Lee Metford (Magazine Lee Metford / MLM) History

After nearly a decade of development and trials, the British Army adopted the Lee-Metford (or "MLM" for "Magazine Lee-Metford") repeat-fire, bolt-action rifle as its standard service rifle. This model replaced the outgoing Martini-Henry series which itself was adopted in 1881. The Martini-Henry held the key limitation of being a single-shot system but still managed a 30-year existence under British service. The new Lee-Metford relied on a manually-actuated bolt-action system and proved itself a finer design by mating the bolt-action system of James Paris Lee with a rifled barrel developed by William Ellis Metford. The weapon was chambered for the Cartridge . 303 Mk I (. 303 British) though, at this point in history, still relied on black powder propellant. It was, however, originally intended to use a new cordite-based cartridge but when these entered a protracted development period, black powder rounds were substituted. Production of Lee-Metfords was handled out of Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) of Enfield Lock.

The Lee-Metford design was a considerable upgrade to the outgoing Martini-Henry primarily in its use of a detachable box magazine which held eight ready-to-fire cartridges providing the everyday infantryman with a good amount of firepower. The action was appropriately contained in its general arrangement, allowing quicker access to the bolt-handle from the trigger area. Additionally, the normal 90-degree turn of competing designs was reduced to a faster 60-degree turn in the Lee-Metford. A trained warfighter, theoretically, could provide a higher volume of fire - up to 20 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of about 2,040 feet per second and a maximum listed range of 1,800 yards (effective range was closer to 800 yards). Sighting devices on the rifle changed throughout its production life as did barrel types. Overall length was 49. 5 inches (longer with bayonet affixed) with a barrel measuring 30 inches long.

Following in 1895, the Mark 2* appeared with a lengthened bolt assembly and additional safety features. Again, some production included Enfield-rifled barrels which begat the off-shoot designation of "Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield Mark I". All other qualities and functions of the Mark 2 remained comparable.

In 1907, a new Lee-Metford rifle version appeared as the "Rifle, Charger-Loading, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark 2". As its name suggested, this variant included support for charger-loaded/clip-loaded ammunition contained in easier-to-manage strips. These rifles were converted from existing Mark 2 stocks and essentially involved the addition of charger guides at the bridge as well as a new magazine design. The weapon was now geared towards smokeless powder cartridges as well which proved a grand evolution for the rifle line. The sights were also revised to include a rear graduated system as well as front blade. The 10-round magazine count was retained. These rifled measured 49. 5 inches long, featured a weight of 9lbs, 8oz and managed a muzzle velocity of 2,060 feet per second.

The Lee-Metford design did not see an extensive service history with the British Empire as may be expected. It was relatively quickly overshadowed in history by the up-and-coming Lee-Enfield marks beginning to appear in 1895. These rifles themselves served into World War 2 (1939-1945) and saw over 17 million produced during their service lives. The Lee-Metford marks did manage to see some combat action in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 which pitted British forces against Dutch settlers in Africa (modern-day South Africa/Swaziland). Lee-Metfords were actually fielded alongside the competing Lee-Enfield line and offered generally positive results. Lee-Metfords generally suffered at range when compared to enemy Mauser types in use but they proved of some worth nonetheless. Stocks of Lee-Metfords were also in play heading into World War 1 where small arms shortages greeted most every major participant.

Lee Metford (Magazine Lee Metford / MLM) Specification

ROLES

- Close Quarters Battle (CQB) / Personal Security

- Manual Repeat-Fire

- Frontline Infantry/Rifleman

STRUCTURAL

Overall Length:

1,257 mm (49. 49 in)

Barrel Length:

767 mm (30. 20 in)

Sights:

Sliding Leaf Rear; Fixed Front Post

PERFORMANCE

Action:

Manually-Operated Bolt-Action System

Muzzle Velocity:

2,040 feet-per-second (622 meters-per-second)

Rate-of-Fire:

20 rounds-per-minute

Effective Range:

2,624 ft (800 m; 875 yd)

VARIANTS

Rifle, Magazine, Mark I - Original production form of 1888.

Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark I - Redesignation of Mark rifles in 1891.

Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark 1* - Appearing in 1892; revised safety arrangement; revised handguard; reginmental brass disc added on butt; revised bolt mainspring; revised magazine spring; revised sights.

Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark II - Appearing in 1892; 10-round double-column magazines; C-shape magazine spring; lighter weight design; some with Enfield-rifling barrels beginning 1902.

Carbine, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark I - Shortened/lighter carbine form appearing in 1894.

Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark 2* - Appearing in 1895; lengthened bolt assembly; revised safety feature; Enfield-rifled barrels 1903 onwards.

Rifle, Charger-Loading, Magazine, Lee-Metford Mark 2 - Appearing 1907; support for clip-loading; guides added at bridge; modified magazines; new rear sight; support for smokeless powder ammunition.

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