Mauser versus Lee-Enfield rapid fire

Rapid fire comparison – SMLE v Mauser 

Although the Lee-Enfield design was chosen after careful comparative competition, that did not stop the British target shooting community, gunsmiths and armchair pundits from drawing unfavourable comparisons with the merits of Mauser-actioned rifles. For instance, HJ Blanch (Gunsmiths) writing in the seminal “A Century of Guns” (1909) said ‘Taking the Lee-Enfield as a whole, it may be confidently asserted that no gunsmith, worthy of the name, would have passed such a design. It is said that “they do these things better in France”, and we might add Germany, Austria, Switzerland, USA, Russia, Japan, and most other countries.’

Although stock and sights came in for criticism, it was the rear-locking action of the Lee-Enfield that incurred the harshest comments.  Mauser-type actions have locking lugs at the front of the bolt, engaging directly into the barrel’s receiver ring, which is a very strong arrangement. The rear locking lugs on the Lee action transmit the thrust through the length of the bolt to the back of the receiver, a much weaker arrangement. There is no argument that Mauser actions remain the preferred choice for sporting rifles worldwide, but perhaps not for a combat rifle?

The Mauser action requires sufficient clearance around the bolt to permit the forward locking lugs to pass when the bolt is removed for cleaning. This means that the bolt is loosely supported, resulting in sloppy movement during bolt action. By comparison, the Lee-Enfield bolt is a true cylinder from bolt-head back, and is smoothly supported by the receiver permitting very smooth and rapid movement. That Lee-Enfield bolt design also permits very powerful primary extraction, and cocks on closing – both facilitating slick rapid operation.

In this demonstration the differences in speed of operation between an SMLE and Mauser are clearly revealed.

During the early 1900s the British War Office had succumbed to this public criticism, and by the beginning of WW1 had a replacement Mauser-style rifle design ready – this became the Enfield P1914 and M1917. This design is certainly stronger, and made a fine target (sniper) rifle, but is much less effective as a combat rifle.

It has been said that in WW1 “Germany's Mauser was the best sporting rifle, the American Springfield the best target rifle, but the British SMLE the best combat rifle”.