Lee-Metford Mark I, Mark I* (1888) and Mark II (1890)
Lee-Metford Mark I* (1888)
GENERALLY: The Lee-Metford, entering service at the very end of the black powder era, is the most modern military rifle that was ever built to use black powder. In fact, like the M1888 Austrian Mannlicher, it was developed as the search for a suitable smokeless propellant was going on in Britain and all across Europe.
The Lee-Metford is a box mgazine fed, rear-locking, bolt action repeating rifle in the classic British .303 calibre, but loaded at the time of its adoption with black powder. A smokeless cartridge was introduced in the early 1890s and Enfield rifling began to replace Metford with the adoption of the Lee-Enfield in 1895. The Lee was designed by James Paris Lee of Illion, New York (the city of Remington fame) and substantially improved and perfected at Enfield. It utilized a box magazine system also developed by Lee coupled with a barrel and rifling system invented by William E. Metford. The Lee/Metford/Enfield combination began the long line of successful rifles (substituting Enfield rifling when Metford rifling was unable to tolerate the later smokeless cartridge heat and pressures) for Britain, continuing into the 1990s.
The period of the Lee-Metford magazine rifle, adopted in 1888, overlapped the service life of the last of the Martini Henrys, the Mark IVs. In the late 1880s the British were studying repeating rifles as well as searching for improvements to the entrenched Martini-Henry. This led to the adoption, perhaps prematurely, of the .402 Martini-Enfield in 1886 and an "improved" version, more like the Martini-Henry, in 1887. But the soon expected Lee-Metford, in .303 calibre, would have created logistical nightmares, thus the Martini-Enfields were withdrawn and the bulk of them converted to Martini-Henry Mark IVs.
The most notable feature of the then very modern Lee-Metford was it's detachable box magazine which could be loaded, either detached or mounted, initially with up to 8 cartridges (The Mark I and Mark I*) and later with as many as 10 (the Mark II). The Mark II* (not shown) is Britain's first purpose-built smokeless powder rifle and is essentially the Lee-Metford with Enfield designed rifling, thus the "Lee-Enfield" of world-over fame.
PHOTO: The rifle shown in the above photo is a Lee-Metford MkI*
DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS: Rear locking, bolt-action, magazine fed repeater with two-piece stock, the butt of which is screwed into a receiver ring mounted below the bolt handle and at the back of the trigger guard. there is an indentation on the right side of the stock just above the magazine to aid in grasping the magazine cut-off located just above it. Generally, crown, V.R. manufacturing markings, year and mark are found stamped on the right side of the receiver ring. The rifle has both a safety, on the cocking piece, and a half-cock bolt position. The entire bolthead and bolt body is protected by a dust cover. Rifling is Metford segmental of seven grooves and is comparatively shallow. On the left side of the forestock is a long range sight (volley sights) in the form of a dial with a revolving pointer extending back, which, when rotated counterclockwise, rotates upward and is used in conjunction with a circular hole in the aperture sight which is raised to its upward position. The rifle was also fitted with a handguard which covered the barrel between the receiver and sight.
MISC NOTES: The MKII has a ten round double stack magazine, whilst the MKI and MkI* (to which almost all MKIs were converted) has an eight round single stack magazine. The MKI has a safety mounted to the side of the action like the SMLE, the MKI* has this removed.
Alert reader Craig Little was kind enough to pass along this additional information!! :)
The M1888 Lee-Metford Mk 1 (and Mk 1*) is distinguished by (amongst other details) finger groves in the fore-end, finger indents above the magazine and a deeper, 8-round single row magazine with a distinctive square front bottom edge. I take my information from the following publications;
Small Arms Identification Series, .303 Magazine Lee-Metford' Parts Identification Lists; M.L.M. & M.L.E. Series Notes, Exploded Parts Drawings, Descriptions, Accessories & fittings.
National Library of Australia, Cataloguing-in-Publication data: Skennerton, Ian D.
(ISBN 0 949749 25 7)
Australian Service Longarms by Ian.D. Skennerton (ISBN 0 9597438 0 4) This second book was released with a companion volume on Australian Service Bayonets
Best wishes, Craig Little.
This is a Mark I* Lee-Metford. Note the sharp angle of the front of the magazine compared to the Mark II,
below, as well as the indentation in the stock above the magazine.
a MKII, very similar to the MKI but with 10 round double stack magazine.
Lee Metford Mark I*
Lee Metford Mark II:
Page built June 7, 1997
Revised April 16, September 15, 1999
Revised May 9, 2000
Revised August 3, 2003
Updated: Oct 29, 2021