unit at Donnington on the condition that they all had to be exported from the UK as per the UN imposed International Sale of Arms Controls. According to a letter dated October 10 1994 to the Australian War Museum from the late Val J Forgett, Navy Arms CEO in the USA they purchased 637 some with chests for $995. Tony Hallam from Charnwood Ordnance recalls bidding for all the L42’s being disposed in 1994 with only 385 allocated to him along with some chests and scope cases. As Tony Hallam’s register no longer exists it is difficult to confirm exactly how many L42’s he purchased and their serial numbers. It is unclear just how many L42’s were disposed of at that time as it is reported that L39 rifles were included in the Navy Arms purchase. Charnwood’s then imported 60 sets back into the UK for domestic sale with some sold in Europe with Germany the main destination. Collectors Source in Canada ended up with the bulk of the L42’s exported by Charnwood’s who in 2000 sold their last 30 including rifle #K34325 to Brian Dick from BDL limited, South Carolina, USA, while on a visit to Canada. Interestingly these rifles were all 1970 -1975 dated including only 3 (with 6 groove Chordal rifled stepped barrels) dated 1974 and 1975. From that group of 30 rifles 3 including rifle #K34325 (the only one of the three with Chordal rifling) were imported in 2001 to New Zealand by a South Island Collector. It would appear that due to high shipping costs the original chests were left behind in the States. Eventually BDL sold the chests to collectors to complement quite a few rifles imported without chests by Navy Arms. While rifle #K34325 is now housed in an issue 1971 dated chest stenciled with the British service numbers C/43 on yellow backgrounds.
(12) L42 A1 1971 dated chest label found on inside of lid.
As some yellow paint has drizzled during painting on to the scope case as well this would indicate that both the chest and case were imported from the UK. Paper labels and bar code on the end of the chest identify its original and ‘rare’ L42 A1 inhabitant as Long Branch manufactured No4 T #71L0630.
(13) Chest showing identification label for #71L0630 and Donnington dispatch labels.
This chest and scope case have however been stencil renumbered for rifle #K34325 and scope #25229 exactly as per the original style.
(14) LIA1 scope with its leather cover inside its numbered Mk8 case.
Other items from the CES with it are the leather scope covers, leather telescope case strap, chamber cleaning stick, mount for the IWS infra-red scope, leather loop sling and a complete cleaning kit (containing a pull through, oil bottle, small arms cleaning brush).
(15) Rifle # K34325 and scope #25229 in chest with scope tin, chamber cleaner, IWS mount, leather loop sling and cleaning kit. Note the yellow paint on the scope case.
Purchased since the photo was taken are a Scout Regiment spotting scope with leather cover and a 1975 Infantry Training Volume 1 Pamphlet No.4 – sniping.
Ironically, my first contact with a L42 A1 was during a visit to the proud owners gunroom soon after he imported it. I spent many happy hours in this iconic gunroom containing nearly 50 No4 (T)’s and 6 L42 A1’s. I recall inspecting many rifles so I’m sure rifles #R33857 and #K34325 would have been admired and gently ‘fondled’ as well. At that time I had no inclination that the owner had little time left on Earth and that I would, 8 years later, become the next custodian of an unissued No4 (T) and a L42 A1, the last service Lee.
Writing this two-part article has been a fulfilling experience helped considerably by the kind and generous advice and information provided by the following ‘students’ of all things Lee Enfield –
Peter Laidler, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK.
Dr Roger Payne, Sutton, Coldfield, UK.
Brian Dick, EdgeField, South Carolina, USA.
Ian Skennerton, Labrador, Queensland, Australia.
I also acknowledge the tolerance of my wife Diane who has put up with my interest in all things British military since we first met 40 years ago.
Hopefully, through this ‘life cycle’ of two No4 rifles you will have gained some insight into the pre-service, production, service life and post service retirement and the loving care by production workers, armourers, snipers and eventually collectors of two iconic and long serving sniper rifles.
- • Infantry Training Volume 1 pamphlet No.4, Sniping, Ministry of Defence, UK, 1975
- • The British Sniper, Ian Skennerton, Australia, 1984. (www.skennerton.com)
- • An Armourers Perspective: .303 No4 (T) Sniper Rifle and the Holland and Holland Connection, Ian Skennerton & Peter Laidler. Australia, 1993.
- • British Enfield Rifles, Volume 2, Lee Enfield No4 and No5 Rifles, Charles R. Stratton, California, USA 1999.
- • Is my Lee Enfield Sniper Rifle a Fake? Terry Warner, Enfieldrifles, 2006. (http://www.enfieldrifles.ca/ri10c.htm)
- • The Last Lee-Enfield, Daniel Cotterill, Milsurps, 2006. (http://www.milsurps.com/content.php?r=166-1971-L42A1-Enfield-Sniper-Rifle)
- • Lee Enfield Story, Ian Skennerton. Australia, 2007. (www.skennerton.com)
- • Telescope Sight No32, An inside view of the Snipers rifle telescope, Peter Laidler, 4th edition, BDL Ltd, Edgefield, SC, USA. 2008