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Direct Link To This Post Topic: “Is my Lee Enfield sniper rifle a fake?”
    Posted: September 18 2009 at 6:45pm

“Is my Lee Enfield sniper rifle a fake?”

By Terry Warner

 

In recent years collectors have discovered the allure of collecting sniper rifles.  Prices for good quality rifles have increased dramatically and faked rifles are now appearing.  This article is free advice to other collectors to suggest what distinguishes a true Lee Enfield No.4(T) sniper rifle from a fake.

 

The author owns a 1945 BSA Shirley No.4 Mk1(T) rifle and has examined other rifles, including a late war Canadian Long Branch No.4 Mk1*(T).  In addition he has gathered many of the best resource books, and he participates in discussions on the subject on various Internet forums.

 

Gentlemen, start your bookcases

 

All references (even this internet page) contain errors.  Collectors need experience to judge between the facts & misconceptions.  Here are the references for British and Savage No.4 Mk1 and Canadian No.4 Mk1* sniper rifles:

 

  • An Armourers Perspective: .303 No.4(T) Sniper Rifle and the Holland and Holland Connection, and
  • Telescope Sight No. 32, An inside view of the Snipers rifle telescope, both by Peter Laidler
  • Lee Enfield Story, and
  • The British Sniper, both by Ian Skennerton (www.skennerton.com)
  • Without Warning, by Clive Law (www.servicepub.com)
  • British Enfield Rifles, Volume 2 2nd Ed. Lee Enfield No.4 and No.5 Rifles, by Charles R. Stratton

 

Origins

 

Ask yourself, ‘What is it?’ when encountering a No.4(T) sniper rifle.  What does this rifle tell the collector by itself.  US military firearm collector and author Bruce Canfield (www.brucecanfield.com) advises, ‘Buy the rifle not the story’. 

 

There are exceptions, especially if the provenance is plausible and documented.  Is the seller a man of his word, or is the rifle presented with breathless prose that withers under questioning?  Internet auctions are testosterone races, and not designed for smart buying.  More often than not, a buyer cannot examine the rifle before committing to purchase and the seller may not give a refund.  Fortunately, there are specialized discussion groups on the internet where reasonably knowledgeable persons meet.  Their advice and insight could save a collector from an expensive mistake. 

 

The Latin saying, Caveat Emptor, has never been truer.

 

After spring year 2005, US-based collectors will encounter fake No.4(T) sniper rifles sold by Century International Firearms in Florida.  Coincidently, Turkey recently sold a large number of never-modified mid-war No.4 rifles to international dealers.  Century’s rifles may be of Turkish origin.  The advertised rifles are refinished, have replica bases (properly known as pads) and a replica cheek rest, but without the unique cast iron telescope mount.  They are sold as:

 

Enfield No.4 MKI Sniper Rifle Cal.303 w/ Scope Base (Does Not Include Mount & Scope) Refinished Very Good Condition (C&R Eligible)”, item RI017SV”.  

 

In private email correspondence, the company stated their products do not have the distinctive “T” or “TR” markings which distinguish the genuine article from a fake.  But they are marked as originating from Century.  Big deal.  Century has handled millions of rifles in the past, possibly including genuine No.4 Mk1(T) sniper rifles.  Century takes no responsibility if someone else misrepresents its products as genuine sniper rifles on the resale market.  The author and others have asked Century unsuccessfully, to mark their replicas to prevent the opportunity of fraud in the future.  (The Lee Enfield collector can reflect warily at the spate of fake Moisin Nagant, parts-built M1D Garand and modern reproduction Mauser K98 sniper rifles.)  Without a clear paper trail, any so-called Lee Enfield sniper rifle offered for sale after Spring 2005, which does not conform to the classic definition, must be considered a fake until proven genuine.  And, doubly so if there is no No.32 scope.

 

The real deal

 

The collector must be smart enough to understand the difference between the exception and the rule, and the exceptions were extreme measures.  A rifle that does not meet the rule should not be assumed to be a rare experiment or production line mistake.  Canfield articulates this point very well.

