Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praxis: Afghans Rediscover The Lee-Enfield

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier. -- Kipling

Submitted by Ranger Rick with the comment: "There is a lesson to be learned here."

Found here.

Afghans Rediscover The Lee-Enfield

January 7, 2009: Afghan traditionalists are changing the way the Taliban fight. This can be seen by the increase in the use of sniping by the Taliban. In the last year, NATO units in southern Afghanistan estimate there has been a 25 percent increase in sniping incidents. This is not seen as a major danger. NATO troops wear protective bests and helmets that can stop bullets fired at long range, making it very frustrating for the Taliban shooters trying to hit a distant target in a vulnerable spot.

This shift in tactics is largely a reaction to the better training, and weapons, of U.S. and NATO infantry. Afghans, and especially the Taliban, consider themselves great warriors. But they are getting tired of being defeated every time they get into a firefight with the foreign troops. Worse yet, if the Taliban stay put during a fight, the damned foreigners bring in a warplane that drops a smart bomb or two, bringing an inglorious (for the Taliban) end to the action.

Then some of the young guys remembered grandpa decrying the decline in marksmanship years ago. Back before the Russians showed up, in the 1980s, the best an Afghan could hope to have was a World War II, or World War I, era bolt action rifle. These weapons were eclipsed in the 1980s by full automatic AK-47s and the RPG rocket launcher. The young guys took to the AK, and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic. Not bad for a brief firefight, and suddenly hardly anyone, except a few old timers, wanted to use the old bolt action rifle.

What was not noticed much outside of Afghanistan, was that this shift in weaponry brought to an end a long Afghan tradition of precision, long range shooting. Before the 1980s, this skill was treasured for both hunting and warfare. When doing neither, Afghan men played games centered on marksmanship. One, for example, involved a group of men chipping in and buying a goat. The animal was then tethered to a rock, often on a hill, and then the half dozen or so men moved several hundred meters away and drew lots to see who would fire in what order. The first man to drop the goat, won it. Since Afghanistan was the poorest nation in Asia, ammo was expensive, and older men taught the young boys all the proper moves needed to get that first shot off accurately.

During the 1980s, Saudi Arabia spent billions of dollars to arm Afghans with all the AK-47s and ammo they could use, and they used lots of it. But rarely for target practice. Compared to bolt-action rifles like the British Lee-Enfield, the AK-47 was much less accurate when one shot at a time was fired. The old timers, or a few young traditionalists, kept their Lee-Enfields, and made themselves useful picking off Russian soldiers at long distances, on those rare occasions where that was needed.

The Lee-Enfield is one of the oldest, and still widely used, rifles on the planet. Over 17 million were manufactured between 1895 and the 1980s. While there are more AK-47s out there (over 20 million in private hands), these are looked down on by those who use their rifles for hunting, or killing with a minimum expenditure of ammunition. The 8.8 pound Lee-Enfield is a bolt-action rifle (with a ten round magazine) noted for its accuracy and sturdiness. The inaccurate AK-47 has a hard time hitting anything more than a hundred meters away, while the Lee-Enfield can drop an animal, or a man, at over 400 meters.

There are millions of Lee-Enfields still in use throughout India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even Iraq and other Persian Gulf nations. These are largely World War II leftovers. In the early half of the 20th century, the British gave out millions of these weapons to allies, or those being courted. Noting the accuracy of the Lee-Enfield (.303 caliber, or 7.7mm), the locals came to prize the rifle for hunting, and self-defense. There are still many gunsmiths throughout the region (and at least one factory in India) that will refurbish century old Lee-Enfields to "like new" condition. Ammunition is still manufactured, with the high quality stuff going for a dollar a round, and lesser quality for 25 cents a round. These rifles sell in the west for $500-1,000. The Lee-Enfield will carry on well into the 21st century.

One place where the Lee-Enfield found lots of fans was Afghanistan. There, the Afghans had been introduced to rifles in the 19th century, and they treasured these weapons. This was particularly true with the introduction of smokeless powder rifles in the late 19th century. Many Afghans were still using black powder rifles well into the 20th century. But once Lee-Enfields began show up in large numbers after World War I (1914-18), no one wanted the larger, heavier and less accurate black powder rifles (which always gave off your position, with all that smoke, after you fired a round.) Now, wealthy drug lords are buying expensive hunting and sniper rifles for their militias, but so far, the Taliban Snipers appear to be using grandpa's old Lee-Enfield.


Anonymous said...

Apparently, I am just behind the Afghan learning curve. I have just outfitted both of my Lee-Enfields (No. 4) with the rear micrometer sights and properly adjusted the front sight height by replacing them as needed with parts from ebay. I now have a pair of "iron sight" battle rifles that I am accurate and consistent with at 200 yards. Next goal, 300. - Memphis67

mikeb302000 said...

Thanks for that fantastic history. Great post.

Pat H. said...

