Obscure Object Of Desire: 1954 Irish Contract Lee-Enfield Mk2 Rifle

By Chris Dumm

I know what you’re thinking: Lee-Enfields are about as obscure as Ford Escorts. The Brits made 17 million of them. Between 1895 and 1957 soldiers equipped with the gun fought for Crown and Queen in all corners of the Empire. With a ten-round magazine and the fastest manually-operated turnbolt ever made, the Lee-Enfield gave its Commonwealth soldiers a substantial advantage in firepower over their Mauser-equipped foes.

Despite being out of production since 1956, you’ll still see them at gun shows and pawn shops in various (often poor) conditions.  Most of them, by now, look as though the ‘Pals’ of Kitchener’s New Armies dragged them through the mud of Passchendaele and never cleaned them.

Several models of Lee-Enfield were manufactured over the years. The final version was the elegant No. 4 Mk. 2. It was slightly lighter than its predecessors, because it lacks their three-pound steel muzzle cap/bayonet mount. In addition, the No. 4 Mk. 2 is also slightly more accurate due to a slight redesign of the trigger mechanism.

About 40,000 No. 4 Mk. 2’s were manufactured to order for the Irish Republic, but the order was never delivered for political reasons. In 1956, the last British Lee-Enfield rolled off the assembly line. The machinery was sold to India, where the 7.62x51mm ‘Ishapore’ Lee-Enfields were later manufactured.

Irish contract lee-enfield rifle

What makes this particular Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk.2 an ‘obscure’ object of desire: it’s in abso-fricking-lutely 100% condition. Unfired and as clean and bright as the day it was born in the Fazakerley Royal Ordnance Factory in Liverpool in 1954. The beechwood furniture is smooth, bright and unblemished. The steel is either a deep, smooth black or in the white and impeccably preserved. You will not work a smoother rifle bolt in your life.

A supply of these came stateside in the mid-1990s. Priced at around $400, they didn’t stick around long. A 100% example with matching serial numbers books for many times that today. The real trick these days is getting your hands on some ammunition for it.

 

comments

  1. avatar Ron says:

    I love my enfield, I’ll hunt with it occasionally. I’m glad I just happened to pick up several hundred rounds of .303 right before the panic hit.

    Interesting thought that huge swaths of the massive arsenals of the British Empire, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Union now reside in the hands of the American civilian population.

    1. avatar David Emery says:

      I have a 1954 Lee enfield that is still in it’s original Fazakerley mummy wrap as well as 480 rounds (24 boxes) of the now ultra scarce Winchester white box ammunition.

      For some unknown reason I never unwrapped this rifle and I am now too old and sick to hunt. Due to that I may well accept a good – realistic offer for the rifle, the ammo or both.

      If anyone is interested you can email me and I will send you pictures of these items. I am in Florida USA so I guess that I can only sell to to someone in the US. Dave. * * *

      [email protected]

    2. avatar Southern Cross says:

      I have hunted with my No4 Lee-enfield. Iron sights are not an impediment out to 200m and much better in close country. Several extra magazines in my pockets and 6″ of steel on the end. Very effective on pigs and goats.

  2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Ron that second paragraph is an interesting observation. One that never occurred to me.
    As for the ammunition issue. That’s why I always thought the 7.62 NATO rifles were the thinking man’s Lee-Enfield.

    1. avatar RGP says:

      The .308 Enfields I’ve seen were all converted to .308 in India by Ishapure (?)…. I’ve always wanted one but was always nervous about the quality of an Indian made gun.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I had 2 of the Ishapores. I don’t believe India converted any from .303. The 7.62s were all new made.

        My only real complaints with these, as opposed to the .303 brit mades I had shot before were the shotgun like patterns. Granted, the .303 models were never as accurate as a Mauser or Springfield they actually did shoot groups, not patterns.

        1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

          ever slug the bore of one? wonder if they used 303 barrels chambered in 308.

        2. avatar jwm says:

          Andrew. No. That’s beyond my skill set. The rifles worked in every respect and were reliable as you would expect from a bolt action military weapon.

          But they shot a pattern at a hundred yards that looked shotgun like. Maybe 6-8 inches. Both of them. I had a large supply of cheap surplus 7.62 and would shoot 100-120 rounds a session. From start to finish they threw the same pattern. At that time I had no access to a longer range.

      2. avatar Southern Cross says:

        The 7.62 Ishapore rifles were new production using a stronger steel than the SMLEs.

    2. avatar Ron says:

      .303 actually isn’t too difficult to find, in normal times. It, like 8mm Mauser, was sort of the 7.62×39 of its day. All over the world. So it’s still in common production. But like everything else right now isn’t available.

      1. avatar Bob in Calif says:

        Try finding 8x56R. My Mannlicher doesn’t get a lot of use. But it does a good job when used.

  3. avatar RGP says:

    It’s amazing how many so called gun nuts were born without the brains or ambition to load their own ammunition.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Hey…I resemble that remark.

      Some of us would love to reload our own, but don’t have an enclosed garage or work shed bench available due to where we live. And chose to put our formerly available money into getting as much factory ammo as it could buy (a couple of years ago when prices were low) instead of acquiring all the presses, dies, cutters, components, etc. and starting from scratch. Today reloading is arguably as expensive as factory, anyhow.

      Besides, my local gun range prohibits the collection of range brass. Too many knuckleheads apparently don’t understand that bending down and reaching across the “hot” bench line is a dangerous no-no, and now we all need to be babysat.

      1. avatar Southern Cross says:

        With my competition calendar, my reloading equipment paid for itself in less than a year, and I was living in a unit at the time.

        The answer is to soft-eject the fired rounds so the cases don’t get thrown across several bays. Or use an ammo can as a deflector.

