Last week’s post about theM1903 and  bolt action battle rifles got some good discussion going in the comment section.  Naturally this turned to comparing and talking about more battle bolt action rifles from the two world wars.    I opinionated on what I think was the best bolt action battle rifle, the Lee Enfield  No 4.

The example shown in the No .4 MK 2, the improved and refined version made afterWW2.  But it will stand in for the older model for purposes of this article.   This one is an example of some of the last ones made.

The No. 4 is made in the British service round .i.e, the .303 British  like its past family members.  This is a rimmed bottle neck round firing a .303 diameter bullet, or 7.7mm. That is the same as the Japanese “7.7mm Jap” round.  By WW2 the standard loading for rifle use was the MK MKVII load.  This was a  174 grain  spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of around 2500fps.   The trick part of the projectile is this.  The front tip of the FMJ was not filled with lead. The tip was filled instead with aluminum, (  sorry ,Al-U-min-e-um for you limeys out there) or a type of plastic or a few other fillers.

This shifted the  center of gravity to the rear of the bullet.  When the round hit the target it it lost stability and  will yaw.  The wounding of this was  much greater than the normal ball round.  This is not the same as the ” DUM DUM” round. It would however bend or break apart.  The MKVII is also  considered very accurate, and it is or a WW2 era military service round.   There was and is a load for machine gun  use. A slightly heavier 175 grain boat tailed bullet loaded with a higher pressure. The round was made to provide the machine guns with a round that would allow for longer range more accurate fire.  It    would wear the barrel quickly due to its  powder used and bullet design.  It is safe to fire in small arms but the British Army did not allow it to be used unless in an emergency.  Of course this means rifleman quickly grabbed up all the could find to use in their rifles.

The rifle  used a detachable 10 round magazine but practice was to load with 5 round charger clips. The charger /stripper clips are very good designs and sturdy.  The rifle had the usual guide lips made into the receiver for the clips and two of them would fully load the magazine  very quickly in practiced hands. Of course you can also load from the top one round at a time by hand.  Lastly you can of course swap out magazines if you have a spare one.

The rifle is another design that cocks on closing. Some like it , some don’t.   Me and a lot of other people find it very fast.  Working the bolt for rapid fire can be done very quickly. Opening  is easier since  you are not also cocking the action  and when pushing the bolt forward, you already have the momentum and speed   going.  This allows for some rapid bolt action fire with practice. One of the things the design and the British rifleman were famous for.

The safety on the No.4 is on the left side and its a  large lever easy to get to and manipulate in all conditions.   To the rear is safe.

Forward is of course fire.

As you can see above in the picture, the gun can also be cocked by pulling on the   square notched piece on the bolt.  Though it is not recommended.  This would allow carry of a live round int he chamber without the gun cocked.  I have seen some old timers who hunted with these rifle carry them in condition 2 for hunting then reach up and cock the gun  by hand.    I have  no idea why they chose to do this

The above picture also shows the two piece design of the rifle stock. The idea of a 2 piece stock bothers a lot of people and is said to not be as strong,   In this case it is not an issue. The rifle is a combat rifle meant for the roughest of handling.   It will not give you a problem as long as you don’t get hit with an 88mm.

One of my favorite part of the No 4 is it’s sights.   Unlike the forward mounted rear sights of most of it’s peers, the Enfield has the rear sight in the right spot.

The rear sight is a  receiver aperture battle sight calibrated for 300 yd (274 m) with an additional ladder aperture sight that could be flipped up and was calibrated for 200–1,300 yd (183–1,189 m) in 100 yd (91 m) increments.   This is much faster  and easier to use than the  open V notch sight of most other country’s  battle rifles and  more accurate.  This  rear large peep  sight is much like modern combat rifles iron sights and would be very familiar and comfortable even for a user only used to  modern rifles and carbines.

Folding the sight into the up position gives you a smaller peep for more precise aiming for longer ranges. The ladder with range markings is clear and easy to read and use.   And it is in yards!! not  the system used by countries that have not been to the moon.  I have done some very accurate long range shooting using this sight on this very gun over the years.  It is not user adjustable for windage since that is set by the factory and  the rifleman was expected to hold off for any wind conditions.

The front sight is a protected blade .  Two large “ears” on each side kept it safe from being knocked off, bent or broken.  Each protective  ear was slotted to allow  in as much light on the front sight as possible

Now with all those features it is time to see what counts the most. The accuracy of the rifle.   Since this gun belongs to my brother and not myself and it is in such great condition I did not bang away with it for ours using the original service round which is corrosive.  Instead I sued a couple of handload. This was to show what it was capable of  beyond  the service round for those who may want to use it for something other than killing krauts. I did shoot some surplus MKVII loads just to see what it would do .

