Today I’m going to return to a subject near and dear to my heart the Short Magazine Lee Enfield. (SMLE) These iconic battle rifles can still be found on duty in some of the more remote parts of the planet and I reckon a design that is still soldiering on over a hundred years from its introduction places this rifle well and truly into legendary status.
Now I can write volumes on the MK 1, No 1 MKIII, No 1 MKV, No 4 MK1*, No 4 MK2 and the MK 5 “Jungle Carbine” but today I want to touch on some of the more unusual variants of the SMLE that have come out over the years.
The first unusual variant I ever saw was an original “Tunnel Rat“ cut down MKIII from WW1, if you watched the film “Beneath Hill 60” you would have seen some examples. Basically you cut down a MKIII at both ends and its make a short, handy and devastating close quarter weapon and I imagine just firing the thing in an enclosed place would have been terrifying even if you were on the right end of it. Those AIF guys were as hard as nails I reckon.
(editors Note – recently going about facebook is a version of this , modified for use in club shoots for metallic silhouette I believe )
I’ve seem numerous “Line Throwing” variants were a SMLE has been converted to fire a line from ship to ship or ship to shore and is normally a spigot that goes in the barrel that is attached to a line, then with the help of a pretty powerful blank cartridge you can fire the line quite a distance. The grenade Cups Discharger works on the same principle but with a very satisfying bang at the end of the process.
There is the ultra-rare South African Police take down carbine; this sports a 14 inch barrel and a quick release mechanism in the butt, firing the thing with a full house service load must have been a bracing experience and I imagine the flame out of the end of the barrel must have been pretty impressive as well.
Then we have the Australian No6 shortened and lighted trails rifles, Lithgow’s attempt to produce a “Jungle Carbine”. Unfortunately the prototypes were literally finished weeks before the surrender of Japan so these outstanding SMLE variants were never put into production for full time service.
Properly one of the most famous SMLE variants is the De Lisle Commando Carbine. With the increase in cross channel commando raids and SOE dropping agents all over occupied Europe a need to silently “dispatch” enemy sentries etc. was soon identified and W.G. De Lisle soon had a couple of working prototypes ready for testing. It was a MKIII SMLE action with a 7 ¼ inch barrel with a 10 ½ silencer with a modified receiver to take Colt 1911 magazines and was chambered to 45 ACP. These little carbines proved incredibly successful and where accurate out to 200 yards and saw service right out to 1945.
Post 1945 saw the SMLE adapt itself to changing times with the No 4 T being replaced by the L4A1. Adapted from the civilian Enfield Envoy, Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield took especially select No 4s and Rebarrelled them to 7.62 NATO, cut it down to a half stock design and mounted a modified No 32 scope. This variant was in service around the globe until 1982 when it was replaced by Accuracy Internationals L96A1.
In 1988 Australian International Arms (AIA) came into existence based in Brisbane. This was an interesting company from the start; they manufactured high quality receivers in Vietnam, teak stocks from India and barrels from Australia with all finishing machining and assembly here in Australia. They had 5 basic models the AIA No4 MK IV, a stock standard No 4, M10A1 and M10A2 half stock No 4s chambered to 7.62x39, M10B1 and M10B2 half stock No 4s in 7.62x51. The big differences between the original No 4s and the AIA version was the AIA version had been modernized considerably and could easily mount a picatinny rail for a scope and utilized a modern magazine system. I have used both the AIA No 4 MKIV and the M10B2 and both were well made accurate rifles. Unfortunately AIA is now best remembered as the company that shut its door and literally disappeared overnight, a strange end for a company that turned out some quality SMLE variants.
Meanwhile Armalon in the UK is properly the world leader in SMLE No 4 conversions and produced models in 223, 7.62x39, 9mm and 45 ACP. These guys produce a very high quality product and their rifles are a work of art, I have had a chance to play with a 223 version as well as the 9mm and 45 ACP and they are smooth and accurate. I was bit dubious about the pistol calibre bolt action rifles but was blown away by just how handy they turned out to be, especially the 45 ACP, if you’re looking for a short range knock down rifle to be your daily carry either on foot or in the ute these little bolt guns are the go.
Unfortunately, I do have one problem with the Armalon stuff, and that is the price, to get one here you’re looking at just over 4 grand and I have trouble justifying spending quite that much.
Well the good news is you should keep a close eye on the Claremont Firearms website. We have been negotiating with what I consider the best SMLE conversion guy in the country and I suspect there will be some good news shortly. Soon you may be able to own your very own SMLE variant and that readers is what generated so much chat around here about SMLEs and their variants . So never write off this great rifle because as I said at the start of this article, many are over a hundred years old and still going strong !