The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield is world renowned and is thought by many to be the finest bolt action battle rifle ever fielded. However, it’s immediate predecessor, the Magazine Lee-Metford, remains little known, chronically overshadowed by its more illustrious kin.
The Magazine Lee-Metford (MLM) was adopted in 1889 after a lengthy selection process, it replaced the lever-actioned single shot Martini-Henry rifle which had been in service since 1871. The MLM was revolutionary for its time, it included many of the features which would later be incorporated into the SMLE, including a detachable box magazine and the excellent Lee-Pattern bolt. The MLM was the joining of three excellent inovations: James Paris Lee’s smooth cock-on-closing bolt and ‘z’ springed box magazine and William Ellis Metford’s barrel rifling.
The Lee-Metford entered service just in time to see action during the Second Boer War where it lacked the long range of the Boer Commando’s Mausers. In addition to this the MLM was the last British service rifle to use black powder cartridges, which produced clouds of smoke when fired, this also gave away the position of the rifleman. This led the the British Army considering the adoption of a Mauser actioned rifle, with the early development of what would become the Enfield 1914 Pattern. However the looming threat of war in Europe saw the Small Arms Board instead opt to continue development of the Lee design, with the more resilient Enfield barrel replacing Metford’s polygonal barrel rifling which suffered from corrosion from the new smokeless cartridges.
The MLM’s service life did not however end with the introduction of the MLE and later the SMLE in 1904. As the photographs above show the MLM saw service during the First World War. The MLM MkII was re-barrelled to combat the corrosiveness of the new smokeless cartridge and with the limited number of SMLE’s available in 1914 with the expansion of the British Army the MLM was issued to numerous regiments. Above the MLM can be see in the hands of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, the Manchester Regiment and the brilliant top photograph shows a lance corporal, of the Gloucesters, in the en guarde position with his Magazine Lee-Metford.
The MLM remained in service well into the 1920s and later with colonial units but by the beginning of the Second World War all but the most far flung reserve units had been re-equipped.
Image One Source:
A Lance Corporal of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the en guard position c.1914.
Image Two Source:
Left & right views of a Magazine-Lee-Metford, the unusual flip up volley sight can be seen on the lower photograph (left hand side of the rifle).
Image Three Source & Image Four Source :
Photographs 3 and 4 above show men of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment navigate a communication trench heading to the front, circa 1916, and below that men of the Manchester Regiment on the march circa. 1914.
The Lee-Enfield Rifle - Martin Pegler (2012)