British experience in the
South African War of 1899-1902 showed the need for a short rifle for
universal use and even before the end of the war a new weapon had
been produced and a thousand made for trials. It was also tested against
the Mad Mullah in Somaliland, and after some modification emerged
as the Short Magazine Lee Enfield Mark II in 1907.
It was an excellent weapon
and although slightly less accurate than its predecessor it has certain
compensating advantages, notably its easy breech mechanism which allowed
a fast rate of manipulation. The British Army had concentrated on
rapid fire to the stage where every soldier could fire at least fifteen
well aimed shots per minute, and the devastating effects of this were
clearly seen in the first few months of WW1 where the gallant German
Infantry suffered heavily.
The Mark III was a complex
weapon to make and in 1916 various simplifications were introduced,
notably the abolition of the magazine cut off and the disappearance
of the special long range collective fire-sight which was clearly
unnecessary in the age of the machine gun. These changed its designation
to the Mark III, perhaps the most famous rifle in British military
It remained an excellent
weapon with an 18 inch sword bayonet for close quarter work and the
ability to project grenades either rodded or from a screw on cup.
Soon after the end of the war the British began to consider a new
rifle, similar to its predecessor but easier to make by modern mass-production
techniques. The first step in this direction resulted in a new Mark
V rifle which appeared in small numbers as early as 1923. Apart from
an extra barrel band near the muzzle its main difference was that
it had an aperture backsight rather than the open U-type of the earlier
rifles, experience having shown that this type of sighting was easier
to teach, while the increased distance between the backsight and foresight
reduced the margin of error and made for more accurate shooting.
In the end, however, it
was decided that the conversion of the large existing stocks of rifles
would be too expensive and although the development of a new rifle
was maintained the British Army continued to rely on its well tried
Lee-Enfield until well after the outbreak of war in 1939. The Mark
V differed little from its predecessor apart from the fact that it
was sighted to 1400 yards.