The Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield, (SMLE)


The Boer war of 1899-1902 was going to be a steep learning curve for the British forces. This conflict would see in the era of smokeless powder and a skilled, modern, proficient, and equally armed adversary.   Furthermore the methodology and mechanisms of war were changing, becoming more efficient. Months prior to hostilities, Boer General Joubert purchased 30,000 Mauser magazine rifles, a number of modern artillery field guns and automatic weapons from the German armaments manufacturer Krupp and the French firm Creusot.

The British forces would have to adapt quickly to the corresponding new tactics of the Boer forces would employ. The Boers use alone of modern smokeless powders and magazine feed weapons would be telling, but when coupled with outdated British tactics and questionable leadership, the results were disastrous.

In fact one could very well argue that had it not been for the Boer War that future european conflicts would have seen the British empire in even graver peril of defeat. The Director-General of the Ordnance, Sir Henry Brackenbury said of that time that Britain was “attempting to maintain the largest Empire the world has ever seen with armament and reserves that would be insufficient for a third class military power”. An example of the of this was that in July 1899, 66 million rounds of MkIV ammunition were fouling barrels so badly that it could not be used, that was 40% of the reserves. Brackenbury was to prove correct on many levels.

The Boer war needs to be mentioned so that to understand the sudden and  urgent requirement to upgrade to the current battle rifle of the day. The need to rethink many aspects of the rifle, be it the rifling, the ramifications of smokeless powder, to tactics and formations of troops. It shows the urgent need for a  rapid departure from the Lee Metfords and Carbines to the something new and improved.

Introducing The SMLE.

The SMLE itself was approved in 1902, this also saw the conversion of the older out dated Lee Metfords and Lee Enfield’s to the new pattern. Further updates gave the ability to use more modern ammunition, better sighting systems and the introduction of charger loading.

Introduce in LOC 13853 dated 26 January 1907 the Mk III SMLE included a number of changes designed to improve its effectiveness and also simplify manufacture. This included the addition of a charger bridge to replace the charger guide on the bolt , a blade foresight with more open protector wings, a stronger rear sight assembly with U notch and finer graduations and repositioned protector. The inner barrel band was also repositioned.

As a result of the introduction of the Mk VII ammunition in 1910 changes were made to the sights of the rifle to accommodate the lighter pointed bullet and flatter trajectory. These were introduced in LOC 15638 dated 1 October 1911 to govern alterations to existing rifles and new manufacture. This included altering the profile of the rear sight bed, re graduating the dial sight and altering the magazine plate and cases. However it did not result in a change of the rifle mark designation, but altered rifles were marked HV on the barrel immediately behind the back sight.

The SMLE Mk III* was introduced by LOC 17622 on 2 January 1916 and was brought about primarily to speed up war-time production. These changes included omission of the cut off, long-range sights, windage adjustment on the rear sight, swivel lugs in front of the magazine replaced by wire loop, and later omission of the brass butt disc. However some Mk III* rifles were fitted with a cut off.

It should be noted that the changes to the design of the rifle were not always implemented immediately following the LOC and many examples will be found unmodified and made at a later date or upgraded during FTR (Factory Thorough Repair). For example Lithgow SAF did not introduce the changes for Mk VII ammunition until November 1917.

In 1926 the nomenclature was changed from SMLE Mk III* to Rifle No 1 Mk III*

Production of the SMLE No 1 Mk III* continued at BSA until 1942 and at Lithgow and Ishapore until after WW II

New Zealand Service

The Defence Report of 1910 states “A further supply of MLE short rifles Mk III is on order from England” implying that some are already in the country. Rifles have been observed marked N^Z xxxx/09 indicating their first appearance in New Zealand in 1909. 7,000 of the new rifles were ordered in 1911 and by 1912 8,000 were reported to have arrived that year. This allowed for the arming of the RNZA, Territorial Field Artillery, Garrison Artillery, Engineers and Mounted Rifles with the Mk III, while the Infantry was armed with the MLE.

