Original British SMLE .22 Short Rifle Mk III Dated 1898
Original Item: This rifle has the following history stamped into the receiver:
First, Victoria Regina Well, this queen, longest lived of all British monarchs, had an influence far beyond the British Isles and the British Empire during the Nineteenth Century. Victorian morals dominated the cultured classes of Great Britain and the new United States, and even now, in the Twenty-First Century, nostalgic organizations such as the Victorian Riflemen thrive in the former Colonies.
Second, ENFIELD indicates that the first incarnation of this piece was at Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, and 1898 was the year of manufacture. Lastly, for its first incarnation, L.E/I. tells us that it was manufactured as a Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield Mark I. In other words, this piece originated as a long Lee-Enfield Mark I. How can one measure how much history this rifle has seen? Think Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa.
Third, the lower left of the butt socket is very clearly stamped ENFIELD/1905/SHT LE/COND II, which indicates it was modified at RSAF Enfield in 1905 to the Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Converted Mark II. Think of the very first S.M.L.E. Mk I with its exotic rear sight, rear sight protectors, and lumpy nose cap. The British, ever thrifty, began to convert long Lee-Metfords and long Lee-Enfields to S.M.L.E.s soon after sealing the pattern. All the converted rifles were called the Mark II.
Fourth, its last incarnation was as a .22 Short Rifle Mk III, and this transformation was carried out at the Birmingham Small Arms Co. This conversion is indicated on the lower right side of the butt socket as SHT 22/III/B.S.A.Co. Think of British Tommies training to be the most accurate riflemen of any European army in the impending Great War, which, incidentally, began 99 years ago last month. Many of those remarkable riflemen were dead by the end of the year. This little .22 is now 115 years old, and is in very, very nice condition for its age. Christian has said he hopes to be in comparable condition at that age.
Among the rarest of the rare, this rifle is the first .22 caliber trainer based on the Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, or S.M.L.E. for short. Before this there were a Mk I, Mk I*, and Mk II, but all were direct conversions of Lee-Metfords or long Lee-Enfields, and did not resemble the S.M.L.E. The Mk III designation for this rifle is not related to the .303 caliber S.M.L.E. Mk III; it refers only to this rifle’s place in the sequence of .22 short training rifles. The model was approved on 9 August 1912, and was built on Converted Mk II and II* SMLE rifles.
The .22 Mk III rifles have some unique features. The nose cap, for instance, in side view resembles the S.M.L.E. Mk I, but on viewing it from the front it is seen that the protective sight ears do not curve in as they do on a the S.M.L.E. Mk I. The lower hand guard is of the S.M.L.E. Mk I design, but the rear sight leaf is the S.M.L.E. Mk III leaf, with windage adjustment. The butt swivel is the S.M.L.E. Mk I pattern. The front and rear volley sights are present; obviously, even though the designated ranges did not relate to the .22 caliber cartridge, they were still very useful for training in manipulation.
An empty magazine shell is installed, and in this case a large opening is cut in the bottom to allow the fired cartridge cases to drop free. The bolt head is marked 22 No 2. The nose cap retains its correct stacking swivel and has the correct early transverse screw. Additionally, this rifle retains the original lightened butt stock, which as three large longitudinal holes drilled under the butt plate. The serial number of this piece is 5920 N.
The .22 Short Rifle Mk III had a short production life, from 1912 through 1914. A new .22 trainer was introduced in 1915, the .22 RF Pattern 1914 Short Rifle No. 1.
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