Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - James Paris Lee

I am pretty confident that although you’ll have never heard of the Scot I’m posting about today you’ll certainly know his surname. That’s because this is the man who put the Lee into Lee Enfield.

James Paris Lee was born in Hawick in 1831 but it was in Canada and later the USA that he became famous for his rifles.

His family moved to Galt in Ontario when he was 5 and when he was 12 he built his first rifle.

In 1858 he had moved to Wisconsin just in time to design a rifle for the US Army during the American Civil War. This was a breech loading version of the Army’s standard Springfield rifle but unfortunately for Lee it was rejected for use during the war.

Undaunted he went on to perfect the spring-loaded magazine which is now the standard magazine design for all modern military small arms.

In 1879 he designed a rifle using the bolt and magazine layout which would become the standard which all rifle designs throughout the world would follow for the next seventy years.

In 1889 the British adopted Lee’s design for their .303 rifles and the Lee Metford and later the Lee Enfield were used in several variations up until 1957 as a front line rifle, and up until the 1990’s as the L42 sniper rifle. It was the rifle used by the British Empire and Commonwealth troops in both world wars and Korea.

When James Lee died in January 1904 the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) was just entering British Army service. I’m sure he would never have imagined that his rifle would still be going strong 106 years later. You sometimes see it on news items being used by Indian Police, Nepalese Army or Afghan Militia. It's also still used by the Canadian Rangers. In fact the SMLE design is the longest serving military bolt-action rifle still in official service anywhere in the world and the total production of all Lee Enfields is estimated at over 16 million rifles.

Here's a clip from a US Documentary which shows Lee's most famous creation.

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