 

The discerning collector must develop knowledge of No.4 rifles in general to understand the No.4(T) in particular.  Holland and Holland Gunsmiths in London was the single UK conversion site, and their output is the definitive standard.  There are three UK exceptions to the rule.  In early wartime, about 1,400 early 1930’s dated No.4 Trials Rifles were converted at Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield.  Some of the very early British No.4 MK. 1 Holland and Holland conversions were not marked with a T.  Finally, an unknown number of Savage No.4 Mk1 rifles (Mk.1 not Mk.1* receivers) were converted to sniper configuration, but not marked according to convention.  These exceptions deviate from the distinct “run-of-the-mill” No.4 Mk1(T) markings by Holland and Holland. 

 

Caveat Emptor.


Canadian Long Branch rifles closely parallel British production, with some specific deviations and much smaller quantities.  Rifles delivered before May 1944 were missing the characteristic ‘T’ stamp on the sidewall.  In 1943 Long Branch delivered 71 sniper rifles with Canadian-made Research Enterprises Ltd. (REL) C No.32 MK.1 scopes, possibly in the 34Lxxxx serial number range.  These first deliveries were selected from the nearly 230,000 No.4 rifles produced in 1943 (numbered 23Lxxxx to 56Lxxxx).  Law’s book suggests four distinct serial number ranges for No.4 Mk1*(T)'s: 1944 production rifles numbered 71Lxxxx with REL C No.32 MK. 1 and 2 scopes; 350 odd 1944 production rifles numbered 74L0001 to 74L0350 with civilian production Lyman Alaskan scopes (bought as a stop gap when REL couldn't deliver fast enough); approximately 84 1944 production rifles numbered 80L8xxx with the REL C No.67 Mk.I scope; and a final batch of 376 1945 dated 90L8xxx rifles with REL C No.32 MK.3 scopes. 

 

Law suggests Long Branch reserved blocks of numbers when they found the hardening made drilling and tapping for scope pads too difficult.  Counting from the first hurried batches to the last more leisurely ones, about 1588 No.4(T) rifles left Long Branch.  The last batch was delivered in 1946 before the plant shut down and changed ownership.  He presumes they were to fill British contracts.  REL scope numbers restarted when a new mark was introduced, with never more than 400 of any mark delivered.  Probably the only change made postwar was to replace the walnut butts of the C No.67 equipped rifles with Monte Carlo-style butts and cushioned rubber butt plates.  Canadian snipers in Korea used both WWII original and these postwar modified rifles. 

Once again, buy the rifle not the story.

 

History is not always favourable to researchers.  The British Empire was at war and nobody cared about 60 years into the future when their homes might be bombed that night.  Not every variation was meticulously documented, nor were all papers available to every researcher. 

 

Modern writers of No.4(T) rifles have tried to understand and document the exceptions, including the very early conversion period before the standards were formalized.  After that, it would appear that Holland and Holland’s workmanship was scrupulously by the book.  Theirs was the only UK-based production shop, except for Trials rifles converted at Enfield.  Their first contract delivery was in November 1942 and the last in April 1946, likely using a 1945 dated receiver. 

 

The craft and the tools

 

Sniper rifles were made for serious men on a deadly mission.  On the advance, in contact, or in defence, the snipers aggressively pressed the battle to the enemy.  One man or a pair might drop off a patrol, or creep forward to a hide, looking for targets.  Troops relied on THEIR snipers to keep the enemy and HIS snipers at a distance.  No commander had enough snipers, and the schools turned good patrollers and shooters into efficient snipers.  Any rifle built in wartime was used hard.  If the sniper lost confidence in his rifle, the armourer had another.  After the war ended, the lessons of battle were adopted and taught to new snipers.  Who then used many of these same rifles every bit as hard as their brother snipers before. 

 

A mint condition sniper rifle is an oxymoron.  The reference books describe a lifecycle of storage, issue, use, first, second and third line repair, along with modification programs.  The conversion to 7.62 x 51 NATO, gave the British a way to extend the life of their .303 sniper rifles.  It is very possible that a sniper rifle found in good condition today was rebuilt more than once in its service life, and its unblemished finish covers the scars and bumps of hard knocks, parachute jumps and long cold nights in a hide.  The references, Laidler in particular, suggest certain rifles were sorted out as not suitable for modification and sold as surplus. 

