Following lessons learned in the Boer War, the regulars of the British Army moved to step up their marksmanship training and a newly adopted rifle helped step up the pace. 

The Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle, updated after 1903 to the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, or SMLE, had a beautifully smooth action for an infantry rifle with a cock-on-close design that allowed for faster bolt cycling than some contemporary designs of its day.
 

Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle
The Enfield .303, in assorted variants, was the standard British and Commonwealth infantry rifle for 50 years, serving in both WWI and WWII, as well as Korea. (Diagram: Royal Armouries)

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Coupled with a 10-shot detachable box magazine (that was rarely detached in practice) in a day when rival Arisakas, Berthiers, Carcanos, Mannlichers, Mausers, and Mosins had a five-shot capacity, and the SMLE was a veritable race car of the bolt-gun world -- provided you knew how to drive it. 

That's where British army regulations, especially after 1909 came in. While slow, aimed, and deliberate fire was preferred – early SMLEs had magazine cut-off switches to leave the 10-rounds in the magazine as a sort of emergency reserve, forcing users to hand-feed single cartridges into the chamber as they went – the average "Tommy" was trained to deliver rapid-fire when needed, topped off by 5-shot charging clips.

As described in the British musketry regulations of the day, a trained rifleman should be able to lay down between 12 and 15 rounds in a minute, accurately.  
 

Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle
Via "Musketry Regulations, 1909, Reprinted with Amendments, 1914"


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In practice, the "Mad Minute" drill on the range became a standard of Commonwealth infantry for almost a half-century, with Australian troops still documented as carrying it out in the 1950s just before the Enfield was replaced with inch-pattern semi-auto FN FALs. Surpassing the 12-15 round minimum mark, some were able to squeeze in over 20 rounds in the same allotted time. One riflery instructor, Sergeant Alfred Snoxall, was credited with being able to deliver an amazing 38 hits on target with his Enfield in a one-minute period. 

One key to this ability was the fact that the British military prior to the Great War was made up of long-service volunteers, who often had years in the ranks, firing 250 rounds each year to keep sharp, as opposed to most other European armies that used conscription to build up large reserves of men who typically only served for a short time on active service. Further, British troops were almost constantly deployed, even during "peace," with most regiments having a battalion in Britain and another posted somewhere overseas in colonial campaigns or in India, giving them lots of experience in the field. 
 

Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle
"A typical British Tommy," 1914, via the Library of Congress. Note the Enfield rifle. 


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The Mad Minute, in combat, translated to the order of "Ten rounds, rapid" or “15 rounds, rapid” when needed. This was put to good effect by the British regulars at places like the Battle of Mons, where the volume of fire delivered by the Tommys upon the Kaiser's men reportedly shocked the Germans, leading to the popular trope of tactic's importance in the field. 

As described by Thomas Painting, a British solider at Mons: 

It was our training, you see, to do that. Fire and movement was what it was called, fire and movement. That was the basic training of it, you see. And, of course, we were all trained to fire fifteen rounds a minute rapid, you see. And they were all aimed shot, you see. You didn’t fire fifteen rounds rapid unless there was something, some emergency for it, you see. You got to beat off an attack. If they were coming to attack you in strong force, like assault you, then you’d put as much fire into them as you could. But you couldn’t expend your ammunition because you’d got to get it up, you see. Ordinary slow fire was … unless it was an emergency, when you fired rapid.

So, enough talk. How about seeing it in action?

Here is an old video of Eric with IV8888, dropping 10 rounds from an Enfield in about six seconds. 
 


The Bloke on the Range last year was able to run an Enfield faster than a semi-auto FAL for 20 rounds. 
 


The British Muzzleloaders channel worked on his weapon manipulation with a No. 1 Mk III, hitting 29 rounds in under a minute. 
 


And finally, hailing from a country where the Enfield is still very much in use for second-line and police units, here is Indian Central Reserve Police Force firearms instructor Pal Sahab rocking 31 rounds in 60 seconds, although he kinda low-key cheats by swapping out mags. 
 

 

Love cool old guns like these? Be sure to check out our carefully curated Military Classics and Collector's Corner sections where history is just a click away.


Banner photo: "English Infantry," circa 1914, equipped with SMLEs, via the Library of Congress.

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