The Lee-Metford rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 (a.k.a. Magazine Lee-Metford, abbreviated MLM) was a bolt action British army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 service rifle, combining James Paris Lee
James Paris Lee
James Paris Lee was a Scottish-Canadian and later American inventor and arms designer, best known for inventing the bolt action that led to the Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield series of rifles.-Early Life and Career:...

's rear-locking bolt system and ten-round magazine with a seven groove rifled barrel designed by William Ellis Metford. It replaced the Martini-Henry
The Martini-Henry was a breech-loading single-shot lever-actuated rifle adopted by the British, combining an action worked on by Friedrich von Martini , with the rifled barrel designed by Scotsman Alexander Henry...

 rifle in 1888, following nine years of development and trials, but remained in service for only a short time until replaced by the similar Lee-Enfield
The Lee-Enfield bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle was the main firearm used by the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century...



Lee's bolt action mechanism was a great improvement over other designs of the day. The rear-mounted lugs placed the operating handle much closer to the rifleman, over the trigger. This made it much quicker to operate than other, forward-mounted lug designs which forced the rifleman to move his hand forward to operate the bolt; also, the bolt's distance of travel was identical with the length of the cartridge, and its rotation was only 60 degrees compared to the 90 degree rotation of some French and Mauser-style actions. In addition Lee introduced a superior detachable box magazine to replace the integral magazines in use with most repeaters, and this magazine offered greater capacity than the competing Mannlicher
Mannlicher may refer to:* Ferdinand Mannlicher , a Bohemian-German/Austrian weapon designer*: various guns bearing his name:** Mannlicher-Schönauer rifle** Steyr Mannlicher M1894 pistol** Steyr Mannlicher M1901 pistol...

 design. Metford's polygonal rifling
Polygonal rifling
Polygonal rifling is a type of gun barrel rifling where the traditional lands and grooves are replaced by "hills and valleys" in a rounded polygonal pattern, usually a hexagon or octagon....

 was adopted to reduce fouling from powder residue building up in the barrel, and also made it easier to clean as well.

In spite of its many advantageous features, the Lee-Metford was something of an anachronism, due to its use of a black powder-loaded cartridge. By the time of the rifle's introduction, rifle design had moved on to using small-calibre smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 cartridges, which allowed bullets to be propelled at much higher velocities without as much smoke or residue. The .303
.303 may refer to:* .303 British, a rifle cartridge* .303 Savage, a rifle cartridge* Lee-Enfield rifle* .303 , a short film...

 ammunition designed for the rifle was in fact, originally intended to be loaded with a new propellant (cordite
Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance...

). However, as a result of protracted development, production of cordite was delayed, forcing the British to use black powder instead. By the time cordite cartridges were available, it was found that they were wholly unsuited for use with the shallow Metford rifling, which would wear out and render barrels unusable after less than 5,000 rounds.

Regardless of the shortfalls brought about by the use of black powder, the Lee-Metford went through several revisions during its short service life, with the principal changes being to the magazine (from eight-round single stack to ten-round staggered), sights, and safety. Starting in 1895, the Lee-Metford started to be phased out in favor of the Lee-Enfield, a virtually identical design adapted for use with smokeless powder. Changes included deeper square-cut rifling (designated Enfield pattern), and sights adjusted for the flatter trajectory enabled by the smokeless propellant.

Mad minute

Mad minute was a pre-World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 term used by British riflemen during training to describe firing 15 aimed bullets into a target at 300 yd within one minute using a bolt-action rifle (usually a Lee-Enfield or Lee-Metford rifle). The record of 38 hits in one minute was set by Sergeant Major Snoxhall, an instructor at the British Army's Small Arms School.


Replacement of the Lee-Metford rifles took several years to achieve, and they were still in service in some units during the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 in 1899. Troops with the Lee-Metford and even the Lee-Enfield had a disadvantage to the Mauser
Mauser was a German arms manufacturer of a line of bolt-action rifles and pistols from the 1870s to 1995. Mauser designs were built for the German armed forces...

