Two Allied Workhorses: Enfield No. 4 Mk 1 vs. M1 Garand Rifle
The M1 Garand became an American legend as the go-to rifle for G.I.s in World War II, but many Garand fans might be surprised by the performance of the simpler, cheaper, higher-capacity, British bolt-action Enfield No. 4 Mk 1 that fought beside it.
To be honest, calling this a versus piece is both entertaining but also somewhat misleading. These two classic military rifles served important roles in World War II for the allies, but they have very different origin stories. Heck, they don’t even share similar operating systems or calibers.
Then again, these are two of the most memorable rifles I have ever fired, and there is some debate about which one offered more “firepower.” So, pulling them both out of the safe for a comparison seemed fitting. Here’s my humble take on two rifles that helped shape history.
The threat of war has a way of motivating people to finally get stuff done, and the M1 Garand and Enfield No. 4 Mk 1 were both rifles meant to meet a specific military challenge. For the British military, the No. 4 Mk 1 was largely a simplified option to maximize production of the 10-shot SMLE – Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield. The need for guns, and lots of them, was urgent as Britain faced off with Nazi Germany.
On the other hand, the U.S. long sought a more modernized battle rifle to replace its bolt-action designs used during World War I. While Britain found its new rifle in an old design and streamlined production of the push-to-cock Lee-Enfield SMLE, America dove into something entirely new – nearly stumbled actually – with its first-ever standard-issue semi-auto battle rifle. Both guns offered higher capacities than most of their counterparts. They were also relatively fast to load and shoot.
Like many gun owners, I have a personal history with many of the firearms that have come into my life. I cannot help but love both of these guns more for my personal history than respect for the differences in the designs. The Enfield was the first rifle my father ever gave me. The M1 Garand, on the other hand, was an enjoyable shooting friend and reenacting companion back when I still liked sleeping in rain and snow.
Both guns really helped spark my interest in collecting old military firearms, but the Garand started me on my journey to more modern designs. I won’t shrug my shoulders at a bolt-action rifle, but I do enjoy the next-level engineering that went into making guns like the M1. Still, if I had to play favorites, the Enfield is the last firearm I would ever let leave my collection.
No. 4 Mk 1 Enfield Specs & Function
The SMLE had many variations over the decades, and I just recently spent some time with an army veteran who brought one home with markings from Afghanistan. The gun got around, but it earned its keep.
The relatively simple bolt system offered a single locking lug and cocked on the forward push of the bolt, making it a smooth and fast shooter. If you couple that with the standard 10-round magazine and the ergonomics of the rifle, you get a bolt gun that rivals many semi-autos for speed. The .303 round is powerful, though it does host a rim that has since gone out of fashion with more modern designs.
Overall, wartime No. 4 Mk 1s were fairly frills-free guns with sharp corners and milling marks easily apparent. Still, the linear stock made for a very controllable and flat recoil impulse. The bolt was still very easy to cycle quickly, and I have seen shooters outperform more modern semi-auto designs with Enfields.
You can remove the 10-round magazine, but the standard practice was to reload using five-round stripper clips. This allowed soldiers to top off their magazines in the field and never fear having fewer rounds than, say, the standard German Kar98k. Sights varied across the models, including the No. 4 Mk 1s, and this one hosts a simple 300 and 600-yard peep-style option. Others featured a ladder-style option for more precision.
If you want a bit more history on this rifle, I have written an article that digs a bit deeper. But for this review, we’ll be focusing more on the purpose and function of the gun. To that end, I have listed some additional specs below:
Weight: 9.1 pounds Length: 44.45 inches Caliber: Rim-cased .303 British Action: Cock-on-close bolt action Sights: Simple two-range peep or ladder options Capacity: 10 rounds
As a somewhat last-ditch option made in 1943, this version hosted a simple socket-style bayonet, two-range rear peep sight, and a basic left-side safety lever. It doesn’t seem like much, but the British military did have a say about its effectiveness as an individual rifleman’s gun. In fact, they were kind of picky – peevish? – customers despite the threat they faced. Peevish enough anyway to still insist the barrel was relieved in the stock with minimal contact points to aid accuracy. Those efforts made the gun worthy of service that went well past the end of World War II.
