15 Nov 22
“Time obliterates naive fictions of opinion and confirms decisions of nature”
Ambrose Burnside, designer of the short-lived Burnside Carbine, and Civil War General (of dubious fame), went on the become Governor of the State of Rhode Island, Senator from the State of Rhode Island, famous advocate for veterans, and the first president of the NRA!
The NRA was started as a way to improve civilian marksmanship, after it demonstrated itself to be so poor among Union Troops during the American Civil War.
Forty years later in a curious replay, British General Baden-Powell would found the Boy Scouts in the UK for largely the same reason.
During the Anglo-Boer War at the end of the 1900s, youth from industrialized England, subsequently recruited into British Infantry to fight Boer farmers in South Africa, were discovered to have no field-craft skills, no knowledge of weapons, and again displayed poor marksmanship.
By contrast, Boer farmers of the late 1800s were genuine “frontiersmen” and, like Confederate farm boys during the American Civil War, their marksmanship, horsemanship, and field-craft skills were superb, as the naive British unhappily discovered!
Lee-Metford Mk11 Rifles British soldiers were issued at the time had detachable magazines, but they could not be recharged via stripper clips (in nor out of the rifle) as could Mauser rifles used by the Boers.
The Lee-Metford Rifle gets its name from the combination of James Paris Lee’s rear-locking bolt system, and William Metford’s innovative seven-groove rifled barrel (later reduced to five grooves). The Lee-Metford replaced the single-shot Martini-Henry rifle in 1888. The Martini had a bad habit of overheating and subsequently seizing, as it unhappily demonstrated during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.
Sights on the Lee-Metford had no windage adjustment!
There was a short Lee-Metford for the cavalry, and a long version for the infantry (too long and unwieldy as it turns out).
This was all corrected (after the fact) with the Lee-Enfield SMLE, for “Short, (detachable) Magazine, Lee-Enfield, officially adopted in 1895, but not in general issue until the Second Anglo-Boer War was over. Production did not ramp-up until 1904.
Enfield was UK’s “National Armory.” It, like America’s Springfield Armory, existed as a national repository of know-how necessary to design and build military arms for national defense. Enfield Armory was permanently closed by naive politicians (none of whom ever wore their country’s uniform) in 1988.
America’s Springfield Armory was likewise closed in 1968 by an equally naive Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense.
The British had an on-again/off-again love-affair with the “magazine cut-off.” It came and went multiple times between 1900 and WWII!
The Lee-Enfield SMLE was to serve British armed forces, largely unchanged, from the 1895 to the 1950s. Its history mirrored that of the German K98 Mauser rifle!
Many Lee-Enfields issued to British troops were actually manufactured in America during WWI. In fact, the 1917 “American Enfield” would subsequently form the base for Winchester’s popular Model 70 sporting rifle.
A small number of British Lee-Enfields were converted from 303 British to 7.62×51 NATO shortly before the Brits finally abandoned bolt-guns altogether and adopted the Belgian FAL in 1954 (which the Brits called the “SLR,” for “Self-Loading Rifle”). Very few of these “caliber-converted” Lee-Enfields ever saw issuance, but some were subsequently fitted with optics and served (marginally) as sniper rifles for several decades afterward.
During the early, desperate period of WWII, Enfield barrels went from five grooves to two, in order to speed-up production, since grooves had to be cut one at a time. During WWI, Americans did the same thing with the 1903 Springfield Rifle.
Likewise, kiln-dried Birch and Beech were substituted for scarce French Walnut. To address the same issue, Germans went to laminated stocks.
Seventeen-million Enfield SMLEs would be ultimately manufactured, from 1895 (actually 1904) through the 1950s.
In some former British colonies, the stoic SMLE is still in-service today!