During World War II, the British standardized their sniper equipment as the Lee-Enfield Number 4 Mark I (T). There were three main batches of conversions.
- RSAF ENFIELD CONVERSIONS 1941 – 1942 – The first batch of conversions. Most of these were 1931 and 1933 dated No. 4 MK. I rifles made at Enfield. An unknown small number of these 1,403 conversions were rifles of wartime manufacture.
- HOLLAND AND HOLLAND CONVERSIONS 1942 – 1946 – In the Fall of 1942 British sniper conversion function was handed off to Holland and Holland, the famous gun makers in London, England. They converted No. 4 MK. I rifles made by BSA Shirley (the vast majority), a few Stevens-Savage (made in the USA, both No. 4 MK. I and No. 4 MK. I*) and apparently a very few Maltby made rifles. They converted over 21,700.
- LONG BRANCH CONVERSIONS 1942? – 1946 – The Canadians converted sniper equipment as well. The rifles were made by Long Branch. A few may have been No. 4 MK. I but the vast majority were No. 4 MK. I*. Most of the scopes were made by Research Enterprises Limited (R.E.L. ; REL) in Canada. Most of these were No. 32 and were interchangeable with the British made scopes. There were some differences however. Due to a shortage of scopes, Canada ordered 350 Lyman Alaskan specially modified and serial numbered scopes in 1944. These were called the No. 32 TP MK. I (sometimes writtena s No. 32 MK. I TP. TP stood for “Trade Pattern” as these were basically commercial scopes, albeit slightly modified. About 1,560 Long Branch No. 4 rifles were converted.
DOES THE SNIPING EQUIPMENT HAVE MATCHING SERIAL NUMBERS?
No. 4 rifles always had the bolt matching in service. A mismatched bolt drops the value considerably, and the headspace should be checked for safety reasons. When the No. 4 rifles were converted to sniper equipment, each on had a scope and bracket assigned to it. Some brackets were serial numbered at the conversion factory, and others were numbered later in military service. The scopes were always numbered to the rifle, by stamping the scope SN into the wrist of the butt, just below or aft of the cocking piece.
Scopes were fragile and newer models came out during the war. As a result, some rifles had up to 3 or 4 scopes assigned to them during their years of service, as some served right into the 1970s. Thus there are two types of matching serial numbers:
- Matching as converted – This means the first scope assigned to that rifle remains with the rifle. This is the most desirable matching. The ideal is to have the rifle, bolt, scope, bracket, butt, forearm, scope case and chest matching.
- Matching in-service – This means that a scope fitted by the military later in service and replaced the original scope. This is still very desirable as all changes were made by the military while the rifle was in service.
- A sub-variant of this is where the scope and rifle match, but the bracket does not match – This is a very rare situation where the bracket, likely with the scope in it, was changed but for some reason the armourer neither cancelled out the old rifle serial number, nor did they add the newly mated rifle’s serial number. The author believes this to be because stamping the bracket with a serial number could damage the scope if it was still mounted and there was a reluctance to remove the scope from the bracket as the screws were usually staked in place. I am not an armourer so that is only a theory.
- Mismatched – This is where the scope and bracket are off one rifle and are fitted onto a different rifle post-military service. These look great but as the scope and rifle are not collimated, they will not be as accurate at all ranges.
It appears that thousands of these sets came to North America as surplus after World War II. Sadly when many of the surplus dealers sold them, they did not ensure that the matched scope/bracket/scope case sets went with the correct rifles. As a result, probably over 90% of the sets in North America are mismatched. Matched sets are very desirable. The most common are the BSA Shirley made rifles. Due to the rarity of this sniper equipment, and the high demand for the among collectors and shooters, there is the also danger of forgery. As well sometimes there are honest mistakes by sellers who do not know the details of their rifles (e.g. mismatched but they believe they are matching).
The MAIN things to watch for are:
- Was this ever a real sniper rifle?
- Are the numbers matching?
- * Rifle serial number on body.
- * Rifle serial number on bolt.
- Rifle serial number on underside of the forestock near the front.
- Rifle serial number may be on magazine (post-war)
- * Rifle serial number may be on the scope bracket.
- * Scope serial number on scope.
- * Scope serial number on wrist of rifle.
- Scope case should have serial number of rifle and scope (except for Canadian No. 8 MK. 2 canvas cases).
- Wooden transit chest No. 15 MK. I – may have serial number of rifle, usually on a paper tag at one end, held in a metal frame. Occasionally the serial number of the rifle, and rarely, of the scope, were stencilled onto the chest.
Those serial numbers with ” * ” beside the number are the most important for matching.
The following are examples of the main types of markings. Various rifles rom various collections are used to illustrate the various markings. There are other markings, but if these are not correct, then that is a warning sign. There are exceptions but when a seller starts using the word “Experimental” then the price goes up and so should your defences because the chances are that it is a fake.
MARKINGS ON THE RIFLE
RSAF Enfield Conversions of No. 4 rifles to sniper
Holland & Holland Conversion of No. 4 rifles to sniper equipment.
Canadian Long Branch Conversions
Note that the rifle serial number was not usually stamped on the underside of the forestock. When the number appears, it was usually stamped later in service, as shown on the ex-Indian service example 68L3200 shown below.
MARKINGS ON THE SCOPE
British No. 32 Scope – Typical markings on a British made No. 32 Scope
Canadian No. 32 Scope – Typical markings.
MARKINGS ON THE SCOPE CASE
British No. 8 MK. I (steel) Scope Case. Some like this one have rounded corners. Others have squared corners. CAUTION! Replicas are being made in France and the UK. The UK examples are sold as replicas.
British No. 8 MK. 2 (Canvas) Scope Case
Canadian REL C No. 8 MK. 2 (Canvas) Scope Case
MARKINGS ON THE WOODEN CHEST
Marking will vary between chests as the stores code and TEL STG MK number change depending upon which mark of scope the rifle is equipped with. In this case it is the most common version, BA5885 for the No. 32 MK. 3 (or written as MK. III sometimes.) Many chests were repainted in service and will often be found in glossy green and have markings painted around or reapplied. Many have a yellow marking (solid circle or band) which may be a stores marking. As well one occasionally finds regimental markings, shipping marking and later, NATO stores numbers. Old markings are often painted out.
Link to my page on Photographs of Snipers