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The No.1 Mk.III* (S.M.L.E.) Sniping Rifle of the First World War

and see the main page on the Rifle, Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield


In 1915, when German Mauser rifles mounted with high quality German optics were being used to great effect in the demoralisation of British troops holding the opposing trenches, in the static stalemate of the War at that time, initially the only effective retaliation was by those men who had pre-war target shooting experience. Many of these men brought their own target rifles to the front, and used them with aperture sights, Galilean sights and even a small number of hunting telescopic sights in an attempt to level the playing field.

The Lattey Galilean sights were simply fitted to any S.M.L.E. rifle, but gave a very low magnification and were subject to reflections of ambient light in the open lenses. Whilst offering some of the benefit of telescope for sighting, there was an acknowledged need for a true telescopic-sighted rifle suitable for general issue to properly trained sharp-shooters.

The earliest types of these rifles were assembled in 1916 by such well-known gunsmiths as Alexander Martin, who had considerable experience in 'scoping' expensive hunting rifles for the well-heeled. These companies designed mounts for the Short Lee-Enfield that permitted quick fitting and removal of the telescopes with minimal effect on the rifle's zero; although those issued with such rifles understandably preferred to be sure about their continuing accuracy by leaving the telescopes in place unless removal was absolutely necessary - usually for maintenance or repair.

The rifle below has been fitted with a side-mounted telescope manufactured by the Periscope Prism Company. The theory of side-mounting wasto retain the speedy charger-loading of the rifle with clips of ammunition if the shooter found himself in need of engaging an enemy with rapid fire.

 

Here you can view every aspect of the rifle.

The next two images can be rotated and zoomed, either as initially loaded or full-screen for higher definition.

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The upper image shows the rifle accompanied by the observer's Scout Regiment spotting telescope on its short tripod stand.

The particularly observant amongst our readers will have spotted an unusual muzzle protruberance. This is a standard .303 inch centre-fire service rifle but, for experimentation with the telescope fitment on a small-bore range, it had been temporarily fitted with a .22 inch rimfire Aiming-Tube and the appropriate bolt with the .22 bolt-head with its offset floating firing-pin.


In practical application, the need for clip-loading by a sharp-shooter or "sniper" in a concealed position was evidently seldom encountered, so over-bore telescope mounts were soon introduced. These obviated the frankly none-too-comfortable positions required to use a side-mounted 'scope, which under some circumstances could even be easier to aim with the left eye of a right-handed firer.

The Aldis Company designed a fine telescope that was slightly shorter than the usual side-mounted versions, and which had improved light-gathering qualities. A 1916 model preceded the famous 1918 model introduced late in the War, and which was still manufactured and used on the SMLE rifles built in Australia in the Second 1939-45 World War. Australia did not have the machine tools to produce the later No.4 rifle, and continued to manufacture and issue No.1 S.M.L.E. rifles until the end of WWII.

 

 


 


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