New Delhi: The legendary .303 rifle, which has the dubious distinction of having the highest kills to its name, has finally bowed out of active service in Uttar Pradesh. The state police has bid adieu to the British-era rifles after over 75 years of service.
The Lee–Enfield rifle, commonly known as the .303 SLME (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) or just 303, is a bolt action, magazine-fed rifle that served the English military and that of the Commonwealth since 1895 and saw action in both World War 1 and World War II.
Invented by James Paris Lee, the rifle was initially manufactured by Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, in the UK, and served the Indian Army till the disastrous 1962 India-China War before being handed over to the police forces.
Years later, the guns made headlines in 2008 when during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the city’s policemen were seen trying to counter the well-armed Pakistani terrorists with their .303s. The Maharashtra government has since retired the obsolete rifles.
The weapons are now being repackaged as a riot control rifle that will fire rubber bullets.
While police forces have largely given them up, Naxals continue to use the .303s even as more modern assault rifles are making their way in.
A deadly weapon
What made the rifle very popular with forces was the .303 or 7.7×56 mm rimmed rifle cartridge that was deadly with a sure-shot kill range of at least 500 m.
The only problem with the highly dependable, sturdy rifle that also ensured excellent aim, was that it could only fire one shot at a time, after which the barrel needed to be reloaded by pulling the bolt for the next shot.
“Even if done very fast, it would take at least five seconds for the next round to be fired — and not to forget the time taken to aim at the target,” a senior serving police officer, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.
He added that no amount of automatic rifles can replace the feel of firing from the nearly 5-kg rifle with an excellent aim.
“The bullet was deadly. It could really go through a person when fired upon within 500 m,” the officer said, adding the overall range was close to 1,800 m.
The rifle with a history
The original model of the 303 was named the Magazine Lee-Enfield (MLE) — nicknamed the “Emily”— and it came into service in 1895.
A redesigned rifle known as the 303 SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) was introduced in 1904 and was manufactured in India by the Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI) in West Bengal.
It is estimated that 17 millions of these rifles have been manufactured across the world.
With .303, the British infantryman pacified the Boers in South Africa and defeated the Germans to win two World Wars.
It is the rifle that the ANZAC troops fired as they were slaughtered by Turkish general Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at Gallipoli and the rifle that was used in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919.
Outside of England, at least 46 nations adopted the SMLE in its various guises, according to an estimate.