Police in Northern India last week said farewell to a historic infantry rifle that has served them for generations– the .303-caliber Lee-Enfield.
Police for the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which counts roughly 200 million inhabitants, sent their Enfields off after using them for a final time in the country’s 71st Republic-Day Parade in late January, according to local reports. The force used 45,000 vintage Enfields, the agency’s standard-issue rifle since 1947. The historic bolt-action rifle will be replaced with domestically-made INSAS and inch-pattern FAL variants.
The below shows Uttar Pradesh police with their Enfields at last year’s RP Day parade.
“This (.303) rifle is a fantastic weapon and has served us brilliantly in various operations in the past,” police director-general Bijaya Kumar Maurya told AFP. “But it being a bolt action weapon with low magazine capacity, it was time for a change. Its production has also discontinued so there was all the more need for an upgrade.”
Although replaced, the Uttar Pradesh rifles will not be completely retired, they are reportedly being sent to the Indian Ordnance Factory at Ishapore to be re-worked into riot guns.
Going back to the old Magazine-Lee-Enfield of 1895, the Indians have used the venerable .303 for over 120 years in one form or another. In fact, starting in the 1930s Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) in the Bengal region made first 10-round MK. III* SMLEs then later what they termed Rifle 2/2A, a 7.62 NATO Enfield with a 12-round magazine in the 1960s and 1970s. Several thousand were imported to the U.S. in the late 1990s and sold for about $150.
I used to have an “Ishy” for several years and passed it on down the road to a friend. Of course, now I have regrets over that choice.
Nonetheless, I do still have an RFI-marked WWII-era Enfield P-1944 Jungle Bayonet with the late-war square pommel.
Perhaps, with these stocks of vintage guns removed from service, we may see another wave of relic Enfields and their accessories wash up on our shores.
Mechanism of the magazine – Lee-Enfield rifle (SMLE), 1907 Gallaher’s Cigarette card.
The .303 Enfield, of course, was fielded by Britain and her Commonwealth allies throughout both World Wars, Korea and a host of colonial misadventures until they were replaced by variants of the FN FAL in the 1960s. They are still in limited production in India at Ishapore in commercial variants and both 10-round (.303) and 12-round (.308) models remain in use by police and paramilitary units there, although they are slated for replacement.
Not such a bad mechanism, after all.
A Tommy with 2nd Battalion, the Warwickshire Regiment is perched in a tree taking aim with his rifle. The photograph was taken during an exercise at Rumegies near the Belgian border, on the 22nd January 1940, during the eight-month “Phoney War” or “Sitzkrieg” period between the fall of Poland and the invasion of France.
His rifle is the Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield Rifle No.1 MkIII.
The Warwickshires were originally formed in 1685 in the Netherlands by James II as the 6th Regiment of Foot, changing their name to the 1st Warwickshire in 1782. They fought in the Napoleonic wars, both World Wars, the Boer War and other assorted conflicts around the globe for 283 years when amalgamated finally as a single battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers, they lost their name and were folded into the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968 with their current RHQ in the Tower of London. Today they field an active duty armored infantry battalion (1st) equipped with Warriors while a TA unit, (5th bn) is equipped as light infantry.
The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is a descendant of the old British West India Regiment which dates to 1795 and the Jamaica Regiment consists of two light infantry battalions (1JR and 2JR) with a 3rd battalion made up of reservists.
While the force is constituted on a British Army model, their standard infantry arm is the M16A2 (and wear a MARPAT field uniform) though there are some second line units with the 1980s SA80 (L85) Enfield rifles.
You will note, however, that the honor guard (and 3JR as a whole) still uses the old L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR), the standard semi-auto inch pattern FAL adopted by the Brits in 1954. When the British replaced theirs in frontline use in the mid-1980s, they were forwarded over to Kingston– where they replaced even older WWII-era No. 4 SMLE .303s.
The SMLE’s did not go to waste, however, as they were passed on to the constabulary.
Canada’s Rangers in the past few years have just moved to replace their WWII Longbranch Enfields with a new rifle made by Sako (the bolt-action T3 CTR in .308). As the Rangers principal reason for a rifle is to ward off curious polar bears and give Russian paratroopers a *very* brief moment of pause, a bolt gun works for them. Another niche unit that still uses bolt action rifles is the Danish Navy’s sled patrol in Greenland– who use M1917 Enfields and Glock 20s for much the same reason as the Canadians.
But what if you didn’t have to worry about polar bears, and instead swapped them out for legit potential terrorist concerns, and your beat included some 200-million people. That’s the thing in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. There, apparently, police still use 58,853 British .303-caliber Enfields even though the government said in 1995 they were obsolete and had to be pulled.
More in my column at Guns.com
Here we see a Short-Magazine Lee-Enfield in .303 British that had a very curious history.