1st post anonymous, if you haven't been to an Appleseed shoot, you should go. It's the best 80 bucks you'll spend on marksmanship.


They teach you to shoot out to 500 yards.

Boston T. Party mentions the Afghans and their effective rifle-fire several times in Boston's Gun Bible. That's why he advocates the use of .30 caliber battle rifles over smaller caliber carbines, even if that battle rifle is an old surplus bolt-action, such as a Mosin-Nagant, or SMLE. So that accurate, powerful rifle fire can be used from hundreds of yards out.

Qi Ji Guang said...

The Martini Henry, the Sharps, and the various Rolling Blocks can all hit up to more than 1500 yards.

One of the rifles mentioned here, outfitted with 21st century optics and guidance devices, would make a far better precision rifle than the fancy mall ninja toys that currently sell on the market for more than a week's salary.

tom said...

If you want to have a semi-automatic that outshoots a .303 and hits harder at range than 7.62 NATO, Try a 6.5 Grendel upper for your AR.

Most people here already have ARs and I've been quite happy since I took the plunge and made one of my ARs capable of shooting a bench rest chambering. You'll hit past 500, easily....If YOU can live up to the rifle.

AR parts and maintenance is simpler than Enfield/Springfield/Mauser parts and maintenance. I own all of the above including the 19th century black powder versions...might not be an "expert" but I have a hell of a lot of empirical experience with everything that ever fired black powder, black powder metallic cartridges, and modern metallic cartridges.

The Grendel is a very nice compromise that gives you a deadly accurate semi-auto battle rifle that can be easily used as such, all but a very few parts swap with anything on your standard ARs and "M"s,and that you can win long range shooting matches hunt or snipe with. It outshoots the 6.8SPC handily for people that are curious. I've tried multiple versions of both. Grendel wins hands down past 300 yards and stomps the M1A1 as well.

The Club Above said...

I'm glad I acquired a SMLE redone for .308 about a year ago...

Loren said...

Enfields were reworked in the 50s for .308, and a bunch were made by India for their police. They're called Ishapores, or I think Mk 5s, but if anyone has one in Missouri they'd be willing to part with, I'll pay good money for it.

Iron sights are particularly interesting in light of one of the Army's new doo-hickies, which scans with a laser, and is claimed to be able to distinguish between cameras and windows and rifle scopes.

Pat H. said...

We're not going to get into a Grendel/SPC/.308/.223 argument are we? It's a bit late in the game to get a whole new caliber, isn't it?

Many people already have their battle rifle and cartridge chosen. It might be a bit late in the game to go switching calibers and rifles. That is, unless you can afford a rifle, at least a dozen magazines, all the necessary spare parts in triplicate, and at least 10,000 rounds of FMJ. Multiply that by however many buddies in your squad if you want ammo/rifle commonality, and it gets to be a little bit daunting, not to mention cost prohibitive for many. Hell, even if you have an accurate 5.56 AR with everything mentioned above (although you don't need 10,000 rounds, because ammo is much more common than Grendel), and can reliably hit out to 500 yards and beyond (using heavy match ammunition, of course), then that's better than switching to something else.

Plus, for now, basically everything anybody is offering, including rifles and ammo, is backordered for months.

It would have been wise to switch perhaps last year, or the year before. But, it's a bit too late now.

tom said...

Told mikeb302000 we were friendly...we even let a permanent anti-gun blogger in here and his posts are approved by the moderator...

Regards to misguided Italian ex-pats from people that are trying to hang on to a bit of the free world.

Maybe someday you'll let reality catch up with you.


straightarrow said...

Actually the Ishapore isn't .308. It is 7.62 NATO. Almost a distinction without a difference, but not quite. Though .308 and 7.62NATO are dimensinally identical the .308 round is slightly more powerful. There are some who say continued use of .308 in the Ihapore Enfield can stretch the action over time and result in structural failure.

I only offer that as a heads-up that there might be a problem. I haven't had a problem with mine shooting .308. I would advise anyone to do something with the buttplate. It is a stupid design. It is convex in the vertical axis causing all the recoil to tap you on the collarbone in an area about the width of pencil and the perpendicular area of width of your collarbone. Hurts like a bastard. Unlike a Mosin which recoils harder but has a buttplate that spreads the force over a large area is fairly pleasant to shoot. Unless you shoot like a girl and hold the butt against your upper arm.

John Paulding said...

Loren: Are they still teaching "Pumkin on a Post" over there at Appleseed?

tom said...

Pat H.

Wasn't aiming to start a war. Just was saying if you had an AR and could find the requisites, it's not a bad thing to have and a lot nicer than a curio and relic Enfield as far as rifles go.

If you run out of Grendel and need 5.56/.223 uppers and mags, it's not like there won't be plenty to be had off of dead people.

Like it or not, if the US government goes to war against the American people, it's going to be with Ar-15s, M rifles, and MP-5s.

