Article written by Corallo, rifle from his collection (click on the original picture to enlarge them)



This is a Lee Enfield SMLE MKI, the first model of Short Magazine Lee Enfield. It was produced by the London Small Arms Co. in 1905, under the reign of King Edward VII.

Stock and iron show innumerable rearrangements, a story minutely marked by  marks and punches. It's a rifle that can’t shoot anymore - as shown by the DP  (drill purpose) mark on the barrel (which is still the original one) - but I'm really proud of it.


It arrived from South Africa to me, missing many of its original pieces that I later recovered a bit 'all over the world, including Canada Australia and New Zealand: it was a truly exciting research. In this project I have sought a compromise between restoration work and minimum repairs and respect for the individual history of this rifle, without even trying to imagine all the ups and downs that have lived in more than a hundred years of history. I hope to have stopped at the right point, putting back as much as possible and leaving as I found the rest, with its "scars" of war.

Among the Short Magazine Lee Enfield the most famous is undoubtedly the MKIII without and with star (see the following cards), the one produced from 1907 onwards and with which Great Britain faced the First World War and started the second. This model was instead produced for a few years, between 1903 and 1908; already contains all the brilliant insights that will put into practice the considerations emerged on the battlefields of the Boer wars by the use of its predecessor, the "Long Lee" Magazine Lee Enfield and its short version Lee Enfield Cavalry. The MKI proposes technical solutions on the one hand innovative, on the other exquisitely "belle époque" that will be rationalized in the following models and that constitute the beauty of this weapon, its charm.

At the beginning of the 20th Century the surveys carried out at the units used in South Africa reported various indications about the use of the Lee Enfield Magazine; the main ones were:

- increase the handguard protectors along the barrel, especially for use in hot climates;

- equipping cavalry with rifles, which in many situations were found in the need to engage in fire fighting at 2,000 and 3,000 yards, where the carbines came to the limit of their performance, optimal up to 1800 yards;

- provide quick loading clips as already in use on most contemporary coats, Mauser first of all.

As it is easy to guess the first two points are the quintessence of the idea that conceived the SMLE: an intermediate measure between long rifle and carbine, a compact form, a robust casket of wood and iron that, from the mythical nose around the sprint with the wings adjusting to the full-length wooden cap, they protected the rifle from bumps and the soldier from the burns caused by the barrel when overheated.

The third point deserves a separate consideration: we were in the transition years in which the new ammunition to powder infume are less cumbersome and transportable in larger quantities; you abandon the old way of fighting, saving the shots and aiming carefully and you enter the machine guns that cut off the enemy lineups launched at the assault on the bayonet.

The cut off system installed on the Lee Metford and subsequent MLE was born to sip the shots by reloading a single shot and keep available the ten shots in the tank for the most excited phases of the battle. The stripper clips loading system decrees the uselessness of the cut off: lots of shots available, ease and speed of recharge at any time. In fact, the cut off will be discontinued at the beginning of the First World War on the MKIII * model. In SMLE MKIII as well as MLE in Charger Loading version the loading clips are hooked to a fixed bridge placed transversely above the bolt.

In the Mauser as well as in the Springfield 1903 the guides are fixed substantially in the same position.

Picture from:

Here, however, is the first solution adopted by the English: a guide sliding on a rail of the bolt head and stopped by a screw at the end of its stroke.

Closing the bolt, the guides remains retracted; when the bolt is open, the guide moves back until it stops at exactly the same position of a matching left guide which is machined on the body of the rifle's frame.

Fascinating and complicated, this system was eliminated during the subsequent reharsenalizations and the MKIs were often reconverted into "charger loading". Something must have happened also to our friend or at least to the kick that, as a first type, shows on the right side the typical break made to accommodate the loading bridge introduced on the following models. To illustrate the main differences from the next and very famous SMLE MKIII from now on you will find in the background in the photos my Enfield of 1915. Remaining in the bolt area here is the other element of distinction of the MKI: the cocking piece, in which to retighten the screw of the head there is not a locking screw but rather a knob attached to a spring that must be extracted and rotated to put release the screw itself.

The first type bolt - striker assembly does not require any tools for disassembling it, unlike the following models. The magazine is equipped with a side clip to hold the strikes and the hooking chain to the ring fixed to the trigger guard. 


Even sights have unique and characteristic traits that distinguish them from the following models:

The shape of the ears of protection of the front sights, arcuate inside and with elongated windows.

The protective wings of the rear sight; the MKI is on the bottom, it has a bone disc on the adjusting button of the top on the rear sights (unfortunately, the one on the right side is missing).

The particular shape of the drift adjustment (the MKI is on the right).

Also the stock has particularity that we will not find on the following models: in the back part we notice a brass plug with a wide head (already present on some of the previous "long" models) and small pins near the central band.


Again, the screw to which you still have the inner band that under the handguards keeps the barrel attached to the football is hidden under the central band, and not in sight just below it as in the following models.


Buttstock is not the original one and is probably the result of a subsequent reorganization. On these more recent woods the original and characteristic irons of the MKI have been restored, that is the rear sling swivell with single screw one of the MLE, which will be replaced in the following variants with a two-screw plate and the metal butt plate, in steel and without the classic access door to the screw fixing screw and to the cleaning kit storage compartment. The addition of the hatch begins with the following model Mark I *; the oiler and the cleaning tools were in fact brought into a pocket in the backpack.


To complete the whole here is his bayonet: The model 1903 is the transition between 1888 of the MLE Long Lee and the long 1907 scheduled for the N.1 SMLE MKIII. Very succinctly it could be described as a blade of 1888 and a handle of 1907.

It was mounted on the MKI but soon the British got the following to deduce that:

long rifle MLE + short bayonet 1888 = good,


short rifle SMLE MKI + short bayonet 1903 = bad,

so they remedied with

short rifle SMLE MKIII + long bayonet 1907 = good!

To finish and before attaching some number and technical data, some special thanks to those who contributed to the restoration of this piece of history:

Patrick, who gave me valuable stock information from Canada and gave me a first charger guide

Scott, who in the United States rebuilt the screw of the first charger guide

Andrew, Robbie and Amanda who from New Zealand have supplied the cocking piece, original charger guide, the rear sling swivel, the rear volley sight.

Bob who has recovered the butt plate from Australia.

Then there are "Aldo aggiustatutto" and his prodigious workshop and my mentor (read: he who "did the damage" with my passion for the former ordinance) Pietro "Mare": their work was essential during the reassembly and re-adaptation operations of irons and woods.

Of course I would never have dreamed of embarking on this restoration without being certain of being able to count on the technical, documental and moral support of the members of the ExOrdinanza forum, in particular of Tappo, Giove and of course Frank Mancuso more heartfelt thanks.




303 British


5 grooves

Barrel lenght

25.2" (640 mm)

Overall lenght

44.5" (1130 mm)

Weight (unloaded)

8 lb. 3 oz. (3,7 kg)


10 rounds

Adopted on


Production dates



Production Plants and production figures


Royal Small Arms Factory


Royal Small Arms Factory


Birmingham Small Arms Company


London Small Arms Company



about 130.000

about 60.000



- I.D. Skennerton - The Lee-Enfield, A Century of Lee-Metford & Lee-Enfield Rifles & Carbines - Ian Skennerton Publishing, 2007.

- E.G.B. Reynolds - “The Lee Enfield Rifle – Its history and development from first designs to the present day” - Herbert Jenkins, London, 1960

- C.R. Stratton "British Enfield Rifles - Vol. 1 SMLE (No. 1) Rifles Mk I and Mk III", North Cape Publications Inc., 2009.