It was issued to a member of the Reserve/1st Garrison Battalion, Essex Regiment (formed in 1881 from the amalgamation of the 44th East Essex Regiment of Foot and the 56th West Essex Regiment of Foot) which fought at Le Cateau and Ypres before being sent on Winston Churchill’s attempt to knock the Ottomans out of World War I at Gallipoli. The unit came away relatively unscathed from the fiasco and went on to fight at Loos, the Somme, Cambrai, and Gaza.
However, our SMLE was left behind somehow in the evacuation of Gallipoli and was captured in very good condition by the Turks. Sent to Constantinople as a trophy, the Turkish Government had it engraved near the lock in gold in Turkish “Booty captured in the fighting at Chanak Kale.”
Enver Pasha then presented it to Emir Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi (then a Turkish subject representing the city of Jeddah for the Ottoman parliament and the guest of Jemal Pasha in Damascus) in 1916. It was then inscribed near the bayonet mount “Presented by Enver Pasha to Sherif Feisal” in Turkish.
T E LAWRENCE 1888-1935 (Q 73535) Lawrence in Arab dress seated on the ground. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source
Then came Captain T. E. Lawrence, a junior British intelligence officer from Cairo to instigate rebellion in Arabia against the Ottomans. Meeting Feisal 23 October 1916 at Hamra in Wadi Safra, Lawrence supplied the leader with some nice, fresh .303 rounds (the Brit was fond of carrying a a M1911 Colt .45 ACP on his person and a Lewis gun in .303 in his baggage).
As the Lawrence/Feisal partnership blossomed to full rebellion against Constantinople, the Arab leader passed his Turkish trophy Enfield to the wild, blonde-haired rabble rouser on 4 December 1916 in a meeting near Medina.
Lawrence carved his initials and the date in the stock and carried the rifle till October 1918 when Damascus was captured .
The gun has five notches carved into the stock near the magazine, with one in particular marking the death of one Turkish officer taken with the gun. After the war, the rifle was presented by then-Colonel Lawrence to King George V, passing to the Imperial War Museum upon the regent’s death.
The former princely owner, of course, became King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria of Iraq and was played in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia by Alec Guinness.
A similar rifle (without the ‘Enver’ inscription) was given by the Turkish Government to Abdulla, Feisal’s brother, and is now in the possession of Ronald Storrs.
The IWM has a second Feisal trophy rifle in their collection as well.
The Turkish Model 1887 rifle was the first of a series of rifles produced for the Turkish Army by Mauser of Germany. Its design echoed that of the German Gewehr 71/84 service rifle, being a bolt-action weapon with a tubular magazine beneath the barrel.
This particular rife, made in 1892, was presented by the Emir Feisal to Captain WHD Boyle, Officer Commanding the Royal Navy Red Sea Squadron, in recognition of assistance rendered during the Arab Revolt against Turkey. Boyle later inherited the title of Earl of Cork and Orrery and rose to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet. He commanded the Royal Naval forces engaged in the Norwegian campaign in 1940.
Marked as follows: 1. Sultan’s Tugra stamped on top of chamber 2. Turkish proofs stamped on right of chamber 3. Arabic inscription commencing with 1308 (date) stamped on left of body 4. stamped on bolt 5. gold inlay on top of barrel 6. Arabic inscription commencing with 1326-1330 engraved on silver scroll-shaped plaque let into left of butt (detached).
Why were these Mausers and Enfields so treasured? Well, they were modern magazine fed bolt-action rifles and the standard gear in the desert just wasn’t.
The Ottomans armed the local Arab tribes with surplussed U.S. Providence Tool Company-made Peabody-Martini Model 1874s chambered in 11.3x59mmR blackpowder. (Though in 1912 Austria’s Steyr converted a lot of these into 7.65mm Mauser with the resulting kaboom risk, making the M74/12 which served through WWI with various guards and rear line units, freeing standard rifles for the front.)
As for the Brits, they gave their new Arab allies old 1870s Mk II Martini-Henry breechloaders taken from Indian troops headed to France and Egypt– who were themselves reissued new Enfields.
With their vintage .303 No. 4 Lee Enfield rifles being phased out, the part-time soldiers of the Canadian Rangers are standing tall at the Canadian Armed Forces Small Arms Concentration.
The military shooting competition, in which some 450 shooters from Canada’s Regular Force and Primary Reserve, Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and teams from the United Kingdom and the United States are competing, was first organized back in 1868.
Held from September 5 to 17 at the Connaught Ranges and Primary Training Centre in Ottawa, it will be one of the final competitive shooting competitions in which the Canadian Rangers will use the Enfield, which is being replaced by the Sako/Colt Canada T3 CTR (Compact Tactical Rifle) rifle in .308.
While the Canucks plan to destroy surplus Enfields left after the conversion, those Rangers currently with them will be gifted their guns.
The below video from the Canadian Army, which shows some No. 4s at work at the Small Arms Concentration, details Sergeant Cyril Abbott of the 5th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. Abbott served 20 years active with the Black Watch and 2 RCR, and has spent the past 32 years with the Rangers, giving him an impressive 52 years with the Colours.