July 02, 2012
By David Fortier
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.