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History’s Greatest Sniper Rifles: The Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 (T)

by David Fortier   |  July 2nd, 2012 16
Lee-Enfield-01

Sniper Sergeant Harold A. Marshall of the Canadian Calgary Highlanders’ Scout and Sniper Platoon is seen here with his No. 4 Mk. 1 (T) sniper rifle, Denison smock, Mills bomb, and Kukri.

While some wartime German, Soviet, and American World War II sniper rifles received accuracy-enhancing modifications, the majority were actually rather stock, often simply rack-grade rifles selected during their initial test-firing for conversion to sniper rifles. The conversion from infantry rifle to sniper rifle usually consisted of nothing more than mounting an optic.

The British method was rather different. After No. 4 Lee Enfield rifles were selected for their accuracy, they were shipped to the world-famous gunsmiths of Holland & Holland. There, they were carefully rebedded to improve accuracy. In addition, they were carefully fitted with scope pads, a wooden cheekrest, a third sling swivel in front of the magazine, and a 3.5X scope in a one-piece mount. The end result was perhaps the best sniper rifle of World War II, the Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk.1 (T).

Why was the (T) a great rifle in its day? For a few important reasons. While the Lee Enfield action is often looked down upon for its rear locking lugs, it proved to be a tough and very reliable piece in actual combat. Not only that, but the combination of cock on closing, 60-degree bolt rotation, short bolt throw, and 10-round magazine provided a very high rate of fire. The ability to rapidly engage multiple targets was an advantage. Plus, unlike all of its competition, the (T) had a wooden cheekrest added to provide a proper cheekweld. While seemingly small, this was a very important addition to the design that made the rifle easier to shoot consistently.

Unlike its American counterparts “commercial off the shelf” solutions, the (T) was fitted with an honest to goodness military-grade scope that, unlike its German adversaries, featured proper windage adjustments in the optic. Although the (T)’s mounting system wasn’t as elaborate as some of the German systems, it was much better suited for hard military use.

The only drawbacks to the No. 4 (T) were its rimmed .303 cartridge and low-magnification optic. The cartridge was a holdover from the blackpowder days of the 19th century. Even so, its 174-grain Mk VII ball load exhibited acceptable exterior ballistics, excellent penetration in intermediate barriers, and very good terminal performance with an early yaw cycle. The 3.5X scope had a large exit pupil and a fairly wide field of view, but lacked magnification for target identification and engagement at longer distances.

Even so, the Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 (T) performed so well it remained standard issue long after Japan’s surrender. It was eventually rechambered to 7.62x51mm NATO and rebuilt into what became known as the L42A1, which soldiered on in the British Army until finally put out to pasture in the 1980s. While the No. 4 (T) wouldn’t be my first choice for competition or hunting, I would certainly choose it over its peers for its intended purpose.

This article is Part 1 of a five-part series. For Parts 2-5, check back with ShootingTimes.com.

  • Ron card

    I agree with the author, however, there was no mention of the one issue the No. 4 Mk. 1 (T) suffered from that affected accuracy and that was that the rifle did not have a one-piece stock for rock-solid stability, but rather, a separate buttstock that affixed to the rear of the receiver. That, coupled with the obsolete, lackluster rimmed cartridge, and low-power optics restricted the critical accuracy to about 300 yards, or so, which was good enough for most applications. Still arguably the war's finest sniper rifle. RHC

  • Sam

    Axe: You're knowledge of history is quite poor. The "limeys" (of whom my father was one) "shot and prayed" from 1939 – 1945. The GI's "handled the situation" from 1942-1945. Notice anything? Sadly you are representative of many like you who would give the US credit for everything. Even when they weren't even there. I assume you are still in high school? Might want to be sure to check into a history class.

  • Dylan

    i own a post war holland and holland "sporting express" rifle. it was built on a bsa mkIII reciever dated 1917 and a 22 inch h&h barreldated 1921. it can be considered a predecessor to the "t" builds and a sporting version to the mkII HT. it shares the improved bedding of the no.4T but lacks the improved butstock. despite being a "complete pos" and lacking a one piece stock it still prints sub minute accuracy with hornady innerlock projectiles and 1.25 minute accuracy with 1943 surplus fmj of unknown origin. yes i might have a new production weaver 6x scope on my rifle but im sure it shot this well when it left the factory.

  • Ron Marshall

    In highschool (1960's) I shot .303's for the school rifle
    team at several ranges in my area
    The rangemaster at the Winona range could pick any one of his
    "range" rifles and pick off a 16 oz. pop bottle at 200 yd while
    standing
    That particular range did'nt go past 500 yd but some of them
    had 1000 yd points (as well as some in Britain:Bisley included)
    Our team went to Camp Borden to shoot a timed match
    303's were mandatory
    The other team brought the FN 7.62's and our major demanded
    that the match be forfeited but the rangemaster said we were to shoot
    Timed or not we still beat the second best team in Canada
    with our Lee Enfields!

