Updated: Nov 29, 2020
The Lee of Lee Enfield derives from Mr Lee, he who developed the detachable box magazine concept in the mid 1890's and licensed its use to select manufacturers in the West. It first guise in British armaments was on the Lee Metford, which evolved in 10 years to be the Lee Enfield and then the now legendary SMLE (Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield).
To start developing this post we first deal with No1 SMLE and then No4 / No5 Lee Enfield Magazines. The British 303 cartridge was and advanced design when devised in the 1880's, initially a black powder load with lead projectile, both of these could be changed and developed within the tapered bottle shaped rimmed cartridge - it was the feature of the cartridge case that dictated the shape and sizes of the double stack magazine. The magazine "can" (body) held the front lip and the rear spine - both of each were shaped and required to enable positive latching and easy removal of the magazine. It is interesting to note that all versions of Lee Enfield had a dedicated single magazine to each rifle (Serialed to the receiver). Each magazine is hand fitted by armorers to the fit the latch mechanism of each action - this fitting is done at the spine of the magazine. On an No1 SMLE the rear spline is in two sections, an upper and lower with an additional spring clip below that. On the No4 / No5 there is only the upper spline.
The rest of the magazine can features the 4 lips at its top surface - each has a role in the correct feeding of rounds from the left and right magazine stacks - naturally the left lip controls the left stack, and the right lip the right stack which is also the odd numbered rounds as they are the lowest (deepest in the can). More armorer work necessary here too to fit the magazine to the action - the lips are molded and tweaked to present the rounds to the bolt head and the feed ramp in front of the chamber and fettled to do so under rapid fire and all other operating conditions. Still back at the can, the sides are ribbed for strength and to provide 2 contact points for the rounds inside to ride as they enter and elevate. On a No1 SMLE the ribs are complete down each side of the can and present a visible section when looking at its bottom surface. The No4/ No5 can has the same ribs but now they fade out to nothing to form an arrow head pointing at the base and thee are not visible in the section as viewed from the bottom. The base of the can is angled which really shows how much taper the stacks of 10 rimmed cartridges develop. The base is typically solid except for a drain hole at its deepest point.
Inside the can lives the follower and spring, which are riveted together. The follower is a curious shape - dictated by its many functions - it has an arch between two flats to define the two stacks of ammunition, lowest on the right. Its has a rear lip that prevents the first round loaded slipping too far to the rear and jamming into the follower to can gap,. Each successive round has its rim in front of the round below it (when loading). The follower also has notches in various places that allow it to work with the can ribs during operation and during follower assembly: the spring is wiggled in first then the follower tilted to enter rear first and pushed down to compress the spring until the follower front edge can enter behind the rear of the can lips, a little wiggling to get the follower in and level to allow it to rise into place on the spring trapped by the lips and ready to load.
Of the reproductions: I have found both the No1 and no4 magazine reproduction to be satisfactory considering the requirement to fit every magazine no matter what, to the actual rifle / receiver that it is to be used on. There is enough material in the spine and lips to allow for adjustment and shaping. The finish that they come with is acceptable and the stamping are clean and as fully formed as the original. I would for the right rifle bead blast, phosphate and apply a Suncorite alternative to achieve the "FTR" look. On the No1 examples the location of the drain hole can do with some work - typically to make it centered and symmetrical. the No4 examples also have "F" and a broad arrow mark on the spine, which are typical and as good as originals
Real Factory differences. Longbranch made the standard No4 magazine body design in a unique process that folded the bottom surface over in 3 sections - leaving an open seam. Another unique feature are two raised dimples either side of the rear rib. Both of these features immediately tell you that the magazine was made at Longbranch.
The NATO 7.62 x 51mm close cousins:
L8 Project - Adopted for the L42 Sniper Rifle.
The L8 project was simple - redevelop the No4 rifle to the new NATO 7.62 x 51mm round and keep the capacity to 10 rounds- pre the DCRA and other producers of No4 target shooting rifles. The MoD found that this was no satisfactory or simple task and the tests failed the simple conversion - leaving the effectively produced magazine design on the shelves and in stock...to be capitalized on the L42 Sniper Project in the early 1970s. The standard magazine well with trigger guard needed a little extra clearancing to work with the revised magazine - but standard parts from the No4 were retained.
Of note on this magazine are the Enfield marks (E over D) project contract number and dates, as well as the additional front ramp / lip welded into the box and the rear left lip has a hardened steel tab welded in to replace the ejector screw with the NATO round (screw omitted leaving a threaded hole on L39 and L42 and other derivatives built from existing 303 actions. The L39 was a purpose built target rifle using all but the scope bracket, pads and scope from the L42. For this purpose it was envisioned as a single hand load rifle and so retained the 303 magazine to provide a loading platform. In use (by teams and regiments and then private hands) the L8 / L42 magazine was switched into these rifles for magazine loading / rapid events.
The Ishapore 2A / 2A1 in NATO 7.62 x 51mm. India wanted to keep a modern army as its part of NATO, but like other countries the ability to develop and deliver an automatic firearm like the FN FAL was proving difficult and delayed - so to fill the gap for time and numbers they kept to what they knew best and redeveloped the Lee Enfield No1mk3 rifle to the new caliber and simplified some features for manufacture. Other than a new metal specification for the action, the rifle needed a new magazine for the new ammunition- the Indians varied at this point from all other Lee Enfield users and developers and took advantage of the more compact rimless round and produced the new magazine in a 12 round capacity.