WWI Lee-Enfield and extra battlefield ammo

A Canadien friend asked me this question (and I had no answer). Lee-Enfield has a detachable magazine. It would make sense for each soldier to have several loaded extra magazines so they can reload faster in the battlefield. Did the British do this in WWI (or WWII for that matter)? Did they supply their infantry with extra mags?

No because its clip loaded from the top. Its quicker to load that way than to change the mag. You need strong thumbs but with half the German army bearing down on you the thumbs find the strength, no problem.

Seriously though, tight clips are/were a recognised area of difficulty. They need to have just the right tension. Too tight and they become difficult to load, too loose and the rounds fall out.

I think the idea of extra magazines was considered, briefly, when the British armed forces adopted the Lee system in the late 1880s. It was quickly decided to use only the magazine supplied with the rifle and to load that magazine cartridge by cartridge (early on) or (later) with chargers. Magazines don’t grow on trees. Jack

Everything I have read stated that while the 10 round box magazines were removable, extra magazines were not issued. Soldiers loaded their empty magazines in the rifle and did not carry loaded magazines. I once had a pair of Lee Enfield rifles of different vintage, and the magazines would not interchange. I saw one 20 round magazine years ago that was supposedly used during WWI, but I don’t think they were very common.

The other question which some body else may be able to pick up on. Did they routinely ever load ten?. I tend to think it was standard practice to load one clip ie five. The debate has raged in the past. The tapered rimmed cases being the potential problem

What we would today call the standard combat load was in WWI 150 rounds, fifty rounds in pouches and two spare cotton bandoleers of 50 rounds each, all in chargers.

As Jack said, no spare magazines were issued with L-Ms or L-Es. In fact the L-M and the L-E Mark I had the magazine affixed to the weapon by chain link.

The 20 round “trench” magazine issued for the SMLE in WWI was not particularly successful as it interfered with prone shooting and was liable to being fouled by mud. Although very rare today there were about 200,000 issued. I had one many years ago but foolishly sold it.

Vince - clips? Chargers please!


Vince - clips? Chargers please![/quote]
Sorry Tony, I thought the word clip would be easier to understand for the international members

“The command load will always mean load with ten rounds” “Rifle 1946 Provisional” War Office. The 1905, 1909, 1937 Manualsinstruct to load 5 rounds. Manuals of 1942 and later advise to load 10 Rounds.
If time allowed removeing the ctgs from the charger and running them through it several times made loading easier. The early blued chargers load much easier than the later parkerised ones.

When manufacture of the Magazine Rifle Mark I commenced in December 1888 it had an eight-round magazine fitted as standard and a spare eight-round magazine. The spare magazine was withdrawn from service in October 1890. In August 1891 the rifle was renamed as the Lee-Metford Magazine Rifle. In January, following several modifications, the rifle became the Lee-Metford Magazine Rifle Mark I*. The rifle had a magazine cut off which was a pivoted plate which was pushed inwards to hold the rounds in the magazine down. The rifle was usually operated with a full 8 rounds in the magazine, cut off in, and loading single shot. The contents of the magazine were held in reserve until the battle got too “hot” for single loading when the cut off would be pulled out to release the 8 rounds for rapid fire. The wire or chain connected to the magazine was to prevent its loss if the spare magazine was in place. When the spare magazine was withdrawn from service there was no further need for the chain.

Not long after the above events, the Magazine Rifle Lee-Metford Mark II appeared, with a ten-round magazine, still loaded by pressing single rounds in. The Mark I .303" charger was introduced on the 16th January 1903. And charger loading, using two five-round chargers to fill the ten-round magazine became the standard with the introduction of the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mark I. This, and the other rifles in this series were commonly known as the S.M.L.E., sometimes irreverently referred to as the “Smellie”. The magazine cut off was still fitted as standard until, in January 1916, the Short Magazine-Enfield Mark III* was introduced. This was a wartime expedient rifle, without the cut off, with the long-range dial sights omitted, and without windage adjustment on the rearsight. These “frills” were not necessary in the trench fighting of the First War but rapid fire, charger loading, was.

No spare magazines were ever issued with any of the Lee-Enfield rifles, charger loading by trained soldiers was sufficient. During my service days we always loaded ten rounds, from two chargers. The only time I ever loaded just five rounds into my magazine was when the rules of a competition mandated it. This was to even up the match against M1917s, Springfields, Mausers, Pattern 1914s etcetera. In these matches the Swiss Schmidt-Rubins and K31s also had to load five instead of their customary six rounds.


Edited to correct errors of fact, amendment shown in italics and bold type.

The utility of charger loading the Lee-Enfield series of rifles is still celebrated in the ‘Mad Minute’ section of Service Rifle competitions here in the UK. In our club this is where you stand behind your rifle with a magazine holding 5 rounds and a supply of filled chargers, the rifle lying on the ground with the bolt open. The target, we shoot at 200 yards, is hidden.

At a signal, the target is shown and you dive for your rifle, loading it with the magazine and engaging the target. You reload where necessary and after a minute the target is again taken down at which point you cease fire and make and show the rifle to be safe. Details may differ from competition to competition but the sessence is the same, to strike a compromise between rapidity of fire and accuracy. I believe to record stands at 38 shots in a minute, shot by an Army regular before the First War.

Ohh … never does a minute go so quickly … and it’s cracking good fun!


An error has been brought to my attention in my post above on charger loading. I have corrected the original post and offer my apologies for any confusion.