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Exploring the History of the .303 Rifle

The .303 rifle, also known as the Lee-Enfield, is a bolt-action rifle that has a rich history and has been used by various military forces around the world. In this article, we will delve into the origins of this iconic rifle, its features, and its impact on warfare.

The Beginnings of the .303 Rifle

The Boer War

The .303 rifle was first introduced in the late 19th century during the Boer War in South Africa. The British Army was facing difficulties with their current rifle, the Lee-Metford, which had a small magazine capacity and was not suitable for long-range shooting. As a result, the British Army turned to the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield to develop a new rifle that could meet their needs.

The Lee-Enfield

The result was the Lee-Enfield, a bolt-action rifle with a large magazine capacity of 10 rounds and a long-range capability of up to 1,000 yards. It was also chambered in the .303 British cartridge, which was known for its accuracy and stopping power. The Lee-Enfield was officially adopted by the British Army in 1895 and became the standard issue rifle for their forces.

Features of the .303 Rifle

Bolt Action

The .303 rifle is a bolt-action rifle, meaning that the shooter must manually operate the bolt to load and fire each round. This design was popular at the time as it allowed for a more accurate and powerful shot compared to other rifles of the era.

SMLE and P14 Rifles

The .303 rifle went through several variations, with the most notable being the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) and the Pattern 1914 (P14) rifles. The SMLE was a shorter and lighter version of the original Lee-Enfield, making it more suitable for use in the trenches during World War I. The P14 rifle, on the other hand, was a larger and more powerful version of the Lee-Enfield, but it was not as widely used as the SMLE.

Unique Cock on Close Design

One of the unique features of the .303 rifle is its cock on close design. This means that the bolt is cocked when it is closed, rather than when it is opened like most other bolt-action rifles. This design allowed for a faster rate of fire, which was crucial in combat situations.

The Mad Minute

The .303 rifle gained its reputation for speed and accuracy during the Mad Minute, a shooting drill that was popular among British soldiers during World War I. The goal was to fire as many rounds as possible into a target 12 inches in diameter at a distance of 300 yards in one minute. The record was set by Sergeant Instructor Alfred Snoxall, who fired 38 rounds in one minute using a Lee-Enfield rifle.

Impact on Warfare

World War I

The .303 rifle played a significant role in World War I, with over 2 million rifles being used by British forces alone. Its accuracy and high rate of fire made it a formidable weapon on the battlefield, and it was used in various battles such as the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele.

World War II

The .303 rifle continued to be the standard issue rifle for the British Army during World War II. It was used in various campaigns, including the North African Campaign and the D-Day landings. The rifle also saw action in the hands of other Allied forces, such as the Australian and Canadian armies.

Longest Used Bolt Action Rifle in War

The .303 rifle holds the record for being the longest-used bolt-action rifle in war, with over 70 years of service. It was used by the British Army until the 1950s and continued to be used by other countries, such as India and Pakistan, well into the 21st century.

How It Works

The .303 rifle operates on a simple bolt-action mechanism. The shooter must manually operate the bolt to load and fire each round. The bolt is pulled back to open the chamber, and a round is inserted. The bolt is then pushed forward, which chambers the round and cocks the rifle. When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin strikes the primer, igniting the gunpowder and firing the round.


The .303 rifle, also known as the Lee-Enfield, has a rich history and has played a significant role in various wars and conflicts. Its large magazine capacity, long-range capability, and unique cock on close design made it a favorite among soldiers. Despite being over a century old, the .303 rifle continues to be a popular choice among collectors and enthusiasts, and its impact on warfare will not be forgotten.

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