For the hand loaded  match ammo I shot the gun from a bench with sandbags .  Each string of fire was slow fire with time to allow the barrel to cool as I did not want the heating up of the barrel and wood to affect the gun’s potential for accuracy.    I also used the smaller peep of the long range ladder sight and was able to hold in a way to get the shots close to red dots.  This was a bit of a chore figuring out where to hold odd and then making another aiming point for precise hold off while still  hitting close to the dots.  After I finished I realized the stupidity of  going through the trouble and frustration just to be able to show nice neat photos of  groups by  the  “aiming point” when I should have just shot and took a picture of the groups where ever they happened to pint.    But I like the look of a group close to whatever was ostensibly supposed to be hit.  Anyway, I’m an idiot that worked too hard in 108 degree heat.

First 5 round  group  is  the sierra HPBT  .303 match bullet.  This was some hand loads I had made up for the gun for my brother to use at long range about 14 years ago.   You can see why the sierra match kings have long been favorites of mine.  This group was fired at 65 yards.

This next four rounds group is  the Hornady 178gr A-MAX ballistic tip bullet hand loads.  This was also fired from 65 yards.  Why only 4 rounds and not 5?   Because It was all I had left after shooting up the rest trying to figure out the hold off.

This last group is 5 rounds  was the Sierra  match King HPBTs again. This time at a full 100 yards.   This was the best group fired  at 100 yards. The rest looked  about like this or slightly bigger but in my foolish pointless quest to get the group to print close to the red dot I did not take pictures of them because they were not close enough to the red dot to suit me.   I can only the guess that the reason for this stupid temporary  obsession was the  furnace like heat and what felt like 1 million gnats in my face and the 200 percent humidity.  Mea Culpa.

I had a hand full or original MKVII British ammo left over from a batch we bought back in the mid 90s.  So i used it to  shoot 300yards to see how it did.    I didn’t shoot further because I only had  300 yards available to me where I was shooting and I also wanted to see if the  sight really was calibrated to the load as it is supposed to be.

It was!

It shot pretty good as well.   I shot two targets but this is the best of the two. I would show the other one but i do not think it is fair to the rifle because of the other  10 rounds I shot at it, 4 of those rounds had faulty primer/powder ignition.   I would fire the gun, hear the primer pop the a half second later the gun would fire.  Not very conducive of accuracy.     You can imagine how the target looked. Not to mention how nervous I started to get about  the ammo.

The gun is very accurate and it helps that it is one of those mint UF 55 rifles as they are called, brought into the US in the mid to late 90s.  My brother bought it for  the Arab Princely sum of 139 yankee green backs.   Even with years of him firing surplus corrosive ammo through it , the barrel is still capable of good accuracy though it fouls out fast from the damage he inflicted on it from not cleaning it fast enough after firing the old ammo . As you can see in the following picture  You can also see the dee, sharp lands and grooves the rifles are famous for.  The lug on the right side of the barrel is  for mounting the bayonet. Also note that the  barrel of the No.4 is heavier than the older Lee Enfields which helps it’s accuracy potential.

Several years ago when a few of us here  were on a kick to see the furthest we could shoot surplus military bolt action rifles, this rifle was able to  hold it’s own  against even a K31, which is pretty impressive as the K31 with its  GP11 service round is hard to beat . It was easy to shoot the Enfield out to 700-800 yards  from prone slinged up.

The No.4  is such a good and accurate rifle that it didn’t take much imagination to  select it and turn it into a sniper rifle.  With the addition of the No.32 optical sight and a few other  enhancements the rifle became the No. 4 Mk. I (T) sniper rifle.  The rifle used the same .303 round and it was in my opinion, arguably  the best  sniper rifle of the war.   It served on even after the adoption of the 7.62mm NATO.  Even today if  it turned up on the battlefield in the hands of a competent sniper  with fieldcraft and shooting skills it would still wreak havoc and be very effective.   By today’s concept of sniping and long range precision fire it would easily compete in the DMR role at the least. Losing out only because of its lack of semi auto fire.

The No 4 Enfield  is in my opinion, the best bolt action rifle used in WW2 with the No.4 MK 2 being the even more refined version.   If you can find one in good enough condition to be a shooter I give it my highest recommendation.   It served the British Empire for many years before being replaced by the FAL  but  even after that it served other nations faithfully. It is fast, easy to manipulate, durable and tough , the sights are capable of very good  precision shooting at range  and it has plenty of  power in its service round.  Even with its draw backs it was still  a battle rifle that has a record of performance any other bolt action service rifle would envy.

14 Comments

  1. Rocketguy says:

    I really enjoy shooting Enfields. Dad has nice examples of a SMLE, a No. 4 and a lshy 7.62. It’s interesting to compare and contrast them. Don’t have enough experience with the 1903 or the Mauser to really compare and contrast.