It is understood that SMLEs supplied to New Zealand prior to WW I were not upgraded to the Mk VII ammunition, since that ammunition was not manufactured here and the manufacture of most of the rifles pre date the change. Another factor was a matter of logistics: the large number of MLEs on issue that were sighted for the Mk VI cartridge.

A further 2,000 Mk III were imported in 1913 and stocks of this rifle then stood at 11,895.

The New Zealand Infantry went off to fight in WW I armed with the Magazine Lee Enfield Mk I and Mk I* (Long Tom), however, on landing in Gallipoli many Kiwis picked up SMLEs from fallen Australians (3). In March 1916 the New Zealand Division in Egypt were armed with SMLE Mk III and MK III* from British 11

th Division (4). These British issued rifles may well have come back to New Zealand with returning troops after the war, in fact it has been reported that they exchanged their battle worn rifles for new ones from stores before returning and a number of NZ marked rifles with manufacture dates of 1918 have been noted.

In 1917 the Colonial Ammunition Company in Auckland began manufacturing MK VII ammunition for the New Zealand Government as required for the MK III and III* rifles and a further supply of these rifles was received in the country upgraded for the new ammunition and thus marked HV.

In 1919 SMLE Mk III were issued to Camps and Districts within New Zealand. MLE Mk I and I* held in store were converted to charger loading and sighted for Mk VII ammunition.(2)

A programme of stripping, cleaning and preserving stocks of SMLE Mk III* was undertaken in 1937/38.(2)

In 1939 a supply of SMLE Mk III with heavy Lithgow barrels was received from the Australian Government for sale to members of the Defence Rifle Clubs.(2)

The SMLE Mk III and III* remained the service arm of the New Zealand forces until they were replaced by the No 4 rifle at the end of WW II.

MKIII* SMLEs were still in use by the RNZA in the late 1950s, by the RNZAF till late 1960s and the NZ Police for several years after that.

The rifles below are No1MkIII and MKIII* and are a combination of various years and makers. They also include two NZ marked  SMLE’s. Note the variations in the woods. Whilst it is common to get wood sets (furniture) of  the same colour,  such as the bottom two. It is equally common to get sets that have some variations.  Remembering of course that these rifles went through two world wars and countless other Policing actions, damage to the woodwork did occur. When such damage occurred the local armourer had two options, repair or replace. Replaced items merely had to function, looking pretty was a bonus!

Yet to be restored – always a project……..


These include Peddled schemed rifles, an all matching Navy marked, a NZ marked CLLE and a particularly nice marked early Lithgow. All again in varying states of repair!

However these all represent an aspects of No 1 production that are worthy in their own right of being restored. A good example of this is the Peddled scheme rifles.


Specifications of the  SMLE MKIII

Calibre                       .303

Rifling and Twist       5 Groove left hand

Barrel length             25.2 inch or 640mm

Total Length              44.5 inch or 1130mm

Weight                        8lb 10oz or 3.9kg

Magazine                    10 round

SMLE Manufacturing and Production numbers

Enfield  BSA      LSASparkbrook Lithgow  Ishapore

SMLE MkI                        130450 130000  60000 14640

SMLE MkI Cond9

SMLE MkII Cond2653016760

SMLE MkI*601802000070003200

SMLE MkII* Cond22190

SMLE MkI***16200

SMLE MkIII &III*2,235000*   2,000000 4300001,400000

SMLE MkV20000

*incl SSA and NRF peddled scheme

29 Responses to No1

  1. Dazza5 says:

    Hi, I have just inherited a 303 from my grandfather, I was wondering if you could give me a bit of info on it? I can perhaps post something on the forums and some photo’s to help identify it, some stamping is, V.R B.S.A Co 1901 L.E 1, there is also alot of other stamping on it aswell.


