Tonight’s episode was all about guns from our favorite gun control paradise: Great Britain. I tried taking an English co-worker into a range trip a few weeks back, but unfortunately the freedom was just too much for his fragile brain and he hasn’t been quite the same ever since. Then again, he wasn’t quite all there to begin with. Anyway, I digress. To the guns!
Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) Mk. III
This is one of the only British firearms that I’ve ever wanted to own, mainly because it is such an interesting piece of technology.
The Lee-Enfield rifle started life in 1888 as the Lee-Metford rifle, combining Mr. Lee’s cocking technology with Mr. Metford’s rifling. However, as smokeless powder overtook black powder as the propellant of choice, it was discovered that Mr. Metford’s rifling system was inadequate and quickly wore away with repeated use. Mr. Enfield designed a more robust rifling technique, and the Lee-Enfield began introduction about 1895.
What makes this weapon particularly interesting to me is that the firearm is cocked when the bolt moves forwards.
On most rifles, the action of opening the bolt is what causes the firing pin to cock backwards. The Mauser action was one of the first to use this system, and the U.S. m1903 rifle followed suit with a similar system. The effect was that it was much more difficult to open the bolt than to close it, and required more force and more leverage. With the SMLE the bolt cocked back as the bolt went forward, meaning that when opening the bolt the action nearly springs open with very little assistance. This development made the gun very quick to cycle and meant that (with the exception of a straight pull bolt like the Schmidt Rubin) it was and probably still is the fastest bolt action design on the battlefield.
The name of the design, specifically the “short” part, refers to the barrel and not the magazine. The magazine size has remained constant since the initial development of the rifle, holding 10 rounds of ammunition typically loaded via stripper clips. It’s a common misconception that the “short magazine” is all one phrase, indicating the magazine had been shortened.
I’m fairly certain that this is the Mk. III (I have to admit I don’t watch these shows live), but based on the length of the barrel and the shape of the cocking piece it looks like a smelly mark three to me.
While the Enfield revolver was technically the official sidearm of the King’s armed forces, the Webley was by far my favorite during WWII. First introduced during The War to End All Wars, the Webley Mk. VI in .455 caliber was an improvement over the 1887 design in a few minor ways, but in reality it was the exact same weapon used to keep savage Zulus at bay all those years ago.
The most remarkable feature of this gun was its “break action” design. Instead of having the cylinder swing to one side for loading or having a loading gate at the rear of the frame, the entire gun simply hinges upwards exposing the breech end of the cylinder. This made loading and unloading easier, especially since the extractor automatically ejected the spent casings.
Unfortunately, by the beginning of WWII, the Webley was already massively out of date. The American M1911A1 was in service by then and even the Germans had moved on to semi-automatic magazine fed handguns. The Webley would continue to see use as the preferred sidearm of police agencies within the realm, but even in that role it has been largely phased out. Webleys can still be found in combat in the Middle East and Africa, and generally anywhere the British had an influence at one time, but the only production models still available are reproductions.
What did I think of the weapon choice for this week? For one thing, if they were going to do a show focusing on English firearms they’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. Unless they wanted to scrounge up some Baker rifles or a Brown Bess somewhere, these are the two firearms that immediately spring to mind when I think of “English firearms.” Great Britain isn’t exactly known for its affinity for firearms – certainly not any more – so naturally their production of iconic firearms has been somewhat lacking compared to their redneck cousins across the pond. Heck, even the French have had more luck in that field.
Even with the island nation’s lackluster overall record, though, these two firearms are definitely worthy of attention on the same level as the other firearms of the period and perhaps moreso for the impact they have had on the world in the hands of the Empire’s forces overseas.