British Cavalry Carbine Lee-Metford MkI

  • Country: .303 British
  • Ignition System: Centrefire
  • Calibre: .303 British

The Lee-Metford is the first step in the proud line of Lee-Enfield rifles and probably the last rifle system to use black powder at the end of the 19th century. It is a combination of the bolt and magazine system of the American James Paris Lee with the rifling system of the British born William E. Metford.

Even though smokeless powder had been successfully introduced back in 1886, the British had great difficulty in producing their own version (no question of importing it in from Johnny Foreigner); as such the Lee-Metford was configured to fire a black powder 303 cartridge until their home grown smokeless powder (cordite) was perfected. The .303 Mk.I cartridge had a compressed load of 75 grains of black powder. When cordite was finally perfected, it was found that the resulting high temperatures generated caused very rapid erosion of the Metford rifling and thus the rifles and carbines were rebarreled with a new Enfield rifled barrel better suited to the new powder.

The Metford rifling system had been used prior to its adoption for the Lee-Metford and was popular with target shooters. It comprises 7 shallow grooves with no sharp edges, this in theory reduced the places where black powder fouling could accumulate. As well as being used on the Lee-Metford, it was also retrofitted on many Martini rifles and carbines. It is very difficult to evaluate the condition of a Metford bore since it look shot out even when new!

The carbine is a Mk.I model as it comprises both a sling bar in the stock and evidence of a D ring on the left side of the butt fixation ring. This D ring was officially removed from all Mk.I carbines and omitted completely from subsequent variations.

Unique to the carbine are the two screws below the rear sight for the fixing of a leather cap over the rear sight to protect it from the rigours of riding, the large nose cap with wings to protect the front sight blade, and the flattened bolt knob.

The carbine has a detachable box magazine holding 6 cartridges in a single stack. It is detachable only in theory since it is chained to the receiver to avoid loss. One was expected to load magazine, one cartridge at a time, though the receiver. Above the magazine is a cut-off plate to shut off the magazine to keep it in reserve.

It features a rod which is not strictly a cleaning rod since it is too short to reach through the barrel. It was intended that two of these rod be threaded together and used to clear a stuck case from the chamber. The rod pictured is a reproduction. Cleaning would in fact have been done with a rope pull-though which was stored in the butt trap together with an oil bottle.

The Lee bolt features a safety lever mounted at the rear and a dust cover to enclose the action when the bolt is closed.

This carbine is marked D.P on the barrel and receiver and thus was relegated to drill purpose. This can indicate that the chamber and/or barrel has been tampered with such that it is no longer safe to fire however this carbine has been checked professionally and shows no such thing. It was probably assigned to drill simply due to being obsolete. With gallery loads it is great fun and very accurate.