  2. Mark says:

    Dazza, if you havent already, flick me some images and lets see what gem we have there :)

  3. Nick says:

    I am looking for the early Enfiled/Lithgow No. 1 Mk III SMLE Front Nose Cap Cross Screw. All I can find is the newer, larger head and larger threaded shaft versions. Who would have guessed that all these screws would have disappeared over the years.

    I own a 1918 Lithgow and a 1915 Enfield converted to .22 LR in NZ.

    Any help greatly appreciated.

    Cheers, Nick

  4. Mark says:


    I will flick you an email in the next few days with a couple of options, hopefuly they will be able to help you. But flick me an email if you are still stuck.



  5. Mark says:

    And flick us some photos of the .22 too!

  6. Robbie says:

    I bought an old 1917 , and believe the serial no. is 3415, this is stamped on both the muzzle cap and the receiver, where can I go to find out when and where it was made, it has a brass butt plate, and you can see where the stock has been repaired, it still shoots nice, I love it.. Robbie

  7. Mark says:

    Robbie, images speak louder than words, send in a heap and lets see what you have!

  8. David Sparacino says:

    I have a No1 MKIII* and have been having trouble fitting the magazine in the gun. The platform does not fit all the way in the groove of the triggerguard. Is the mag the problem or the triggerguard? The triggerguard is the third variation. When I got the gun it had fitted a No4 mag that fit great and fed great. Then I purchased a No1 mag to make the gun correct. It feeds badly. Any advice? Many Thanks.

  9. Mark says:

    Just so we are on the same page, it doesnt sit into the groove on the triggerguard and feeds poorly, Yep, sounds as if something isnt right! sounds as if one of the two are incorrect? do you have another SMLE mag you can compare it against? even a friends? my initial practicle advice would be simply go back to the other mag but that doesnt get you a “correct” rifle, If possible I would like to see some images or photos of the problem areas. What factory was the No1 made in and what markings are on the mag? I would have thought that they were all somewhat interchangable? I will go have a look at my books and see what i can work out for you.

  10. David Sparacino says:

    Hi Mark,
    The magazine platform fits so-so in the triggerguard grove but the mag does not seat flush against the triggerguard. I’m thinking that the problem has more to do with the front feed lips of the mag itself. The No4 mag I have loads and feeds with no effort whereas the No1 mag loads with some effort. Is it normal to have to adjust the feeding lips on the mag!

  11. Mark says:

    David, its not uncommon to have to adjust the feeding lips on the mag, i have had to tinker with a few of mine to make sure they feed properly. Just make sure that you take your time, i know it can be frustrating but just take your time :)

  12. David Sparacino says:

    Hello again Mark,

    I had a question regarding DP marked parts for the No1 MKIII. Why do people seem to look down on DP marked parts and won’t put them on their rifles? I have a broad arrow marked second variation triggerguard that I am debating installing on my rifle because it is DP marked and might devalue it. Any advice? Thanks.

  13. Mark says:

    If it works and allows you to shoot it, use it. It also gives you a chance to have a functioning rifle whilst allowing you keep an eye out for a suitable replacement. I have a couple of DP rifles and one of them is in extremely good condition. Infact the bore on my No4 is in pristine condition, the other is a drain pipe! Adding a DP’d trigger gaurd would only effect value if you were to sell, and i take it your not about to sell! Dont get too hung up on what other people look down on, DP trigger guard or not, you have a bloody great rifle!

  14. David Sparacino says:

    Hello Mark,
    Dave again. On my No1 now is installed a third variation triggerguard which I think is correct for the MKIII*. It is marked “IS” on the bottom. I did not see that mark on your markings page and I can find no other info on that mark. Under the IS is the number 88. Any ideas? I know I seem to be obsessed with these triggerguards but it’s the only piece I need to address to restore my 1917 No1 MKIII*. Many Thanks.

  15. Todd Hall says:

    Sure could use some help! just purchased an Enfield rifle from a small auction place.
    Condition is very very good!
    Stamped Enfield 1904 ShtLE soo many other stamps and numbers on this gun I get a headache . Serial number on barrel is 5349 then on bolt entrance that number is stamped out and ER 4451 is stamped? Any help greatly appreciated!