 

During and after the end of the war sniper rifles were shipped to Canada (and vice versa), New Zealand, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the former Rhodesia, stolen by Israelis, given to the Belgian and Dutch armies after liberation.  Countless others were smashed on the battlefield or lost on transport ships.  One document from the end of the war instructs British authorities to return any material found with Canadian property marks to be returned to Canadian units.  Similarly, Savage rifles were always US Government property and had to be returned.  Although there is little information published, it is possible that sniper rifles were dropped to resistance fighters.

 

Buy the rifle, not the story. 

 

Spotting a fake sniper rifle

 

Besides looking for both ‘T’ and ‘TR’, one very simple test is to examine the screw heads on the pads.  Staking the end of the slot with a pin punch is an uncomplicated way to lock a screw head, and was listed in the armourer’s orders in March 1946.  More than one stake per screw head, indicates the pad has been removed or replaced, either for repair or overhaul.  A single stake mark suggests a rifle is newly converted, was not used very much, or left British service prior to 1946.  The front pad takes the worst beating of the two.

 

To summarize Laidler, the first guideline is to examine the left side of the receiver.  Read the model number.  All British and Savage-made sniper rifles were built on No.4 Mk1 actions (“number four mark one”).  Only wartime dated Long Branch No.4 Mk1* (“number four mark one star”) receivers were converted to sniper rifles.  If a rifle from two British plants was more accurate than average, it was set aside for No.4(T) conversion.  Birmingham Small Arms’ plant in Shirley stamped their ‘M47C’ on the butt socket.  Royal Ordnance Factory in Maltby stamped ‘ROFM’ ‘RM’ or ‘M’ on the sidewall or on the butt socket.  The serial number ranges are listed in Stratton. 

 

There was a continual reduction of sniper rifles in British service after 1945 until the 1960’s.   Those unsuited for upgrade programs or surplus were sold off.  Remaining rifles were converted to L42 rifles in 7.62 NATO.  Therefore, a British rifle has a storybook of markings establishing its history.  Canadian issued rifles usually do not have the characteristic British speckling of stamps and punches.  The collector must educate himself on the nuances of each stamp and punch.  They are not random, but tell a lengthy and detailed story beyond the intent of this article. 

 

Still following Laidler, the second guideline is to look for a large ‘TR’ stamped on the left of the butt socket and a letter ‘T’ on the flat of the left receiver sidewall after the model number.  The fonts are distinctive.  The ‘TR’ was applied by inspectors at the plant to indicate the rifle grouped better than others.  It was segregated and shipped to Holland and Holland.  The new arrivals were inspected again, and those that met a higher standard were converted.  Some rejected ‘TR’ rifles may be in circulation without other sniper marks.  The ‘T’ signified a No.32 telescope had been fitted, and the combination met all inspections.  Without a ‘T’ marking, the rifle could not have been converted at Holland and Holland or Long Branch, except for defined batches of rifles converted before the marking procedures were settled.

 

The third guideline is to look for a ¼ inch ‘S51’ stamped on the bottom of the handgrip of the butt stock.  This is unique to Holland and Holland.  The standard length butt was a Normal marked with a letter ‘N’ on the top near the butt plate.  There will be a check rest with a scalloped front end screwed to the comb.  There are some variations in the finished shape and centering of the cheek rest.  Some rifles have it more upright while others tend to have the rest rolled to either side.  Unbuggered screw heads on slotted screws are an encouraging sign.  Look for a stamped telescope number on the front edge of the butt, just before butt socket.  If possible (but I strongly advise against amateurs touching any tool to a collectable rifle), unscrew the butt and look on the wood for the rifle serial number just in front of the scope number. 

 

Look at the stock, look for a screw from one side of the wood to the other just in front of the receiver ring.  This is the dreaded Ishapore screw.  The Indians modified every No.4 rifle they found with this strengthening screw.  Nobody else worried about such things.  Although, India did use unknown numbers of No.4(T) rifles, but the references give no indication of Indian markings.

 

Look on the front right side of the receiver just behind the receiver ring.  A genuine Holland and Holland conversion will have a 1/8 inch letter ‘S’ close to the wood line.  I cannot comment if Long Branch is marked as such.

 

If there is an angular sling swivel on the takedown screw in front of the magazine, this is a sign, A) the rifle was either produced after September 1944, B) it left British military sometime near then, or C) someone has ‘improved’ the rifle.  A considerable number of civilian Parker Hale target shooting swivels change hands on the internet, regardless of appropriateness for the year of No.4(T) production.