M1 Garand Specs & Function
Without meaning to burst anyone’s bubble, I will first note that most of the bolt-action rifles America used in WWI were actually M1917 Enfields, and they worked well. It just wasn’t fit for what the U.S. wanted for the next war. Neither was the M1903 Springfield for that matter.
While the British were cutting corners to make their “newish” guns, America went all in on its first standard-issue semi-auto rifle. The M1 Garand also hosted some of the most refined iron sights fielded in World War II. The adjustable rear peep offered windage and elevation dials, along with an adjustable front post guarded by two metal ears.
More modern versions, such as the M1A, are still easy to find today, but the heart and soul of the M1 Garand design was its unique semi-auto action. This gas-driven system used a drilled gas port – simplified from the original gas trap – to cycle the action with a long-stroke piston and operating rod. Two lugs on the front of the surprising small bolt rotated slighty to lock and unlock the action.
One of my personal favorite features is the unique safety at the front of the trigger guard. You’ll actually see many photos with American service members simply keeping their finger in the trigger guard even when not shooting, which the design kind of encouraged despite being cringe-worthy by current safety standards. Setting that aside, the safety was easy to use and didn’t require the shooter to shift their grip before firing.
Frankly, there are just too many reasons to love the M1 Garand, from its reliability and accuracy to its interesting design and history. We have a nice ode to the gun that I’ve linked below if you want to read more.
Weight: 9.5 pounds Length: 43.6 inches Caliber: .30-06 Action: Semi-auto long-stroke gas piston Sights: Adjustable front post and rear peep Capacity: 8 rounds
You can actually load this rifle with single rounds, but the eight-round en-bloc clip is still the most efficient way to run the gun. Fair warning, however, because I have yet to meet an avid M1 fan who has not gotten “Garand Thumb” by letting their digits linger a bit too long in the action while loading. That is easily preventable if you actively hold the bolt handle to the rear with the base of your hand while inserting your next eight rounds.
Unlike the Enfield, topping off the M1’s internal magazine is a bit more tricky. Hence, there is also a clip-ejection system that can quickly clear the magazine so you can simply pop in eight more rounds of .30-06.
It’s advisable to take some caution in selecting exactly what ammo you load into your M1 Garand. The design was not really made for some of the newer, heavier, and hotter loads. It is quite robust, but remember they don’t make original wartime M1 Garands anymore.
Pros & Cons
Both rifles deserve praise as fine guns for their time, but they weren’t without flaws. So far, I’ve talked mostly about the praise, so now I’ll focus on my complaints.
For the M1 Garand, it offers semi-auto firepower in a reliable package, but that comes at a cost. Here are my top cons for the gun:
Heavy weight for its capacity at 9.5 pounds
More aggressive recoil and muzzle climb
More complicated to disassemble and maintain
Limited to eight-round en-bloc clips
Watch your fingers or the Garand will try and eat them
Not originally built for heavier bullet weights over 150 grains
As for the Enfield No. 4 Mk 1, it is a simple package as a frills-free 10-round bolt action. But I have seen shooters accurately fire it faster than I have ever run an M1 Garand. Still, here are my cons:
No grip texture on the butt plate, so shooting with a slippery polyester Hawaiian shirt kind of sucks
Rougher construction with more rust-prone surface areas
Still heavy at 9.1 pounds
Cruder, but functional, sights
Sharper edges and some small screws to maintain
Older .303 ammo is less common
The guns both have issues, especially compared to lightweight modern firearms. I think the pros outweigh the cons by a wide margin. After all, if a soldier was willing to carry a gun that weighed nearly 10 pounds but still liked it, that’s a heck of a testament.
I have a personal affinity for the No. 4 Mk 1. That makes the Enfield my personal pick. But there is a good reason M1 Garands are loved by American shooters and collectors alike. In fact, they are increasingly hard to find, and they are not getting cheaper or more plentiful.
So, if you get the chance to add a Garand to your personal collection, I advise that you take the opportunity while it lasts.