  16. Mark says:

    have sent you a quick email, just send in the images and we will take it from there, well done on the purchase too, it wont be the last!

  17. Mark says:

    Dave, Sorry buddy but unable to get to my books till friday, i will have a look for you though, i would assume that its the makers mark / war time code? and there is nothing being keen on restoring the old girl to her former glory.

  18. Keith Bramlett says:

    I have a lee Enfield no1 mark3* built in 1918 that was cut down. The bolt and receiver both have the same numbers looking for more info on what I have.

  19. Scott Williams says:

    Great info on New Zealands use of the SMLE during WW1 -is there similar data available regarding our use of No.1 rifles during WW2? There are a few late 1930s/early 1940s Lithgow N^Z marked examples in NZ collectors hands….

  20. Kevin Howell says:

    I have 2 enfields, the first was easy to trace and is a Parker Hale sporterisd with very little use. The other seems to be a military issue/sporterisd Mk III*. It has a 1918 Date with a few strange markings and a few regular markings. The stock is cut down , but unlike my Parker/Hale it has the metal barrel band strap holder intack, but it does not look like it was reused from the old barrel band. I is fitted to the barrel and is of machined or cast metal. Also the screws that hold it to the wood are square with angled edges. It has the GR X P, GR in an X over P, stamp but also a crown with a FR under it with a E under that. If you can point me in the right direction I would be grateful.
    Enfield lover in TEXAS

  21. Jay Single says:

    Hi there,
    I am currently looking at purchasing an SMLE made in 1916. It has YZ stamped on the stock and a Z stamped on the bolt. Any idea what this would signify?
    PS. Love the site!


  22. Mark says:

    Kevin, sounds as if you have a sporterised Lee Enfield, but if you email me decent pictures i can have a better look for you

  23. Mark says:

    Keith, sounds as if you have a sporterised SMLE! If you have any pictures that you can email me i might add a little more!

  24. leo says:

    hey guys I have a all numbers matching smle no.1 mark iii do any of you have any idea where I could get an original scope for it I would love to have one to complete the rifle I have been looking for one for about 6 years and haven’t had any luck it shoots so great my eyes are just not good enough to see the target at 200 yards id like to be able to see the target.. well let me know thank you much

  25. Phil says:

    Hi, im looking at getting a Mk3. the markings are worn and I can’t make out the last number of the date, all I can reed is 191? . So im guessing its a ww1 era. My question is the safety on the back of the bolt is a square flat type, I’ve seen them with a round safety, do you know when they were changed or if it was a different factory? Would the bolt be original to the date in the receiver?

  26. englishmaninvegas says:

    Dear Sir,
    I was wondering if you could help me find out which Lee Enfield my father would most likely to have used, while serving in India during the Second World War? He recently passed away and I remember vividly his stories of being on patrol with his trusty 303. Consequently, I’m looking to purchase one in his memory. He was stationed at Razmak in what is now in Pakistan with the 1st battalion of the Gloucester regiment.
    Thank you for your time
    Kevin Harvey

  27. Mark says:

    Sorry to hear of your loss of your father, the rifle that he would have most likely been issued is an SMLE No1MkIII*. Have a look at it has some images and information that may be of interest to you. hope this helps

  28. Mark says:

    Not being rude, but the price to get an original scope with mounts……you would never take it out shooting again!! My advice would be to google a no gunsmith or Bsquare mount that doesn’t alter the rifle in anyway but allows you to shoot.

  29. Mark says:

    Phil, the cocking piece that you are referring to, the rectangular with the vertical grasping grooves can be correct, its known as the second variation and was used on MKIII* rifles made during WW1, something to help distinguish it from the WW2 cocking piece it should have inspection marks and not alpha numeric codes. The bolt should be correct to the rifle but its not uncommon for bolts to be mismatched.

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