  • dan

    Axe,_I guess you have not shot or seen lee enfields shot alot, maybe they kick to hard for you to control? or you are just a poor rifleman, lee enfields are accurate, reliable , and fast they are still in service around the world the afgans used them to great effect against the russians. you should learn more about a subject before you shoot off your inaccurate mouth. as for the limey's comment, again you show your ignorance, there are history books out there, maybe you should read them if you can.__

  • LT Alan Briley, RN

    I served in the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantry NCO, and graduated TOP Team Sniper from the 82nd's AMTU Sniper Course at Fort Bragg, NC. I have owned several Enfield No. 4 MK1* rifles. I have also owned the Indian .308 copies of the Enfield, and only a few of the Indian rifles had any accuracy problems. I consistently shoot my Longbranch made Enfield No. 4 MK 1* with open sights on deer size targets out to 300 – 350 meters with consistent hits in the vital zone. I would have used it without reservation. (I admit, I also own a 1903A3 Springfield, and prefer it for target shooting.)

  • bob johns

    As someone said Axe needs to have a look in his/her history book to find that the Limeys didnt have any GIs in ww1untl1917 We Commonwealth Countrys were AT THE BADDIES from august 1914!I In fact the most higly decorated soldier of the Allied side in WW1was an Australian one Harry Murray (mad harry of 13 bn AIF ) He killed his first Turk on Gallipoli in 1915 and his last Hun in France in 1918 when a Lt Col. .His decorations were VC-DSO(X3)- MC (X2)–DCM-CMG CdeG AND lived until dieing in a car accident when he was in his 80s. Another Limey who knew how to use an Lee-Enfield .303 Was another Aussie (we were with the Limeys without Any GI to run in and help)when ,as a, sniper on Galliplli he was credited with over250 of the enemy ,iron sighte from 25 yds to at least one surprised general at over 800yds !! Nothing wrong with a Lee-Enfield .303 lady.

  • bob johns

    THE sniper was cpl Billy Sing a book commemorating his name is Gallipoli Sniper Billy died in poor health -having been gassed in the land of those who do run away -in 1943 broke there is now general recognition in Australia of his exploits ,with a snipers memorial in his honour being erected in Clermont in QLD in recent years. There was no general public adoration of returning individual heroes in Australia as US did for (EG) Sgt Alvin York as there were so many of them .From a population in Australia in 1914 of less than 4.7 million we lost 66000 killed and 180000 wounded .every family in Australia lost someone. And whatever our shitty government of today would like to do to suck to the UN we can still shoot.

  • Chris

    Dear idiot. I would presume that the only rifle anyone would let you play with was one with a burnt out barrel, that didn't matter.

    1. These .303's are very accurate (I've got one in the gunsafe and have shot quite a few), within their limitations.
    2. They aren't hard kickers (unless your used to .22's?) as they have a reasonable mass as a full wood weapon.
    3. They are accurate and reliable, and if you honestly believe that the British ran away and left the work to the GIs you don't know your history.
    PS. I'm Australian.

  • Oddlybrown

    Axe,
    You cannot base a real life sniper rifle or batle rifle's performance on the ones you have 'fired' on a video game. Play your last round of COD World at War and then you had better finish your homewaork and go to bed.

  • Barry

    The most accurate rifle I've ever shot, and I spend alot of time with surplus warhorses, was a 1921 vintage Lee Enfield. I still marvel over what it could do, and I would dearly love to find that rifle again. As far as bolt action service weapons go, it takes the bill (in my opinion), as the best fielded by any nation in either war. Magazine capacity, durability, and the quality of training given the Commonwealth soldiers in how to bring out its advantages made it an awesome performer in both wars as well as the Malayan emergency and other conflicts.

  • James

    Love the hammy photo of Sgt Marshall – guess his unit offered him up as a model based on his dashing looks. "That photographer is back – quick, look rugged"

  • http://www.facebook.com/ramsfansam Sam Wilson

    As the son of a WWII veteran, I became quite interested in the history of WWII. I have become friends with a man who was in the same unit as my father, US Army 1264th ECS. They saw action at Remagen, Germany, and the surrounding area. When my father passed away, we found a JP Sauer & Sohn model 38h pistol – the model issued to the Luftwaffe. That propelled my interest in WWII weapons. The man I mentioned becoming friends with, Rex Pierce, became a professional competition shooter when he returned from Europe. He has well over 2500 guns at his home, ranging from the 17th century, all the way to modern Glocks and S&W. When I purchsed my last two rifles, a Mosin-Nagant 91/30 and a Lee Enfield No.4 Mk. I, he looked them over and began telling me sotries about those guns. I found out the Mosin was used by Russian snipers after only two modifications – the bolt and the scope. They were considered deadly and accurate at distances of up to 650 yards. The Enfield – well, Rex said that some of the British snipers could kill their targets at over 1200 yards. That is INSANE that they could hit a target at that distance with the optics they had available. He then told me that the two rifles I bought were in excellent condition, had been extremely well cared for, and were definitely two of the better weapons he had seen lately. BTW…with a 4X scope, I have hit 10 of 10 at 750 yards, full size silhouette target with the Enfield. The Mosin – well, no scope, but iron sights at 300 yards, I can hit 4 of 5. Anyone who doubts the quality engineering and design of these weapons is someone who has never used one.

  • Bob Curtis

    Not all Americans are so ignorant or arrogant to think we won the either world war by ourselves. I do believe the American military requited itself well, but we as a nation were fortunate that we did not suffer like the Commonwealth, Russia, China and other of our allies. Anyone who cares to read about it knows that our biggest contribution was financial, industrial and technological. The fellow who calls himself "Axe" is an embarassment to Americans.

    • jlucas45

      The veterans of Omaha beach might give you some contention on America’s contribution to the war, not to mention Midway, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

  • bob johns

    we have all got them Bob

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