 

Look at the sights.  Are both surfaces on the front sight blade, which face the shooter, undercut?  Apparently some snipers found the normal slope reflected back on their eyes.  I wouldn’t worry if it is not there.  It may be a peculiarity of British unit-level conversions.  The back sight should be the machined early Mk.I style, without the 90 degree battle sight.  It should be completely black with no exposed metal surfaces.  One sign the rifle has been used by someone knowledgeable will be if the underside is rounded out.  Smart armourers made this modification (without permission) so their sniper comrades could remove the rifle bolt without removing the scope and flipping up the back sight.

 

The next to last item(s) are the accessories according to the equipment checklists.  Every well-dressed No.4(T) has: a No.15 wooden transport chest; a No.8 scope case and leather strap or No.8 MK.2 rubberized canvas sleeve; a canvas protective case that is too small for a rifle with scope; a Scout Regiment ‘pirate-style’ draw tube telescope; a small tin cleaning kit; and a World War I dated American M1907 leather sling.  Each item is a study in itself.  Generally speaking, collectors look for matching numbers to their rifle and telescope, and for example, a Broad Arrow on the sling.  Any No.8 case or sleeve, and surprisingly the can’s strap, are highly sought after, followed by the No.15 chest.  The Canadian C No.7 .22 rifle chest is similar, but not tall enough by 2 inches.

 

The final item from Laidler’s books is the No.32 telescope and mounting bracket or base.  If the rifle offered does not have a No.32 scope, be skeptical.  Remember, the Century rifles are sold without brackets or scopes.  If there is a scope, compare its number to the stamped number on the butt and the rifle number to the one on the bracket.  If they match, Bingo!  We have a winner.  If not, don’t despair.  Most No.4(T)s sold for surplus in Canada have mismatched numbers.  The dealers stored the rifles unheated and the scopes heated; most salesmen or shippers didn’t know or care to match them up.  It is not unreasonable to suspect a similar tale elsewhere. 

 

In broad terms, a 1941, ‘42 or ‘43 rifle should have a MK1 scope; rifles made in ’43 and ‘44 should have a MK2 scope, and rifles made in ‘45 a MK3 or C No.67 scope (also known as a Mk4).  Canadian-made REL scopes restart serial numbers with each mark change.  Only a few hundred REL scopes of each mark were ever produced, so overall they are exceedingly scarce.  An REL scope on a British rifle or a Long Branch rifle with British scope should be approached skeptically.  The best British MK3 scopes were kept for the 7.62 conversion program, as earlier Marks were no longer needed.  Some good condition MK3 scopes were sold off.

 

There are a number of replica scope brackets on the market.  US companies like SARCO and The Sportsman’s Guide sell fake sniper rifle mounts.  It has an obvious two-faceted rear face.  The author succumbed to a testosterone race and bought a not-so-cleared explained replica bracket for 50% more than the retailer was asking.  On the other extreme are brackets made in the UK for Roger Payne.  His products are high quality and esthetically close to the original, but still distinctive to the knowledgeable collector.

 

The flat side will be flat, not sharply angled.  Look for a round radius on the rear “arm” of the bracket and a short vertical rise from the rear finger knob.  The originals were cast iron, with limited machining for the scope contact surfaces, the ring halves, and the bearing surfaces at the pads.  Postwar, the British rifles stamped the rifle serial number on the rear leg.  Long Branch serialized the bracket to the rifle, centered near the top edge.

 

Canadian knobs have a small depression in their centre.  The British knobs are smooth surfaced inside.  There are two styles of split washers which are not interchangeable.

 

Laidler suggests if the pads have tiny Broad Arrow marks, they are replacement parts from authorized sources.  However, there are replica No.4(T) parts kits on the market.  One internet seller includes drills, taps and screws with a set of pads.  Hardware is one thing, talent is another.  The key ingredient in the Holland and Holland conversion was two operators and three machines using all the same jigs.  They converted rifles on a production line of one rifle after another.  Every faker is trying to replicate that unique set of conditions.  Without a good knowledge of the factors, it is unlikely to get the pads properly centered and aligned over the bore.  A fake rifle and pads are unlikely to be aligned to the natural centre of the telescope’s adjustment.

 

 

Rottie (PitBulls dad.)


“If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons

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