|Rifle||Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk I||Manufacturer||BSA and Fazakerley|
|Caliber||.303 British||Overall Length||39.5″|
|Action||Rotation Bolt||Barrel Length||20.5″|
|Magazine||10 rounds staggered||Weight||7 lbs|
The Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk I, nicknamed the “Jungle Carbine”, is a light and handy little rifle with a kick so rough that the designers included a rubber butt pad. Its sporty appearance meant a high demand and imposters abound. So read the rest or beware of frauds!
British equipment in WWII was a mix of old and new, dictated by the limits of manufacturing. The overstretched military wanted the most bang for their buck and the WWI vintage Lee-Enfields and the new, faster to manufacture No. 4 Mk I rifles were going bang just fine. This naturally slowed any efforts to adopt a purpose built carbine for paratroops and artillery/technical units. In the latter half of the war, with U.S. supplies and soldiers flowing into the melee and a renewed offensive the the sweltering jungles of the East they finally approached the issue. By 1943 work was under way.
The Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk I was an adaptation of the No. 4 Mk I service rifle. The desired changes were the reduction of length and weight. Given the short ranged combat of the Pacific Theater the new carbine only had to match the No.4 rifle’s accuracy for at least 400 yards. Five inches in length disappeared from the barrel and weight was removed by the addition of a more sporting-like stock and the removal of unnecessary fixtures. The military had also toyed with lightening the No.4 rifle as it was and these efforts were applied to the No.5. They shaved sections of unnecessary metal from the receiver and the barrel’s chamber area. The final product was approximately five inches shorter and 1.5 lbs lighter than the No.4 rifle.
This newly lightened and shortened prototype presented problems with severe recoil and excessive light flash when firing the powerful .303 British cartridge. These were addressed by the addition of some key features. A conical flash hider pushed the “barrel” length a little further for a total reduction of about 4.5 inches and helped reduce the flash. This was not intended to hide the rifleman from the enemy but rather reduce the likelihood of the bright flash from temporarily blinding the shooter. Recoil was combated with an integral rubber butt pad at the rear of the stock, something of a military first. Unfortunately, fears about deterioration of the rubber pushed production towards some very hard material, partially defeating the purpose of the pad. Designers realized the rifle was so light that the sling wasn’t much of an aid in stable shooting and so redesigned the loops for carry only. This is why the No.5 remains unique among Lee-Enfield with its side mounted sling loop.
Operation of the rifle is the standard Lee-Enfield affair familiar to anyone who has used a No. 1 Mk III* or especially the No. 4 Mk I. The detachable magazine has a massive 10 round capacity (double most military rifles of the time) and is fed by five round stripper clips. It’s important to remember that these magazines were not designed to be detached and reattached for loading purposes and frequent removal will eventually result in poor feeding or magazine drop. Magazine removal was provided for ease of cleaning and repair. When placing rounds into your stripper clip make certain to stagger the rounds as pictured for smooth feeding.
The action on the rifle is identical to the No. 4 Mk I with its cock on close, rear locking bolt. It is extremely smooth and often praised for its ability to be cycled quickly. Unlike the hand-fitted No.1 Mk III bolt heads, the No.4 and No.5 rifles use a set of standard sized bolt heads ranging from 0-3 with three being the longest. 00 and 4 have been observed but are extremely uncommon and may have been purpose built. It is therefore possible to treat a No.4 or No.5 rifle with oversized headspace issue by swapping up its bolt head size, however for this reason most size 3 bolt heads are very hard to find. Because the Lee-Enfield is a cock on close rifle you may also choose to keep it unloaded with the firing spring relaxed. Just make absolutely certain your rifle is empty then bolt forward while holding the trigger back. The firing pin will ease forward with the bolt and save some pressure on your spring during storage.
Two purpose-made rear sights for the No.5 rifle were graduated up to 800 yards. The Mk I was based on a milled leaf while the Mk II was an expedited stamped steel leaf. The rifles are also regularly found with 1,300 yard sights made for the No.4 rifle as these are nearly identical and would function just fine. It’s more than likely that these found their way onto the No.5 rifles as part of refurbishing but as of right now we do not have a proven explanation. All three sights work the same. When folded down a rear aperture known as the “battle sight” is presented for use up to 300 yards. Beyond that range the sight must be flipped up and dialed in to the appropriate range. This will shift the height of a slide mounted on the sight leaf. Just use the hole in the center of this slide as your rear aperture.