    One thing that drives me nuts is the sloppy chamber on the 303s. I’m sure it helped with reliability on the battlefield but it works the hell out of brass. I’ve had head separation on second loadings. It forces me to shoot them less than I’d like because 303 brass isn’t just laying around everywhere.

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    1. Shawn says:

      yeah and the quality surplus is a distant memory

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  2. John M. says:

    Yeah, I love me a SMLE but the dearth of .303 here in the States is a killer.

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  3. ptmn says:

    When I was a kid just starting to buy surplus guns, I never gave the Fields (No1 or the No4) the time of day because they looked awkward and clumsy. One day my wise Uncle changed my bad attitude by taking me to the range with his pristine Irish issue No4Mk2.

    Once I shouldered the rifle, I realized the awkward looking appearance was deceiving. That weapon is one of the absolute most comfortable and naturally feeling long rifle to shoulder. The “pistol” grip fits the hand perfectly and is at the most optimum angle. I was hooked after that and bought 3 of them (No1MkIII, No4Mk1, No4Mk2).

    Has I been a “Tommy” in WWII, I would have felt well armed with an Enfield going against the German K98’s.

    One note on the longevity of the Enfield, it soldiered on early in the Afghan campaign. We used to capture them from time to time. Afghan “snipers” liked them because some of the 303 rounds (I wish I remembered which…you can tell I wasn’t an intelligent guy) had the ability to penetrate some of the early SAPI plates.

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    1. Shawn says:

      The No4 sniper was the best sniper rifle of WW2

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      1. Paulden Prince says:

        Yep. Definitely-light years ahead of the rest. I had one years ago, an “Interarmco” import (before they became “Interarms”). It was well used and the rifle, transit case, and scope can had seen signs of heavy real world use. Of all the surplus rifles I owned it was the one I really wished could “talk”…..

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    2. Rocketguy says:

      I had the same “they’re weird and awkward” avoidance until I got my C&R and picked up a No 4…basically because I was buying just about everything that was available. Even had that same moment when I shouldered it and thought, “Oh, that’s why they’re so popular.”

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  4. Elon Muskox says:

    In WWI, the British said the Germans brought a hunting rifle to war, the American brought a target rifle, and only they brought a battle rifle. And there’s more than a kernel of truth to that.

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  5. There are a couple of other factors which contribute to the SMLE’s winning a contest of “the best battle rifle of WWII.”

    First, the rimmed ammunition. Lots of people look at rimmed ammunition today and grouse about rim-lock in magazines (which is a potential issue). Well, rimmed cartridges have some upsides, too. First, they headspace off the front of the rim. This makes the rifle easier to chamber, and you don’t have to worry so much about excessive headspace in a rimmed chamber as you do in a chamber that headspaces off the case shoulder (like the ’06, or 8×57, etc). You don’t care all that much whether the case’s shoulder hits the shoulder in the chamber. If the shoulder has to blow forward a bit when firing, so what? There’s no slop going to the rear, so the case head isn’t going to try to elongate backwards.

    Second, the amount of taper on the .303 British cartridge makes for easier extraction in a dirty chamber.

    As an aside, when I look at most bolt-action rifle receivers, it takes me only a few minutes to come up with ideas of “ok, how do we hold this while we machine it, and what kind of machining operation are we going to do to get this feature?”

    That’s out the window with a SMLE receiver. The SMLE receiver is very complicated in spots. I’ve sought engineering drawings for a SMLE for years, without success. Just consider one issue on the receiver: how does one set up to machine the “cup” where the buttstock attaches to the receiver? In which order is that machined? It could make a dramatic difference in workholding where that feature is machined in the sequence, as an example.

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  6. Paulden Prince says:

    Another overlooked attribute of the Enfield design is that they had stocks with different lengths of pull which could easily be replaced/installed. My favorite Enfield is the No. 1 Mk III, always liked the looks. I’ve got a 1943 Lithgow which was unfired when I bought it-beautiful rifle.

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  7. Wild, wild west says:

    It’s un-American not to have a Lee-Enfield of some description around the house.

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  8. BAP45 says:

    I was so close to picking up one or even 2 but I had just bought 2 other rifles so had to save up again. And it was right as .303 was drying up so I didn’t want to end up with something I couldn’t feed either.

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  9. You brought back some good memories from my C&R Days with this article Shawn, Thanks! When I was heavy into collecting, the Enfield was my absolute favorite. #4’s and the infamous #5 “Jungle Carbine’s” were in decent supply then and I had a few of each plus a wooden case of ammo from Aim Surplus! Oh those were the days! Sadly, we will never see them again but atleast I have some nice memories.

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