        1. avatar Art out West says:

          I reload for my revolvers. Open cylinder, dump into hand, drop into pocket 👍

      2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        “Besides, my local gun range prohibits the collection of range brass.”

        I refuse to use local ranges that steal my brass, because that’s what it is, theft.

        if they want to pay me for it, that’s different. Taking it from me is theft, full stop…

    2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      RGP, I used to reload. Primarily so I could shoot premium bullets before they were available in factory loads. Once that was no longer the case I walked away from it. And Haz is right. Unless you enjoy tinkering with it, and many do, there’s really on longer a cost/availability advantage to the home rolled ammo.

      1. avatar Roger J says:

        I reload for enjoyment. Any cost saving is just a perk.

        1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

          Roger, that’s all the reason you need and perfectly acceptable.

      2. avatar Southern Cross says:

        When factory ammunition costs about a dollar to several dollars per round and I can reload for 30 cents (in South Pacific Pesos ($AU)), reloading is a worthwhile activity.

        1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          Bingo.

          I’m assembling a reload kit ‘just in case’. (Just in case primers ever become available again, that is… 🙁 )

      3. avatar Mark N. says:

        Depends on what you are rolling. I started with .45 Colt which is often over $1 per round, and for the heavy stuff, over $1.50. I bought a lot of cowboy loads when ammo was cheap and saved the brass. Lead bullets are pretty inexpensive, and seconds on JHPs more than reasonable. As a low pressure ropund, brass lasts a while. The added bonus is that I can load hot rounds for my rifle, and hotter loads for my pistol that you can’t buy for less than a buck and a half each, or plain plinkers in smokeless or black powder that run about 750 fps. I run a single stage press with a set of carbide dies, and have a $50 electronic scale. Powder measures for black are really cheap. I don’t know my cost per piece, but I have to assume it is half what it would cost to buy new if it were ever available. I also bought a set of carbide dies in .45 ACP, and I know I can reload for less than the prices out there now, though I haven’t reloaded much of it yet.

    3. avatar Specialist38 says:

      Hmmmmm……a “dick” remark out of the blue…whooda thought it..

      From the “if you don’t pursue/worship/geek-out over the same things I do …..you are of limited intelligence or ability”.

      I do reload ….. and you can go straight to hell.

  4. avatar ken says:

    I got mine back when they first entered the country and paid that “exorbitant” $400+ at the time, just because. Now, happy I did it. I take it out every now and then, just because. I didn’t have a whole lot of ammo but several years ago, the “company who shall not be named” came into a substantial amount of surplus Greek HXP ammo at a very reasonable price (no crisis at the time – no gouging). I picked up several cases, just because. Happy I did it. Very nice shooter.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      And HXP brass is good for reloading.

  5. avatar Silentbrick says:

    I only like the SMLE mk III, the others all look weird:p

    Wish I hadn’t sold mine, but it did not shoot well.

    1. avatar possum says:

      The one I had key holed at 50 yards, I think it was the corrosive ammo that the 303 used

  6. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Ken, I agree. Negotiating with Dave on the above Lee-Enfield, on behalf of my son, as we speak. Guess he’s a FUDD too. He wants to buy a rifle with his Christmas bonus.

    1. avatar Ron says:

      You won’t be disappointed. I’d jump on the offer if I could but at the moment I don’t think I could give him a fair deal.

  7. avatar Ralph says:

    I fired a friend’s No. 4 Mk. 2 a couple of months ago. It was dead nuts accurate and the action was as smooth as silk.

  8. avatar Nightingale says:

    I made the same gamble, back when these were offered sight-unseen inside Fazakerly factory ‘mummy wrap’, and when I unwrapped my ’55 rifle I found two unwelcome surprises due I believe to the indifferent application of the cosmoline that preserved it for almost 50 years: the nice blonde stock had a couple of permanent, large color defects and the adjustable flip-up rear sight had some rust.

    I expected recoil, but not quite this much – due in part to the solid brass buttplate. Shooting lighter commercial ammo helped some, although it was more expensive than surplus. Anyway, shooting surplus .303 was a crapshoot: some was dirty [Greek?] and the de-linked stuff was very very powerful. I gave those boxes away.

    I tried target shooting with it at my nearby 50-yard indoor range, but the ‘battle’ setting zeros -IIRC- at 200 yards. I always had to guess at the right ‘hold-under’ for the short distance and particular ammo.

    Finally, the magazine lips got bent ever so slightly, I think during cleaning because I do not ever remember removing the mag from the gun for any other reason. And, this immediately caused misfeeds. Although I spent literal hours bending and re-bending the thin stamped metal lips, I simply could never get it back in true. The Lee Enfield never fed properly after that, so I sold it -advertised as having this problem- and haven’t ever looked back on my decision.

    It was fun to play with for a few months, but too much work; too many problems for my liking.

    I read the article with interest, but have no nostalgia for the No.4 Mk2. I can absolutely understand why the Lee Enfield platform set the world standard in the late-1800s, and through WW1… but really cannot fathom how it continued to be manufactured and relied upon after WW2, even as late as the 1950s.

    1. avatar Nightingale says:

      One more thing: that bolt handle banged up my trigger finger on every shot and avoiding that pain requires you to learn to adjust your grip on the stock. -It never came naturally to me.

  9. avatar Mike says:

    I have two of these. Unwrapped one and cleaned it up. Shoots great. The other is still wrapped up. I paid $189. Also have a SMLE, and No4 MK1. Jungle carbine. L39A1 and a couple of Indian Enfields in 7.62.
    A 38 Enfield revoler and a couple of Webley’s
    So $1500 would be a good investment.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email