-equipped Boer troops, when long range accuracy was a concern. Poor sighting-in and quality control at the factory level resulted in British rifles being woefully inaccurate at ranges greater than 400 yards (365.8 m); upon correction they were essentially equal to the Mauser action in terms of accuracy, and superior in most other attributes. Even so, the British considered a whole new rifle, the Pattern 1913 Enfield
Pattern 1913 Enfield
The Pattern 1913 Enfield was an experimental rifle developed as a result of combat experience in the Second Boer War by the Royal Small Arms Factory for the British Army from 1912 to 1914 to serve as a replacement for the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield...

, based upon a modified Mauser design, but its development was cut short by the First World War and the eminently adaptable Lee-Enfield served for another half century.

In British service the Lee Metford was also upgraded to the standards of later rifle patterns (e.g. to charger loading and Short Rifle, the SMLE pattern), though the barrel was almost always switched to one with Enfield pattern rifling. The Lee-Metford was produced commercially and used by civilian target shooters until the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, as it was considered to be inherently more accurate than the Enfield pattern of rifling. In this context, barrels and boltheads could be replaced as frequently as the owner wished, or could afford. The Lee-Metford is still in ceremonial use with the Atholl Highlanders
Atholl Highlanders
The Atholl Highlanders is a Scottish infantry regiment. Based in Blair Atholl, the regiment is not part of the British Army. Instead, the regiment is in the private employ of the Duke of Atholl, making it the United Kingdom's, and indeed Europe's, only legal private army.-77th Foot:The name Atholl...


Charlton Automatic Rifle

Small numbers of Lee-Metford rifles were built as, or converted to, experimental semi-automatic loading systems, such as the British Howell
Howell Automatic Rifle
The Howell Automatic Rifle was the first attempt to convert the Lee-Enfield SMLE into a semi-automatic rifle. The weapon was reliable but unergonomic for the user as the force of the recoiling bolt interfered handling. The Howell Automatic Rifle was used by the British Home Guard as an anti...

 and South African Reider
Reider Automatic Rifle
The Rieder Automatic Rifle was a fully automatic Lee-Enfield SMLE rifle of South African origin. The Rieder device could be installed quickly with the use of simple tools. A similar weapon of New Zealand origin was the Charlton Automatic Rifle....

 and the best-known of which was the Charlton Automatic Rifle, designed by a New Zealander, Philip Charlton in 1941 to act as a substitute for the Bren and Lewis gun
Lewis Gun
The Lewis Gun is a World War I–era light machine gun of American design that was perfected and widely used by the British Empire. It was first used in combat in World War I, and continued in service with a number of armed forces through to the end of the Korean War...

 light machine guns which were in chronically short supply at the time. During the Second World War, the majority of New Zealand's land forces were deployed in North Africa. When Japan entered the war in 1941, New Zealand found itself lacking the light machine guns that would be required for local defence should Japan choose to invade, and so the New Zealand Government funded the development of self-loading conversions for the Lee-Metford rifle. The end result was the Charlton Automatic Rifle (based on the obsolete MLE), which was issued to Home Guard units in NZ from 1942. Over 1,500 conversions were made, including a handful by the Australian firm Electrolux
The Electrolux Group is a Swedish appliance maker.As of 2010 the 2nd largest home appliance manufacturer in the world after Whirlpool, its products sell under a variety of brand names including its own and are primarily major appliances and vacuum cleaners...

using Lithgow SMLE Mk III* rifles.

The two Charlton designs differed markedly in external appearance (amongst other things, the New Zealand Charlton had a forward pistol grip and bipod, whilst the Australian one did not), but shared the same operating mechanism. Most of the Charlton Automatic Rifles were destroyed in a fire after the Second World War, but a few examples survive in museums and private collections.
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