Grendel would make a good DM rifle or upper for those that can shoot well enough to justify it with plenty of parts availability outside of the barrel and bolt and the brass can be sized from other things if need be. If need be it can end it's life as a 5.56mm upper equipped rifle in a Restoration War. Takes about 30 seconds to trade uppers and bolt carriers provided they are of the same pin size. If that's too much hassle, just take the Stoner pattern rifle and mags as is off the dead guy.

No caliber war at all was started. Just pointing out the obvious. As far as squad commonality, having a ragtag bunch with some 7.62 semi and bolt rifles in American and Russian, some SKS, some AKs, Some Enfields, Some Mausers, with the odd Springfield and M1 thrown in and maybe some old Krags along with all the Mini-14s and ARs isn't going to be doing much for logistical support and as YOU said, most people have their rifle already. There may be a militia of citizens but it's far from well-regulated or at all organized in ammo commonality. You will find that an even greater problem with sidearms.

If I was going to buy a .308/7.62, there's been a few design improvements available in the bolt rifle section of your local Walmart over the Lee Enfield. They don't cost much either. Afghans are using Enfields and Nagants because they don't have modern sporting gun shops to go to or even walmarts, not because it's the bee's knees of rifles.

In .303 you're going to be looking at the same limited ammo availability in the US as you would with a wildcat like the Grendel in very short order if people started shooting a lot of it.

I read the article on Afghans re-learning to snipe as what it was, that they are re-learning the value of marksmanship, and not as an advertisement for antique rifles.

My neighbor can split playing cards in half and all sorts of other tricks with his home-made muzzle loader, which, if need be he could make his own powder for as he already casts his own bullets. I wouldn't select that as my primary sniping arm either if I had more modern choices.

Charlie Quintard may have gone up against MP-5s with a bow in a novel. I've got modern compound bows and am pretty good with them. I'd still, under most contexts, rather have a good accurate rifle bordering on match accuracy at the very least than a bow if people were shooting guns at me.

Loren said...

You're right, straightarrow, my brain wasn't working that way at the time I wrote it out. I don't plan to shoot much commercial ammo in it though, so it shouldn't be an issue.

Since I don't know what the "pumpkin on a post" is, I'm guessing not, or they decided not to do it that day.

Qi Ji Guang said...

QUOTE "Charlie Quintard may have gone up against MP-5s with a bow in a novel. I've got modern compound bows and am pretty good with them. I'd still, under most contexts, rather have a good accurate rifle bordering on match accuracy at the very least than a bow if people were shooting guns at me." QUOTE

It really boils down to tactical planning and awareness of the situation. Charlie Quintard's battle against the thugs were effective because the forest is his tactical concealment. I doubt Charlie would do the same in a desert or in a wide open Midwest prairie. An MP-5 or an M-4 might be a big weapon to go up against, to some, but whats controlling it is still a human being. To quote someone "A knife or an axe is not a battle rifle, but it will get you one".

tom said...


I'd state that as "...may get you one, with a bit of luck and the right circumstances."

I'll stand by what I said:

The importance of that article is the Afghans are learning the importance of marksmanship once again. It isn't a SMLE advert.

Go try to sneak up on somebody with a knife, bow, or a SMLE in the Wichita Falls area, for example.

Anonymous said...

Mike, if possible, please organize links to all of your Praxis articles in one link list on your home page so they can serve as a ready reference section. And keep up the good work!

Ever thought of making short "Praxis" videos and posting them online? Now that would be useful - readers could email them all over creation and spread the knowledge.

Qi Ji Guang said...

Re: Tom

I apologize if my earlier reply sounded too critical. I didn't mean it to sound that way. Since we brought up Charlie Quintard and his lone battle against the predators, I just wanted to point out that just because the other side has big, intimidating weapons, it doesn't mean it's hopeless. Tactical ingenuity and sharpness of mind often wins the day.

Back to the topic on hand, of course, speaking of the motley of weapons and ammunition that currently exists, don't be surprised to see lots of .45-70s showing up at the concert to provide a steady supply of baritone and bass. Whether it be Trapdoors, Falling Blocks or Rolling Blocks, the .45-70 is probably THE representation of a long range cartridge. The key question here now is the optics. A high powered varmint scope, 6-24x power mounted on a Rolling block or M1875 Trapdoor instantly produces a 1st-Class marksman's rifle. Perhaps DMs can be outfitted with .45-70s instead of the various .30 calibers, and the .30s can be assigned to the tactical marksmen.

Also about the availability of munitions, the .45-70 can be reloaded without any special tools, just a dowel, case rack and hammer for pressing, and maybe throw in a hand-held primer feed. The cases can be reloaded at least 10 times, maybe more. A case trimmer and re-sizing tool don't weigh that much and can be included with the quartermaster of any DM squad.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add my comments in favor of Appleseed.
When you have Rifleman ability(military expert level) you will be able to hit man sized targets out to 600 yards with your 7.62 nato, 30-06, .303, or 7.62x54r class cartriges.
I can say this from personal experience.