The stock for the No. 5 Mk I saw only one area of significant change during production. Some of the trials rifles were fitted with a metal cap at the front of the forestock but the manufacture time for this particular piece was extreme for its limited use and so it was omitted entirely. Later the part returned as a stamped steel component with a slightly different angle. Early variations are sloped at the base and uncommon. The later stamped pieces are square.
Britain’s new carbine was officially adopted in September of 1944 but there were many widely dispersed trials rifles already in production before the acceptance date. Originally the rifle’s design was aimed at the Pacific Theater but the main focus fell on the European theatre as a handy carbine for specialist troops such as paratroopers. While the No.5 also made a showing in the Pacific, it was the post-WWII Malayan Emergency that seems to have really birthed the nickname “Jungle Carbine.”
Unfortunately the rifle was phased out pretty quickly after this point. The British government claimed the design had an inherent flaw known as “Wandering Zero.” It was stated that the guns could never quite be sighted in as the excessive recoil would displace the sight picture within a few dozen rounds. I have yet to hear of or meet a collector who suffered the same problem, but we might have too much invested. Many believe the flaw was either over played or made up in an attempt to retire the carbine early in pursuit of an automatic rifle. If this was the case they must have failed because when the No.5 retired the No.4 continued to meet military demands into the late 50’s.
There are, however, documents tracking various tests to track down this problem. The earliest focused on the stock and the possibility that the shortened, rapidly heating barrel was upsetting its own nest. They later focused on yoke and extended the handguard and fore-end in an attempt to eat up some of the vibration. These both showed limited improvement. Efforts shifted to the lightened receiver because armorers thought it might be flexing when firing. In some places No.4 receivers were substituted and these are reported to have been much improved. Finally the flash hider was targeted, removed, and replaced with a weight. These tests also showed improvement. Ultimately, with so many potential causes, the design was scrapped entirely.
Australia, India, and Canada all took measures to create their own Lee-Enfield carbines. Australia and India both worked on Lee-Enfield No.1 Mk III derived models because they never tooled up for No.4 production. Canada attempted to remake the No.4 much like the British. All three abandoned their efforts in the prototype phases. There is some evidence that Australia began actual production but they do not appear to have been issued.
The No.5 rifle is an attractive little gun and so after the war a number of fakes began appearing. The root of the issue seems to start with the Golden State Arms Corporation who took in large numbers of No.1 and No.4 rifles starting in the 50’s. Many of these were converted into No.5 look alikes and branded “Santa Fe Jungle Carbine” among other names. More recently Gibbs and Navy Arms have done the same, even with Ishapore 2A1 rifles. Furthermore, some suppliers like Numrich offer conversion kits designed to help turn a No.4 gun into a No.5 facsimile.
What should you know to spot a real No. 5 Mk I carbine?
- No.5 rifles should be marked as such on the receiver wall. Electropenciling is common so don’t be afraid of that.
- No.5 rifles were made exclusively at two arsenals: BSA and Fazakerley
- No.5 rifles don’t look like No. 1 Mk III rifles. If it’s sort of flat and round instead of having the tall left receiver wall, just walk away. Also note that no No.5 carbine has a tangent rear sight. They are all aperture.
- No.5 rifles have additional metal shaved away. Review the following images for the differences between a No.5 and a No.4. The carbine is always in the top half. The shaved away metal is the gold standard for identification. Also note the image earlier in the article of the fluted shavings removed from the chamber section of the barrel.
- No.5 rifles always have hollowed bolt handles and a fuller carved out of the visible right side lug. No.4 rifles may or may not.
- No.5 rifles have sights graduated to 800 yards, although they often appear with a 1,300 yard leaf like our example.
Another common thing to watch out for when purchasing is that many sportsmen ground off the original bayonet lug on the rifle. It should be a milled part of the flash suppressor so please make sure it’s there. If, by reading this article, you’ve realized that you have a reproduction I’m very sorry. Nothing beats the real thing.